Late last month, Telltale Games announced that it was shutting down due to financial problems after its most recent string of titles haven't sold well. It's incredibly sad to see such a popular and successful studio like Telltale being shut down, but in the wake of the tragedy, we should revisit everything that made it so exemplary in the first place.
Making the episodic formula work
Before Telltale made Sam & Max: Season One in 2007, most people believed that there was no way that adventure games released in an episodic format would work. It was asking a lot from players; only getting one part of a full experience at a time was risky, as people might decide they don't want to wait any longer and thus leave the game entirely. When Sam & Max was released, though, the very first episode was so charming, detailed, and well thought-out that people could barely wait for the next release.
Most people think of the Sam & Max series as little more than nonsensical comedy, and to an extent, that's true. But something I think a lot of folks don't consider is how high quality the world-building was. Even if the Sam & Max universe is wacky and over the top, it was still a setting written with satirical nuance and depth. People came for the laughs, but I believe they stayed for the immersive world-building. Even if they didn't realize it.
This proved that the episodic release formula offered an advantage that a full release did not — a slower, more methodical approach to world-building that allowed for a setting to be explored perfectly.
The success of Sam & Max showed the world that episodic adventure games were viable, but it wasn't until Telltale released games like The Walking Dead: Season One or The Wolf Among Us that it really hit its stride. These two titles applied the aforementioned slower writing approach to each game's characters as well as their settings, and the results were two stories that had rich, developed characters that people grew to love and care about. It's not out of the ordinary for people to cry when characters in Telltale games die.
Franchises like Life is Strange probably wouldn't even exist were it not for Telltale pushing the boundaries of the formula it pioneered. Thanks to Telltale, it became clear to the gaming community that episodic adventure games could be both immersive and well written. As the studio closes for good, we should never forget how its games shaped the industry and brought this genre to life.
What do you think about Telltale's contributions to the gaming industry? Are you going to miss its games? Let me know.
You can buy every Telltale game released on Xbox One now as part of the Telltale Mega Collection for $129.99.
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