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Telltale and Puzzles: A Rant.

posted by RAnthonyMahan on - last edited - Viewed by 1.1K users

Something tells me this post will somehow affect the job application I sent Telltale. Not sure if it's in a good or a bad way, but oh well. :p

First of all, I am happy for Telltale and what's happened to them since The Walking Dead. As both a long-time Telltale fan and a writer struggling to have his work appreciated (and thus ends up empathizing with other creative underdogs), I'm glad Telltale's been able to release something that's seen so much success, both commercially and critically.

At the same time, though, while The Walking Dead was amazing, it wasn't perfect. While it proved the Heavy Rain-style interactive movie genre can be done right, it's still a very limited format that doesn't allow much freedom for the player. The occasional interactive movie is fine (branching out and trying new things is good!), but I wouldn't want Telltale to focus exclusively on that genre, and unfortunately, with TWD having been such a boon for the company, that seems to be their plan. What raised this concern in me is Dan Connors' speech at the DICE Summit, specifically this quote.

@Dan Connors" said: How do we evolve it and make it more of a storytelling medium and less of a puzzle-based medium?

Needless to say, I have a few things to voice regarding Telltale's new direction. Note that I'm not saying any of this out of malice. I've been a fan of Telltale for a long time and would like to stay that way. I don't have anything against anyone there. Hell, if one of my books became a huge hit out of the blue, I'd do everything I could to replicate that success again too, so I know where they're coming from. I'd just like to pitch in my two cents and let everyone else decide what they're worth.

1. Story and gameplay are not mutually exclusive. There's this common idea with people that a game can have great story or great gameplay, but not both. They think strengthening one department means weakening another (and unfortunately, most games don't do much to prove them wrong). Even more distressingly, a few people flat-out discourage games focusing on story, since they believe it has to come at the cost of gameplay. They think being well-written is a flaw!

Telltale wants to focus more on storytelling. That's good. Telltale's writers are top-notch, and they should be able to tell even better stories than before. However, this does not have to come at the cost of gameplay, nor should it. A game doesn't need to be an interactive movie or a visual novel to be well-written. Purely off the top of my head, there's Deus Ex, Fallout, The Longest Journey, Psychonauts, and Silent Hill. All games that manage to excel in both gameplay and story. Just because few games even try to be great at both doesn't mean it's impossible.

2. Change is not always bad, but it's not always good either. A lot of where Telltale seems to be coming from is that not every adventure game needs to be the same. And that's true. I love those old adventure games to death, but they did go out of style for a reason. For most people those old, often cryptic (if not flat-out insane) "use X on Y" puzzles could be frustrating. Evolution is good. When Maniac Mansion came out, a lot of people complained that it wasn't a "true" adventure game because there was no text parser. Thing is, text parsers frequently led to annoying "guess the verb" situations. Since they could only recognize a limited selection of words, why not put those words out there for the player to choose from? That slowly led to the point-and-click interface, which I think we could all agree was a good thing. Telltale's right, there is more than one way to do an adventure game. Hell, it's a bit of a stretch, but look at Portal. It doesn't resemble a conventional adventure game at all, but there's a lot of focus on setting, plot, dialogue, and of course puzzles. It's something of an adventure game in spirit, if that makes sense.

I'm not complaining out of nostalgia. I'm not insisting Telltale stick to games like Sam and Max forever and never branch out (though it would be nice if they never fully abandoned their roots either). If the adventure genre wants to recover, it should evolve. If Telltale manages to come up with the next big thing that revolutionizes the genre, that'd be amazing. I hope they could do it.

The thing is, in my personal opinion, the interactive movie is not "the next big thing." It's not exactly new, for starters. Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit had done it before Telltale. You could call Dragon's Lair an early crude version of it too. If you really want to stretch it, you could call visual novels (and VN/adventure hybrids like Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk) the Japanese equivalent, only less like a movie and more like a book.

