At this point, everyone is aware of the news regarding Telltale. The studio laid off a majority of its staff, leaving a skeleton crew in its place. This team of 25 people is only remaining to fill out the company’s remaining obligations. After that, Telltale Games will be no more. While this means so many talented people are currently without jobs, it also means the last true champion of the adventure game genre is no more. Which is a damn shame.
Rising From The Ashes
The Telltale we all know first truly began with the Sam & Max series of games. At this point, Telltale was simply interested in reviving the since-dormant adventure game genre made famous by LucasArts. This began a trend of the studio adapting licensed properties for their games. Properties like Wallace & Gromit and Monkey Island (perhaps the most iconic adventure game series) were some of Telltale’s earliest efforts. They may not have given Telltale the kind of acclaim they would see later in life, but it was the laid the ground for what was to come.
Telltale managed to hit it big with some of the biggest pop-culture franchises in the world: Jurassic Park and Back to the Future. Now, neither of these games were particularly great, but it brought a whole new awareness to Telltale. Following the releases of these titles, Telltale announced it had acquired the right to yet another entertainment property: The Walking Dead. The announcement was made in 2011, less than a year after The Walking Dead television show premiered. The eventual release of Telltale’s The Walking Dead could best be described as the perfect storm.
The game series released just as The Walking Dead was reaching its peak pop culture phenomenon status. It also marked a change for the studio in many ways. Instead of the traditional adventure game mechanics of inventory and puzzle solving, The Walking Dead focused on narrative and player choice. It also swapped out humor and jokes for character-fueled drama. Suddenly, a video game based on The Walking Dead became a phenomenon in itself, and this little episodic adventure game became a GOTY contender. It also made Telltale a household name for gamers.
Fighting the Good Fight
Though they may share some major differences with their 90s brethren, the backbone of the adventure game was still in Telltale’s DNA. In an era where multiplayer games with living worlds are king, seeing such a singular narrative focus from Telltale was a blessing. No, single player games aren’t in danger of dying (like they have been for years now, apparently), but the loss of Telltale is still a boon to that.
Yes, point-and-click and adventure games are very much still out in the wild. Really, they never “died,” but they have certainly been in decline. While the LucasArts that made adventure games famous was a far cry from the LucasArts that was effectively shuttered in 2013, Telltale didn’t just help revive the adventure game. It revitalized them.
It’s no secret that the licensed game had a rebirth of sorts in this generation. Fewer of them had been released on consoles, and the ones that have generally were of vastly increased quality. Telltale definitely helped contribute to that. Suddenly, the adventure game became one of the de facto genres of games for multimedia properties. Adventure games went from a dying breed to being home to characters like Batman and the Guardians of the Galaxy. The fact that Telltale would’ve made a Stranger Things game is phenomenal. Sadly, it looks like once again that the adventure genre will decline.
A Legacy Lives On
Telltale Games may be gone (at least as we know it), but its legacy will continue. Though we will never (frustratingly) get the ending to Clementine’s story, this isn’t to dwell on the negatives. Clementine is one of the all-time greatest fictional characters, with development like no other. And she’s only one character on that list. Bigby Wolf. Rhys. Fiona. Jesse. TJ. John Doe. Lee. So many other characters whose stories will live on.
Was Telltale perfect? Not at all. The engine was a constant source of contention for fans everywhere. They simply spread themselves too thin dealing with the multitude of licenses. It had major legal troubles. But that’s not what this is about. This is to celebrate the legacy of a studio that tried to do something different. It tried to keep a dying genre afloat, and did so much more. True, maybe it had peaked too early with The Walking Dead, and yes, many of their later projects just simply suffered a decline in quality. But that doesn’t mean what Telltale did to the gaming industry should be diminished.
Without Telltale, we would have never seen Clem grow from a scared little girl to a hardened survivor. We would have never seen John Doe become the Joker (or maybe not). We would have never been able to help Bigby solve a grisly murder in Fabletown. Telltale had paved the way for games like Life is Strange, a critical and popular darling. And again, Telltale allowed adventure games to once again be in the spotlight, if even briefly.
We here at Culture of Gaming sincerely wish the best for everyone affected by these layoffs, and we hope you find you can find work soon. All former Telltale employees are strongly encouraged to search #TelltaleJobs on Twitter. Thank you Telltale, and everyone who helped make its stories, you will be deeply missed.