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"Telltale plays it safe"

posted by Secret Fawful on - last edited - Viewed by 1.6K users

DISCLAIMER: In case you're coming into this topic thinking this is going to be about me saying Telltale is evil and bad and stupid, that's not the case at all.

Quoted from Deathspank writer Sean Howard's blog-

I got into a little trouble on Twitter for being a little bit negative concerning Telltale Games' new announcements. I was even called an "intellectual bully", which is a pretty cool thing to be called in my opinion. And admittedly, having worked on DeathSpank puts me within the Telltale sphere somewhat - at least to the point that it could be considered unprofessional to be critical of them. Heck, as one of the few companies that still makes adventure games, they could be potential employers one day. I think I applied there once a few years ago.

Anyway, my comment was basically that I heard a rumor that Telltale was announcing a bunch of games and that one of them could be Maniac Mansion 3. Maniac Mansion is a game that I hold VERY dear to my heart - so much so that I think Day of the Tentacle was a terrible sequel (great game, terrible sequel). And the idea of Telltale taking it over just filled me with dread. And I said as much.

After the announcements came out, I watched the GiantBomb quicklook for their upcoming Jurassic Park game. If you haven't seen it, it is pretty obvious they took more than a little bit of inspiration from Heavy Rain - which I like to joke is a sequel to Dragon's Lair. Anyway, some people asked why I hated Telltale. I don't. I thought I'd take a moment to express the true extent of my feelings towards them.

Telltale deserves a lot of praise. They are largely the only company that has managed to make episodic gaming work, and in no small way, have made adventure games a viable genre now. But to what extent? For the most part, Telltale is still the only company doing episodic gaming and they are still the only company making a profit off adventure games. What Telltale does is good for Telltale, but that success doesn't seem to translate to the industry at large. But that's okay. Good for them, I say.

What I take umbrage of is that the games they create are completely mediocre. That's not to say they are bad. No, bad is a different sort of thing. Mediocre means that they simple exist. They aren't too hard or too easy. They aren't too witty or too dull. They aren't too pretty or too ugly. They aren't too hot or too cold. Some people call this balanced. I call it tepid. Lukewarm. Benign. Uneventful. Boring.

Telltale plays it safe. They acquire really big properties with a high nostalgia value - most of their properties are from the 80s. I mean, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future? The create tepid games that don't push the envelope or do anything exception or exciting. The most that can be said is that they haven't actually screwed up the properties. And that is generally an accomplishment. But something like Sam & Max was built on being a little bit dangerous and subversive. The Telltale games feel lighter than the Saturday morning Fox cartoon.

Telltale has been called the new Lucasarts, but that's a bullshit comparison. The only reason they get that comparison is because Telltale has taken over two classic Lucasarts properties (Sam & Max and Monkey Island). Lucasarts was great because they created their own properties. People are getting confused. They are so thirsty for the heyday of Lucasarts that, finding no water, they drink the sand.

It's not that I hate Telltale. It's just that I think they are capable of so very much more than they are delivering. There's a lot of talent at the company. Hell, they've got a lot of Lucasarts talent there. But every game that comes out just plays it too safe. There's too many missed opportunities.

The first two Monkey Island games feature a very different Guybrush than what showed up in the later games. Telltale didn't screw up his character. That happened during the jump from LeChuck's Revenge to Curse of Monkey Island. Guybrush went from a mischievous, often cruel imp to a completely naive doormat who exists mainly to have funny things explained to him rather than be funny himself. Telltale had the opportunity to give Guybrush his bite back. They could've created that air of subversive satire and wit that permeated the first two games. But they didn't. They took the blandest version of Guybrush and made him even more bland. Then they made safe jokes about monkeys and grog, forgetting that the original jokes used those things to tell a different joke. They didn't just point and go, "look! monkey! Ha ha!"

Humor is incredibly difficult to do. When I come up with a good one liner, that's usually the end result of having thought up a thousand terrible ones. Some of humor is using your personal compass to recognize when something is funny, but mostly, it's about coming up with a hundred different things and trying to find the best one. Telltale seems like they stop at the first halfway funny joke they come up with. They could go further. They could press on. They could, but they don't. They stop at good enough. Maybe the breakneck episodic release schedule does given them the time to be perfectionists, but maybe that just means they should let the schedule suffer and not their games.

