8:42 pm - 04/28/2014

Telltale Games post, yay.

A Gaming Company Devoted to Narrative Tackles ‘Thrones’

By Laura Parker, SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — Behind closed doors and papered-over windows here, a half-dozen storytellers have been scrambling to conjure a fantasy world with compelling characters, fierce dialogue and an intricate plot. But this is no ordinary writers’ room: It’s Telltale Games, an independent video game studio that has developed an intense following by prizing nuance and narrative in an industry more often associated with clattering machine guns and screeching getaway cars.

Considered by some to be the “HBO of gaming,” Telltale has set itself apart by adapting popular books, movies and television shows — “Back to the Future,” “Jurassic Park” and “The Walking Dead” — into adventure games released as short, episodic chapters that can be downloaded for $5 each. This model taps the same slow-burning qualities that have made prestige television dramas so popular and allows Telltale to work on multiple projects for less money than some companies might spend on games that sell for $60 a copy.

The studio has recently turned considerable attention to the next big name on its roster, a video game version of the epic fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” now in Season 4 on HBO. The character development and sense for story that sold HBO on a deal with Telltale are time-tested qualities, no matter the format.

“There’s a reason we’ve seen this strategy emerge in media again and again over the years,” said Katherine Isbister, director of the Game Innovation Lab at the Polytechnic School of Engineering at New York University. “Human beings enjoy being in the thrall of an ongoing saga. It allows us to get to know a world and characters over time and gives us a chance to reflect and discuss.”

While producing Game of Thrones, which is due this year, Telltale is also working on the second season of The Walking Dead and on The Wolf Among Us, based on Bill Willingham’s “Fables” graphic novels.

“We’re solving problems on a story level that other game companies don’t even realize are problems,” said Dan Connors, a founder of Telltale. “We’re approaching this like it was a film or television series.”

Mr. Connors created the company in 2004 with Kevin Bruner after they left LucasArts, the video game publishing arm of Lucasfilm now owned by Disney. They wanted to make games as exciting as television — to have people debate them with as much enthusiasm as they did for a show like “The Sopranos.” The challenge with each project is to avoid alienating an established fan base.

Telltale’s first episodic series, Sam & Max Save the World, was released in 2006 in monthly installments. This was followed by games based on “Strong Bad,” “Wallace & Gromit,” “Back to the Future” and “Jurassic Park.” The biggest success came in 2012 with The Walking Dead, adapted from Robert Kirkman’s comic books and the hit series on AMC.

Telltale executives would not comment on the studio’s financial position, but before the premiere of The Walking Dead, Steve Allison, the company’s senior vice president for publishing, predicted that the game could become a $30 million franchise. Telltale now says it “surpassed expectations,” selling one million copies in the first 20 days and more than 28 million episodes to date. The game has won more than 100 industry awards.

The appeal is tied to the game’s ability to make players care about the characters. The five episodes in the first season of The Walking Dead end on cliffhangers, and scenes become increasingly intense. (One memorable scene has the player cut off the main character’s arm after a fatal zombie bite.) Some players have filmed themselves working through the game and uploaded the videos to YouTube; the best ones feature shocked screams and tears.

“It resonated with people,” Mr. Connors said. “It immersed you in the world and allowed players to create relationships with characters in a way they’d never done before.”

Telltale moved to San Rafael almost a year ago from a smaller office near San Quentin prison. There is a studio on one floor, production space on another and a sun-drenched deck overlooking the Marin County countryside. Storyboards keep departments informed of deadlines and progress, and many smaller meeting rooms, where writers gather, are covered in sticky notes. The staff has doubled every year since 2012, to around 200 employees now.

Amid that growth, Mr. Bruner and Mr. Connors felt confident enough to pursue something they considered even bigger than The Walking Dead: “We’re giant interactive storytelling dorks, and we’re giant ‘Game of Thrones’ dorks,” Mr. Bruner said.

Telltale had attracted two top hires from the film and television industry — Colum Slevin, the former vice president for studio operations in Lucasfilm’s animation division, and Stephan V. Bugaj, who had spent 12 years in creative roles at Pixar.

“Nobody else in the world is doing this or thinking on this scale,” Mr. Slevin said of his decision to join Telltale. “Everyone is focused on trying to make games look as sophisticated as films, as opposed to trying to make games be as emotionally and narratively resonant as film, which is a whole different challenge.”

