Whoa, what's this thing? Episodic internet content? Hit the power button. Let's see what happens.
The circuits are humming as Telltale officially
began its journey into the world of adventure games last Thursday. In a scant 6 months the first major offering, Bone: Out from Boneville is available to folks looking to slake their thirst for story based entertainment. And oh my! What a buzz!
The message boards have been hopping as a mulitiude of reactions wrestle each other to reach the forefront of popular opinion. I thought I'd been exhausted during the final days of finishing Bone but I've honestly been even more overwhelmed just keeping up with the tidal wave of response since the release last week. It's a harrowing and exciting experience to sink your soul into a project and then let the world at it. I want to thank everyone who has taken time out of their day to play our game and record their thoughts on both its successes and shortcomings. It's been invaluable to the Telltale staff to sift through the letters and assess what we can accomplish going forward as we continue to grow in the land of episodic adventure games.
The knowledge that we're going to be able to iterate upon the momentum of this first game in an extremely short time has me excited for the future of Telltale and the adventure game genre in general. I've not experienced this option in all my years in the games industry and I'm chomping at the bit to roll up the sleeves again and refine our hits and rethink our misses.
The machine has been plugged in and the wheels are turning! Keep the thoughts coming folks, it's only going to continue getting better!
Postulative science tells us that the combined cognitive resonance of twenty brains in intense concentration is enough to generate a hum detectable by some animals at a distance of over a quarter mile. Fortunately for productivity at Telltale, the frequency is too high for human hearing, but dogs were howling all over the neighborhood last week when Heather's voice floated from somewhere northeast of me.
"Dave, do you smell that?"
It's funny, when someone asks if you smell something, you stop and give a sniff or two, and you're not just checking: you actively WANT to smell the something, regardless of its nature, subtle or pungent, sweet or disgusting. There's a certain desire to affirm a common experience with another human being, to establish a camaraderie with which to ward off the chill of an empty universe -- we are not alone, you and I, because here we are together, both smelling this same something. Whatever it is.
"Yes," I said, because I did smell something. There was a faint aroma of burning, like a match in the closet or a brush fire in the hills. I figured it was probably just somebody's frontal lobe overloading, so, having established a chill-warding smell-camaraderie, I went back to work.
But the smell seemed to be getting stronger. Other people started noticing it as well, and with the idea that the brush fire in the hills might actually be a brush fire in the office came the desire to track it down, lest we all perish in a sudden Hollywood-film conflagration, blazing beams falling out of the ceiling and crashing down on the actors in reverse-fame order. People got up and started circling, noses in the air. I think I saw something similar on PBS recently, a nature show in which a pack of hyenas locate a dead hippopotamus.
It was quickly decided that the dead hippopotamus was, in fact, my very own computer. As I bent to check it, it suddenly EXPLODED IN A HUGE FIREBALL
, shattering the windows and slamming me into a wall! OK, OK, no, I'm making that up. The monitor screen abruptly went black, and I cut the power immediately. No open flames were observed, but the burning smell was quite powerful by this point, and the back of the machine was noticeably hot to the touch.
The reaction from the spectators was perplexing. No shrieks of horror, no woeful condolences, in fact, no signs of surprise whatsoever. There were knowing nods, some chuckles, and a general atmosphere of camaraderie, much stronger than the smelling-the-same-thing kind, as though this were a common occurrence and I had now completed a rite of passage and become a member of some kind of secret society.
I was a bit thrown to learn that having your computer's power supply burn to a cinder is indeed a common occurrence at Telltale. It had already happened to quite a few people in the room. My machine, unbeknownst to me, was on a watch list of likely suspects in Aaron Foltz's desk drawer. It fit some sort of volatile hardware profile, and apparently everybody but me had been sitting around, quietly waiting for it to go up in flames.
Inside of two minutes, a new power supply and a screwdriver appeared on my desk. Randy Tudor taught me the secret handshake, somebody brought out cookies and cider, and there was a brief celebration while I ceremoniously repaired the stricken computer. And I was up and running again in less time than it takes coffee to cool.
I have since learned that, of the machines on the suspect watch list, only one has yet to fail. We all know where it is, and Graham McDermott is quailing at his desk as I write, the sword hanging over his quivering head by a gradually fraying thread.
Astoundingly, the fact that our development hardware roasts itself on a regular basis has not confounded our attempts to finish Out from Boneville
. I am at a loss to explain this. Perhaps the gentle glow of blazing silicon is the candle that lights the way in the darkness. Perhaps... but hey, didn't you hear me? Out from Boneville
is finished! Go download it
, there's game to be played!
"Out from Boneville"� is just about complete, so that means Telltale is about to again enter into the dangerous world I like to call "Actual Stuff"�. Sure we're generous with concept art, screenshots, movies, interviews and remarkably well crafted blogs such as this. But it's when we get the opportunity to give you "actual stuff"� that the rubber hits the road. And it's the part I love best.
You see, a few years ago a number of us here at Telltale were busy doling out the usual fare of concept art, screenshots, movies and interviews (though no blogs), whilst we were working on some "dog and bunny"� type stuff for another game studio (whose name escapes me at the moment.) Then, quite suddenly, we were asked to stop working on the "actual stuff."� And that "actually"� sucked! Back then, we only brought you stuff every few years, so this was really a set back from our perspective (and I'm certain yours.)
So now we're doing things a little differently. You see, we had some "actual stuff"� in April. Perhaps you're familiar with the award winning Telltale Texas Hold'Em? Though it is a little out of the norm, it was still pretty funny (and notably "actual"�.) And now here we are in September with more stuff! Your new favorite game, Out from Boneville! And guess what? There's even more stuff on the way! Not years from now, but in the Spring! More Bone games and other great stuff. Honest!
So you see, we're not going to give morsals of "actual stuff"� once or twice a decade like we used to (Sorry about that, btw). Nope, for better or for worse, we're giving you the goods every few months. Don't worry, there will still be plenty of concept art, screenshots, movies, interviews and remarkably well crafted blogs for you to dig through, so it won't seem completely foreign. And I think (over time) this notion of "actual stuff"� won't seem so strange and uncomfortable. We think you might actually like it.
Kurt Vonnegut once said "Write to please just one person." I find this advice applicable to games as well as to more linear forms, and whenever I'm working on a design I keep an imaginary someone in my head who will be playing the finished product. At one time that player was my dad
, but now that he has become computer savvy I have had to fire him and replace him with someone more usefully naive, an enthusiastic but inexperienced dabbler called Tip.
As I'm working, I ask myself: "Is Tip going to be able to figure this out?" and "What sorts of things is Tip likely to try here?" and "Is Tip going to get the obscure cultural reference
which is critical to the solution of this puzzle?" I generally assume that Tip, while intelligent, has not only never seen a game like this one before, but has spent a lifetime locked in a small closet and thus has very little practical experience beyond what has been shown in the game up to this point.
While Tip is indispensable to have around, there are certain limitations stemming from the fact that he or she is imaginary, and once in a while it's good to get some flesh and blood human beings into the office to play the game and provide some fresh insights. We did this last night with a small cadre of friends and relations.
Our test subjects arrived by hired limousine at around six o'clock, just minutes before Daniel broke something frightening and dangerous near the Blue Line*
. Emergency hazmat crews handled the situation neatly, however, and by six thirty we were allowed to re-enter the building and the office was a busy warren of people playing games and even more people watching people playing games.
If you let a pack of wild jackals loose in a balsa wood living room, you find out very quickly what is sturdily constructed and what is not, and a pack of friends and relations is no different. They do not walk where they are supposed to, they do not think the way they are supposed to, they do not follow the intended path in any way. Which is good, because you've already had plenty of time to make sure the intended path is fun. The jackals frolic in the underbrush and swim in the lake and sniff out situations you hadn't anticipated, thus giving you the opportunity to make sure there is fun in those places as well.
They usually uncover a few peculiar bugs to boot -- ours were no exception. They also had a few helpful suggestions about eyebrows and how to cure hiccups.
When we had observed our jackals long enough, we fed them a variety of healthy meats and vegetables served on exotic edible platters made of dough
(some sort of European delicacy), along with a choice of sucrose beverage, and then we opened the shackles and let them go home. But the event has left a lasting impression. I was inspired by the volume of what we learned from these people, and I have decided to try to apply the same method in other areas of my life. In the supermarket this morning I gathered the shoppers on the cereal aisle to give me some impromptu feedback on the contents of my cart. Afterwards, I decided to buy fresh pasta instead of dry, and am going to experiment with grilling rutabaga (speaking of which, try saying "rutabaga barbecue" five times fast). Tomorrow evening I'm having friends over to stress-test the kitchen, and this weekend I plan to focus group my toothpaste.
It's a brave new world!
Mysteriously, the Blue Line no longer says "Do Not Cross." But no one does.)
I had a most unpleasant experience this past weekend. There I was, out shopping for equipment to help me fulfill my latest evil scheme when I had a sudden craving for a rich smooth chocolaty iced mocha. A half an hour later, this craving turned into a full blown raging desire, and shortly thereafter I developed a painful headache and severe crankiness (well, more severe than normal.) That's when it finally hit me. I have become a slave to the dark caffeine overlords.
You see, since it was the weekend, I had slept in late. And having slept in late, I assumed I would be fine going without my weekday-ritual iced coffee with mint syrup. But alas, I was wrong. Before I knew it the demons were clawing at my insides, sending pain into my skull, and causing me to lash out at even the most minor of offenses. Sipping my frosty and calming iced mocha, I paused to reflect. How did it come to this?
At grad school I had cultivated a one iced mocha, one red bull a day caffeine habit. The many months of freedom from schedules I enjoyed during the several months between graduate school and beginning my employment with Telltale allowed me to shake this habit. I swore I would never go back, but quickly succumbed to the fact that being up early in the morning was eased greatly by a cup of the ol' joe. Having a coffee machine available in the office did nothing to help my resolve. I imbibed intermittently until I started recently riding into work with intern Jeff, who was in the habit of getting coffee on the way to the office. This was my ultimate downfall. I drank my morning coffee every day, and recently have even begun occasionally splurging on more caffeine in the afternoon. If it's available, it is very difficult for me to turn it down. My psychological need is based firmly in the belief that caffeine gives me more energy and provides the neccessary intensity I need to conduct the business that needs to be conducted during the working day.
Game development, I am saddened to report, fosters many bad habits. Like sitting inside all day without any fresh air or sunshine, repetitive stress syndrome, neglecting one's loved ones and reliance on stimulants to get through the day (including, but not limited to: caffeine, nicotine, and boston cream donuts). Games always want to have more things in them then there is reasonably time for, and so game development pushes the limits of sane working practices. Game developers push themselves to the breaking point to meet milestones and get that last little (or big) touch in before the game is ready to ship. Certain members of the Telltale staff haven't been home in weeks, and most of us have begun regularly indulging in our particular vices.
Dave F. averages about 3 espressos a day.
Greg F. chugs a whole Rockstar energy drink in the late afternoons.
Kevin has a Dr. Pepper hoard in his office, and probably drinks about five of them a day.
Jon doesn't drink coffee, but has perfected the 10 minute power nap, and will happily devour any sugary-sweet pastry things that show up in the office.
Daniel also skips out on the coffee, but sucks down Mexican salty-mango-jalapeño candy. Mmmm....sweet salty jalapeñoness....
Despite all this, Telltale is far more humane than some other game companies. (Aside from locking employees in closets and sending them to the Bermuda triangle, of course). A certain friend of mine at a certain large company recently told me how she has been in "crunch time"� since February. Seven months of not having any free weekends or evenings. I wonder what her caffeine consumption is like?
None of this is new...it is common knowledge that making games requires complete dedication and the sacrifice of running yourself into the ground mentally, emotionally and physically. The question I am most often asked when telling others that I am a game designer is "what kind of hours do you work?"� And yet we do it anyway. Why?
I can't answer for anyone but myself, though I would guess my fellow Telltaleites have similar motivations. Making games is intensely creative. Everyone involved makes creative decisions of some kind every day, whether they be about art, design or problem solving. Creativity is very rewarding. There's nothing like a decision that you've agonized over resulting in a great triumph. The rush involved is far stronger than even the most taurine-packed energy drink. I also care deeply about the project I am working on and want it to be the best it can possibly be. I have something I want to share with the gaming community at large, something I think they will really enjoy. I would be much less eager to wake up, slurp down my iced coffee with mint syrup, and come to work caffeinated and ready for action if it were otherwise.
