PAX West 2016: Telltale and the Future of Adventure Gaming

There was a packed house at PAX West 2016 for The Telltale Panel, featuring a wide range of talent from Telltale Games and the promise of reveals for new entries in their eagerly anticipated adventure game series. Hosted by IGN’s Marty Sliva (shout out to Podcast Unlocked), the guests included creative communications manager Laura Perusco, design director Ryan Kaufman, writer Shawn Vanaman, writer Nicole Martinez and creative communications head Job Stauffer in front of a packed house eager for more adventure gaming.

 

 

Ryan spoke about the importance of finding a way into the character that everyone can relate to, a studio wide approach that has led to an extended run of critically acclaimed games in The Walking Dead, Fables, Borderlands and more. This approach continues in the recently released Batman: The Telltale Series; Shawn pointed out that choices made by Bruce Wayne or Batman influence each other and also the world of Gotham at large. Forces such as the GCPD, criminal underground and more will react to decisions by both from scene to scene, adding consequences to both diplomatic and confrontational choices on a larger scale than previous series. The different portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot’s origin in this iteration of the Batman universe (no spoilers) is also a deliberate choice to show players that Telltale’s interpretation of the Dark Knight will be different from previous versions in other mediums.

Job spoke about the challenge of creating a narrative for Minecraft: Story Mode, a base game that doesn’t have a story or characters defined by the game developers. The Telltale take on Minecraft ended up being influenced by Goonies and Poltergeist, source material that also played a role in their earlier adventure for Back to the Future; he mentioned that genre is often defined by story which I think worked out well in their adaptation of the world creating hit into a narrative series.

For the highly anticipated next installment in The Walking Dead, gamers can play as both returning favourite Clementine and new character Javier in a tale that picks up a few years after the traumatic season 2. The new story is about redefining what society is in a world that has adapted to (if not necessarily accepted) that the undead are a fact of modern life; an early screenshot of Clementine with a precocious young child as she grows up in this post-apocalyptic world shows that her evolution from relying on Lee in season 1 to teenage veteran and emerging leader in season 3.

On the platform side, the audience participation feature Crowd Play will be in all of their games going forward starting with Batman. Job described Telltale games as not only adventure games but also role playing games, the ability for local or even remote audiences (especially viewers of an online Twitch or YouTube Gaming stream) could be a milestone change in how viewers interact with online gaming personalities. It’s a simple connection that pairs a Telltale hosted site with a unique game session code, comparable to the Jackbox party series and their drop-in, drop-out audience mode and an exciting development for story driven games.

They touched on the recent Mr. Robot mobile game which was published but not developed by Telltale, expanding their portfolio from only their internally developed game into strategic partnerships with Night School Studios (Oxenfree) and 7 Days to Die (The Fun Pimps). It sounds like the company will continue to branch out into publishing externally developed games, a company shift that will be interesting to watch and see if they continue to support titles that diverge from their adventure focused internal development.

During the audience Q&A, the group described their approach as comparable to a TV network as an company that creates and distributes multiple series with distinct seasons that can overlap based on programming decisions. It’s a smart, modern take on episodic game content that allows them to gather and incorporate player feedback between iterations and sustain engagement throughout each season, a pragmatic approach that may open the door for other developers who either cannot or choose not to commit a huge upfront budget to creating a singular, completed product at launch.

Ending on a high note, Telltale revealed The Walking Dead season 3’s title as “The New Frontier” and a poster that Laura noted is an homage to the season 1 posters with Lee and Clementine. The studio has a lot coming out for the rest of the year (Batman, Minecraft and The Walking Dead) as well as a slate of anticipated projects in 2017 starting with an unrevealed Marvel project, this weekend’s panel

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