But Telltale leaders knew they would need more than résumés to persuade HBO. Some previous forays into gaming had not met with much success for the cable network: a 2006 game based on “The Sopranos” received poor reviews, as did a 2012 role-playing game based on “Game of Thrones.” Telltale had to make the case that its game would pay as much attention to narrative and characterization as the show, and that it wouldn’t be a cheap knockoff involving the kings and queens of Westeros running around collecting coins or hacking off one another’s heads.

“Other gaming companies want to go gameplay first,” Mr. Connors said. “You have to start with the narrative.”

HBO executives asked for a Thrones prototype, so Telltale produced a 10-minute presentation of what its version might look like.

“We were struck by the sophisticated level of work and high-quality approach to storytelling in all of their games,” Josh Goodstadt, the vice president for global licensing at HBO, said by email. “We quickly recognized that this same level of quality and dedication could be a great complement to the richness of ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”

imo, considering the new level of messy that the series has reached last night, I have high hopes for Telltale to deliver something a bit more satisfying.

Telltale has a story consultant assigned by HBO, the science-fiction author Ty Corey Franck, who is the personal assistant to George R. R. Martin, the author of the books that inspired the TV series and an executive producer on the show. Much work remains before the game has its premiere, and no one at Telltale seems eager to publicly reveal more details. There is also no mention of the game on the storyboards. Even character mock-ups taped to a wall — a man in battle armor and a woman in a flowing purple dress — are, according to Telltale, just samples.

A room for brainstorming is off limits to visitors. There’s a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, and muffled voices can be heard inside. On a recent day, a pink Post-it joined several dozen others visible through the glass. For all the mystery surrounding the project, it appeared that progress was being made.


Calling all ONTD Telltale-enthusiasts. How excited are you for ep3 of TWD??
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x_piemaker_x 28th-Apr-2014 06:46 pm (UTC)
cool, but when does TWD season 2 come on ps4?
ohwutevernvm 28th-Apr-2014 06:48 pm (UTC)
omg @ that gif. where is it from?
and that guy in the gif can ride me anytime~~
twitchy_bunnies 28th-Apr-2014 06:53 pm (UTC)
icequeen3101 28th-Apr-2014 06:57 pm (UTC)
This is the best thing ever!!! :D
ohwutevernvm 28th-Apr-2014 06:57 pm (UTC)

that man is fione tho xD
fairytayl 28th-Apr-2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
somnus_angel 28th-Apr-2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
This is forever still the best video.
neverhft 28th-Apr-2014 07:03 pm (UTC)
LOL! Its gets me every time, you know some troll developer had to do that shit on purpose.
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
Somebody modded Bigby to dance.

This one is nice too:
comalies 28th-Apr-2014 06:50 pm (UTC)
I don't think I'm here for this. My ideal GoT game would be a massive RPG. Something more like Skyrim. I don't think it's really suited for Telltale's episodic format.
jellycar 28th-Apr-2014 06:55 pm (UTC)
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 07:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah that would be super cool too! I wonder if people are already doing mods like that. I remember playing a Nightswatch mod in the old Neverwinter Nights days, haha.

To be honest, I don't care about their Game of Thrones game, I just want them to continue bringing out episodes from their current projects.
ohwutevernvm 28th-Apr-2014 07:15 pm (UTC)
how's Skyrim? also, is there any latest cyberpunk video games out already? I wonder why no one takes on the elements of cyberpunk in video games seriously. like, I really need everything cyberpunk that has to happen, i mean, it's pretty much inevitable isn't it?
comalies 28th-Apr-2014 07:21 pm (UTC)
Skyrim is amazing, I can leave it for months and then jump back in with plenty of new things to do and explore.

I've never really played cyberpunk games but the new Watch Dogs is supposed to be really good and I plan on checking that out.
devourlove 28th-Apr-2014 07:54 pm (UTC)
i've done just about everything there is to do in skyrim but i still love it. it's about time to make a new character probably but it's great imo, especially with the dlc. you can buy it in a legendary pack for ps3 now
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 08:07 pm (UTC)
I really love Skyrim as well. I haven't played it in a while but I played it for such a long time... I had 180 hours of playtime or something.

