The Problem With Telltale's New Direction: A Rant.
You might have noticed I haven't been posting much lately, and this will most likely be the last thread I ever make. I've gotten pretty jaded with Telltale in recent years (things have started going downhill ever since Back to the Future, to be honest), but it's now culminated to the point where I just don't feel comfortable supporting them. I figure the least I could do is get it all off my chest.
For starters, with the success of The Walking Dead and the cancellation of King's Quest, it seems like Telltale's going to be doing nothing but Heavy Rain-style interactive movies for the foreseeable future. I wouldn't mind if interactive movies co-existed with point-and-click adventures and other, more "gamey" games, but focusing exclusively on them is a red flag in my book. I know I'll piss off the just-here-for-The-Walking-Dead crowd when I say this, but interactive movies are a step backwards in the gameplay department, plain and simple. True, you could say the same thing about adventure games when compared to more action-oriented genres, but the fact stands that New Telltale makes games more restrictive than Old Telltale did.
For me, a big part of Sam and Max's charm was the element of exploration, goofing around and doing stuff you're not supposed to just because you can. Clicking every little trinket in the office or Stinky's Diner, using inventory items in strange ways, asking people to rub your unicorn...if you can do it, no matter how useless it was, there was probably dialogue for it. SBCG4AP took it a step further by including a bunch of collectibles, rewarding crazy exploration. Meanwhile, Telltale's current games keep you on a short leash. Stay in one area, do some dialogue and QTEs. Maybe if you're lucky you can walk around and solve a super-easy puzzle. Then move on to the next area. It's depressing, to be frank.
I'm sure some people are going to jump on me saying it doesn't matter that The Walking Dead's so simple. It's about the story, not the gameplay! I'm a writer myself, so believe me, I'm all for video games having stronger stories (and on that note, for all my other issues with Telltale, the writing is still top-notch, so props to the guys responsible). What I'm not for, however, is stronger stories coming at the sacrifice of gameplay. And this isn't an issue exclusive to Telltale either. There's this nasty idea permeating the whole gaming industry that not only are story and gameplay mutually exclusive, but that the former should always come at the cost of the latter. It's why people were praising Bioshock Infinite as a masterpiece when it's a watered-down version of the original Bioshock (itself a watered-down version of System Shock 2), and why Gone Home, a game that literally had "No Combat, No Puzzles" as a selling point, received so many accolades.
The fact is, good story and good gameplay aren't mutually exclusive. Look at Deus Ex, or Fallout. Stuff like The Walking Dead tries to prove "Video games can tell good stories too!", but it does that by downplaying what makes a video game what it is as much as possible. For the longest time, people believed comic books could never tell a good story. Watchmen proved that wrong. How did it do it? By embracing what made the comic medium what it is. A text box from one scene would be displayed over a completely different (yet still appropriate) one. Seemingly unrelated panels would be juxtaposed in interesting ways. Watchmen didn't just tell a good story, it told a good story that could only have been told as a comic. A proper story-based video game would need to do just that, tell a story in a way only a video game could do. Keeping the gameplay simplistic and trying to be as much like a film as possible is not the way to do it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Telltale should stick to point-and-click adventures forever. If they wanted to branch out and try, say, a FPS or RPG, I'd be OK with that. Hell, I'm even all right with interactive movies in moderation. But when you make them your sole focus, that ends up as a problem to me.
Also, even if you ignore the shift in game design philosophy, it seems like Telltale's newfound fame has gone to their heads in a very short span of time. Telltale is now trying to release four different episodic series in one year, when before they've never done more than two. It's already become apparent that they've bitten off more than they can chew. The second episode of The Wolf Among Us came out four months after the first. Old Telltale would've released the finale by that time. I haven't been paying attention to Walking Dead 2 (the first game's done so much damage to Telltale that I've become kind of jaded with the franchise as a whole), but I understand it's coming at a similar pace. I used to laugh at the people constantly demanding "WHERE'S THE NEXT WALKING DEAD?", but these waits are pretty troubling, especially now that you have to pay for the whole game up front instead of buying episodes individually.
I'm probably rambling, but the point is, Telltale's become very...impersonal. They used to make adventure games with a lot of heart to them (and at a decent pace) and regularly talk to fans. Now they just churn out as many interactive movies when they can. Telltale used to be one of my favorite developers, and it's honestly disappointing how far they've fallen in such a short span of time.
I'm going to finish The Wolf Among Us, assuming Telltale does, since I've already paid for it and don't want my money to go to waste. After that, though, unless they manage to get everything back together, I seriously doubt I'll buy anything from them again, as much as it pains me to say it.