I think Telltale is capable are far more than they are putting out. I don't hate them. I can't hate them. I'm disappointed. They've got so much talent behind their walls, and this is the best they can do? I don't believe that for a second. They SHOULD be the next Lucasarts. They could be BETTER than the next Lucasarts! The could be, but they aren't. And what frustrates me so very much about Telltale is that it seems like they aren't even trying. Puzzle Agent is the only one that seemed like they bothered, and even that didn't go far enough. They are announcing new games based on old properties, and there's very little evidence that they are making better games because of it.

Telltale is a company that has it within their power to be great. And I desperately hope that one day they realize that. Until that day, stay the hell away from Maniac Mansion. Taking a great property doesn't make you great. If you had an ounce of decency, you'd put in the effort to be great first. That way, when you actually got a hold of a great property, you can do it justice.

This is one of the most profound things in regard to Telltale I have read, and I find myself unable to disagree with any of it. Hayden thought it might be a good discussion topic, and yes I'm saying he thought of it so that I avoid any responsibility :D, so I thought what the hell. I agree with him; this is an important discussion to be had.

Allow me to add something of my own to this. Recently, due to fears about the reboot of King's Quest, a member of the Telltale company had this to say-

@Sinaz20 said: This is a disheartening diatribe. I, for one, grew up with all the quest series. I have fantastic memories of playing through them with my best friend.

Now I have the chance to continue the series-- it's some sort of inadvertent dream job that I can't believe I landed in.

I want to do this series justice. But I also want to make it fun and accessible to a wide range of players- introduce a new generation to them.

Maybe that means incorporating puzzle complexity into the actual difficulty settings so that our hardcore Sierra ex-pats will have the option to play it old school. Maybe it means finding a new strategy to art and production so we can deliver huge environments like the original games. Maybe it means toggling fail events for the casual gamers.

Whatever the case, I wouldn't want to compromise the series. That said, I also have to play for the home team-- Telltale has vision, goals, and missions that I have to consider.

Ultimately, something I really fight for since being hired at Telltale is integrity of vision. And trust me, I am a demanding fan of this license.

Maybe, maybe maybe. Bah. Visions, goals, and missions. Don't tell me about missions. I've heard about missions and changes and innovations and goals and visions since Telltale started to lower their standards. You know what happens, IMO, when they start talking about goals and visions and missions? The people who make the games come to the people who don't make the games, the fans, and say, "We need a change." And then the people who run the company sit around and change and change and change and talk about visions and goals and innovation, and what has happened to the fans and the adventure gamers? WE ARE LEFT IN THE DIRT. WE ARE SLAPPED IN THE FACE. So, don't talk to me about visions and goals. A post like this, full with an attitude that is afraid to take risks and test their boundaries, is exactly what Sean is talking about and exactly why I agree with him. They aren't saying they have the fans in mind. All they are saying is that whether or not the gameplay will treat us with intelligence instead of babying us is up to the visions and goals of the company. Is Telltale too safe? Should it be counted alongside Lucasarts just because it has done Sam and Max and Monkey Island? Is that enough? Are they not living up to their full potential or are they wasting the talent they have at their company? Are they not taking enough risks? Can we no longer expect to be treated with intelligent, difficult gameplay that rewards the gamer for their troubles? I'm interested in what you think.

Discuss.

158 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • @Jake
    I would appreciate if this would be a open discussion like if you would be talking to each other sitting at a table or laying around on a meadow if you prefer it this way but talking to each other like persons. This is how the company sees it, that's what they want to do, that's how i/we see it personally, asking questions like what do you want, leaving out devs vs. customers attitudes as part of the audience is quite different to the days when video games started. And at best this also would result to improvements.

    Beside of this i lack honest information about the products. JP will be for something for those guys, with Fables we will try to do a adventure game for people who like to solve riddles again, with the licence xyz we try to,...

    You for sure don't get such information from your local nuclear energy supplier but i thought as this TT thing started as a island for those who love adventure games this could be a little bit different as well.

  • @Jake said:
    Though the results may, in some peoples eyes in this thread, come out more homogenized than we'd probably like, people here do treat every license and every series differently internally in terms of what the gameplay is, how the game and its puzzles are presented, how difficult it is, how long an episode is, etc.

