Telltale Games is a developer that I hold near and dear to my heart. They’re responsible for telling stories that force me to subscribe to their episodic format. A format that I’m not too fond of. Their ability to craft a hook that always has me eager to see how the plot will exponentially thicken is something that I truly admire.
Taking a well known and loved universe, and somehow creating a finished product that a more than sizable majority is pleased with, is nothing to brush aside. Much less the fact that it was so successful it spawned four seasons of content that audiences eagerly anticipated every time.
The name ‘Telltale’ will probably resonate with you due to the smash hit: The Walking Dead, or perhaps you’re more familiar with my personal favourite, The Wolf Among Us. I loved The Wolf Among Us so much that I just had to read every volume of Fables (the graphic novel from which The Wolf Among Us finds its world and characters) that I could get my hands on.
I was so entrenched in the characters of Snow White, Bigby Wolf and Boy Blue that I just couldn’t help myself. Something which has made the wait for season 2 all the more unbearable.
Telltale Games hasn’t always been so revered though. Before they changed the way that the general audience looked at point and click adventure games, they made games like Sam and Max, Back to the Future and even Jurassic Park. Their first game, Telltale Texas Hold’em, released back in 2005. Many of those games aren’t looked upon too fondly. It really shows how far Telltale has come in such a short span of time.
Despite the incredible, almost unstoppable, momentum that Telltale had gained after The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, recent years have shown a significant decline. Telltale had gone from ‘the studio that makes those crappy licensed games?’ to ‘the guys that make those awesome walking dead games?’ in no time at all. But now they’ve become the developer that pumps out licensed property after licensed property. And the quality of each new game is suffering for it.
The stories and characters that they quickly became famous for are now being pushed aside in favour of a regular and unsustainable release schedule. As you’d expect, this also impacts the quality and playability of each game. Telltale’s Batman is a perfect example of this. Batman is one of my favourite characters in all of fiction, so imagine my excitement when I heard that Telltale had gotten their hands on the license. Now imagine my disappointment after playing it.
Whilst the story was more than intriguing (don’t worry, no spoilers here), gameplay glitches made the experience almost unbearable. Finishing five episodes of a Batman game written and developed by a very talented studio should not have been such a drag. I had sections where I was stuck in menus, audio would pop in and out, dialogue options would disappear and more than anything else, SIGNIFICANT frame drops.
The Telltale Tool and Toxic Management
The increase in glitches and problems, as far as I’m aware, can be attributed to two main factors: one is, of course, the sheer volume of titles and their deadlines. It’s just not feasible to maintain that kind of workflow without sacrificing the quality.
The other is the ‘Telltale Tool’. This is the engine that Telltale Games uses, and have used for every single one of their games. Even Telltale Texas Hold’em back in 2005. Whilst the engine may have seen upgrades other the years, it’s starting to show its age. It was bad in the first season of The Walking Dead, but now it’s just ridiculous. One would think that putting out two major hits back to back would mean that they would have some money to invest in a new engine. Apparently, that was not the case for Telltale.
According to Megan Farokhmanesh in an article for The Verge Telltale has suffered from “constant overwork, toxic management, and creative stagnation”. I assume these problems became more prolific after their sudden success. The promise of a ‘winning formula’ can often drive management to push workforces to their limits.
The Dimly Lit Light
With Telltale Games’ decline becoming more and more prevalent with each new game that is released; it would seem that the developer may be lost for good. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if it is rather dimly lit. In November of 2017, Telltale laid off 25% of its developers. Affecting 90 people. Obviously, 90 people losing their jobs is not a good thing, but it shows a shift in the way that Telltale will be approaching the development of its future games. Having a smaller team create fewer, more successful games is the right path to follow. After all, too many cooks spoil the stew.
There’s even talk of Telltale Games finally adopting the Unity engine, and with the recently announced delay of The Wolf Among Us Season 2, and the announcement of a new Stranger Things series; the change is highly likely. After all of their ups and downs, it seems as though Telltale is finally getting its act together. Telltale may finally reach the potential that they displayed back in 2012. And all just in time for the second season of my favourite series.