From Sam & Max to The Walking Dead: How Telltale Games became a premiere developer
I remember a time when the most exciting thing coming out of Telltale Games was a Back to the Future adventure game. I don’t mean to rain on the parade of Sam and Max fans, but that was arguably the first mainstream adventure title released by the now critically acclaimed developer.
Sam and Max isn’t the only popular franchise Telltale worked with before their breakout success. Strong Bad’s Cool Game or Attractive People was released in 2008, Tales of Monkey Island saw release in 2009, and the first Poker Night at the Inventory came out in 2010. Even back then, Telltale’s desires to work closely with the source material’s creators were evident. Matt and Mike Chapman, co-creators of Homestar Runner, worked alongside developers to help create an authentic product. The process went like so, per an interview with adventuregamingclassic.com:
“In the design phase, we have brainstorming sessions with them where they contribute to the ideas that will eventually become the plot of the episodes. Then one of our designers will write the episode script and pass that along to the brothers where they review, edit and rewrite whatever feels necessary to make the whole thing feel more "Strong Bad-y." They come up with ideas for puzzles and don't hesitate to let us know when a puzzle isn't working and help us to revise it and make it better. We have a weekly meeting with them where we go over the production progress and get their feedback on every detail.”
The same can be said regarding Tales of Monkey Island and working alongside Ron Gilbert, as well as Aardman Animations on Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures. You could argue that without this already established blueprint of working alongside series creators, The Walking Dead: Season One wouldn’t have been as successful. Instead, that experience helped proved invaluable. Walking Dead was more than just an adventure game; it was an authentic experience and true stand-alone product in The Walking Dead franchise. Part of that success can be attributed to Telltale knowing how to work alongside people like Robert Kirkman.
This used to be one of Telltale Games' premiere games. Now it's hidden below their big name titles.
What’s most remarkable is that the process that brought Kirkman to work with Telltale could be a contributing factor to their recent explosion. When Robert Kirkman was playing Strong Bad, he admired the game’s emphasis on storytelling and narrative. A lot of developers make this type of claim as they boast prominent writers penning a script only to see said story fall completely flat. Telltale Games doesn’t make these claims. Instead, they make damn good stories, damn good characters, and compelling narratives. They don’t win you over with promises; they win you over with execution.
More importantly, though, they win over the people that matter.
Based on their recent successes, Telltale has gone from a company that releases about one game a year to seeing three games released in 2013 (Poker Night 2, The Wolf Among Us, and The Walking Dead Season 2). Episodes of Wolf Among Us and Walking Dead will continue throughout 2014 as they prepare to release their newest games: Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones. While the first 2014 entry can be seen as a popular franchise getting an expanded narrative, Game of Thrones doesn’t necessarily need an adventure game. Sure, there hasn’t been a good video game adaptation yet, but the franchise is still a money machine between its novels and HBO series. Now HBO is adding in a video game to said money machine and they’re trusting Telltale Games to do it.
It only makes sense seeing as the developer has shown a desire to respect and stay true to source material since day one. Say what you want about their early days. Nobody is perfect from the beginning. Telltale’s staff has been able to stick true to their philosophies while learning from their mistakes and finding out what works. It’s paid off. Big time.