*No, not THAT hot coffee.....
I methodically brush bristly hairs and bits of quiche from my shirt, pausing for a moment to reflect upon the unusual hazards facing the designer of computer games. This week, it's been rat creatures. Loud, unruly monsters, pouncing upon me repeatedly at my desk, squashing my plants and drooling all over my notes as they discuss the culinary possibilities of my meatier limbs. More than once I have been moved to wonder whether I might have been better off as an accountant or carpeting inspector. Carpeting inspectors rarely have to worry about being attacked by rat creatures.
The rat creatures, you see, are characters from Bone - a lot of you probably knew that already, but just in case you didn't: the rat creatures are characters from Bone, big hairy guys who are somewhat loveable despite their fangs, claws, and frequent attempts to eat the other characters. I've been working on a scene with them this week. They take direction well, but get sidetracked easily. And they break things. Stupid, stupid rat creatures.
I was also working with the rat creatures last week, and the week before. Rat creatures, rat creatures, rat creatures. Their piquant breath has infiltrated my clothing and their husky cackling keeps me awake at night. I've started calling Daniel Herrera "small mammal"� and I think it's freaking him out. Why am I spending so much time with them? It's the RUG principle.
The RUG principle is an important maxim of game design. It stands for "Rework Until Good,"� and it is the reason why a day in the life of a scene or a puzzle sometimes stretches out into a week or a month. Although these things occasionally flit from the mind of the designer and alight directly on the screen with the wave of a wand and a soft ping, it is far more likely that there is a heavy splat and some clean-up involved. Yes, and cleaning up after rat creatures is an unappetizing task, but somebody's got to do it.
The current version of the scene does indeed seem Good, but it has taken some effort to get it there. Don't get me wrong, it's been entertaining, clever, and true to the characters all along, but the subtleties of interactivity can sometimes be hard to gauge until you get them on the screen and tinker with them. If you were to play the last few weeks of the Telltale security camera footage of my desk at fast forward, my exasperated chokes and gasps would sound like a machine gun as the rat creature scene progressed through three distinct designs, and the phrase "stupid, stupid rat creatures,"� uttered by me with ever increasing frequency, would change from an exclamation to a mantra, finally blending into a continuous background hum.
You might also notice me becoming more rat creature-like in appearance, gradually hunching over, fingernails extending, eyes widening and bulging, hair sprouting from unusual places. I begin drooling, jumping up on the desk, squashing the plants. Bits of quiche cover my shirt.
Hello, small mammal!
I was born in the Haight Ashbury district in San Franciso, USA, and spent a carefree childhood steeped in the lore and traditions of the area. As you may be aware, the Haight is famous for having been a key location to the "Summer of Love"�, when hippies gathered in droves to live a free-wheeling bohemian lifestyle and preach about love and understanding. Most of my youth was spent believing that "the summer of love"� simply referred to the peak of a long period of living a life free from struggle while providing an example to the world of peace to the world. It was years later that I discovered the "Summer of Love"� was literally that -- a summer. It wasn't the peak of a several year-long movement. It was, in fact, the entirety of a several month long movement.
This saddened me and crushed all my ideals of peace and love, turning me into the caustic and cynical creature I am today. But on reflection, the short duration of the "Summer"� made sense. After all, the lifestyle was the only "job"� these people had. They lived it fully and enthusiastically, but all that love took a great deal of energy, and they didn't have time for such things as making money for rent or groceries. It was a brief, glorious flash of good feelings and flowers and then it was over and done. The hippies "sold out"�: found employment, purchased homes by the beach, created families and adopted puppies.
My painful memories of bitter disillusionment came to me recently when I read a comment by one of our long-time fans that said they liked us better when we were edgy and suffering. Doubtless this was meant to be ironic and he doesn't actually want us to suffer (or at least I hope that's the case). But it did make me think: what happens when Telltale quintuples in size and succeeds in taking over the world? Will our fans abandon us in search of a younger, hipper, edgier, more drenched in suffering company? Is the inherent "coolness"� of a company directly disproportionate to the size of its market share, the number of employees it has, or the square feet of its offices?
True, there is a certain masochistic romance to working in a sardine can, sweating to death in the oven-like San Rafael heat, and losing two hours of work a week to power outages. However, while suffering for one's art may be the height of nobility, it is not long sustainable. Game developers need room to stretch, grow oxygen-giving plants and play floor hockey. Without these essential needs being met, developers quickly become cranky and unhappy and eventually will leave to make someone else's games.
No one likes the "sell out"�. Your favorite local band, for example, who suddenly gains nationwide attention and is now on every radio station and leasing their songs for commercials. Or your favorite game company that has a brilliant title, makes some money from it, then is paranoid about losing that hard-earned money so instead of continuing to innovate just produces endless re-hashes of that title in slightly different forms ad naseum. On the other hand, everyone likes the underdog, because everyone has at some point themselves been the underdog.
Suppose your favorite local band gains nationwide attention and their songs only appear on television in commercials about starving children? Does that then make them "sell outs"�? Or suppose your favorite game company makes a fair amount of money on their first title and goes on to spend that money to get bigger, yes, but also to continue to put out interesting games that you enjoy playing. Does being bigger now nonetheless make them "uncool"�?
Sadly, only a few of us at Telltale are truly evil-minded individuals. In fact, most of the company's goals are fairly benevolent. Make games that are enjoyable and immersive experiences. Draw in new fans by making games that are accessible to a wide variety of people. Make enough money that we can continue to pay our very talented staff to continue to make these games. And of course, to take over the world (at least, I believe the company is behind me on this one).
Quite frankly, we will always be cool. Even if our suffering eventually ends. (Hopefully that will come about sooner rather than later.)
Dave here, bringing you news on the one subject which I know has been foremost in the collective mind of the public, the one thing bigger than all the launching shuttles and supreme court scandals and Tours de France put together. Oh, right, there is that Bone
project we're working on, but you've already heard plenty about that. No, I'm talking about Telltale's new office space!
The old office, which we hereby dub The Sardine Shop, was shrinking in around us daily, like a slow version of one of those mechanical-walls-crush-the-hero traps from a hokey adventure movie
I regularly elbowed Graham Annable in the head, and Kevin was once trapped at his desk for three days, though to be honest that may not have had anything to do with the close quarters. The power would go out if anyone tried to use the microwave, the air conditioning failed on precisely the wrong week, and as soon as it got fixed it produced a gorgeous waterfall in the Fifth Corner, perilously close to my desk.
Also, the Sardine Shop only had three parking spaces, which is not even enough for Kevin all by himself. A few of us had been parking at the building next door, home of a company called "For Lease"� which had seventeen employees, all imaginary. But then the solid, three-dimensional owner came over and complained that we were blocking his view of the pavement, so we had to resort to stacking our cars vertically.
Clearly, it was time to move.
So we did, many hundreds of feet up the street. The new place is farther from the prison and the water treatment plant, closer to the post office and the dump, and in terms of sheer size is the fifty-five gallon drum to the five-ounce can of the Sardine Shop. You could put a minature golf course in between the desks, and if you squint, the carpet could almost be mistaken for Kentucky bluegrass.
Here are just a few of the things you'll find on a visit to the new digs:
- Windows that open, if you know the secret password.
- Air conditioning that almost works.
- Room to swing a cat, if you were into such things. I'm allergic to cats, so I'm glad we're using that space for a hockey net and a foosball table.
- A mysterious blue line labeled "Do Not Cross."� So far, no one has dared to find out what happens if you cross it. We're thinking of sending one of the interns.
We're also close to a good taco shop and a hypnotist. Never underestimate the value of a quality hypnotist when you're running a game company.
We are all deliriously happy in the new space. And the best thing of all is that we're above a company that hauls away junk, so when our computers become obsolete every six weeks or so, we can just chuck them out the window. Did I mention the windows open?*Sardine Shop image provided by the photographic memory of Graham Annable.
Boys and girls, Telltalers and Telltale-ees, Sea Monkeys and Protoplasm, welcome to our latest interview.
Sooner or later, we will stop hiring new employees and I can actually start interviewing people who have been here longer than a week. But for now it gives me great pleasure to introduce our new newest member, Greg Frank. So Greg, welcome to Telltale!
Thank you.And how long have you been working with our illustrious little group?
I have been here for about a week now.And what niche do you fill in our elite game devving society?
I am a new programmer here. But currently I am doing some level designing and authoring, which means I am mostly working on dialogue and game logic.I notice you have a giant banana slug on your desk. Please explain.
Ah yes, that is my friend and pet slug. It is an alumni slug, hence the hat with the tassel on its head. I graduated from UC Santa Cruz on June 11th, 2005 with a BA in Computer Science. I bought it in honor of graduating.Ah yes. (For those who don't know, the banana slug is the mascot of UC Santa Cruz.) Describe, if you will, an average day at Telltale Games.
Well I get in at about 9/9:30 depending of traffic and when I get up in the morning. Then I sit at my desk and check my e-mail. After that ritual is done, I load up the tools I use to control and change dialogue and game logic. Where I spend most of my day fixing problems we find in walkthroughs and duties that Karen or Dave give me. Then get some lunch and finally go back to work. Through out the day I try to make co-workers laugh and hopefully not cry at my terrible jokes.How do you like our new offices?
I love them. It is nice and small so it is easy to communicate with everyone when I need to and it is big enough that we are not all crammed together. A little too hot on some days, which makes me eye Doug's Fan and think about how lucky he is, how lucky I can be if...um...I buy one just like his.How much caffeine would you say you consume on an average day?
Well if I told you that I would have to kill you. Just kidding. Actually the message would self destruct and destroy the computers of all the people who visit our site, which we wouldn't want, right? But let's just say it is a lot.I have heard rumors that you occasionally post on Four Fat Chicks. What have you told them about me?
I have told them how great you are and how much of amazing person you are. Four Fat Chicks is a great site, mostly I just told them I got an entry level job here and that I am doing game development stuff involving logic. Since they are a site that has reviews and a message board about mostly adventure gaming, I have been a member of theirs for a long time even though I am not really fat nor a chick. But hey it is the internet so technically I could be, right? I have also heard that you, like many of Telltale's distinguished employees, once worked at LucasArts. What games did you work on there?
While I was at LucasArts I was a QA tester for Gladius, Star Wars Battlefront, and Knights of the Old Republic 2.Share a funny LucasArts story with our fans. They like that.
I don't know of any funny stories I can share from LucasArts without getting sued or harassed by those involved. But let's see, there is hitfoot (can't talk about that), Hot sauce and Pancakes (no), Ah the only thing I can think of is how I got the nickname Greg and Frank. Well there isn't much of a story there; most it was one of the supervisors that started to call me that. But then it moved on to others and I would get e-mails asking about how both of us were doing, or if both of use could share one game, etc... I am even listed as 2 people in the end game credits of Knights of the Old Republic 2.Finally, tell us a funny story about banana slugs.
Let's see do you mean the UCSC Students or The real thing. If you mean the real thing then you might be interested to know that Banana Slugs have no known predators. Sure salt will kill them but that is a weapon not a predator. As for the students, well there are so many stories that I can go into. Like the getaway style of getting into a car, this happened before I went to UCSC but I am a slug, so it counts. The story goes that I was heading to San Francisco for a party with a few friends after work and I yelled to the last friend getting in my car to do it getaway style and slammed on the gas. He tumbled a bit and I panicked and slammed on the brake, so he went fly head first into the door frame, then I stepped on the gas and he hit the back of the door frame then when I stepped on brake he hit the door again and fell into the car. We all have a laugh about it now. Also there is the story about my friend's car, where you would step on the gas and all the electric devices (including head lights and meters) would all turn off, and many more good times.Yes, it sounds most humerous. Remind me never to accept a ride from you.
Yes, friends, they're coming out of the walls here at Telltale. Our office, once so desolate and lonely, is now as crammed as a can of squirmy, game making sardines. Perhaps that's why it is so unbearably hot today. That and the absence of air-conditioning. But I digress.
This week we are interviewing Doug Modie, who appeared out of no-where last week. Or was it two weeks ago? I myself am uncertain. One day I just looked up from my blue-prints and jelly donuts and there he was, intently gazing into his monitor as if trying to solve the riddles of time.
