Telltale Games Debate: Masterful Storytelling! Futile Choices?

Sam & Max, Tales of Monkey Island, Back to the Future, The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Tales From the Borderlands, and Game of Thrones; Telltale Games stands as one of the finest classic point-and-click game and interactive story developers in recent years. But despite their outstanding games, Telltale Games is not above some scrutiny.

In light of games like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and Game of Thrones, LaughingMan, a huge fan of Telltale’s work, has issue with their bold advertising that “your choices shape the story”. His topic of concern is that the dialog choices offer only slight narrative changes in the storyline. What’s more egregious is that the true ending of such a “choice-shaped story line” is effectively moot, and the story ultimately culminates into a single defining choice that dictates the game’s conclusion. Mass Effect 3, anyone?

CineMax agrees that some of the criticism is, indeed, valid. However, he argues that, ultimately, Telltale Games is focusing on telling great interactive stories with a definitive beginning, middle, and end (with some input from the player, of course) — as opposed to making a straightforward “choose your own adventure” game with multiple different pathways with very little depth to them. Additionally, CineMax proposes that Telltale Games is doing something very unique in terms of video game storylines: The stories that Telltale tells focus not on protagonists who are “the chosen ones” or some sort savior figures, but rather on deep, complex, and relatively powerless characters that inhabit a world of strife and turmoil.

However, both LaughingMan and CineMax reach some common ground in that a completely customizable story experience would be a nightmare to develop. But what could Telltale Games do to appease both LaughingMan and CineMax? Who wins this gentlemen’s debate? Find out in the latest CCS After Hours Podcast!

CineMax

A subversive excommunicated from [REDACTED] as a result of a failed coup d'etat, CineMax has miraculously managed to reach and find asylum in the Land of the Free. Here he spends his days working for Cheshire Cat Studios, all the while plotting his inevitable return to the motherland to once again foment the flames of revolution.

LaughingMan

The loveable lunatic with the foul mouth and the iconic laugh, Laughingman is the founder of CCS. With more coffee than copper in his bloodstream, he's a full-time website developer by day, and a gamer, editor, and fiction writer by night.

4 Comments on “Telltale Games Debate: Masterful Storytelling! Futile Choices?

  1. *numerous spoiler tags*
    *steps right over them*

    I think the best thing about Telltale is the character interactions and relationships, which is somewhat hard to find in most games today. I think if there was more of a “butterfly effect” with decisions, that would be interesting.

    I have not played or seen gameplay for Game of Thrones so bear with me here. Even though your character gets killed off by Ramsey early in the storyline, does your death or the circumstances leading up to it have any impact on events/character perceptions later on?
    One of you mentioned that you could be a hard-ass towards Ramsey or be more diplomatic. If encountered later on in the game, would he regard your house differently based on your actions?
    Hard-ass = consider you more formidable
    Diplomatic = more of a push-over
    (I hope this makes sense)

    Anyways, pleasure to listen as always. 🙂

  2. I really like TTG works myself. It’s kind of fresh air in the game scene. More action than an adventure games, but also much more well-written stories than most other kinds of games. It’s a story to be told, not an excuse why is your character running around shooting aliens. Those aren’t even epic in size. You’re not saving the city in Walking Dead. Just barely getting out of it. You’re not saving the Fabletown. At most you’re stopping it from sinking lower. Those are stories told from the level of someone caught in the events, not causing and resolving them.

    It’s a fresh, new thing in games. A mix between video game and a TV series. I don’t even mind it’s going out in episodes, because it leaves you impatient for the next one. Makes you wonder what the characters will do, how the events will resolve and what weight will your choices have.
    And even if your choices boil down to “choose if that NPC will be snarky or kind towards you at some point later”, it still feels… kinda realistic. Especially if you choose to try and do the right thing, but fail or something. People blame you, you know you couldn’t do it even if you tried over and over. Things don’t go your way all the time in real life.

    Also, I’m really interested in Tales from the Borderlands series. It’s not only set in completely open-ended setting (we know nothing about what happened after Handsome Jack died, writers are free to make their own stories here), it has a perfect visual style, crazy humour and most importantly – it’s a friggin’ Borderlnds game, where you can shoot a gun ONCE in entire first episode. It shifts from bullet-raining FPS to an adventure game where your chars are on the opposite side of heroics than Vault Hunters. They are a con and a pencil-pusher. Having the story told from two different perspective is really cool at all. Gives you a feeling that the world is not just a stage for your character to act on, but things happen around you when you’re busy doing one thing or another. It really gives me hope for that particular series.

    • “And even if your choices boil down to “choose if that NPC will be snarky or kind towards you at some point later”, it still feels… kinda realistic. Especially if you choose to try and do the right thing, but fail or something. People blame you, you know you couldn’t do it even if you tried over and over. Things don’t go your way all the time in real life.”

      That’s pretty much my take on this, too.

      I’m afraid I wasn’t able to bring this up during the actual podcast, but one parallel I’ve always drawn between what Telltale is doing and the real world is World War 2. (Or any other major conflict in human history, for that matter.) If you’re just one of the many soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy, you have limited control over the outcome of the event. You’re not playing a strategy game where you’re God and you can afford to lose soldiers by the thousand. Instead, you are one of the many soldiers who can live or die. And history will happen the way it does, but depending on whether or not you were nice towards this other guy in your platoon, perhaps he will come to your aid and cover your back in a dangerous situation?

      And even if said guy later dies anyway during the course of the story, depending on what kind of relationship you had with him, this will either leave a giant emotional scar on both your character and you, the player. Or he will just be another casualty of war and you won’t give him a second thought later in the story.

      As we’ve said in the 5NAF Podcast: Being at the mercy of your environment is one of the essential requirements for a compelling horror game experience. However, when it comes to any other genre, somehow people want to be in total control of their and (sometimes) everyone else’s destiny.

  3. Maybe Carlin was right: the impression of choices are sort of an illusion.
    Sometimes I think the 5 options that Telltale gives you for responses are not highly varied and have the same effect to some degree.
    Kind of like when the USSR fell and Russians were introduced to a wide variety of different products, like soda. However when offered water and a range of Coke products they only saw 2 choices. To them, no matter what flavor, soda was just soda.
    I think some players want not meager choices but freedom to shape the story drastically. But like you guys said, it would be a nightmare to program. I do think future technology can make this a possibility one day.

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