The Rise of Telltale Games

Zoë Godden tells the tale of the company currently dominating the adventure genre

Zoë Godden
29th November 2016
Image Credit: Telltale Games

Gaming is first person storytelling at its finest. Well-rounded characters, fleshed out worlds, engaging narratives – it’s something that can only really be accomplished in multiple hours of playtime. Enter Telltale Games.

Founded in 2004 by three former LucasArts employees, Telltale existed in a stale landscape of stagnant gameplay where story was secondary. Their first title, Telltale Texas Hold’em, acted as a test for their in-house engine. Following this, they acted as main distributer for CSI games, their initial dabble into third party content. It’s far from the gameplay mechanics they’re renowned for today.

Then along comes the Sam and Max franchise. Making three series in total, Telltale’s take on the anthropomorphic comic duo started their tradition of releasing content episodically, whilst simultaneously reinventing the point-and-click genre into adventure-based gameplay. Praised by Windows players, the company moved onto wider IPs – Tales of Monkey Island, Jurassic Park, and most notably, Back to the Future, which was a huge step for the studio critically, gaining an average Metacritic score of 73 and getting THE Christopher Lloyd to voice Doc Brown. 2010 marked the biggest year for the company yet, announcing their yearly revenue was $10 million; 90% greater than the previous year.

The studio truly hit mainstream success with the release of The Walking Dead in 2012. Receiving over 80 Game of the Year awards, and selling over 28 million copies, the grim adventures of Lee and Clementine cemented Telltale’s place in the gaming spotlight. Following this triumph came The Wolf Among Us, immersing players into a neo-noir crime thriller based on Vertigo’s Fables comic series. Tales from the Borderlands was another success, building upon the already intricate lore of Pandora by giving us dual protagonists and a new retail element, whilst their Game of Thrones and Minecraft adaptations were liked by fans, but had mixed reception critically.

Tales from the Borderlands was another success, building upon the already intricate lore of Pandora”

Whilst these games lack fast-paced, trigger happy mechanics (OK, bar those pesky quick-time events), they make up for in intricate storylines, gorgeous cell-shaded aesthetics, and phenomenal soundtracks. Telltale’s greatest strength is their ability to expand upon existing IPs without imposing on its source material, letting fans insert themselves in the worlds they love. They’re brand new takes on your favourite licenses, with decision-making at its core – you are both the protagonist and the storyteller, your actions affecting the overall story arc (to a reasonable extent). In the most simplistic terms, they are non-playable games.

And now Telltale is tackling one of its biggest IPs yet – Marvel. Thanks leaks following the ongoing voice-actor strike, a Guardians of the Galaxy game was exposed to the point-and-click masses, listed with the fake working title ‘Blue Harvest’, an obvious nod to another space franchise. It’s unclear as of now whether the game will follow Marvel’s comics continuity or tie into the MCU, potentially releasing alongside Vol. 2 in April next year. Telltale first announced its Marvel project back in April 2015, and would act as a perfect parallel to the current brooding Batman series (as I write this, Episode 4 has just released and I CANNOT CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT).

Despite the odd technical issues and inconsistent episode releases, Telltale has evolved from a little known indie dev to one of the industry’s most prominent and beloved studios. No doubt there will be a utopian future where Telltale have monopolised every envisionable IP in existence, and I personally can’t wait to be assimilated.

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