Doug, however, is an extremely busy gent doing very important work and as such has limited time for conducting an interview. So I am generously taking the liberty of exercising my prime improvisational skills to answer the interview questions that he didn't quite get to.
So who are you again?
( D.M. ) My name is Doug. Doug Modie. Rhymes with Modie.
And what is it you do here?
( H.L.L. as D.M. ) I do very important work. I am a programmer and I work diligently with Karen on programming stuff. I also take long moments to stare intensely at my monitor, trying to solve the riddles of time.
Where did you come from anyway? One day I looked up and you were just here. It was most mysterious.
( D.M. ) I came from my house. I was looking for my keys, for like ten months.
Describe an average day at Telltale.
( H.L.L. as D.M. ) As I just explained, an average day at Telltale involves programming stuff and talking to Karen, with occasional pauses to stare at the monitor. Then sometime in the afternoon I'll wander out with my sunglasses on after some secret errand. When it becomes unbearably hot, I turn on my own personal fan and laugh to myself as everyone else suffers.
I hear that you once worked at LucasArts. Which projects did you work on there?
( M.G. as D.M. ) According to MobyGames, I have worked on the following titles:
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), LucasArts
Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter (2002),
Star Wars: Starfighter (2001), LucasArts
Star Wars: Force Commander (2000), LucasArts
My career probably spans more years than those displayed since these dates are based on the credits documented in MobyGames (which are incomplete). I have been credited with the roles Design, Other and Programming.
Our fans seem to love stories about LucasArts. Anything amusing to share?
( D.M. ) Ok, this is me talking. I once wrote to Simon (the prez), with some pretty harsh suggestions about the company. In between the time I sent it and when I finally heard back from him three days later, I cleaned out my desk and started preparing my resume.
Finally, he got back to me (after being out of town for three days), thanked me for the suggestions, and provided encouragement and feedback on all the ideas.
Interestingly, a month later, he was gone. Hmmm.
What is your favorite thing about Telltale?
( H.L.L. as D.M. ) I really like all the friendly and intelligent people. Especially when they leave me alone to do my work.
It is ridiculously hot in here and you have your own personal electric fan. How did you manage that little coup?
( D.M. ) I have fans and groupies everywhere .
That Doug. What a card..
Greetings. Dave Grossman here, casting discursions from the darkened recesses of the Fifth Corner of Telltale. The volcanic gargling of the Motorcycle to the Moon project next door has stilled, and the gentle hum of the morale fans is like the soothing voice of a distant waterfall. People are working with computers, clickety-click, and it sounds like a bunch of beetles having a wild party.
Heather's been interviewing people here on the blog and it's more or less my turn, but Heather is busy today doing actual work on Bone. So, I will simply have to interview myself.Me: So, wait, Dave, you're working at Telltale now?
Me: They made the mistake of leaving the door unlocked one day while everyone was at lunch. Now they can't get rid of me.Me: According to your website, you've been avoiding having an actual job for a long time. What finally lured you out of your cave?
Me: True, I've been freelancing ever since I left LucasArts eleven years ago, and I like it, but the hermity nature of freelancing is bad for your social skills. A few months ago I absent-mindedly took my shirt off at a restaurant and started grooming the hair on my stomach, and I realized I should probably spend more time around people.Me: Or less. But here you are, so: why Telltale?
Me: They'll play poker with me. The wisdom of playing with people who wrote the AI for a computer poker game
escapes me, but I like it. Also, Telltale is a company where characters and story are the foundations of a game, instead of being the wrapping paper on yet another boring run-around-and-shoot-and-don't-do-anything-else title. The bulk of the games industry is, sadly, a place where people think having a conversation about "character"� means trying to think of a cool weapon for the protagonist to use. (You think I'm exaggerating, but that really happens all the time.) Not so Telltale. It's very refreshing to be here. And it's a small company where people enjoy their jobs -- like LucasFilm was in 1989, but without the mountain lions.What will you be doing there? Here?
It is my solemn duty to guard the Table of Communal Food. Daniel's fiancé made scones and vanilla butter the other day. Yum! The Fifth Corner is a delicious place to be. I also plan to do a little writing and game design, schedule permitting. Probably I'll post to this blog every now and then as well.We understand you used to make public access television shows with Telltale CEO Dan Connors. Did he ever do anything embarrassing in front of a camera?
Let's just say he can't fire me.Will you send us a tape?
Come see me after hours.What is your deepest, darkest secret?
Apart from that TV show, it's probably my peculiar weakness for Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. I mean, lots of people liked Terminator, Total Recall, and Predator, but I actually own a copy of Kindergarten Cop
and I've watched it more than once. There, I've said it, it's out. I pretty much stopped paying attention after the odious Jingle All the Way, but the older films are still fun for me, although Conan in particular is kind of creepy to watch now that Arnold is the governor of the state I live in. (Being a fiction writer is next to impossible when real life is so bizarre. Oh well, at least I'm not from Minnesota
.)We learn something every day. What did you learn today?
I learned that Microsoft Word knows the correct spelling of "Schwarzenegger,"� but cannot spell "blog."�Heather asks good questions. When's she coming back?
Pipe down, you ungrateful wretch. You'll take it and like it.
Our next interview features Daniel Herrera, our newly arrived Technical Artist. Hello Daniel.
Hello?What, exactly, does a technical artist do?
So far it involves examining and adjusting a character model until time and space cease to have any meaning and V-shaped smiles look perfectly natural. I thought it involved doodling in one's engineering text book.
You would think so but we are too sophisticated to use actual paper. Explain this "rigging" concept.
This will probably show how out of touch I am but, remember those rubber toys that had a metal wire skeleton inside them? You could bend their limbs and they would retain their pose until the wires got weak and broke off. Then the cool toy would become a limp rubber mess. Rigging would be putting the wire in the rubber toy except that we do it in a high-tech 3D virtual reality and when things break you get a limp polygonal mess instead. Sounds technical.
Yeah, I know. Let's talk some more about our childhood toys... Very well, what was your favorite childhood toy?
Why, The Mad Scientist Monster Lab, of course. Kids nowadays don't know what they are missing. Here's a description Oh yes, that was an excellent toy. I also had a particular dolly I quite liked. When you squeezed her, she woud say "Yes Master". How long have you been working at Telltale?
10 hours and 17 minutes.What constitutes an average day on the job?
So far I have been doing whatever Jon has told me to do. It was great when it was related to setting up 3D characters, but I am starting to wonder how sorting his laundry fits in with the rest of the pipeline.You have a cognitive science degree and a master's degree in 3D Animation. What made you make the leap between the two?
Leap? I thought it was pretty obvious that 3D animation logically follows from the interdisciplinary study of the human mind. When I started going to college I really did not know what I was going to study. I have always loved animation but it took me a while to figure out that it is what I wanted to do. Cognitive science made sense because it draws from many disciplines and it gave me a chance to take all kinds of classes.How do you apply your cognitive science degree in your every day life?
Through the sheer force of will, I am now changing the course of several meteors that are hurling toward earth and could cost an immeasurable number of lives. But I mostly use it as a conversation launch pad. Fascinating. So in your job you are working directly with Jon Sgro. Did you know Jon was a culinary snob? What are your own food inclinations?
When I asked Jon what restaurants were nearby, he said there was a Wendy's down the street. Then, with a disgusted look on his face, he said "...if you want to eat fast food."� I guess that gave me a clue.
I'm not too particular about food. I just refuse to eat anything that starts with a Q.Very wise, my friend. Very wise indeed.
This week I am beginning my task of interviewing the entire company, one employee at a time. This would be a larger task at another company, but a smaller task if I had started several weeks ago. I have decided to start with the newest employees and work backwards, in order to present a more well-rounded version of the nefarious activities that go on here.
This week we will be interviewing Telltale intern, Jeffery Crouse. Jeffery comes to us from that hotbed of nascent genius, the Information Design and Technology grad program at Georgia Tech.
Hello Heather, and thank you for including me in this survey. I am honored to be part of Telltale, if only for the summer, and I look forward to getting to know everyone here. One thing you will learn about me is that I prefer not to be argumentative. However, I feel that it is important to point out that my name has 2, rather then 3 'e's - "Jeffrey".
Already getting uppity, and he just got here. Hmph. How do you like not spending the summer in Atlanta?
This was perhaps the best decision I have ever made. Atlanta has its charms, for sure, but ample parking and boiled peanuts happen to be topping my personal list at the moment, which just isn't enough to earn it a place in my heart.
What were the mosquitoes like this summer?
I think I got out of Atlanta before the mosquitoes arrived. In fact, coming from the temperate climes of New England, I hope never to experience an Atlanta summer, mosquitoes or no. On the other hand, I hear those mosquitoes are spreading some pretty exotic diseases this summer, and I do love all things exotic.
How long have you been working at Telltale?
I have worked at Telltale for 14 glorious hours.
What is your role here?
I am an intern, and yet, so far, I haven't fetched a single cup of coffee.
Hmm...we'll have to work on that. Describe an average day on the job.
In a strictly statistical sense, my average day so far (with accuracy approaching 100%) consists of roughly equal parts installing and configuring Windows and playing games for research, punctuated by the occasional chicken satay lunch. In the future, I will be working with the Telltale Game Tool to insert content for Telltale's games.
Who is your favorite employee? Nevermind, for your protection I retract that question.
I appreciate your concern, but I can confidently say that, if the person who pays me (and I'm not sure exactly who that is) can be considered an employee, then he is, by far, my favorite employee. Otherwise it's whoever makes the coffee.
Why did you decide to apply for an internship at Telltale?
I applied to Telltale on the advice of one of my classmates at Tech who met you at GDC, and on the strong recommendation of one of my professors. In a broader sense, I wanted to get into the game industry, and from what I knew about Telltale, it was a very good fit with my own interests in interactive narrative.
How has your experience so far differed from your friend's experiences who are interning for other companies?
Of those friends who I have heard from, my internship experience (admittedly, based on less than 2 days of experience on both sides) seems to be somewhere in the middle of a continuum, with intensely corporate one end, and extremely freeform on the other. This turns out to be a very good place to be, especially for a newcomer to the industry. It gives me a chance to be directly involved with the development of the game, which might not happen in a larger company, but also work in a relaxed, yet focused environment.
Did you tell them we have a hockey net?
Yes - foosball too. They were very jealous.
Do you feel your studies have prepared you for this summer's internship?
Yes. While this is my first foray into the video game industry, I feel that my CS and media studies background has prepared me to get the most possible out of my internship.
What do you want to be when you grow-up?
It's a tossup between an ice cream man and an astronaut, unless they open a Ben & Jerry's on the moon. Then I can be both.
A few weeks ago, Telltale issued a challenge to our fans: collaborate to produce 20 interview questions which Telltale would then answer. This was accomplished with such blistering organization and efficiency that we were completely blind-sided.
But now we are proud to present...the answers!
How do you propose to market the Bone games to Bone/comic fans, rather than adventure games? -JP
|Can we expect to see a Bone demo in the near future? --Alucard|
Dan: It depends on your definition of near future. I think the most near
future will include some screen shots, the post near future will include
game play movies and finally in the future future there will be a demo which
will coincide with the release of the game.
Dan: This is definitely something we are figuring out. Online the comic book audience is very much like the games audience in that they are very involved and have a group of sites they visit for information. We will be working in that network of sites to show off the game art and let people know what we are up to. Of course its another goal of ours to synch up with Scholastic and brainstorm on this so we can have a mutually beneficial relationship.What were the other franchises besides Sam and Max and Bone that you were considering? -Burn
Dan: Bone was the first license we considered when we left LucasArts. When we went to Comicon to meet Jeff we checked out Usagi Yojimbo and we found a comic called Max Hamm which I thought would be great content for a game. For television shows, I really wanted to do a game about the Young Ones but we really didn't pursue it too much. There are also other licenses that I can't talk about right now.How can one go about auditioning for a Telltale game? -misanthrope
Heather: Unfortunately we are just wrapping up our auditions for Bone. If you are interested in auditioning for a future game, you can send us some sample voice work on CD along with a resume, and we can contact you the next time we are running auditions. Are you going to produce translated versions of your games? -Diduz
Dan: We are planning on it. Its obvious to us that the adventure fanbase and Bone fanbase are world wide. It can be a lot of work to get it done so we will need to work on strong partnerships to make it happen. It is definitely about finding people that can translate while keeping the nuances of the communication.Was Dank always going to be a comic? --Burn
Graham A.: No. Dank was created for a little puzzley game idea we were tinkering with early on. I did numerous sketches of him and suggested the notion of putting him in a web comic. The game idea is still floating around but in the mean time Dank gets to stumble his way through existence on the web comic.In the short teaser clip of Bone, Bone appears to be following the cursor around. Do you plan to create interactivity between the characters and player? -Vark
Heather: We are exploring some different ways the player and character can interact. I am interested in some possibilities that present themselves when breaking the 4th wall. It won't be exactly like in the clip though.
