If They’re Not Careful, Telltale Games Runs The Risk of Overexerting Themselves


Ever since their acquisition of the “Sam and Max” license, Telltale has garnered a reputation as a studio that does things a little bit differently.

It was with that series that the studio kicked off their unique episodic format, where a series is released in monthly or bi-monthly installments over the course of a season. While the quality of their individual installments varied from great to “meh” with some regularity, for the most part the approach was viewed as a gimmick by many.

That was until the release of “The Walking Dead.”

With that series Telltale finally made it all click. The series of choices and consequences in those games made the episodic format actually matter, while the quality of the writing and direction made “The Walking Dead” the first series from the studio to maintain a standard of excellence throughout. The general consensus winner of the 2012 game of the year awards, “The Walking Dead” was a runaway success.

Much like the runaway success “Walking Dead” TV show, however, its increased attention also drew increased criticism. Many gamers lashed out against “The Walking Dead” games for not actually being games. Instead they saw them as a series of story sequences loosely strung together by the occasional dialogue choice or QTE section. As a result, “The Walking Dead” became one of the most cited titles in the growing debate of whether or not the term video game is still appropriate when describing the state of the medium today.

Regardless of where you stand on that particular issue though, the sales numbers don’t lie, and the numbers tell us that “The Walking Dead,” was a success. It was such a success, in fact, that it allowed TellTalle to not only continue “The Walking Dead” series, but begin entirely new series within the high profile worlds of “Fables,” “Borderlands,” and “Game of Thrones.”

And that’s what worries me.

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See, I’m firmly in the crowd that loved “The Walking Dead.” While that’s mostly due to the quality of the game’s storytelling, I also attribute that to the fact that there wasn’t really anything like “The Walking Dead” series, even in the TellTalle canon. It was a breath of fresh air in the gaming world, and made the choice to buy “The Wolf Among Us” a no brainer.

By the end of the first episode of that game, though, it became pretty obvious that Telltale had no intentions of abandoning the gold mine of design they stumbled on during “The Walking Dead.” I don’t want to sound like I’m writing off “Wolf” as a re-skinned “Walking Dead,” but rather want to point out that if the appeal of “The Walking Dead” lied in it’s uniqueness and quality storytelling, the appeal of “Wolf” lies just in its storytelling.

That’s fine, but it does raise the question of whether or not TellTalle can justify releasing several high profile series in succession that all follow that “Walking Dead” style. After all, how many times can you hope to catch lightning in a bottle?

Now it’s not like I think Telltale should look at the success of “The Walking Dead” and say “Well, we made a good game so its time to shut down production,” but they already have both “The Walking Dead Season 2” and “The Wolf Among Us” releasing concurrently and now apparently have “Game of Thrones” and “Borderlands” titles in the works as well.


There’s no studio in the world that can possibly handle that amount of production and maintain a consistent level of quality, especially if the games they are making all follow the same basic template. We’ve seen before what happens to studios who feel the obligation to make annual releases of the same series and, with few exceptions, the results are not pretty.

In the case of Telltale, however, it’s even more tragic. Here’s a studio that made their namesake by releasing a game that shook the foundations of gaming and had some questioning the validity of the classification gaming itself. Going from that, to just continuing to do that but in new worlds reminds me of the executives from “South Park” who surmised that if saying shit in a TV show was popular and revolutionary, then saying shit even more and in different episodes is sure to be just as popular and revolutionary.

I believe that TellTalle is a great developer, and will never intentionally start banging out games routinely in the “Call of Duty” style. However, whether it is their intention or not, unless they start exploring a style beyond that of “The Walking Dead,” or at the very least limit their releases to a series at a time, they run the risk of overexerting themselves and learning a lesson that entertainers everywhere have learned the hard way for years.

After a while, the same act starts to get old.


The Superman Problem and Who Could Fix It


What is the Superman problem?

Simply put, it’s making a good Superman game.

To view the extent of this problem, try typing “best Superman game” into Google. Soon you’ll be met with the equivalent of a shrug, as the only results are people asking if there ever has been a good Superman game. Specify that search to read “top 10 best Superman games,” and the most relevant result is the “top 10 worst Superman games.”

That’s right. The Superman problem is so great that it even breaks Google.

While it’s impossible to attribute the problem to any single issue, the biggest one has to be Superman himself. Simply put, Superman is too powerful, and doesn’t make an effective video game character because there are only so many things that can cause him harm, or scenarios where he is in actual danger. So unless you’re going to equip every thug with kryptonite gloves (which you shouldn’t because it’s a terrible idea), there is a very limited rouge gallery that can even contain the god-man. On the other hand, the entire reason you want to play Superman is to use those very powers that makes him an issue in the first place.


As a result, mediocre games like “Death and Return of Superman” and “Shadow of Apokolips” are held in higher regard than they should be because they do nothing more than let you play as Superman, and not suck too bad. Meanwhile, Superman’s actual best roles are cameo appearances in lego games, and fighting titles.

That last part got me thinking. Maybe the solution to the Superman problem lies somewhere in the fact that so many Superman games have been 3D action titles. While that would seem the most likely home for the man of steel, it’s beginning to look like a truly great Superman game will not emerge until a developer is willing to chart some unconventional territory.

Specifically, that territory may be an adventure game, and that developer Telltale Games.

Ok, so it’s not the first thing you think of when you think Superman, but that’s the point. It’s something outside of the Superman comfort zone, that has turned into the rut the character’s games are in. For instance it would be interesting to see “Walking Dead’s” choice system make a return, and force gamers to actually grapple with the decisions that come with essentially being God on Earth, rather than just wail on baddies level after level. Hell, Clark Kent could even be made useable, courtesy of some journalistic investigation sequences


Best of all, they wouldn’t even have to trim down on the few highlights that do exist in Superman games. You could still have flying, you’d still have the epic feel of playing as Superman, and the powers issue is addressed as you would still be able to use all of Superman’s abilities, but with the emphasis now on plot and progression, there would be no need to trim them down, as the developers could instead have greater control over the action sequences where you get to use them.

It’s not the only Superman idea out there, and it’s certainly not one that is guaranteed to work, however it is an example of how the Superman problem doesn’t have to be one without resolution, and that there are still ideas for the series that haven’t been explored which could potentially turn the games from running joke, into a franchise that is as anticipated as the next “Batman” game.

Although yeah, personally after Telltale is done with that incredible looking “Fables” project, I’d love to see them take a shot at the franchise, and do what no company has done in the 34 years since the first Superman game for the Atari, which is simply make a game that associate’s Earth’s greatest hero with the word good.


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