Telling the Perfect Interactive Story
Telltale Games does exactly what their name implies: they tell stories in the form of video games. But not just any stories. The company produces games that feature masterful storytelling and incredible characters, building on richly established worlds that gamers and non-gamers alike will recognize. From Jurassic Park, Law & Order, and Back to the Future, to the current games based on The Walking Dead and Fables, the games perfectly tie-in with their source material, while maintaining their independence. But what really makes the games shine is their episodic nature. Where video games are usually worth hours and hours of game play, these games come in short installments. The episodes are released on a regular schedule over time, with each one ending with a cliffhanger and teasing what will come next. After the “season” is complete, the games are released as a whole.
Available on almost every gaming platform, from PC, to console, to iPad, the games work like interactive comics, with players actively deciding what the main characters will do to achieve their goals. The format is easy enough for a non-gamer to follow, and while a regular gamer might not find any challenge in the game play, the stories are more than compelling enough to satisfy and intrigue both types of player. The company has been steadily enjoying success and positive feedback from critics and gamers alike thanks to the quality of their product.
The newest games in Telltales’s roster are The Wolf Among Us, based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book series, and season two of The Walking Dead, based on the comic book series and subsequent television show of the same name.
You don’t have to read Fables to appreciate The Wolf Among Us, but if you haven’t, the game might just inspire you to learn more about the fairy tale characters exiled to the human world. The Wolf Among Us is on its third episode, “A Crooked Mile.” The mystery of the serial killer murdering prostitutes deepens, with Bigby Wolf and Snow White following a new and disturbing lead that popped up at the end of the last episode. The other Fables, especially the underprivileged, continue to drop unsubtle hints about Bigby and Snow’s ignorance. The pair are clueless about the bigger picture surrounding both the murders and the overall circumstances of the less fortunate in the city. Bigby’s interactions with many of them offer a lot of insight, and the player has the opportunity to be a man who is trying hard to be the good guy, or the player can simply let him be the Big Bad Wolf everyone still believes him to be. Bigby has been forced to wolf out a few times in each episode, usually in self-defense. I have chosen to temper his wrath on each occasion–more so this time because of Snow’s presence. (I may or may not be trying to foster a future relationship for them.) Snow is not fond of Bigby’s temper and penchant for solving problems with a well-placed fist or foot. However, it’s been interesting to watch Snow’s usual in-command, self-control devolve into her own moments of ruthlessness, and even violence.
In The Walking Dead Season Two, a young girl named Clementine has also come into her own as the main character. Once an innocent who managed to survive the zombie outbreak with the help of a man named Lee, now she’s on her own. In the first episode, Clem felt a little bit too innocent and lost, but after struggling through some significant challenges, such as sewing up her own wounds, along with the usual challenge of avoiding walkers, the most recent episode has revealed a Clem that is no longer interested in taking any **** from anyone. She has not grown into a heartless creature, but she has come to understand that people can’t be trusted and she has to be very careful with her decisions in order to survive.
The Walking Dead is a linear game, where your choices most often affect what or whom you will have to deal with in the future, but no matter what you choose, you’re heading in one direction. The Wolf Among Us has incorporated time limits, and choosing one option over another can result in missing out on information elsewhere. You’ll still end up in the same place eventually, but it’s worth it to rewind game play to discover the other options.
In some cases, it might mean meeting another character and learning about their involvement in the mystery, or it could mean another entry in the “Book of Fables” glossary. Collecting all of the latter in each episode is paramount to earning the various “librarian” achievements in the game, and the entries themselves all provide interesting insight into the different characters and elements of the Fables lore.
Both games are fascinating in how they act as separate entities from their source material, while still holding true, and both do so in different ways. The Walking Dead’s main and supporting characters have been mostly new to the lore of the comic book and television series, however, a few familiar faces and places have made an appearance. By nature of the circumstances of a zombie apocalypse, it’s easy to comprehend that there are other pockets of survivors, and Telltale Games has done a wonderful job of making Clementine, Lee and the others as important to the overall story as Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon, or the Governor. In fact, Lee and Clem came to mean so much to me, that my husband was concerned over how emotionally distressed the Season One ending left me. I suspect I’ll suffer the same heartbreak and pain by the end of Season Two. The game has already called down the feels by closing the latest episode with a very poignant rendition of the American folk song, “In the Pines,” performed by Jared Emerson-Johnson and Janel Drewis, composer and animator, respectively, for Telltale Games.
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The Wolf Among Us is more tightly bound to its lore, but I’m so amazed by how well it develops characters that were already very strong and well-developed by their original creator. I have only read the first volume of Fables, but as I said, you don’t need to read the comics to appreciate the game and all its elements.
With the success of these series under their belts, it’s unsurprising to hear that Telltale Games will be producing more of these incredible games. Their concept for Tales from the Borderlands, as told by characters that may or may not be on the up and up, sounds like so much fun, while a Game of Thrones version promises all sorts of intrigue and perhaps a few more rolling heads in Westeros.