How Telltale Helped Revive the Adventure Game World

Adventure games are not new in any sense of the word, but they have been gaining some momentum of late, best highlighted by one of this year’s best games, Telltale’s The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead is based on the comic which inspired the hit AMC television series and of course, it is about zombies, a topic I’ll usually groan about when brought up. Telltale has been a company that has released a lot of rather inconsequential games over the years before the company, founded by an ex-LucasArts employee, hit paydirt with a few interesting game licenses. I’ll admit that I was excited about some of their projects and then very let down, as the Monkey Island series is probably one of my all-time favorites and the Sam & Max games were great as well.

Telltale’s episodic releases of those games after they acquired the licenses to help work on them, though? Really kind of disappointing. I found myself wanting to like the games and wanting to like the format they chose — episodic, downloadable games — but in the end, everything just felt like a low-level LucasArts emulation without the main creative forces behind those games (at least Monkey Island) at the helm. What was great, though, was that Telltale was keeping the adventure genre alive and proving to the world that there are still gamers out there looking to play these kinds of titles.

They helped gain some momentum with huge wins in licenses for the Back to the Future games and the Jurassic Park games, but yet again, these games were really just below par for the genre and it began to seem like without Ron Gilbert and Tim Shafer they were bound for continual artistic stagnation and were simply dragging an already-dead genre through the mud further.

Then something amazing happened, and it happened with the Walking Dead game series. It is still the same basic Telltale gameplay beneath the surface; a modified for 3D point-and-click adventure title with cartoony graphics and still using the fixed-camera style used in the 2D games, but that is a good thing. What was sorely lacking in previous games was any sense of soul or meaning. To be blunt; the writing and scripting was not up to snuff, and it wasn’t clear why. Was the team trying to live up to past LucasArts successes? Were they too obsessed with what the genre should be? Were they held back by licenses and not having more control?

What’s clear is that the writing team of Sean Vanaman, Mark Darin and Gary Whitta have stumbled onto the right formula for the modern adventure game. Instead of a hyper-focus on puzzles (which I’m not adverse to), they have taken a deeper interest in narrative and character development, which in turn has created a must-play series and shows a lot of promise for future titles from the team at Telltale. Many are looking forward to the second season of The Walking Dead from Telltale and hopefully this game will not be an exception and will instead help Telltale to push forward in innovating the adventure game genre.

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