How often will the episodes of Bone be released? -spf1978
|How has Telltale Texas Hold Em' performed in contrast to your expectations? |
Dan: Part of the goal with Telltale Texas Hold Em was to get a grasp on
what we should expect as far as digital distribution is concerned. Each
step we have taken has been measured so we can understand the impact of
it. In that respect it is helping us create a strong infrastructure for
Also, We were really excited to win the indie game of the month award
from PC zone and were glad they got that the game is so much more then
a poker game. Every adventure game fan who didn't download it because
they hate poker should try it out, because we definitely built it for
Heather: My mom loves it. Mission accomplished.
Dan: I think six months is likely to start, but it will improve as we get into the groove of the license.What is your opinion on the infamous "cut-scenes" that many other adventure games employ as a story-telling device? -spf1978
Graham A: Cut-scenes are fine with me as long as they support the experience of being immersed in the game. If they become overly long or disjointed it can be very detrimental to the experience, but when used economically and effectively to highlight story points they are a totally valid device.
Heather: Cutscenes can be very useful to allow the player to catch their breath after a difficult sequence or to communicate an emotion that has so far proved troublesome to convey in an interactive way. They do have their place, but I am hoping that games will slowly be able to evolve to a point where the story is unfolded through gameplay, and cutscenes become more and more rare.
|What are your future plans for the characters from TT Texas |
Heather: These are fun characters with great potential and I would definitely
like to use them again. In what format, I am not yet sure. I think they
are adaptable to many kinds of games. Dudebrough Surfing Safari comes to
mind, but that is just one possibility.
Dan: We haven't thought about it too much, I think it would be cool to have them all playing Bocce, but that's just me. Whats cool is we have an opportunity to create characters and let them grow over time. So anything can happen with them especially if people like them. Dudebrough has become slightly controversial, so he might be fun to flesh out more. I suppose we could make an action game featuring Krinkle as a wisecracking tough guy "marinate on that $%^$^*er"� We thought the mole on Weinhead's head could have secret powers and grandma, who has quite a fanbase, could be a detective with a secret past.Will the supporting characters (in Bone) have some kind of AI or will they just have set dialogue paths like previous adventure games? -smileyfaceman
Graham McD: As a company, we're striving to make interaction with NPCs a more dynamic and immersive experience than it historically has been in games, adventure and otherwise. To that end, we've spent a good amount of time discussing how we can achieve this. Bone will incorporate a few of the ideas we came up with, so you can expect to interact with other characters in new ways - some more subtle, some obvious. We aren't abandoning the tried and true though, so you could say we're taking an "evolutionary" approach.Will there be multiple player-controlled characters per title? -smileyfaceman
Heather: I can't speak in the definitive for future titles, but the first Bone will allow you to play a few different characters. Exploring other character's viewpoint and worldviews is another way we hope to deepen the Bone experience. It would also be difficult to do the Bone story justice without being able to switch characters, as there are times critical story moments happen with one character when another is not present.Are you planning to exclusively distribute all your games electronically, or are you considering other options as well? -Apignarb
Dan: Digital distribution provides a direct link between Telltale and the people we believe are interested in what we are doing. We are definitely considering other options, and have an open mind about it; the most important thing for us is that we are in a position to create games we believe in. In a perfect world the distribution model wouldn't even be an issue.Being that many of you were on the Sam&Max team, and founding TellTale was in part inspired by the cancellation of that project, do you have any juicy tidbits to share with us about the game, or the making of the game? -Apignarb/Udvanorky
Graham A: One thing I can tell you is that Mike Stemmle had the ability to launch into random show tunes at any given time on the project. It was one of the more interesting aspects of our team meetings. You never knew when it was going to hit.
Dan: My favorite part of the game was the third episode where Sam and Max confront the arch nemeses they never realized they had. These nemeses were two humans who were also an imitation of Sam and Max. Anyway we were casting for the voice parts and Stemmle had the brilliant idea to cast the Sam and Max from the cartoon series to play the arch nemeses. Well unfortunately budget restraints kept us from actually hiring those guys but that would have been so cool. What we did do was have Nick Jameson and Bill Farmer play the arch nemeses but have them switch parts which was funny as well.
Oh and Max was once in the band FogHat.
Jon: I once successfully shot a basketball over eight cubicles and through a series of ceiling pipes. True story.Describe a typical workday at TellTale. -Apignarb
Heather: I liked this question so much that it inspired me to run a series of interviews with the Telltale staff all about their Telltale lives. Keep an eye on the blogs for myriad responses to this question.Do you have any plans for any other games than Bone yet, maybe even working on other ideas during the development of Bone? -Apignarb
Graham A: We've certainly got plans for other games but unfortunately we're not at liberty to say until further notice. Which I admit is a bummer for our fans but is a necessary evil when one practices respectable business procedures. Whenever we are properly prepared to release new news you can bet we'll be yelling it at the top of our lungs from the closest available mountain top. I swear!
Dan: We are definitely working on some other things. We will let you know more when we can talk about it.
Heather: We are working on ideas constantly. Just about every day, someone suggests some new game idea. Luckily for you, many of them will never see the light of day. But many others have more merit and may just make their way into your clawing digital hands...someday.TO KEVIN Will we see "buttless ice chaps" in any of Telltale's games? --Jub
Kevin: "Ice chaps"... yes. "Buttless"... yes. But alas, no "buttless ice chaps". But it's a damn intriguing idea.... damn intriguing.I love adventure games and feel they deserve another chance to shine, but with TellTale Texas Hold'em, you brought personality to a genre that is usually devoid of any such character. What are your plans, if any, to bring this personality into other genres as well? --jerkofalltrades
Dan: Definitely character personality is a big part of our plans. We are working on ways to make characters personalities dynamic so they respond to the players' actions. Right now the job of most characters in games is to die an emphatic and visually pleasing death. Our goal is to make characters that you would rather hang out with, engage in a battle of wits with or play a game against. At the very least you should want to get to know the character before you drop an explosive in their pants
Heather: We consider most genres to be open to us at this time. Regardless of the genre of game we make, you can bet that it will have interesting characters who will positively ooze with life. You were mentioning in an early interview that you were planning to have a schedule eventually for episodic releases of several game-series, is that something you're still planning to do, or is Bone the main focus for now? -Apignarb
Dan: Bone is our priority right now, but as we grow we will be taking on more products.
Welcome, my friends to the future of interactive entertainment! No more will you just sit passively in front of your television sets, watching the mindless drivel that pours out at you. And why just play video games that lack real depth and personality? No, my friends...now you can have both!
Doubtless you have heard of the emerging trend of Interactive Television (aka iTV, sometimes eTV). Using digital set-top boxes or convergence platforms, you will be able to change the camera angles during a sports game or play along with a game show. Interactive content will be available to you as you watch your favorite shows, letting you experience whole new levels of those shows.
Are you ready? Are you excited? Are you confused why I'm telling you all this? After all, Telltale just makes games, right? Perhaps at the moment...but we smell change on the wind and it makes our nostrils quiver with excitement.
Even now we are in negotiation to develop an interactive television experience featuring none other than your favorite Telltale Texas Hold Em stars! At the moment we are bandying about a brilliant parody of MTV's classic reality show "The Real World"�, combined with elements of "Survivor"�.
Picture this: Boris Krinkle, Theodore Dudebrough, Grandma Shakey and Harry Weinhead must inhabit a 3-room dwelling together for six months. No one is allowed to leave the compound...house...until the show is over. Take delight in the suffering of the Telltale cast as they have to live with each other, day in and day out. Featuring, of course, exciting poker action by night. The cast will be filled out with a couple of new characters. At the moment we are toying with the additions of a bosomy sorority girl and a witty and plucky game junkie. This all sounds perfectly hilarious, you think to yourself, but where does the interactivity come in?
The last month and a half is when characters start getting voted out of the house. But unlike those other reality shows, it is you -- the viewer -- who gets to do the voting! Not only that, but the system we are developing may even allow you to play as a virtual poker player in the nightly poker games at the house.
I can't give you many more details on our project without risking Dan's wrath. And of course, don't expect to see it in action anytime soon. But be assured that when you hunger for iTV action, Telltale will be there to bring it to you!
Last week I had the unequivocal pleasure of attending the Game Developer's Conference in sunny San Francisco (at least it was sunny for three straight days). The Game Developer's Conference (known colloquially as the GDC) is a gargantuan gathering of game industry professionals who come together in hallowed halls of convention centers to talk about games. And to watch other people talk about games. And to play independent games and stroll the endless expo floor to see what different companies want them to see and to watch the Game Developer Choice Awards and imbibe free beverages. I also enjoy illuminating other developers on why I'm right and they're wrong.
This was my third GDC, and it was once again a delightful event. I talked to many professionals, watched other professionals talk, played a few independent games, walked my feet to sore swolleness around the expo floor, imbibed many free beverages, and illuminated many developers on why I was right and they were wrong. Here, for your enjoyment, are the highlights of my trip. At least those that relate in some manner to Telltale. [readmore]Why Doesn't the Game Industry Make Interactive Stories?
This was the first panel I attended, and everything in it pointed to a Telltale revolution!! The panel was made up of Tim Schafer of Double Fine Studios (designer of up-coming Psychonauts, also known for Grim Fandango and Full Throttle), Neil Young (not the singer but the VP and General Manager of Electronic Arts LA), Warren Spector, (who talks at just about every GDC panel: think Deus Ex and Thief), and my former professor Michael Mateas of Georgia Tech's Experimental Game Lab. Andrew Stern, Michael's partner in crime (who was, by the way, responsible for the AI in those cute Catz, Dogz, and Babiez desktop pets) moderated.
What became clear through the panel is that everything the industry at large is too risk-averse to dabble in, Telltale Games is ready to take by the proverbial horns. The salient points from this panel include:
Staring Contests with Tim Schafer
- Smaller games with deeper stories!
- Pairing up writers with technology!
- Integration of story and Gameplay!
- Cutscenes do not a story make!
- Introduce subtext!
- Change focus of games from fighting outer demons to fighting inner demons!
- Develop player empathy with the characters: create the sense that this world and these characters existed before the game was ever turned on!
During the afore-mentioned panel, I engaged in a number of staring contests with Tim Schafer. I defeated him handily in every one. Either he wasn't aware we were engaged in a series of staring contests or else he is uncommonly terrible at this game. Game Developer's Rant!
It is great fun to hear game developers rant, despite what my co-workers say. Here are the Telltale-notable details of this series of ranting:
The ubiquitous Warren Spector began by complaining bitterly of the developer/publisher business model in the gaming industry and encouraged developers to explore new ways of distributing their games to the world. You may not be aware that how the industry usually works is that we have publishers and we have developers. The publishers do many nice things for the developers, like paying for the game's development, marketing the product and making it appear in stores. In return, they keep all the profits. In this model, publishers are putting up the capital and don't wish to risk their cold hard cash on developers who want to try something new and experimental. Mr. Spector queried why this is the only distribution channel available to games when other media have multiple ways of presenting their materials to the public. He encouraged game developers to follow bravely in Telltale's footsteps by finding other distribution methods. He may not have mentioned Telltale by name, but I'm sure that's what he was thinking.
