Telltale CEO discusses more Walking Dead, reinventing adventure games

Telltale CEO and co-founder Dan Connors talks about the evolution of adventure games and expanding The Walking Dead's style of storytelling to other games.

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Fresh from the heaping pile of accolades that The Walking Dead received in Game of the Year lists that stretched across all corners of the industry, one hopes that developer Telltale Games isn't taking its success for granted. At last week's DICE summit in Las Vegas, Telltale co-founder and CEO Dan Connors revealed a bit more about his company's plans for another season of episodic zombie avoidance and drama, and shared some more info about the upcoming Fables-based project. He also shared some insight into the role of puzzles in traditional adventure games, and how that relationship might not be the same as it once was.

The Walking Dead is far from Telltale Games first release, but according to Connors, it exemplifies what what the developer has been striving to achieve. "In my mind, this is what we've been working toward for a long time," he told IGN.

Connors admits that no-one predicted the game would be such a runaway success, but feels the game is ultimately a product of the developer staying true to itself. "We've never strayed from who we are," he said. It makes sense then, that Telltale is keen to leverage The Walking Dead's brand of storytelling in its other properties.

"We've pushed and worked our asses off to do this. Now it's a really good template," Connors said. "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 also agrees that adventure games were indeed making a resurgence, but asserts that definition of adventure shouldn't be bound by the mechanical tropes of yesteryear. "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," Connors asked. "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." Making the genre more of a "storytelling medium" and less of a "puzzle-based" medium is Connors' ultimate challenge to makers of adventure games.

"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," Connors said. "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."

Granted, The Walking Dead is certainly a solid answer to that challenge. Even so, Connors seems to think that part of this evolution of adventure games is necessary to reach a new, nontraditional audience. "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,'" he said. "I don't know if that's a direct link."

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  • reply
    February 13, 2013 6:00 PM

    Jeff Mattas posted a new article, Telltale CEO discusses more Walking Dead, reinventing adventure games.

    Telltale CEO and co-founder Dan Connors talks about the evolution of adventure games and expanding The Walking Dead's style of storytelling to other games.

    • reply
      February 13, 2013 8:33 PM

      I like Telltale's adventure games, (Strongbad's more than WD), but I think they're overly praised and hyped. There isn't much challenge to them, and I consider them to somewhat have the same impact for adventure games that the 360/PS3 impact had for general gaming: massively growing the user base by presenting a product with a low bar-of-entry. They're great games, but they're highly dumbed down adventure games. Everything is pretty much spelled out, and it's basically just a process of clicking the fully apparent and guided sequence of things to watch the story. I think there's good and bad to that. I'd like to get a sense of having actually mentally pieced things together myself, rather than the game just making things so obvious that no thought was involved.

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        February 13, 2013 8:40 PM

        The Strongbad series was better with puzzles than the Walking Dead series. With the Walking Dead I just felt like I was tapping the mouse on a clearly indicated "next page" button to watch the story. Their Monkey Island series didn't draw me in at all, being not what was expect or sought from that title.

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          February 14, 2013 4:45 AM

          I would have stopped playing should there have been a ton of puzzles like in Monkey Island. That's not my definition of fun anymore.

          With that said, I believed the storyline was much more open-ended and unique to my gameplay than it really was. That was what kept me playing. After I finished, I noticed everyone's playtrough was the same pretty much.

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            February 14, 2013 4:52 AM

            I think Full Throttle stands as a pretty good target in terms of mixed game play, (mostly) logical puzzles, story integration, and length. It won't fit with every story or setting, but... it's not a bad target.

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            February 14, 2013 4:57 AM

            How about if there had been puzzles that weren't like those in Monkey Island? The Strongbad series did puzzles much better and still is not very challenging, but at least there's thinking involved. It's an actual adventure game and not an adventure interactive story, which is what Telltale's Walking Dead is.

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              February 14, 2013 9:26 AM

              I've never played Strongbad (I might now though) but Full Throttle had fun puzzles in it while Indiana Jones could be a little bit too much sometimes in my opinion.

              What would your definition of Full Throttle be? Interactive story?

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        February 13, 2013 9:33 PM

        I'm ok with them dumbing things down when it was illogical puzzles that killed the genre in the first place.

        Puzzles make no sense in the Walking Dead anyway and the genre is better off caring more about storytelling than puzzles.

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          February 13, 2013 11:43 PM

          Yeah, I'm fine if their games focus on storytelling more than trying to make a game out of it. Walking Dead is good at what it does.

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            February 14, 2013 4:46 AM

            Yup.

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            February 14, 2013 4:58 AM

            Sure, but like you implied, it's simply not an adventure game, it's an adventure interactive story. I'm sure there are others like me who wanted a game and not just a click-to-continue story.

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              February 14, 2013 5:01 AM

              It doesn't really matter what you call it, the games you want still exist

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                February 14, 2013 5:19 AM

                Hooray for Adventure Game Studio!

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            February 14, 2013 5:34 AM

            Do the characters or story get any better in the Walking Dead game? I'm in Act II right now and so far I've found everything to be pretty mediocre. The whole zombie/post apocalyptic thing has been done to death so I've found it to be pretty uninteresting.

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          February 14, 2013 4:52 AM

          Heh, reminds me of the story of a puzzle in Gabriel Knight 3: http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/77.html

          The only PC games I had access to back in the day as a kid were Carmen Sandiego (which I outgrew, obviously), and Police Quest (which made me hate how annoying the adventure game genre was, and yes, it's a shame that I never got to play a LucasArts-made adventure game back then).

          And then, my older cousin showed me a sneak peek at Doom.

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            February 14, 2013 11:52 AM

            People focus waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much on that one puzzle. It was one shitty puzzle in a good game. But people love to pile on things they know nothing about I guess.

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          February 14, 2013 5:00 AM

          You're right, illogical puzzles did kill the genre. But the solution is to have logical ones, and not to remove them.

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            February 14, 2013 5:14 AM

            It is possible to have multiple types of adventure games. What Walking Dead did with storytelling was novel and engaging, and that is its strength. Puzzles is not what the series is about. Maybe it's just not for you?

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              February 14, 2013 5:28 AM

              Woah now. I thought there were international treaties ensuring that sub-genres, like hybrid genres were restricted substances? Can't have the public getting their hands on those.

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        February 14, 2013 9:32 AM

        They're a little like choose-your-own-adventure kind of games (with a shorter range of options). I wouldn't call them adventure games in the classical sense of the word. But they're good games/stories on their own accord.

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      February 14, 2013 4:59 AM

      The Walking Dead video games loses more of its luster the more I think about it because it copies so many of the incidents that happened in the TV show, like cutting someone's leg off, shacking up in a farm, etc, etc

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        February 14, 2013 5:19 AM

        It's not like those two things have ever been portrayed in zombie fiction before the mediocre TV show (which is an adaptation of the graphic novel...).

        You're focusing on entirely the wrong things.

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        February 14, 2013 6:00 AM

        Neither of those things originated in the Walking Dead, and have been done in plenty of zombie movies. And it's called drawing parallels. The show is (WAS) following the comic as a template, and the game wants to draw allusions to it's base material, the comic.

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      February 14, 2013 11:45 AM

      By reinventing you mean dumbing them down to the extreme so that there is barely remnants of a game left? Yea i agree with that totally.