Telltale Games: a post mortem

TechNews Writer
Mon Oct 01, 2018

On September 21, 2018 the studio Telltale Games announced that it was letting go of a majority of its employees, all but 25, in preparation for its bankruptcy. Because of this, Telltale announced that it would be canceling all of its current projects, including the long awaited fourth and final season of its "The Walking Dead" episodic games series.

Sitting with only two episodes of its last season released, it now seems "The Walking Dead" may never be fully complete with its studio headed the way of the dinosaurs. Fans of the series, myself included, might be left forever in purgatory in regards to its conclusions. So what led Telltale Games to this point, how did things go wrong, and what can be done now? Right until the bitter end, Telltale was essentially a one-man conservation effort, singlehandedly keeping the concepts of episodic gaming, point and click adventures, the "Sam and Max" series, and several other relics of the past afloat in the modern world. The studio seemed set to head down the drain all the way back in 2012 with at best modest success on their more recent entries until the explosive success of season one of their new "The Walking Dead" game. Rather than having your traditional action game comprised of cutting through hordes of the undead, the game instead focused on the characters and their interactions, with the zombies being more of an overhanging presence that everyone has to deal with.

The game would play by the decisions you made, be it who you would save down to just what advice you gave someone. The game was driven by a powerful sense of emotion, with likable characters that had depth and personality to them that made the constant overhanging sense of dread all the more frightening. It worked. The game exploded in popularity, primarily on YouTube where gaming channels ate it up to gleeful audience appeal. Telltale had stumbled on gold and they knew it. Over the next six years, on top of their "Walking Dead" series, Telltale would obtain the rights to "Batman," "The Wolf Among Us," "Minecraft," "Borderlands," "Game of Thrones," "Guardians of the Galaxy," and a planned adaptation of "Stranger Things." From there, Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V was their motto. What had worked for "The Walking Dead" was made to work for everything else.

But for a small studio like Telltale, achieving this dream meant pushing its employees to the brink of insanity. By the end, Telltale became notorious for its "crunch time" ethics, having workers on extended hours of overwhelming work to rush out projects on big IPs. This left a demoralized, delirious staff who cut corners until only circles were left. From "Minecraft" to "Game of Thrones," the same gameplay formula from "The Walking Dead" would appear time and time again, virtually unchanged, and the audience would grow weary. At their apex, they were the creators of one of the biggest leaps in narrative gaming and at their death they were the ones who failed to move past that leap. And what was left was a crowd of disappointed, dejected fans waiting on an episode three (no, not "Half Life").

Tellltale's "The Walking Dead" is one of my personal favorite game series of all time; I lost myself in its rich characters, strong atmosphere, enrapturing choices and its sheer, utter, harsh, and depressing realities. Few games, if any, could throw tear-jerking moments one after another and keep me reeled in, but "The Walking Dead" succeeded. I, as well as many others, were looking forward to the conclusion of Clementine’s story that seems so distant a possibility now. But, unlike "Half Life 2: Episode Three," there may still be hope. The remaining 25 members of Telltale games released a statement saying that they are trying to search for a developer able to publish episodes three and four to complete the series. Telltale spelled its end from an inability to move on, but perhaps their legacy shall remain.


Photo by Telltale Games




Appears in
2018 - Fall - Issue 5