More important than that, however, is that in terms of engaging the player, it's a step backwards. Putting the story on hold so the player can solve a puzzle may not be the best way to blend gameplay and story, but at least it doesn't completely neglect the gameplay department. Interactive movies are supposed to make up for the limited gameplay with non-linearity (which The Walking Dead did, to an extent), but the problem is other genres can offer that and more. I'm not saying interactive movies should be avoided entirely, but they're not the way of the future either. Hardware has evolved on a massive scale. Games today should be more complex and allow the player more freedom than they did 20 years ago. Removing puzzles and giving the player some dialogue options and QTEs is not the way to do it. When it comes out, Fables should be more interactive than The Secret of Monkey Island, not less.

On top of that, while I'm no businessman, I'm not sure if copying The Walking Dead's formula will work out for Telltale in the long run. Let's be blunt. As great as The Walking Dead was, its quality was not why it sold. It sold because it shared the name of a TV show that's incredibly popular at the moment (yes I know the game is based off the comic, but the show is still what most people would think of). Fables will not have that same name recognition, especially since it won't even be called Fables. If Telltale wants Fables to attract anyone outside the already-existing fans of the comic, the game must be good on its own merits. This includes being well-written (which I'm sure Telltale already has covered), but it also includes being fun to play. Ditto for King's Quest, assuming that hasn't been cancelled yet.

To make a long story short, I'm glad Telltale is trying to change their gameplay, but that doesn't mean diminishing it. Instead of asking themselves "How do we remove the focus on gameplay?", they should ask "How do we make the gameplay feel more organic to the story?" How can we make the player's actions seem logical? It's hard for me to come up with specific situations, but for example, why is the main character grabbing this item? It'll be important later, but he doesn't know that. What's the in-universe reason?

Admittedly, I'm no game designer. The specific big idea that'll change adventure games forever won't come from me. But the guys at Telltale are talented. They've done great things already, and I know they've got the potential to do even better. They just have to try.

Let me know what you think.

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    Jennifer Moderator

    @ryannumber1gamer said: Just going to say this but i think we all seen what happened the first time we seen TTG go far away from Gameplay and mainly focus on story. That would be JP The Game :/


    Although I personally liked it, Telltale's likely not going to do a game like that again. It wasn't just the longtime fans that criticized that game, but the press as well. Telltale's learned from that and moved on.

  • @tbm1986 said: I'm not a fan of the Action or Horror genres of story-telling, so I've deliberately avoided Jurassic Park and TWD.

    I'm not against those genres in general, but those games don't interest me much for other reasons.

    @tbm1986 said: I am, however, a fan of Fantasy novels and old-school Adventure games, so I have high hopes that Fables and King's Quest (when they finally get released) will bring me back here on a regular basis. How soon, Telltale?

    Like Darth Marsden wrote, Fables will probably play like TWD. I think Dan Connors mentioned as much in an interview, but I don't remember where I read it.

    Sadly it doesn't look like we'll see King's Quest this year if at all. According to Eurogamer.net Telltale is releasing TWD season 2 this autumn.

  • @Darth Marsden said: From what I've heard though, Fables is going to play like TWD, so... yeah.

    Have you heard anything about KQ? That's what I'm most interested in.

  • @MtnPeak said: Have you heard anything about KQ? That's what I'm most interested in.

    I'm more interested in anything Sam-and-Max-related myself. It surprises me that there's nothing new about it, other than the 25th anniversary sale last year...

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    Vainamoinen Moderator

    @lattsam said: I'm more interested in anything Sam-and-Max-related myself. It surprises me that there's nothing new about it, other than the 25th anniversary sale last year...

    25th anniversary is OVER. Telltale wanted to do something for it, Dan even said so explicitly in "his" thread. But they didn't. I won't search for the easy answers, but I do find that very disappointing. There was a sale... but even that was mostly a Steam sale. :rolleyes:

    On to the 30th! :(

    @lattsam said: Fables will probably play like TWD. I think Dan Connors mentioned as much in an interview, but I don't remember where I read it.

    He didn't, at least not THAT explicitly. What he said was that several of the now established TWD mechanics will return. I think he talks about "choices", now with a much clearer good/reasonable/human, bad/brute/animalistic division. Whether the rest of the mechanics will return (the QTEs, the action scenes, the pacing, the time limit on conversations, the minigames etc.) is unclear as of now.