I have to say a big factor in the enjoyment of Elder Scrolls games for me are also the modding possibilities. I've never played vanilla Oblivion but started out playing with the Overhaul patch that fixes some stuff about leveling up, skills, boosts magic, gives you more questlines, makes enemies more challenging... it was sweet.

Skyrim I played vanilla for a very long time but then I added a bunch of mods, mainly to enhance nature a bit. For some reason I especially enjoyed the mod that added more birds, lol. Deadly Dragons and Dragon Lords (or something) are cool mods, too because they make the dragon fights really challenging.

Even if there is nothing in particular to do, I just love randomly walking through the countryside...
voldy06 28th-Apr-2014 08:21 pm (UTC)
I know that CD Project RED are doing a cyberpunk game called Cyberpunk 2077:

"It will feature a dystopian futuristic world in which ultra-modern technology co-exists with a degenerated human society.

The game aims to be mature and ambitious, with character customization being strongly tied to the plot. It will have a non-linear story with different character classes. It will have both first-person and third-person perspectives."

No release date yet though.
zombieland 28th-Apr-2014 06:50 pm (UTC)
I still need to play season 2 of TWD. I'll be down for a GOT game too.
fairytayl 28th-Apr-2014 06:56 pm (UTC)
i just played all of season 1 and caught up on season 2 of twd over the weekend and it's killing me to have to wait now
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
I played season 1 in three sessions and then the wait was pretty terrible D:

It's probably better to wait until a whole season is out and play then... but I can't, lol.
somnus_angel 28th-Apr-2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
Omg an actual Telltale post on here, what is this witchcraft.

I am also intrigue with how they will handle the Game of Thrones game, they will automatically receive my money if the main character is Jon Snow and his only four options are pouting but I desperately need episode 3 of TWD.
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 07:09 pm (UTC)
At your service!

Ah, the wait for ep 3 is killing me. They released the achievements a week or so ago and yet no word about even a release date? What's taking so long?
chiixhideki 28th-Apr-2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
lmaooooo yas make jon or dany the main character and i'm in
landwarinasia 28th-Apr-2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
I don't like the books or the show, but I'd actually be open to a GoT game if Telltale is doing it. I've loved TWD and TWAU.
creative_candy 28th-Apr-2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
oh my god that gif lmao
manubibi 28th-Apr-2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
Circle prayer for Kenny not to die in s2. And ummm, a GOT game? Cool I guess...
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 07:03 pm (UTC)
ugh, I know, right?

At first I was like: Oh yay they are bringing characters back! (Like Omid, Christa, Kenny...) but then I realised that this just means they can kill them for 100% real this time.
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 07:06 pm (UTC)
I only just noticed that the Luke and Nick in that concept art are weird mash-ups of each other. The one on the right has Luke's clothes but Nick's head and the other has Nick's clothes and Luke's head.
fearofthenumber 28th-Apr-2014 07:16 pm (UTC)
omg that gif is amazing.

I'm looking forward to see what they do with GOT.

Clem remains a badass, need ep 3 ASAP.
ghostsaddle 28th-Apr-2014 07:16 pm (UTC)
omg i love both TWD and TWAU
papermonstrr 28th-Apr-2014 07:18 pm (UTC)
In my dreams Telltale would work on a HP game, it doesnt even have to be about the trio. I just want one good Harry Potter game :'(

But bow to TWDG and TWAU <3 prob my fave games this year
mikochin 28th-Apr-2014 07:18 pm (UTC)
These bitches are spreading themselves so thin, their current games already suffer enough from tedious wait between episodes...
vee_bot 28th-Apr-2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
just make more wolf among us plz
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 07:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this line from the article sounded especially suspect:

This model taps the same slow-burning qualities that have made prestige television dramas so popular and allows Telltale to work on multiple projects for less money than some companies might spend on games that sell for $60 a copy.

It sure doesn't make working at Telltale sound good.
fauxkaren 28th-Apr-2014 07:21 pm (UTC)
Aaaaah. I cannot wait for episode 3 of TWD.
verdhandi 28th-Apr-2014 07:31 pm (UTC)
I just found this:


So what, we will get a sneak peak this week? Like a screenshot? I'd be happy for ANYTHING right now. Even the above article that has absolutely no new info.
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