    The fact that you guys recognize that there are differences in games is great to hear. The only thing that I wish you would do on top of that is to advertise your games accordingly. Had I known BttF was going to be more of an interactive movie, I would have probably not purchased it. I am much more likely to wait to hear about games before trying to play them as is. If you guys know some games are less difficult...etc. then please let us know before we buy them. That way we will be able to buy the games that fit our style.

  • @Jake said: Really? I hope people can get a little more credit than "not worth their while."

    Sorry, poor wording and poorly explained, both on my part. I was afraid Telltale would see the majority of this thread as a load of ill-informed, upstart fans kicking up a stink when nothing can be done about it. By the content of your response, I can see what I hoped you would be feeling: "How on earth do we respond to this? We need to tread carefully, lest what we say get taken out of context by the media."

    @Jake said: (rest of reply)

    I knew you were all fans of the games but I didn't realise to what extent. I'm pleased to see that not only would you often want to see things played out better but are restricted by powers above but also you treat each game differently.

    Regarding BttF: you're probably right in that an interactive movie is best for this franchise. I've enjoyed it, please don't get me wrong. What you didn't comment on was the debugging. Perhaps then everybody feels that could/should have gone better.

    To summarise, I do realise that you all care. You take a much more personal approach with fans (whether as individuals or as a company) than any other firm I've bought a game from. Thank you very much for replying. :)

    @Guru: I'm not entirely unsure that this will make no difference. I remember a while back when I had an email from TTG, directing me to a questionnaire, which included a question asking which IPs we'd like to see TT make in the future. No doubt you and everybody else here got that as well.

    The eventual fruits of that questionnaire must have culminated in the IPs recently been announced. I don't remember many of the options but IIRC, King's Quest was on there. So it does happen.

    They even tested the water with Leisure Suit Larry, which they must have picked up on by seeing posts by me and one or two others that lurk on the forums. I don't think we'll ever see a LSL game made by TTG (1) because the demand is too low and 2) getting Sierra to lease out any IPs must take some doing) but that doesn't stop me hoping I'm wrong.

  • @chucklas said: The fact that you guys recognize that there are differences in games is great to hear. The only thing that I wish you would do on top of that is to advertise your games accordingly. Had I known BttF was going to be more of an interactive movie, I would have probably not purchased it. I am much more likely to wait to hear about games before trying to play them as is. If you guys know some games are less difficult...etc. then please let us know before we buy them. That way we will be able to buy the games that fit our style.

    This. Although, I would have been more inclined to buy, as my interest would have been piqued. As it stands, I loved the demo, but lack the funds to do so (I have a trip to London to pay for (booked a while ago, when I thought I would have a job to help pay for it), new blu-ray player software (This could wait, but i'd end up paying £20 more, as it's onsale until next week), and car insurance, in addition to not having a job and being a student. Eep.)

  • how come the LSL posts disappeared? Too off-topic?

  • @tbm1986 said: how come the LSL posts disappeared? Too off-topic?

    They were made a separate thread:

    http://www.telltalegames.com/forums/showthread.php?t=23511

  • Yeah, the LSL posts seemed to be building into their own conversation that didn't seem to be slowing down, so I gave them their own thread. I probably should've made a mention of it here when I did it. Sorry for the confusion!

  • It seems like the general public's opinion about adventure games has shifted from "those stupid hard boring games with moon logic where you never know what you're supposed to do" to "those stupid easy boring games where you just click on things." I've been seeing this more and more in comments on adventure-related gaming news site articles and YouTube videos. I don't think Telltale's entirely to blame, though. I think companies like Big Fish Games have done a lot to blur and confuse the distinction between adventure and hidden object games.

  • I agree that TTG should probably take more care in making clear who the particular games are for. To be fair, I'm sure designing puzzles for BttF was kinda a no-win scenario when because everyone likes them some BttF, newcomers and gaming vets alike.

    I'm not sure where the line will be drawn with properties like Fables, though. It's a licensed property, sure, but whereas TWD is an insanely popular franchise going through a marketing blitz (so almost certain to have ease of interface like the upcoming JP seems to have), Fables is a bizarre and complicated niche series. How would the gameplay balance for that work out? That and the continuation of Hector are enough to keep me around for a bit longer...

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