    @lattsam said: Just going to say this but i think we all seen what happened the first time we seen TTG go far away from Gameplay and mainly focus on story. That would be JP The Game :/

    THAT is overly simplistic and untrue to boot. What we see here is the search for a new kind of gameplay. It is clear how Jurassic Park tried to tie interactivity to its game - I would assume the number of pressed buttons per episode to be 15 times as much as the odd TWD one; and you and I may not have enjoyed this experience. But to characterise JP as the "ultimate story driven non-game" just to have an example for the lowest end of the scale, that's just unhelpful.

  • @Vainamoinen said: 25th anniversary is OVER. Telltale wanted to do something for it, Dan even said so explicitly in "his" thread. But they didn't. I won't search for the easy answers, but I do find that very disappointing. There was a sale... but even that was mostly a Steam sale. :rolleyes:

    On to the 30th! :(

    Even then the blog post about it was fulled with people crying about ''When is the next TWD episode out'' ''I WANT IT NOW :mad:'' Very disappointing blog post :(

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    Jennifer Moderator

    @Vainamoinen said: 25th anniversary is OVER. Telltale wanted to do something for it, Dan even said so explicitly in "his" thread. But they didn't. I won't search for the easy answers, but I do find that very disappointing. There was a sale... but even that was mostly a Steam sale. :rolleyes:


    I wouldn't say Telltale didn't do anything, they did have an art/story contest and a sale (for every system that Telltale's Sam and Max games are on). They did quite a lot for their anniversary.

    The sale wasn't just on Steam, but also on consoles and iOS. And to be fair, there was also a sale on Telltale's Sam & Max games at GOG.com during Sam & Max's anniversary year.

    @Vainamoinen said: Even then the blog post about it was fulled with people crying about ''When is the next TWD episode out'' ''I WANT IT NOW :mad:'' Very disappointing blog post :(


    That's not exactly Telltale's fault. That's one of the main reasons why they disabled any future comments.

    It was nice to see Telltale acknowledging Sam & Max's anniversary on their main blog. The contest was a nice thing for fans (and it was good that it wasn't just for pictures and artwork, but for stories too, so it was open to everyone). It was nice to see an art contest again (I missed those).

    And the sales were nice for getting new people into the series (and for fans to pick up the games on other systems). I thought Telltale handled Sam & Max's 25th just fine. Telltale could have just ignored the 25th anniversary completely. Now, that would have been disappointing.

  • I know its not TTG's fault but it still does not mean it sorta ruined the tone. We don't exactly go into TWD blog posts and start saying ''WE WANT TALES OF MONKEY ISLAND 2 & SAM & MAX SEASON 4'' There was even a person who went in and said ''Don't care where is TWD Ep 4?!'' Another one was ''Don't give a shit about Sam & Max, give us episode 3 for the EU PSN NOW!'' and the same person who wrote the first comment i mentioned wrote ''No one cares about a stupid animated dog and rabbit. Everyone cares about The Walking Dead because of its intense drama and The Walking Dead is what TellTale is making a lot of money from.'' Now that was the most stupid and rude comment in the whole blog post in my opinion. I was happy that some people like Vainamoinen, Nintendo Boy1, Gman5852, & der_ketzer, went in and defended the Sam & Max games in the blog post.

    I think the best comment is from Vainamoinen where he says something that relates to Sam & Max and shows his disappointment in the people posting about TWD in a S&M post. The comment was ''You don't crack me up little buddies''.

    Anyway i think moderators should be able to go into the blogs and delete comments like people did in that S&M post :/.

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    Jennifer Moderator

    @ryannumber1gamer said: I know its not TTG's fault but it still does not mean it sorta ruined the tone. We don't exactly go into TWD blog posts and start saying ''WE WANT TALES OF MONKEY ISLAND 2 & SAM & MAX SEASON 4'' There was even a person who went in and said ''Don't care where TWD Ep 3?!


    That's an old discussion (that has been discussed over and over again on these forums and is well over and done now). And it's a moot point now that the blog comments are disabled.

  • @Jennifer said: That's an old discussion (that has been discussed over and over again on these forums and is well over and done now). And it's a moot point now that the blog comments are disabled.

    Just saying but i did add more into my post :/. Even then you mention that the comments are now disabled. So because of people who can't stop crying about TWD that others have to pay for it because people did these kind of things. Also didn't they start complaining they wanted Ep 4 already and Ep 3 was only out for a week?

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