Greg Costikyan (some of you savvy in games outside of the digital world may know him as the designer of Paranoia and Toon) also praised the Telltale business model (without mentioning Telltale per se). Between his blisteringly scathing criticisms of the industry and the big movers and shakers within it was a message of how innovation is being forced to give way to greed. And how the future will continue to grow worse, as game development costs continue to grow, causing even less risk to be undertaken. But it is those like the intrepid brave souls at Telltale, who are striving to bring innovation to a stagnant market, that will bring the industry out from the slimy pit into which it is steadily sinking. Spreading the Telltale Word
Like a true apostle of good times to come, I spread the gospel of Telltale Games, Telltale Texas Hold 'Em and our up-coming Bone game. Many people were very excited to hear that the former Sam and Max crew were busy charting new territories. As for Bone, there were one of two reactions: blank looks and nods or else jumping up and down with barely controlled glee. The gleeful quickly turned to their blank companions and explained the story of Bone and how it would make a great adventure game, ending their harangues with offers to loan out their one volume editions of the comic. The blank ones smiled and agreed to read it. I take all of this as very good signs. Will Wright Declares Rebirth of the Adventure Game
The room was packed, and sweaty conference attendees stood in the hallways pressing anxiously against the doors trying to overhear the designer of SimCity and its children discuss a possible future for games. To this audience, Will Wright announced his new project: "Spore"�. This is a game that is hard to sum up in one pithy sentence. Imagine, if you will, a game that combines gameplay modes from Pac-Man, Populous and Civilization, allows you to infinitely customize the appearance of your own unique creatures and guide them through their humble beginnings as protoplasm to an advanced race that inhabits a world filled entirely with other cultures designed by other players and downloaded from a centralized database, and THEN take your culture to the stars to colonize new worlds and encounter other planets filled with other player-designed races. And this game all happens through procedural programming: Wright doesn't need a team of artists slaving away for years to produce every possible creature and their animations. The program allows the player to form the creatures of their darkest imaginations and then cleverly figures out how that creature would move, which appendages should be legs, which arms, etc.
At this point, you may feel your mind rending. You may also be wondering "what in the world does this have to do with adventure games"�? Everything. Because Will Wright is sticking it (as they say) to The Man. The Man says that we should only be making console games. The Man says that the next generation consoles are going to be incredibly expensive to make games for. The Man says that you players in the world are only interested in playing next year's football game or big movie licensed game. (The Man says that if you don't live in America and don't know what football is then you're not a viable market.)
Well, Will Wright is willing to stand up and say "Hah! I'm going to make a PC game with endlessly fascinating gameplay that has nothing to do with football or movie licenses and I'm not going to spend a gazillion dollars making it because I don't need a whole room full of artists working for five years and I'm going to fit a galaxy into 1kb of memory and this is all going to ROCK!"�
And we at Telltale are willing to stand up right next to him and declare our undying love for a supposedly dead genre and for the people who aren't willing to play next year's football or movie-based game. We are willing to dip our toes in the dangerous shark infested waters of downloadable games that cut out the publisher middleman, and to produce games that have everything to do with story and (very little) to do with blowing things up. As Greg Costikyan said in the game developer rant:
"You can take the blue pill, or the red pill. You can go work for the machine, work mandatory eighty hour weeks in a massive sweatshop publisher-owned studio with hundreds of other drones, laboring to build the new, compelling photorealistic driving game-- with the same basic gameplay as Pole Position.
Or you can defy the machine."�
At Telltale, we are all about defiance. And donuts. Especially the kind with the chocolate on top and the delectably creamy custard in the middle.
Yes. Those are quite excellent.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Quickly! Without thinking too hard, answer the following questions :
1. What is your favorite thing about the Sam and Max game?
2. What is your favorite thing about Grim Fandango?
Unless I'm completely off my rocker (which may well be, since I don't have a rocker) I'd guess most of you answered the first question with something like "the loveable and wacky characters"� or "the clever and witty sense of humor"�. Similarly I would guess that most of you answered question 2 with something like "the awe-inspiring story"� or "the fun and deep characters"� or even "the fact that everything's dead."�
Now just as quickly answer the following :
1. What was your LEAST favorite thing about the Sam and Max game?
2. What was your LEAST favorite thing about Grim Fandango?
Again, I consult my mystical crystal ball of game design. This time I suspect the answer to both questions to be something like "such and such freakingishly annoying puzzle that I was stuck on until I wanted to throw my computer down on the ground and jump up and down on it like an enraged orangutan (but I just barely restrained myself, which is good because it saved me a good deal of money)"�.
This then, begs the question: What is most important in adventure games? The story? The characters? Or the game play? I mean, these are GAMES we are talking about aren't they?
Sometimes I will come across a review for an adventure game on an adventure gaming site that in essence reads something like this: "The graphics are beautiful, the story is deep and compelling, the characters are engaging....and oh, yeah, the puzzles don't suck."� Is "don't suck"� really the best we can do? Or is "not sucking"� really all that is needed? Perhaps it is the story that is important, and the puzzles are just the interactive glue that holds everything together? Are adventure games then really just interactive stories with puzzles thrown in to offer the occasional challenge? What if I simply read a novel that occasionally interrupted the deep and compelling narrative with a logic problem which I had to solve before I could continue? Would the experience be similar?
It is my belief, dear reader, that story without game play does not a game make. Likewise, a good story without good game play does not a good game make.
I know this is a slippery concept to grasp for those of you without >ahem< Master's Degrees. So I will explain in easily digested terminology what it is I am getting at here.
Many adventure games are remembered fondly for their charming characters and intriguing storylines. But I know that I have spent a great deal of time with many games frustrated out of my mind by puzzles that didn't quite make sense. If I wanted to combine a great story with agonizing frustration, I would read my favorite novel while sitting in front of the office hockey goal during Telltale carpet hockey practice.
When a review happily proclaims that the puzzles in a given game "didn't suck"� they are basically saying that the puzzles do not distract from the overall story. They don't break the player's sense of immersion by suddenly demanding you figure out that (obviously!) you need to hit fish with a golf club into a gator-infested golf hole in order to progress. Instead, you are able to figure them out through application of common logic and get back to the story.
It follows then that in order to transcend "not sucking"� the game play must not only keep you from feeling distracted, but would actually enhance your feeling of immersion. Puzzles and activities would blend seamlessly into the plot and world of the game. Interactive moments would feel like a natural extension of the game world. Better yet, you would actually feel as if your actions had consequences that affected the story...
How far is this from reality? Oh it will come, dear readers, it will come. Probably not tomorrow. How long will we have to wait? Such is at this time unknown. But make no mistake...some day "not sucking"� will not be enough.
You may look upon the company pages of this site and wonder "What part do these intrepid individuals play in the creation of the fantastic pieces of artistic achievement that they will one day bestow upon us? What organs and tendons cause our favorite company to run freely and remain unblighted by disease?"�
Indeed, you are a curious lot. So I will today peel back the skin, as it were, and show you what lies beneath the pasty exterior. These are the important positions that make up our company.
Lawyers -- If ever you decide -- perhaps in a fit of madness -- to start your own game company, the very first people you must bring on board are lawyers. Lawyers know all the right papers to sign and not sign, the right words to use in any given contract, and the favorite drinks of many big investors. They tell us what games we can and can't make, and when we get to announce things to the public. These people are the heart of any business. Getting anything done without them is pure folly. Getting things done with them is just time and money intensive.
People with Money -- The next thing you will need is people with money. In a perfect world, we would simply be able to make our games free of deadlines or restrictions. We would spend mornings sitting around drinking whipped soy mochas and discussing the state of gaming and what brilliant ideas we were going to undertake today. At lunch we would have a picnic out in the beautiful Marin County air and play board games for inspiration. Then, in the afternoon we would settle in to work, pausing now and again for a lively session of foosball. Alas, the world isn't so simple. Rent must be paid and people must have money with which to buy food and video games. This requires people who have money to invest in you, and it can often be quite the chore to convince them that this is something they really do want to do. People seem very protective of their money for some reason.
Chief (whatever) Officers -- Dan, Kevin and Troy all have distinct titles and specialized duties, but here's what's important: They're who to go to if you need to know what to do next, if something has "accidentally"� blown up, or if you need someone to restock the fridge with Dr. Pepper. They also spend a good deal of time convincing People With Money (see above) to share some of their wealth. This makes them indispensable.
Creative Director -- As the person in charge of making our games look lovely and picturesque, Graham A. spends most of his time doodling pretty pictures in blue pencil. Occasionally, he stretches his legs and tapes these pictures to the walls so everyone can admire them. And then he may request a meeting where everyone can stand and gaze at his handiwork and applaud his artistic vision. Before you quit school to become a creative director, I must warn you that he is also in charge of animation and keeping artists in line -- neither of which is an easy job.
Director of Production Technologies -- You may be curious what "Director of Production Technologies"� means. To be honest, I am not sure either. It seems to involve staring sullenly at your screen and tweaking character models (the characters that are going to appear on screen in the game) to beyond perfection, jumping up for spontaneous games of foosball or nerf basketball, and complaining about where everyone else wants to go for lunch. I think it also has something to do with programming tools that artists can use to make their lives easier, or at least lamenting that one is spending too much time tweaking character models to perfection and so cannot program tools. Hmm....I suppose I should ask Jon one of these days instead of just inventing notions of his job in my head.
Programmer -- Randy and Graham G. (also sometimes referred to as "McGraham"� or "MickeyG"�) have the most fascinating job. They sit in front of their monitors for hours on end, typing in arcane numbers and phrases that are incomprehensible to mere mortals such as you and I. Then they may say something like "look what I did!"� and things -- happen. It is much like sorcery, only sorcery that is contained by little electronic boxes.
Environment Modeler -- Kim is a magician of a different sort. She examines Graham A.'s blue doodles, and translates them into reality. Well, virtual reality. From a vast nothingness of empty black space, she sculpts the beautiful terrains and architecture of our games' worlds. Her creations have the effect of making one sigh and think to themselves "I need a vacation."�
Game Designer -- So many misguided youths think it would be "cool"� to become a game designer when they finally set out into the world. Little do they know what we designers must endure. Working late into the cold night, updating documents until our cuticles separate from our fingernails and blood clogs our keyboards. (I go through a lot of keyboards). Staring into the glow of the monitor until our eyes ache and our shoulders cramp, the utter concentration on some unsolved problem causing sweat to bead on our brows and our heads to pulse in pain....
[Editor's note: I had to trim a couple paragraphs here, because she went on this way for awhile more and we were running over our word limit. Suffice it to say that Heather is sometimes prone to melodrama. Also, please be assured that even though she does in fact update all of our documentation, these have been subjected to a strict screening process ever since the subliminal message incident. Thanks -- Dan
ps. I have never once seen Heather work late into the cold night. Ever.]
And there you have it, boys and girls, gamers all...these are the integral parts that make up a young and thriving game company. As I replace the skin and put down my scalpel, I am now willing to take questions.
2004 was an exciting year for Telltale Games. After all, it was this past year the company was formed, hired it's first wave of employees, moved into new offices, attracted it's first core group of fans, had a couple babies and started work on it's first secret project.
I know this seems to be a hard act to follow. But 2005 is going to be even more amazing! As of Wednesday we will have heat!! (Or so they say...)
Here are our New Year's resolutions (which, of course, I simply made up for everyone without asking them):
Dan: To be the bestest Dad ever.
Troy: Thanks for stealing mine Dan. Sheesh. Also, to get a new car and convince my wife that motorcycles are not death traps.
Kevin: To clone myself, so I have one of me to answer questions all day while the other me can actually get some work done.
Randy: Get an actual photo of me on the Telltale Employees page.
Jon: Find my nerf ball. Or a get a new one, if need be.
Graham: World peace.
Heather: World domination.
Brendan: Get out of this clos....I mean, Bermuda.
Happy 2005 from all of us at Telltale Games! May your New Year's be bright and glittery and all that good gooeyness.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am known to most as Heather L. Logas. I have been a gamer my entire life. I taught myself to play rock paper scissors in the womb, received my first Atari at the age of five and ran my first Dungeons and Dragons adventure at the age of ten. In high school, while other girls were playing soccer or dating boys (or girls...I did grow up in San Francisco...) I snuck off at night to play live action role playing games. I pursued my passion in college, and went on to receive a Master's Degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I studied game design and theory. Yes, its true. I have a Master's Degree in gaming.
This grants me certain rights and privileges that the less educated gamer can only dream of, the least of which is being able to easily instigate interesting dinner conversation. These include:
- The justification to be unequivocally right about any subject concerning gaming.
