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.