Anatomy of a game company

Posted on February 2005 by TelltaleGames

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.

Happy New Year's from Telltale Games!

Posted on January 2005 by TelltaleGames

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.

Heather L. Logas -- Rogue Scholar

Posted on November 2004 by TelltaleGames

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.

The Blades of Stenchtar II

Posted on October 2004 by TelltaleGames

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!




The End




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.



Brendan Q. Ferguson Interviews Telltale

Posted on October 2004 by TelltaleGames

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?"�



DC: "No."�



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 would do."�



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?"�



KB: "..."�



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."�



BQF: "Okay."�



BQF: "..."�



AK: "Fine, start talking again."�



BQF: "No, it's too late."�



AK: "I hate you."�



BQF: *sob*



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.



Pure gold.


Because It's There

Posted on September 2004 by TelltaleGames

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?


I Kidnapped Brendan Q. Ferguson's Kidnapper

Posted on August 2004 by TelltaleGames

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?



Love,



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.


I Kidnapped Brendan Q. Ferguson

Posted on August 2004 by TelltaleGames

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.



Putting the Role-Playing in Role-Playing Games

Posted on August 2004 by TelltaleGames

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.


Interactive Fiction -- Great Idea or Menace to Society?

Posted on July 2004 by TelltaleGames

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?



The Section They Don't Want You to Know About

Posted on July 2004 by TelltaleGames

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?

The Sad Plight of the Adventure Game Bum

Posted on July 2004 by TelltaleGames

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.



Chronicles of the Absurd: Puzzles in Adventure Games

Posted on June 2004 by TelltaleGames

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.




Just adventure.