- The license to pontificate at will on any gaming related subject. Gamers, game industry folk and my parents must make a saving throw vs Academia, or else be forced to listen respectfully, only nodding their heads now and again at the appropriate moments.
- The ability to make up words or re-appropriate existing words whimifically.
At this point you may be wondering "Where is that charming Brendan fellow?"� And yes, you may well wonder, for I am clearly not the Brendan Q. Ferguson of Stenchtar fame. If I were, I would have no need to explain to you that I am Heather L. Logas, traveling scholar turned Telltale employee. Alas, no one has seen our dear Brendan for some time now. Of course, that may be because I have locked him securely in his closet and erased all memory of him from my fellow Telltaler's minds so that I may undermine his position and replace him as chief designer of Telltale Games. Or perhaps he is simply vacationing in Bermuda. Who can say? Except perhaps for the rats in the closet.
So you will have to read my words for the time being instead of Brendan's, which suits me just fine as it gives me a chance to pontificate on my plans for domination of the entire gaming world. Do you have your dice ready?
You see, entering Telltale Games was just the first step in my master plan. These foo -- I mean my fellow employees -- were mesmerized by my extensive education and gladly took me in. Now, with Brendan...missing...I have my chance to step up and take over all of his designing responsibilities. Since I have the justification to be unequivocally right on any subject concerning gaming, no one will question my designs and will implement them just as I instruct. Next, the screaming Telltale fans will buy up every copy of my product and see just how games SHOULD be made. Word will spread from gamer to gamer, and soon I will replace pre-existing notions of game design with my own vision. Hah! My plan is flawless!
I suppose you wish to know what my vision actually is? Well, this may be a matter to pontificate on in the future, but for now I will give you the highlights:
- Stories that can be played out different ways by different players, but are no less engaging whichever way the player decides to play.
- Meaningful consequences that are appropriate to player-character actions.
- Computer controlled (non-player) characters that act like actual people, and have a life of their own.
- Worlds that breathe.
- Never having to do anything over and over and over again, until you want to throw your mouse or controller on the ground and stomp on it again and again.
Oh my, I'd best be off. I hear scratching behind the closet door...it may be time to administer more tranquilizing serum. Farewell...for now.
Regular readers of our blogs (or anyone with the Web savvy to click on the Blogs
link at the top of our home page) may recall that one blog I wrote about RPG's
. If you don't recall it, you can and should read it right this moment. Look, I don't care if your house is on fire, read it now, or suffer the consequences. In that blog (which Mildly Entertaining PC Products
magazine described as "an unmitigated waste of bandwidth"�), I discussed international RPG sensation/phenomenon, The Blades of Stenchtar
The good news is that swarms of people have been writing in to pre-order The Blades of Stenchtar
, and by swarms I mean two. And another person wrote in to say, "I might buy The Blades of Stenchtar
if someone had a high-powered rifle pressed to my temple... assuming a reasonable price point of course."� With such overwhelmingly enthusiastic support, it was a no-brainer for me to get to work on the sequel, The Blades of Stenchtar II: Escape from Stenchtar Mountain
. Though this game has absolutely no chance of ever being made, writing it will get all these people clamoring for blogs off my back, and that is priority number one.
I want to warn you that I've decided to take the series in a slightly different direction. Moving beyond mere parody, I've attempted to take Stenchtar into the realm of pure art, where words have meaning beyond the knowable, and you can talk in sentences like this one and people will just nod and say, "Whatever"�. So with a minimum of further ado, I present The Blades of Stenchtar II: Escape from Stenchtar Mountain
Following his epic victory over the wretchedly evil Gloatherd McMoatherd, our hero Oinktoast the Meticulous has started a new life for himself as the so-called "Haberdasher to the Stars"�. The townspeople of Stenchtar, who were forced to utter the exact same line of dialog under any circumstance while Gloatherd was still in power, are now once again speaking in entire paragraphs. All is not peaches and cream in Stenchtar, though, for a mysterious darkness has come over the land, probably because it's nighttime. Storms are brewing not only over the Dorkgard Mountains in the east, but also within Oinktoast himself.
You see, in a sickeningly predictable plot twist, it turns out that Gloatherd managed to survive being eaten by Oinktoast at the conclusion of The Blades of Stenchtar
. Now living comfortably in Oinktoast's belly, Gloatherd has begun a counterattack the likes of which Oinktoast's guts have never before seen. Using every germ at his disposal, Gloatherd bombards the lining of Oinktoast's stomach like there's no tomorrow, which, if he's successful, there won't be! I won't tell you what all this stomach bombardment does to Oinktoast, but let's just say it rhymes with pie-arrhea.
Thinking he may have some sort of gastro-intestinal disorder, Oinktoast decides to visit the local seer, Serena the Needlessly Vague. She tells him, "That which dwells in your belly will one day spell your DOOM!"� Naturally, Oinktoast suspects the half-eaten baloney sandwich he found in the gutter the previous day. "I never should've eaten that baloney sandwich!"� he cries. Serena, in a rare moment of clarification, says, "Actually I was referring to that evil bad guy you ate in the last game."� Oinktoast, finally realizing the truth, raises his fist to the air and shouts, "Gloatherd McMoatherd lives! He lives in my belly, and I will destroy him, and quite likely some innocent beasts of the field as well!"� Serena says nothing, but you can tell she's thinking, "Yeah, no kidding."�
Oinktoast, sensing that the opening cut scene hasn't yet run its course, next visits Myrlyn the wizard for counsel. Note the spelling: Myrlyn, not Merlin. No copyright infringement here, folks. Myrlyn uses his best cauldron to concoct a special potion to help Oinktoast through the hard times ahead. Inexplicably whispering, he tells Oinktoast, "You must bathe in this potion and utter the words 'My guts, welcome your master, for I am home!'"� Oinktoast bravely performs the ritual, and in a puff of smoke or maybe just steam, he finds himself within his own stomach!
You'll notice that there is no actual game play in TBOSII: EFSM
. Repeat my mantra with me: "Game play takes up valuable cut scene time"�. You'll notice, too, that nothing is resolved. That's right David Lynch, meet your master. Why must we always be so obsessed with everything "making sense"�?! Life doesn't make sense. Deal with it people!!!!!!
Just kidding. I'm just getting tired, and I gotta wrap up this blog. Plus this gives me a good opportunity to further milk the Stenchtar license at a future date, if I so choose. Not that I am quite so calculating, though of course I am.
Okay, well, I'll see ya when I see ya.
Hello everyone, this is Brendan Q. Ferguson reporting to you live from the offices of Telltale Games in San Rafael, California. In honor of our new website, I have chosen today to kick off my series of hard-hitting interviews with Telltale Games employees. Because we are such a hyper-efficient outfit, I have chosen not to waste any time by actually speaking to my coworkers, but have instead tried to capture the spirit of what they would say by making up anything I want. The views expressed within are not necessarily the views of anyone living or dead, not even me.
My first extremely hard-hitting interview was with the man responsible for getting the new website up and running, none other than Telltale COO Troy Molander.
BQF: "Troy, this website rocks the house. Not only my house, but others as well."�
TM: "Thank you so much, Brendan, and by the way, you are looking extremely handsome today."�
BQF: "Aw, shucks."�
Leave it to Troy to give us the scoop on the behind-the-scenes info that you can't find in just any blog.
No interview, though, hits harder than this next one with the man running the show, Telltale CEO Dan Connors.
BQF: "Dan, can you tell us in a few words what makes Telltale such a special company?"�
BQF: "That's not the response I expected."�
DC: "It would take at least a thousand words to tell you what makes Telltale so special, or possibly a single picture
Dan is probably the only person I know who actually inserts links into the things he says aloud.
Next up, I turned the mic to Telltale CTO Kevin Bruner, who managed to conduct the entire interview with his eyes shut.
BQF: "Kevin, what can you tell us about the engineering department at Telltale?"�
Kevin has the ability to speak in ellipses, just like Japanese video game characters. How he does this despite being neither Japanese nor a video game character is beyond me.
You can imagine that after so many incredibly hard-hitting interviews, I was ready to take a break by conducting a soft-hitting interview or two. I decided to round up the newest employees of Telltale Games: Jon Sgro, Graham McDermott, and Randy Tudor.
BQF: "So, tell the readers at home a little bit about what you do at Telltale Games, beyond just what it says about you on the Telltale Team page
JS: "I do everything that Kevin's supposed to do."�
GM: "I do everything that Kevin's supposed to do."�
RT: "I do everything that Kevin's supposed to do."�
And here I thought this would a soft-hitting interview. Not so!
Finally, my concluding interview, and quite possibly my greatest interview ever, was with popular Telltale pseudo-celebrity, Anonymous Kidnapper.
BQF: "Anonymous Kidnapper, tell us, what have you been doing since you kidnapped me?"�
AK: "Well BQ, as you may recall, after you escaped from my closet, you decided to kidnap me in return. Since then I have been living in a dumpster behind Telltale Games."�
BQF: "Sorry to hear that AK, but you deserved it."�
AK: "Shut up Brendan."�
AK: "Fine, start talking again."�
BQF: "No, it's too late."�
AK: "I hate you."�
You don't understand how rare it is to capture that kind of emotional intensity on tape. For a hard-hitting reporter such as me, this is pure gold.
I have some bad news everyone. Mountain climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine have disappeared in their attempt to climb Mount Everest. They are most likely dead, as they disappeared in 1924. I apologize for the delay in relaying this information to you.
Astute readers that you are, a pressing question has probably already popped into your heads: What on earth does this have to do with computer games, you bozo? Let's not worry about that quite yet. Instead, I'll ask another question: Why did George and Andrew go and climb Mount Everest anyway? Well I'm not the first person to think to ask this. Way back before their expedition in 1924, someone asked George the same question, and do you want to know what he said?
"Because it's there."�
Deep, huh? Now there is a parallel to games here, no matter how unlikely that may seem. What is it again? Oh yeah. Here it is: Most adventure games resort at some point to making the player do something merely because it's there. What I mean is that the player is often left in a situation where he is forced to try to solve a puzzle even when he doesn't really know what the puzzle is or what exactly he's trying to accomplish. And that scares me.
Now, when used carefully, leaving the player in a position of bewilderment can be effective. What's going on here? Who am I? What's the meaning of all this? These can be compelling questions, but in my opinion, most adventure games overuse them to an absurd degree. I don't know how many times I've just walked around collecting stuff with no idea why, or started fiddling with every device in the world, just assuming I would have to solve some sort of puzzle with all of it. I don't know about you, but that just does not leave me panting in anticipation of the next story development.
I can see that you don't believe me. I suppose it's time for an example. Let's see, what can I contrive this time? Ah...
Imagine if someone had the guts to make a game called the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Adventure Game. Well for one, game reviews would refer to it as SWATSDAG, which is perhaps reason enough to make it. But what would the game play be like? Here's my guess...
Snow White is running for her life through the forest. Amazingly, she chances upon the house of not five, not six, but SEVEN dwarves. She enters cautiously and sees their seven little beds all lined up in a row. Not knowing quite what to do, she decides to strip the sheets from all of them. She notices that by combining the sheets in her inventory, she's able to tie them together, so she forms a long rope. As she does this she wonders aloud, "Wait... why am I making a rope from the dwarves' sheets again? And does it say anything disturbing about me?"� But she pushes these thoughts from her mind when she notices that the dwarves' grandfather clock can be opened and its gears turned. She spends a couple of hours spinning the gears and checking around the house to see if anything's changed, until finally she gets so tired that she falls asleep, which, surprisingly enough, is the precise moment the dwarves return. (Apparently the dwarves were just hanging out, watching and waiting for her to fall asleep, and presumably rolling their respective eyes when she tied their sheets together. "Not the sheet rope again!"�)
What lessons can we learn from this game? Now, sure, SWATSDAG is not a "real"� game in the sense of existing in our physical universe, but it is nevertheless awfully typical of the average adventure game. We have here a situation where the player's just left there at this strange house, going "Um, okay, now what?"� This, my friends, is the classic "Because It's There"� syndrome. Having no real objective, the player has little recourse but to start mucking about with everything, which might be fine for a few minutes, but after a while you're going to wonder, "What's the point of it all?"� That's not a question that I particularly want to ask when I'm playing a game, especially since I already ask myself that question every day when I arrive at work.
