By Andrew Goldfarb
There’s been one question on the mind of every gamer since the conclusion of The Walking Dead: The Game — what will Telltale Games do next? While the studio has long since announced Fables and King’s Quest and a second season of The Walking Dead, it’s been a while since we’ve heard updates or seen any kind of concrete details.
At the DICE Summit in Vegas last week, IGN was able to sit down with Telltale CEO and co-founder Dan Connors. In addition to giving us an update on what’s next for the studio, Connors gave us an interesting idea of how he views Telltale’s place in the industry and how he thinks gaming can continue to mature.
“In my mind, this is what we’ve been working toward for a long time,” Connors told IGN about The Walking Dead’s success. “While the scope of the success is bigger than anything we expected, we’ve just been doing what we set out to do the entire time. We’ve never strayed from who we are. We’ve pushed and worked our asses off to do this. Now it’s a really good template. All that work paid off. When executed well, with the right franchise, with the right gameplay mechanics, with a great story, with great writing, this is what it can be. It’s really powerful and really compelling.”
Connors once again confirmed that the studio will revisit The Walking Dead, but said that exactly how or when has yet to be determined. “We’ve announced that we’re doing a second season of The Walking Dead. That’s going to be a big part of what we’re putting people to work on this year,” he explained. “Right now it’s about figuring out the right way to approach the story, the right way to handle this that’s going to work for what we’re trying to accomplish and give it legs. Certainly we believe there are more stories to tell in The Walking Dead’s universe. The show continues to be huge. People understand what we’re doing. We’re going to continue to work on it. It’s a rich world for what we’re trying to do. We still have a lot of ideas to explore in that world.”
We asked Connors how he feels about the other Walking Dead game in development at Activision and whether Telltale feels protective of the brand. “I’m always happy to see the world enriched,” he said. “I’m a little worried about it because of the chance of our customers being confused about which product is which. But it’s happening. There’s not much we can do about it. We were glad to get in on Walking Dead when we did. We released a strong product that was well-timed and that worked really well. We had the support of Robert Kirkman and his team. That’s been great. We feel like we’re going to do something with season two of The Walking Dead that’s going to be special. It’s going to be unique. It’s going to be a Telltale series, obviously. As happy as I am that Walking Dead’s huge and to be associated with The Walking Dead and everything else, I’m happy that the Telltale brand of gameplay and episodic gaming has gotten this time in the sun as well. We can say ‘hey, everything about this worked well together.’ What Telltale has built is strong.”
Beyond The Walking Dead, Telltale also has plenty of projects in active development, including Fables, which was announced nearly two years ago. Connors confirmed that the game is still in the works, but that the title isn’t what fans of the comics might expect. “We won’t be using the name Fables,” Connors confirmed. “We’re based on the property, but we’ll have a new name. We haven’t announced it yet. We’re still hammering it out. We want to make sure that people know it’s associated with the DC comic and Bill’s work and everything else. It’s delicate. But it won’t be called Fables. With Fables, or the game associated with the comic Fables, it kind of… Walking Dead has had a huge impact on the company as far as how we look at things and how we do what we do. We’re taking a lot of what we learned from that and making sure that Fables can execute on the same things. That’s taking longer. But we’re definitely in full production on it. We’re working hard. It’s coming together really well. We’ll probably have more to talk about on it pretty soon, with a name and everything else, in the near future.”
The Walking Dead was a great example of Telltale’s ability to operate in multiple spaces, from downloadable games to mobile to a retail release. Looking ahead, we asked Connors how he thinks next-generation consoles might factor into Telltale’s future.
“What we’re interested in right now is the next generation of content,” Connors said. “When Xbox and Sony come out with their next devices, and Apple comes out with their next devices, you’re going to have something in your living room that gets all your content, interactive and non-interactive. It’s going to be all right there next to each other. It’s all going to be part of the same experience. At that time, what’s the right product for that? And it’s going to have social and sharing and connected stuff that you can do. So what’s the right thing for that device when it comes out? That’s what we’re interested in. We’re interested in looking at that and saying ‘okay, we’ll let the player interact to this point. Once they’ve crafted this thing, now we’ll bring this really great piece of additional content in that will reflect back on what they did.’ When they’re done with that, they’ll have this interface to talk to their friends about it.”
