Telltale Games on adventure games and episodic content

Telltale Games on adventure games and episodic content
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

April 7th 2011 at 3:00PM

Dan Connors talks adventures in episodic gaming

Telltale is possibly the only studio to have consistently delivered on the promise of episodic gaming.

From Sam & Max to Wallace and Gromit, CSI to Back to the Future, they’ve worked on some of the biggest global franchises around, giving players the chance to interact with the characters they love in dependable episodic adventure games.

The studio, based in San Rafael, California, is often credited as being a major part of sustaining the adventure genre with its steady stream of titles.

To hear more about Telltales’ development practices, what it’s like working on licensed titles and whether the episodic model is a possible future for others, we spoke to the studio’s CEO and founder Dan Connors.

Telltale has been entrusted with popular franchises, like Wallace and Gromit, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. Does it get any easier trying to do justice to such revered films and characters?
You develop strengths as a company based on your focus. Our technologies, tools, and processes are focused upon executing revered franchises, so with each new franchise we bring more expertise to the table. At the same time the bar continues to rise from both a size of licence and audience expectation standpoint with each new project, so it’s always a challenge.

It’s been said that you’re taking inspiration from Heavy Rain for your upcoming Jurassic Park game. Are you looking to create gameplay with more open-ended out comes?
We are looking to create games that immerse the player into the world and story more effectively. We are creating gameplay moments that are tense in the context of the story. When confronting a T-Rex it doesn’t feel right to be looking through your inventory for a banana peel.

You’ve played a significant role in the revival of adventure games and are often used as an exemplar for the episodic content model. How does it feel to have achieved this?
As far as reviving adventure games, it wasn’t our goal to revive classic adventure games - our goal is to create interactive stories and immersive worlds. We believe adventure games are a good starting point for this, but we are interested in the evolution of the genre. As far as episodic, it certainly feels like we have accomplished the first part of our mission in being able to execute the episodic production process, now we need to optimise how players experience a season of content.

What’s the most difficult thing about creating episodic adventure games?
The two most difficult times are getting the first episode of a new franchise out. One, because there is more to build, and two, because we are working with a new partner that is usually shocked by our process. The second is when the dates have been set and episodes two, three and four, are all in some level of production at once. Any extra time spent on one episode comes out of another, because once the schedule is set we are committed to releasing monthly.

Are you interested in convincing new players to try adventure games?
Of course, when we do a game like Back to the Future it introduces our content to a mass audience, many of which have no idea who we are. Our goal is to create an adventure experience that people can enjoy. There is a tendency in all genres for designers to design for themselves and that alienates many people in the process. It is much more difficult to consider a user who isn’t as versed in the genre as the creator is, the hard work isn’t in challenging intelligent people, the hard work is in making us regular people feel smart.

Is there anything specific about your development practices that allow you to keep to the rigours of episodic content, which presumably has more frequent deadlines?
Everything about our development practices allow us to the rigors of episodic content.

Is the rest of the industry ready to adapt to such practices?
Well, it seems like the traditional approach is successful in fewer and fewer cases so the industry is going to have to adapt. If not to an episodic model more to a smaller more consistent release pattern. The days of the auteur bringing his revolutionary gaming vision to a major publisher and having a full product get funded are over, so innovation is going to come from these new models.

Episodic content has been very successful in allowing consumers to decide how much of a game they wish to experience. Do you see episodic content - and similar DLC models - becoming more prevalent as a result?
In the digital economy everyone is looking at building ongoing experiences. MMORPGs, freemium games, DLC - they are all about keeping a player engaged with your product. To release a single product that gets half a million paying customers engaged takes either a large investment or a lot of luck. Once you have that many players engaged it’s more effective to provide the next episode than to try to build that audience again with a new product.