To me, if you're going to put puzzles in your game, then you need to give players a chance to actually figure them out, not force them to bumble their way through them. If we want players to feel a sense of accomplishment, then they need to be able to form a plan for completing their objectives, which is pretty hard to do if they don't even know what their objectives are. Take Snow White, for example. What are her objectives? Hmm. I don't really know actually. I guess she was just chillin' there at the dwarves' place. Okay, fine, that was a stupid example. But oh well, I already wrote it, and I'm not going to go erase it now, so you'll just have to deal with it.
Now, dear reader, let me ask YOU a pointed question, and I want you to be honest with me, and with yourself.
Why did you read this blog?
Could it be... BECAUSE IT WAS THERE??? Hmm? You know, you really ought to have a better reason for reading these blogs than that. How about, "Because you'll make a dying boy very happy."� Or, if you'd prefer a real reason, how about, "Because you'll make the physically healthy but mentally suspect people at Telltale very happy."�
And, after all, what better cause is there than that?
Hello all. This is Brendan Q. Ferguson. You'll never believe what happened to me yesterday, but I'm going to pass it off as the truth anyway.
So there I was, blindfolded in an Anonymous Kidnapper's closet. Suddenly I remembered I had a toenail clipper and a Hello Kitty key ring in my back pocket. Adventure game veteran that I am, I knew that was all I needed to engineer my escape. Fifteen minutes later, I was free! Apprehending the kidnapper wasn't a problem, especially since he had passed out after consuming 106 pixie stix in a row, not to mention 41 Diet Dr. Peppers.
Call it revenge if you will, but I've decided to kidnap the perpetrator. Talk about the punishment fitting the crime. I understand this Anonymous Kidnapper has built up quite a following of his own, so I've decided to hold him for ransom. Naturally his ransom will be less than mine, given his lesser web presence... say $49.95? I'll take what I can get here people.
Anyway, on with the show.
One of the best parts about being an incredibly famous blog author is the many thoughtful questions posed to me by inquiring and hopefully wealthy readers. I returned from my incarceration to find my e-mail inbox absolutely chock full of e-mails like this one:
"Dear Brendan Q. Ferguson,
What exactly is it that you do at Telltale Games? I mean, what's your job? I guess what I'm asking is, what's the point of your existence? Is it really even necessary?
Harry Harvey Pants"�
That I seem to serve no useful purpose for Telltale Games or for the larger world community is clearly a source of great concern for many of you. Allow me to ease your misgivings by telling you a bit about my job here at Telltale. Actually, you know what, hold the phone. I have a better idea. I'll just post some excerpts from my journal which I keep every day without fail, starting today.
1:45 pm: Got to work a little early today. Dan could tell I needed some encouragement so he gave me a pat on the back and told me I was the linchpin of the company before locking me in my closet.
2:00 pm: It's dark in here. I can't wait 'til I get moved to my new office. The toilet in there is reeeaaaally nice. Don't even ask me about the hand towel dispenser. That thing is too sweet for words. It can get a little crowded in there, but we'll make do.
2:15 pm: Checked my e-mail. Eleven more people wrote in questioning my existence, six of whom are blood relatives. At least Mom only wrote in twice this time.
2:30 pm: Maybe I'll get in one quick game of Solitaire before I get crackin'.
3:30 pm: Drat, I lost again. That is some good AI, people.
3:45 pm: Checked my e-mail again. I tell you, Xanax has never been cheaper. I might just buy a lifetime supply right now. Hold on, where's my credit card?
3:59 pm: Okay, time to get crackin'! No interruptions.
4:00 pm: Gotta go to a meeting about our current project. Back in an hour.
5:00 pm: Another disappointing meeting. My suggestion to make an Atari 5200 exclusive was shot down. Again. Troy expressed a lack of confidence in the market size for the Atari 5200 and then everyone had a good laugh. Yeah, we'll see whose laughing when the Atari 5200 rises from the ashes to dominate the marketplace.
5:15 pm: What am I doing here again? Oh yeah, I'm supposed to be designing games or something. Wait, I think something's coming to me.
5:30 pm: Wow, in the last fifteen minutes I just designed fifteen games, any of which could be a worldwide megahit. I notice that all the games seem to have the common theme of squeezing small animals, but that's probably a coincidence. I don't think we need to mention this to my therapist.
5:45 pm: Checked my e-mail again. Fifteen more people wrote in questioning my existence, including all of my co-workers, and even the person I ordered the Xanax from.
6:00 pm: Maybe I should start writing some "funny"� dialog for our game. For a change.
6:30 pm: I just ran all 100 of my new dialog lines past everyone. Here's how we do it: I read a line and then they rate it on a 10 point scale, just like in the Olympics. Ninety-nine of my lines were given a unanimous 0.0, although one line received a 6.5 from the French judge. They told me to go write more lines, but this time to make them funny. Sigh.
6:45 pm: Somebody just slipped a slice of pizza under the door. Give these guys credit, they said they'd feed me, and they do. Kevin even lets me drink out of the water dispenser his rat uses. He really spoils that little guy. And me too, I guess.
7:00 pm: Drat! I just remembered that I was supposed to write a blog today. I'm still not done with that auto blog generator.
7:15 pm: Carefully examined a number of web pages in an effort to come up with suitable blog material. reallylamejokes.com proved especially informative.
7:30 pm: Rushed out this hack job of a blog. Pretty questionable quality, but that's what people expect I think.
Well there you have it ladies and gentlemen. My day in a nutshell (soon to be published by O'Reilly Press). I hope this quiets some of the critics who thought I was just wasting time here!
Okay, so see you next week.
Hello, I am an anonymous kidnapper. I have kidnapped Brendan. If you want to see him alive again, please send one million dollars to Telltale Games, c/o Brendan Q. Ferguson, San Rafael, CA. If you want to see Brendan dead, then don't send the million dollars and you'll get your wish. Wait, strike that. Send the million anyways.
Again, I am a kidnapper. I am not Brendan. Do not think that Brendan was just too much of a slacker to write a blog this week, because that's certainly not the case. In fact, he told me he had written quite possibly the greatest blog in the history of human civilization, and I'm inclined to agree. Too bad I kidnapped him.
Okay, so see you next week.
Brendan Q. Ferguson reporting live from Telltale Games. Today my subject is role-playing games (RPGs). If you've ever played any role-playing games, then the term RPG will likely conjure up images of wizards, swords, powerful artifacts, that sort of thing. If so, then I have bad news for you... You've been brainwashed! Yes, odds are you've been brainwashed into believing that RPGs have to be about battles and statistics and people with funny names. It's a lie I tell you! I just hope I can slap some sense into you before it's too late.
Now some of you may never have played a computer RPG before, or maybe you did, but you forgot. If so, perhaps I ought to give an example of the game play you might find in a typical RPG so you can understand what I'm talking about. Let's see, what's a typical RPG that I could use as an example? I know, let's use the game I invented just now, called The Blades of Stenchtar, a game which I confidently predict will sell somewhere between a million and a trillion copies.
In The Blades of Stenchtar, you play the role of Oinktoast the Meticulous, the Chosen One who must bring balance to the world of Stenchtar. Opposing you is the wretchedly evil Gloatherd McMoatherd, who is so evil that he once ate all of the decorative plastic plants in an entire shopping mall and didn't even leave a tip. Gloatherd has assembled a massive army of very large people on the left side of Stenchtar, thus causing a major imbalance in the world. The whole thing's about to tip over, unless you, Oinktoast, slaughter every last one of those evildoers, and maybe a few neutral parties for good measure.
Given the utter impossibility of his quest, Oinktoast wisely enlists the aid of several companions, including a mage, a thief, a pikeman second class, and a cleric/water-boy. Oinktoast and Co. explore the world of Stenchtar looking for the items they need to destroy Gloatherd's army. On the shopping list are such wondrous weapons as the Sword of Extreme Pointiness and the Pushpin of Eternal Punishment. To acquire these items, they battle some of the most fearsome creatures imaginable, including the ill tempered but cunning Six-Headed Eel Queen and the deadly Flying Chihuahua Man and Giant Flying Chihuahua Man. Also, they fight a lot of rats for some reason.
In the end, Oinktoast confronts Gloatherd and they agree to battle to the death, or until someone hits the power button. The battle rages for four and a half hours, pausing only for water breaks every hour on the hour. Finally, after a series of critical hits, Oinktoast prepares to deal the deathblow, when suddenly Gloatherd reveals that he is actually a magic artichoke, and in assuming his true form, he somehow restores all of his hit points. Luckily Oinktoast has the presence of mind to eat Gloatherd in a cream blush sauce, and balance is restored to Stenchtar.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Gosh Brendan, The Blades of Stenchtar is a masterpiece of game design. Surely you're not about to trash it?"� Well you're right, I'm not. Sure, I'm poking fun at these sorts of games, but I actually enjoy the occasional fantasy battle fest. What bothers me is that practically every role-playing game is like this. It seems that we can scarcely conceive of a role-playing game that isn't about flat out carnage, preposterous villains, and large quantities of hit points.
It doesn't have to be that way, though! Role-playing games need only one thing: role-playing. When I play an RPG, I want to spend a day in the shoes of another person. Not literally, because then my feet would probably get sore from always changing shoes and the person whose shoes I stole probably wouldn't like it either. No, I just want to experience a fresh perspective and try my hand at new things. A role-playing game is a chance to be someone else for a while, to see things from their viewpoint, and to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses first hand.
Telltale doesn't have any plans at the moment to make an RPG of the usual variety, but we do want to allow you to do some role-playing in the broader sense. We want to make games in which you play a role in a story, and we hope to immerse you in that role by designing puzzles and activities that emphasize the character you're playing, and the special qualities of that character. To some extent, you'll have to learn to act in character if you want to progress in the story. By the end of a Telltale Game, we hope you feel that you really know the character you played.
Okay, I guess I can come clean now... when I hear the term RPG, I also think of battles and statistics and people with funny names. And I don't really object to that. I don't want to change our terminology, what I really want is for us to consider new game play possibilities. What other roles could we play? What other distinctive ways do characters interact with the world besides annihilating everything in sight? We're thinking about it, and so should you!
In short, don't allow yourself to be brainwashed! Let your brain wallow in its own filth!
Myself, I'm going to pass the time by playing a little solitaire.
Hi everyone. Brendan Q. Ferguson here. Today I'm going to tell you something that will, without a doubt in the world, change your life. In fact, I'm so sure it will knock you right out of your chair that I'm offering an ironclad double-your-money-back guarantee that you'll be reading this blog from the floor before this is all over. Double what money, you say? Well maybe it's about time y'all started paying me, don't you think? How else am I going to give out all these refunds? Think, people.
So wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Something that will change your life. Okay, I have two words for you: interactive fiction
. Ever heard of it? No? Well, you've heard of fiction, right? If not, your local elementary school is probably still accepting applications for the fall semester. Assuming you have heard of fiction, though, then the quick thinkers among you may have already guessed that interactive fiction is pretty much the same thing, except interactive.
Usually when people refer to interactive fiction (or IF), they specifically mean text adventure games, in which you're given a text description of your surroundings, and you type in what you want to do. I believe Infocom coined the term to describe their text adventures from the 80s, some of which are among the best adventure games around. They're not the only ones who made interactive fiction, though. Among the other companies making IF, my favorite was Legend Entertainment, who incorporated graphics into their games, but retained the text input up until about 1993.
But I have news for you, my friends, interactive fiction has come a long way since then. Over the last decade, interactive fiction has experienced a resurgence that may one day be viewed as the biggest renaissance since, you know, the Renaissance. Thanks to programming systems such as Inform and the Text Adventure Development System (TADS), individual authors can create their own interactive fiction. In the last several years, a number of bright, talented authors have taken IF places that no one ever dreamed of. Okay, I dreamed of those places, but no one else did.
You see, when a game doesn't require a cast of thousands to make, the authors can be freer to try things that might be too innovative for the typically conservative commercial gaming companies. Consider Photopia
by Adam Cadre
, in which you examine the life of a young person from several different perspectives. Taking less than an hour to finish, it's a moving and powerful work, but Electronic Arts probably won't be throwing ten million bucks into it anytime soon, and if they do, I'll hop on the back of my flying pig to pick up my own copy at the mall.