“Whatever it is, that’s what we’re interested in,” he added. “We’re always interested in evolving content, evolving a way for people to get stories, evolving the way stories are told. The next generation of hardware, across the board, is going to be great. Throwing out another level, what about when it’s virtual reality or voice-enabled or body movements using Kinect? How can you get people to really interact with these worlds and these stories? What are they going to do? That’s where our eyes are.”
Connors is also interested in the possibilities of virtual reality, but wonders what it might mean for the way players interact. “I think that’s inevitable,” he explained. “It’s funny. I was having this conversation earlier. When we get there, is the first thing we’re going to want to do just shoot that virtual character in front of us? Maybe, in some cases, but should we make it more interesting, so that’s not the first thing that crosses our mind? ‘Hello, Mr. Beautifully Crafted Virtual Character with Expert Writing! Let me drop a grenade in your pants.’ Is that where we’re going? It might be, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if we do go there, even if there is the drop-a-grenade-in-his-pants game that comes out, that’s still only going to appeal to a certain segment of the audience that the game industry is very focused on right now. It should appeal to everybody. Everybody should have their VR glasses on and they should be in there interacting with this. How they interact is what we’re interested in.”
That interaction is one area where Telltale shines, allowing players to truly feel like they’re a part of the story. In the wake of Telltale’s success and other recent adventure game releases, we asked Connors if he thinks the genre is making a comeback. “I think so,” he said. “It’s so hard, because what is an adventure game? Does it have to be an inventory-based game with puzzles and dialogue? Or is it anything where you have dialogue and puzzles? There’s parts of adventure games in every game out there. In a way, adventure games started the idea of graphics in games. They’re like the blues of the whole thing. Every game has some adventure game mechanic in it. So resurgence-wise, it’s great that Ron [Gilbert] and Tim [Schafer] are working on it. David Cage has always continued. David Cage has kind of gone on our path, which is asking ‘where do we take adventure games from here? How do we evolve it and make it more of a storytelling medium and less of a puzzle-based medium?’”
“But I think we’ve shown a way that you can do it,” he continued. “Certainly we’ve brought it to a market, but I don’t know if the people that played Walking Dead on XBLA are ready for an adventure game that comes out that is ‘walk around the world, pick up objects, use them on other objects, put them back in your inventory, combine two items, solve the puzzle.’ I don’t know if that’s a direct link. You might find some people with an inclination to go there, but I don’t know that it’s the same thing. Hopefully they continue to push mechanics forward as well and don’t retreat back to the known 1992 or 1993 vintage of adventure game mechanics, which can be something that people have clung to for a long time. It hasn’t had the ability to go outside of the people that really like it. It’s like a really good wine or something that some people really love and other people can’t drink.”
Telltale will continue to grow and evolve along with the industry, and Connors believes that The Walking Dead’s success means the studio can expand more than it might have been able to previously. “We’re probably going to grow a bit more. I think we have a really good opportunity right now. A lot of people look at Telltale as a way to do storytelling, whether they’re coming from the movie business or the television business or the games business. People are looking at The Walking Dead and saying ‘wow. That’s a new way to tell stories. I’d like to be involved in that.’ We have an opportunity to add a lot of talent, and we will. We’ll grow and try to get more products out. We’ve got a lot of opportunities right now. We’re fishing through and picking the right ones.”
As the interview came to a close, we asked Connors to explain how Telltale manages to keep track of players’ decisions. With so many possibilities, so many potential outcomes and interactions, how does a game like The Walking Dead keep it straight and know what moral choices to deliver? Is there a complicated series of charts and graphs somewhere in Telltale’s office?
“It’s all magic,” Connors said, smiling.
Somehow, we believe him.