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Telltale is shutting down — but don't forget what it did for gaming

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.

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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.

Read: Telltale should pay its former employees before trying to finish The Walking Dead game

Evoking emotion

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.

Your thoughts

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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Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

11 Comments
  • Ms should buy and expand their unique "gameplay".
  • I agree, depending on the IP rights they would get with it, and for how long. Tech wise, the engine was overdue for an upgrade, but the story telling and concept of the mechanics were great. But none of that matters if the content rights, such as walking dead, and others didn't come with.
  • They had too many employees than MS has been targeting (>100), but this seems like the perfect studio to deliver episodic content for game pass.
  • Why? They don't own any IP, their engine is terrible and they already fired their talent, there is absolutely no reason to buy Telltale.
  • Eh... Once they got past the original walking dead and Wolf among us their games turned into episodic re-skins. The same engine (even the last ones were using a 10+ year old in-house engine) and the same look and feel on every game. Add to that constantly seeing things like "X will remember that" but nothing ever coming of it and the games got old fast. I would say sam n max was probably their most creative of all the games they made, after that it was "take standard formula, apply licensed property x, release". But to answer the questions at the end.
    What do I think about their contributions... they showed that episodic could work. However here at the end they also showed how it can fail. People paid up front for the last season of TWD and they are only getting a partial season, 2 episodes. No refunds or anything. They also screwed over around 200 employees by firing them without any warning and giving them no severance. Management was crap and the employees paid the price. Will I miss their games? No. The sam and max games were fun but all their current stuff was a stale re-hash of their old stuff.
  • While I do agree that their games felt too similar towards the end, I still enjoyed playing the ones I did. I'm sure there are others that feel the same way that I do. It's sad to see any company fail, but it's an extremely competitive world right now in a lot of industries. Companies need to innovate or they will suffer. Look at GE right now, they are learning a hard lesson.
  • Their more recent stuff was definitely lacking in quality. Seems TTG got ahead of themselves and tried to do too much at once with all of their licenses.
  • @brendan: you are correct about evoking emotion. The last time I got as involved in games as I did with most Telltale titles was KOTOR and Bioshock. While I agree the engine and controls needed some serious work, I continued playing for the writing. I now find myself cease playing some games if the game isn't going anywhere or the writing is non-existent. Telltale raised the bar (and my expectations) in that regard.
  • What did Telltale do for gaming? I suppose you could say they brought back the adventure game, but they didn't do it very well. They wrote crappy code that couldn't even run on Crysis-capable machines. They shipped the lowest resolution games ever on the current console generation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6Kg0gUrW8c). They shipped game-breaking and save-killing bugs. They repackaged and tried to sell us nostalgia, and a ton of people ate it right up, bugs and all. TTG may have been master storytellers, but it wasn't the games where they were telling their story. They were spinning a tale to the gaming public that they were actually game developers, and we all bought it. Good riddance.
  • I never played a single game from them, just by looking at the graphics was a turn down
  • Not everything is about graphics.