Telltale Games, the studio founded in 2004 and made up of former LucasArts employees and other great creative talent, has been pumping out episodic graphic adventures in a steady stream for the last few years. And, with RPGFan being big supporters of the once-on-life-support cousin genre to the RPG, we couldn't help but smile when we saw Telltale arrive on the scene and make gaming a little more interesting, and humorous, for anyone willing to give graphic adventures another chance.
In this interview, we ask Telltale about their work - past, present and future - and we learn a little more about what it's like developing games of this nature for today's market. The answers are provided by Mark Darin, one of the writers/designers for Telltale Games.
RPGFan: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Many things have happened in the game industry since the "golden days" of graphic adventures from the likes of LucasArts and Sierra. Interest in the genre all but died at the turn of the millenium, but recently we've seen a resurgence. What, in your opinion, brought back love for the genre?
Mark Darin: Personally I think that the rising popularity of digital distribution is largely responsible for putting some life back into the genre. The love has always been there, but producing large scale point & click adventures became quite risky from a financial standpoint. Digital distribution means that there is now an opportunity to produce smaller scale games and get them into the public's hands with lower overhead. It's the same reason we are starting to see a lot of really great "independent" games reach the market as well as a lot of re-releases of fantastic previous generation games.
Wallace and Gromit, episodic.
RPGFan: The Nintendo DS has been a breeding ground for many graphic adventure titles developed in the US and abroad, such as: Phoenix Wright, Hotel Dusk, Broken Sword (Director's Cut), and Touch Detective. What are the chances that we'll see a Telltale game on the DS in the near future?
All the cool kids want more Monkey Island. Telltale delivers.
Mark Darin: We have said that we'd like to have our games on as many platforms as possible! We are happy to now be working with the Wii, Xbox 360 and PC, and while we are always expanding, I'm not certain which platforms we'll explore next.
RPGFan: Is it good to be working on the Monkey Island franchise again? We all know Sam and Max was a big fan favorite, but Monkey Island is one of the cornerstones of adventure gaming.
Mark Darin: Monkey Island was a HUGE part of my life growing up, and I am quite the fan boy! I was thrilled when I found out that we would be working with LucasArts to bring Monkey Island back! I was a bit scared as well. I know how important this series is to fans so I'm working hard to make sure we don't screw it up!
RPGFan: LucasArts' remake of the Secret of Monkey Island sticks with 2D graphics, while Tales of Monkey Island uses Telltale's 3D engine; was there ever a consideration to go with 2D graphics?
Mark Darin: Our engine is designed from the ground up specifically to create 3D games for episodic distribution. While 2D can look nice (beautiful in the case of Bill Tiller's work in Monkey Island 3), producing an episodic series where all of the backgrounds, characters and animations are all hand drawn is quite a sizable undertaking. That said, our artists are amazing at creating rich, detailed 3D worlds and characters that feel alive and pirate-y!
3D also allows us to create the most cinematic presentation possible. Moving cameras really let the player explore the environment in much more detailed and natural ways, and the camera controls enable us to use all the tricks of film production to immerse the player in the Monkey Island worlds.
RPGFan: The franchises upon which you've built these new episodic games are already well-established. With that in mind, how much of your games do you feel are "yours" and how much are they the influence (direct or indirect) of the creators, such as Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert?
The Strong Bad games induce gut-busting laughter. This funky gravity-defying critter is just one reason why the game will keep you LOL-ing for hours.
Mark Darin: Hmmm, that's an interesting question. Personally, I feel as though all of the games I have worked on have been "partnerships." It's important for me to respect the original vision of the creators. Of course we always want to put a fresh coat of Telltale paint on the product, but we also want to make sure that the player feels that they are experiencing an extension of the worlds they are familiar with, not a complete re-imagining. Ron Gilbert's input was extremely valuable to us while we were designing the game. He helped us understand what the Monkey Island world and characters are all about (even if he still didn't reveal the "Secret" of Monkey Island!)
RPGFan: The episodic series "Strong Bad's Cool Game(s) For Attractive People" is based on the much-loved Homestar Runner website and its zany cast of characters. For years, the site has offered many mini-games and some basic point and click functionality within their Flash animations. Did the Brothers Chapps work closely with you on the gameplay aspect since they already had some knowledge of the content? What was it like working with these two pioneers on the Strong Bad games?
Mark Darin: Those guys are great! We worked more closely with them than anyone else! They were practically members of the team. They had their hand in everything from the puzzle design to the script making, helping everything feel perfectly Strong Bad.
RPGFan: What are the differences between creating an episodic game vs. a "whole" game? Is it easier? Harder? Is writing an episode just like writing a whole game, only shorter? Please describe for us, if you could, what the process of generating episodic content looks like.
Oh, Sam and Max, what hilarious trouble will you get us into this time?
Mark Darin: For me, the episodic games seem to be a bit more hectic, with each of our games releasing monthly. The writing has to be done quickly, but we have different designers writing and directing each episode, very similar to the approach that television shows take. It's a model that seems to be working well for us.
RPGFan: Are you planning to do any episodic games that aren't specifically point and click adventures?
Mark Darin: Though we have no plans that I'm aware of at the moment, I wouldn't rule it out. We are really focused on two things: episodic content and great story telling!
RPGFan: What are the differences, and challenges, for developing a game on Nintendo's "WiiWare" platform, as compared to for other platforms?
Mark Darin: It really isn't a console vs. console kind of thing. Every platform has its own set of challenges to overcome. It's just a matter of knowing your limitations and working with them. Some people didn't believe that a four hour, fully voiced, beautifully animated Monkey Island game could fit into the 40 Megabyte WiiWare file size limit, but our technical wizards have managed to do it, and are finding ways to do it better every day!
RPGFan: The Sam & Max games have gone from having multiple episodes to having multiple seasons, each with their own grouping of episodes. This makes Sam & Max your most expansive franchise to date. What can you tell our readers about the progression from one season to the next? Was this planned from the start?
Mark Darin: Having not really worked on the Sam & Max games much, I don't really have a lot to contribute here. I do know that having multiple seasons is something that Telltale does want to do. We do want to provide fans with a continuous stream of content for their favorite games.
RPGFan: After Monkey Island, what's next on Telltale's plate? Anything that rhymes with Braniac Bransion?
Mark Darin: Hey, who leaked the fact that we are working on a new "Drain 'n' Cat: Expansion" game?!?
Our thanks go to Mark Darin, the entire Telltale team, as well as Scott Fry of One PR Studios for collaborating with us on this interview. We wish Telltale Games nothing but the best as they continue to pump out fun and exciting episodic content.