by Ste Wood
In the beginning, man created the television. For the first time, rather than reading or trusting someone else to accurately tell a tale, audiences could watch a story unfold right before their eyes. A few days later, home consoles became a standard form of entertainment. Instead of sitting back and watching a characters journey play out, audiences sat forward and actually played the story, controlling a protagonist and guiding them through all kinds of mazes, platforms, and dungeons. There was a clear line in the sand between the passive nature of watching a television show, and the proactive pastime of dying on the same level fifty times for fun. But as time slowly passes us by, those lines are becoming increasingly blurred.
While titles like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale offered hardcore players choice based adventures back in the 90s, it wasn’t until the mid-00s that titles like Mass Effect and Fallout brought these features to more mainstream audiences. Controlling of how a character interacts with others in the game world has since become a standard feature in many modern games. But at the time, these multiple choice scenarios were ground breaking in AAA releases. Not only were you saving the universe, you were deciding how your character carried himself in the process. Fast forward to 2016, and the next step in the evolution of choice based entertainment may already be upon us.
Telltale Games weren’t always the trailblazers they are today. Once upon a time, the indie game company secured the rights to develop a Jurassic Park action/adventure game, and somehow managed to screw it up every step of the way. They weren’t just bad, they were downright embarrassing. Then in 2012, something magical happened. After years of producing lackluster titles, the company had an unexpected hit with a game unlike anything that had been released before it.
Imagine a TV show where you have complete control over characters dialogue, and the overall story progression from the minute you sit back on the sofa. Now, imagine the TV show is a continuation of one of your current favourite series. Say, Game of Thrones, or The Walking Dead. Don’t watch either of them? Why not try an original idea, focused on the grizzly reality of being a fairy tale character trying to get by in the modern world, as seen in The Wolf Among Us? How about a pseudo-TV series based on a popular video game franchises? Say, Borderlands, or Minecraft. Add to that, a recently released Batman comic book adventure, and a currently untitled Marvel Universe tie-in, and you’re bound to find something worth at least 10 minutes of your time.
The key selling point of Telltale games isn’t the fast-paced action, the slew of additional content available to download, or the rage-inducing online multiplayer elements. The appeal of these games is the TV feel, the stripped back control you have over the on-screen protagonist (or antagonist), and the total control of the story, creating a character unique to your own tastes. Sure, there are some predetermined events across the board, but how you reach those events, and how you react in the moment, is all ultimately down to you.
The games do a good job of never feeling too much like a video game. Most of the time you spend controlling a character, you’ll be walking to points of interest, or non-playable characters. And this is where the games really shine. Unlike more traditional games, conversation in Telltale releases is at the forefront of the experience. Like all good TV shows, characters snap, fights ensure, and brutality is often an option. But even in these moments, the only real control the player has is determining which way the action goes. The stripped back control scheme works just as well while fighting off Zombie hordes in The Walking Dead as it did when you were deciding who to sell the dragon’s fire to in Game of Thrones.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these games will appeal to everyone. The writing in Telltale releases is far from airtight. Particularly in The Wolf Among Us, there were lines of dialogue and even entire scenes that had me rolling my eyes at how exposition heavy and/or unnecessary they were in the grand scheme of things. The cell-shaded presentation will likely put a few people off, but that’s purely the aesthetic that has been chosen. Admittedly, the choice of stories currently available is quite narrow. While Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Batman may appeal to a wider audience, most of the other tie-ins are quite niche. But this is still very early days. With the concept growing in popularity, it would be fair to say that Telltale will likely become the next LEGO Games, with the same successful formula applied to various successful entertainment franchises.
So if you’re a video game enthusiast, or a TV addict, or even just somebody looking to experience a relatively new form of entertainment, Telltale Games is definitely a name to keep an eye out for in the future. With TV currently dominating the entertainment world, it’s only natural that television-style video games would come around. Whether or not they take off into the stratosphere of the mainstream will likely depend on what improvements are made in the writing department, and how popular the adapted titles are with the general public. But with bigger and better tie-ins already in the works, the future could very well already be here.
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