The relative freedom that IF authors possess has led to interactive fiction spanning a very wide range of styles and themes. Some pieces (Photopia
being just one example) invite you to experience a story that's not really a game at all. You don't necessarily solve any puzzles, you don't win or lose, you just take part in a story. Other pieces of contemporary IF have as many fiendish puzzles as any adventure game ever made. If you enjoy reading, I'd be willing to bet all my proceeds from this blog that you can find some interactive fiction out there that will appeal to you.
Myself, I've only just clawed the surface of what's been done, but I've already played works of interactive fiction with more creativity and distinctiveness than a truckload of most contemporary commercial games. In large part due to the annual IF competition
, great free IF games are now a dime a dozen. Well actually they're even less than a dime a dozen. They're free, as I mentioned earlier. If you'd like to learn more about the IF scene, I'd recommend taking a gander at the IF sites by Suzanne Britton
and Emily Short
. They know a lot more about this stuff than I do, and their sites will help you get rolling.
Although we at Telltale will be making games with utterly unbelievably stunningly beautiful 3D graphics, we're hoping we can capture the spirit of the great interactive fiction games. We want to let you explore worlds that haven't been portrayed in a zillion other games. We want to immerse you in a story the way the best works of IF do. We want, in short, to enslave all of humanity. Wait, no, I've gone too far. We just want to make distinctive, fresh games that tell a great story.
Isn't that worth shooting for?
Greetings to friends and enemies alike. A number of you have written in to tell me that these blogs about adventure games are all fine and good, but wouldn't it be nice if I could provide some juicy behind-the-scenes info about Telltale Games, and even better, maybe write a completely irrelevant story about myself? All I can say is wow, great idea. I wish I had thought of it.
As you will surely know if you read the Telltale News Section
(your #2 source for Telltale news), we moved into our new offices this month. In even bigger news (so big, I don't know how it slipped under the radar of the news section), we invented the Internet this morning around 8 a.m. Now, there are certain naysayers who will argue that the Internet had in fact already been invented and we just got our offices wired is all, but don't let them fool you. We invented the Internet fair and square.
What does all this mean to you, the common man, woman, or ape creature? Not much, quite frankly. It does mean that I will actually be able to post updates to the Web site at work, meaning that the frequency of such updates may increase. But then again it may not, as I am now overwhelmingly busy checking the baseball scores at ESPN.com.
Another reason that I may not be able to post much is that I nearly choked to death on a rubber duckie today. Someone (or something
) covertly slipped the rubber duckie into my box of Goldfish crackers when I wasn't looking, and it was halfway down my throat before I noticed the switcheroo. My near-death experience prompted me to reminisce over the course of my life. Sadly, due to some brain damage incurred in my infancy, I can only remember as far back as yesterday afternoon, so let me tell you what happened yesterday, since it's the best I can do.
Yesterday I went to the library to research our next game. Have you heard about these things? Libraries, I mean? You just show up, take some books, and leave. It's great. Somebody should have thought of this a long time ago. They're so great, it's almost enough to make me start paying my taxes.
While at the library I noticed something rather disturbing -- I can't read. Not the adult books anyway. I tried. Oh, how I tried. I would pull out a book, read a page about radio carbon dating or something, and then pass out in the aisle. Finally, after the paramedics got tired of reviving me, I gave up and went down to the children's section.
Friends, the children's section is where all the excitement is. Now these are books. You want to know how to milk a cow with your feet? Hey, who doesn't, right? Well they can tell you that... in the children's section. You want to know who invented the dreaded rubber duckie? Well they can tell you that... in the children's section. You want to know where all these babies keep coming from? Well they can tell you that... in the children's section.
My time in the children's section was not entirely without incident, though. Since I'm a rather scary looking person (I'm a twelve foot giant), many of the children who saw me ran screaming from the room. To each his own, of course, but personally, I thought it livened up the atmosphere in the library, which had been a bit dour if I do say so myself, and I do.
Methinks we could all stand to spend some more time in the children's section, just soaking in knowledge, and occasionally stealing candy from babies, because it's really the perfect place for it. If the baby starts crying you can just say, "SHH! We're in a library, for Pete's sake!"�
So how does this relate to games? It doesn't, but that's the beauty of blogs, I can say whatever worthless garbage I want and you can't stop me! But I do hope you'll take some time and head down to the children's section at your local library. You'll be glad you did, and more importantly, many children won't be, and what more could you want?
Hello there, friends. I'm here today to tell you about a problem that affects us all: getting stuck. I'm not talking about getting stuck to a flagpole or a toilet seat; I'm talking about getting stuck in an adventure game. When some puzzle proves too devious, or it's simply unclear how to proceed, even the best games devolve into major snooze fests. It's not uncommon for an adventure gamer to fall asleep on his keyboard and awaken to find that he'll be paying exorbitant amounts of money to have his drool extracted from said keyboard. The Telltale crew is sick and tired of paying for drool extractions, and we're prepared to take action.
I bet you'll recognize this scenario if you've ever played an adventure game. You're playing the game and you realize at some point that you're not quite sure what to do next. You've exhausted every dialog option with every character. You've clicked on everything you can think of. You've consulted your Magic 8 Ball and it's being strangely laconic. So what do you do? You exhaust every dialog with every character again. You click on every object on every screen again. If you're like me, at this point you finally begin to suspect the true solution: you must drop your computer from the top of the Empire State Building.
You want to know the shameful truth? I often never figure out what to do next. I just keep wandering around the game world for the rest of my days like some sort of hobo. It's sad really. I paid all that money for my education and now I'm an adventure game bum. That's no fate for the hero of an adventure game. Unless the hero of the game is a bum, I guess. But in all other cases, heroes ought to be more, well, heroic.
Imagine, if you will, an adventure game adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark...
Indiana Jones holds up the staff of Ra and a beam of light shines through the head piece. That's strange... It's not illuminating a building on the map; it's illuminating a baloney sandwich that somebody left on the floor of the map room. That can't be right. Surely the Lost Ark isn't buried in a giant baloney sandwich somewhere in Egypt? Thinking that his staff may not be the right length, Indy climbs out of the map room and asks his friend Sallah about it. Sallah laughs heartily but says only, "Hurry, Indy!" Indy proceeds to ask every guard, every townsperson, and yes, even villain Rene Belloq, about the staff, but to no avail. He flies back to the States to check his house for anything he might have forgotten. Did he check the bathroom before he left? He flushes the toilet a few times just in case. Stumped, Indy decides to take a long bath and let Marcus Brody sort it out.
This won't do. Indiana Jones can't fly back to the U.S. to search his bathroom in the middle of the adventure. Indy needs to stay focused. What can be done to keep the player on track?
The brilliant minds at Telltale have been working night and day to answer that question; everyone else at Telltale has been working an hour a week to answer it. We think the game ought to recognize when the player is bumbling around, and do something about it. We feel that some element of the game world (usually another character) should assist the player in figuring out what to do next when he gets stuck.
For example, in the Telltale version of the Raiders of the Lost Ark game, Sallah would probably nudge Indy if he wasn't making progress. I don't mean nudge him physically; I mean give him a hint. If you had never read the inscription on the head of the staff, then perhaps Sallah could ask you if you noticed anything unusual about it, which would prompt you to look at it. If you were still stuck, he could suggest that the inscription probably refers to the staff length, cluing you in to the fact that you need to translate the inscription. If you were still stuck even then, he could just take you to the fellow who can translate the inscription on the staff.
And if you were still stuck after all that, he could tell you how to get to the Empire State Building so that you could drop your computer from the top of it.
This solution actually serves two of Telltale's game design goals. One goal is to make games where the characters feel alive. They should be responsive to you, and proactively help move the narrative along when you get stuck. I mean, sure, the characters are technically just 3D models with unbelievably simplistic AI, but you shouldn't be thinking about that when you're playing the game! I don't even know why I mentioned it.
The other game design goal it serves is to keep the narrative moving forward. Pacing is as important to games as it is to non-interactive media. We want to keep the story from stalling out, and one way to do that is to have characters in the game help the player along when he's not making any progress. Furthermore, having characters assist you is preferable to having an in-game hint menu, since it maintains your immersion in the game world.
If we're successful in our game designs, then getting stuck will be a thing of the past. Indiana Jones won't ever stop for an ill-timed bath, and you will never again have to be an adventure game bum.
Unless we decide to make that Bum Simulator that everyone's been requesting.
Hello, my name is Brendan Q. Ferguson and I'm a game-a-holic. Adventure games especially. I love games that engross me in a story, let me explore a captivating world, and engage my mind. Just about every adventure game attempts to do just that, but usually with spotty results. In particular, most adventure games include absurd obstacles that undermine the player's immersion in the story. The folks here at Telltale are setting out to right this travesty that has most of the civilized world up in arms.
Here's how it is in most adventure games. You and only you can stop some great calamity that will soon befall the world. You're playing the game and you're starting to get pretty interested in the story, when suddenly, whammo, the entire game comes to a halt as you're faced with some bizarre conundrum that seems totally out of place. And to add injury to insult, the obvious solution never works, so you're forced to find an extremely unlikely workaround.
As an example, let's imagine a hypothetical adventure game based on The Lord of the Rings...
The Black Riders are advancing upon Frodo. He slips the Ring on his finger, and his heart leaps as he sees one of the Riders preparing to attack him. He must remove the Ring, or all is lost. As he struggles to pull the Ring from his finger, he realizes that it's stuck! He pulls and pulls, but it will not come off. Perhaps some soap and water will do the trick? He asks everyone in the room for soap, but none of the party is carrying his toiletries with him. But wait, how about butter? Oh no! Frodo left a stick of butter back in the Shire. What a great fool! Didn't Gandalf tell him that any and all bread spreads would be useful in the battle against the Dark Lord? The group will have to troop back to the shire to get the butter, unless of course they have a saved game just after Bilbo's birthday party.
With puzzles like that, I can understand why many adventure game fans are rioting in the streets of Santa Monica. What's especially ironic about all this is that The Lord of the Rings is as adventurous a story as you'll come by, and yet an adventure game adaptation would likely add all sorts of extraneous puzzles to slow you up. Why, I ask you? I'd much rather have a tight, powerful story than a long, inane one. If I'm playing the Lord of the Rings, then Frodo shouldn't be stopping to butter up his fingers; he's got bigger fish to fry (preferably with butter).
I would prefer a Lord of the Rings game that didn't force puzzles where they didn't belong, but instead allowed the puzzles to flow naturally from the situations that arise in the story. For example, imagine that one of Sauron's forces is approaching Frodo on the rocky mountainside. You need to hide, quick! What do you do? Perhaps you could hide under your cloak to camouflage yourself amongst the rocks. This puzzle doesn't interrupt the narrative, and in fact even enforces it.
Consider now a scene from the long rumored Star Wars Adventure Game (SWAG)...
Luke Skywalker climbs into his X-Wing fighter, mentally preparing for his assault on the Death Star. The fate of the rebellion rests on his shoulders. He turns the key in the ignition -- nothing. It won't start. What's this, it's out of gas? Hold on, I'm sure we can siphon some from the Millennium Falcon. Now where did Princess Leia leave that garden hose?
This is not Star Wars as we know it. This is Star Wars starring MacGyver as Luke Skywalker. Now I like MacGyver just fine, but I nevertheless do NOT support the effort to make him the main character of every single work of fiction ever published. (It would make for an interesting version of Pride and Prejudice, though. I'll have to bring this idea up at our next brainstorming meeting...)
When I play a game, I want to be given challenges that immerse me in its fictional world and puzzles that draw me deeper into its story. I don't want to go around using every piece of junk I can find with every other thing in the entire universe. That's not what the heroes of adventure stories do. When I play a game, I want a true adventure, and I want to be the hero of that adventure.
I want a Star Wars game where I get to use the heroic ingenuity that Luke showed when escaping from the Death Star. The Storm Troopers are about to break through the door behind you, but there's a huge chasm in front of you! What do you do? Why, you use your grappling hook to swing across to safety. The puzzle asks you to act as Luke Skywalker would act, to find a heroic solution to a dangerous problem.
Telltale is all about making games with puzzles and stories that make sense. You might be exploring wacky worlds and meeting strange characters, but you as the player will always be given puzzles and challenges that fit in the story.
No more buttered fingers. No more garden hoses. Just adventure, baby.