Why Telltale needs to start reworking its formula for games

Their formula is boring and they really need to spice it up.

Telltale is known for its stories between The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among, Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones, and its latest series, Minecraft. But I'm honestly sick and tired of Telltale at this point with only one of the games on this list making even an impact on me. Their games are just starting to get repetitive and need a new formula.

Story has become predictable and, often, forced

I've played the majority of Telltale's games. I'm only missing a couple of the older ones and the Minecraft one. Even so, I know that most of their storylines have gotten predictable, or at least have painfully predictable moments.

One of the most predictable moments in a Telltale game was basically the entirety of Tales from the Borderlands. The game is told primarily as flashbacks, so, the two characters that tell the story have to stay alive throughout the game. (It's blatantly obvious they're telling it as flashbacks too, because their captor is specifically asking them things and the characters argue about how the events played out).

Thus, most of the "intense" moments throughout the game were laughable. You already knew who was going to live or die. You knew that a certain item or part of a character wasn't there in the present day, so it would leave the flashbacks. So many things just thus didn't work and it was annoying. 

The same thing happened with Game of Thrones. Some of the characters have blatantly obvious backstories and Telltale just danced around it, trying to add suspense that didn't need to be there. In episode five of the first season, I was fed up with it. You meet a new character and I'm like, okay. I know who he/she is. Then Telltale refused to tell me until it later.

Illusion of Choice

You have branching dialogue options in Telltale games, but they don't really matter. Of course they don't matter. The endings are going to be the same, or extremely similar, or the follow-up season will disregard all your choices.

In the second season of The Walking Dead, there were multiple endings you could get. There were different characters you could have with you, if any character at all, and with all the different dialogue options, your character's personality could have been drastically different. 

But, except for the differing personalities that have no impact on what dialogue options will be present in the future or the story itself, nothing matters. I highly doubt (I'm 100% certain that they won't), make a separate storyline based upon each of those endings. That would be too much work and would just be too confusing for fans. Thus, when season three comes out, chances are the game will just finish up the loose ends from each different storyline and have them all tie in together in the same plot line that everyone else has.

Granted, they could have a different storyline for each ending, but with how complicated that would be and how big season three would have to be as a result... I couldn't picture Telltale putting that much effort in. Fans would probably be mad about having to replay both season two and season three to get different storylines too. Too much effort am I right?

Not to mention Telltale would also have to tie it all in with the Michonne mini-series they are planning to release soon. Yeah. I just can't picture them doing it.

All the forced moments

Some moments in Telltale's games are just pushed into the game at this point, for no reason other for them just to be there. This hasn't become too prolific just yet, but, since it has happened before, I'm honestly expecting it to happen again.

For instance, in Tales from the Borderlands, there was a romance between two characters (I'll keep their names to myself to avoid any chance of spoilers). This romance was so out of place that it annoyed me to the ends of the earth. Sure there were a couple of quips here and there between the characters, but it came across more as platonic, not romantic. 

Then, all of a sudden, there's this weirdly romantic scene between them. Then they're basically telling each other how much they like one another and they're suddenly a couple. Not to mention, there was a "wonderful" (I use that word sarcastically.) scene where a friend of the couple dropped everything to ask about one of the partner's intention. When I say dropped everything, I literally mean they stopped the plot to talk about the romance. It pained me. It was a moment where I'm sure Telltale took a figurative knife to my heart just to hurt me.

Forcing romances and characters to be into each other and then pushing that romance further and further when it doesn't fit to begin with is not what I expect from a video game.

Forcing romance and characters to be into each other and then pushing that romance further and further when it doesn't fit to being with is not what I expect from a video game.

Not to mention, I still call bull on Kenny in the second season of The Walking Dead. He was surrounded by zombies in an alley with Ben impaled on a pole. There was no way he survived that, no matter what explanation you decide to give. 

So please Telltale, stop. Just stop.

Gameplay is the exact same thing every time

Branching dialogue options, as I've already established, have little impact. Some painfully easy quick time events. Some click-and-point exploration. That's all there is to Telltale's formula in terms of gameplay.

I will admit simple gameplay can sometimes be very effective, especially when trying to focus more on the storyline as Telltale has been doing, but too much simple gameplay and it gets boring and repetitive. 

It doesn't have to be anything complicated, like a full on RPG or shooter, but can't they add in something else every once in a while? Add in some RPG elements. Add in some hack n' slash elements. Add in a little turn-based combat. Maybe add some typical shooting elements. Maybe add some full fledged exploration instead of having a linear story with no backtracking. There are plenty of things they could do to spice it up a little and I'm asking for just one of those things, or even something completely different as long as it is different and adds some spice to their gameplay.

Graphical problems are beginning to rise

This one is mostly a problem with Game of Thrones. Those graphics made me want to tear my hair out and made me lose so much respect for the company as a whole. You couldn't even spend some time fixing your graphical errors before releasing the new game? Really??

But don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about the art style for Game of Thrones. I actually liked the oil-panting feel of it. It was quite beautiful, especially when looking over scenery in the game. However, many different parts were blurry and the characters just didn't look right half the time. It got worse when comparing the characters to the backgrounds. It was almost as if they choice two different art styles to use in-game.

Look at the picture above. The characters look so refined and then you notice the glaringly obvious tree in the background. It can't just be me when I say that tree looks so ugly when compared to everything else. The buildings and characters look beautiful and refined, but the tree just looks like it was slapped on there. It looks awful, but it's far from the only example:

The line to the right of Mira's face is blurred and the left side of Mira's face just looks awful. Her eye is messed up and the side of her face just looks squiggly, almost abstract even. Basically, even though it's supposed to resemble oil painting, that does not mean that that is a free excuse to just slouch and have characters and backgrounds be sub par.

How can Telltale fix the problem?

A good storyline doesn't have to mean minimal gameplay

I mentioned this early, but it's important enough to mention again. Telltale can add something more substantial than some basic click-and-point elements and some simple quick time events. There can be shooting like a traditional shooter. There can be hack n' slash elements. There can be turned based elements. There can be open world, exploration elements. There can even just be slightly more skilled and harder quick time events. None of these would take away from the storyline if integrated properly and, as a gaming company, they should be able to institute these elements in properly.

There are plenty of examples of good storyline games with more in-depth gameplay elements as well. Mass Effect was pure bliss. It had good characters and a good story, but it also was an RPG, shooter mix. It was also very much an open world experience.

The Last of Us was amazing and that was a shooter with stealth elements. Then look at Metal Gear, BioShock, and maybe even Assassin's Creed depending upon which one in the series you're looking at. And these are just AAA titles. If you look into indie games, you'll find plenty more to offer up as examples.

Really plan out the characters and plot, so it's new and fresh

Storyboards, or some kind of note system, are often a writer's best friend. They help plan out characters and plot to keep it on track. But I feel like Telltale is neglecting this step. As an established company, I don't doubt that they are making some kind of storyboard, but they're not making it detailed enough.

Think about how characters differ from one another and if that is actually coming through in the game or not. Think about cliches that occur within stories and make sure using those so the story isn't predictable. Think about how the characters interact with one another and make sure you're not forcing characters into situations that just don't fit. Think about your plot and make sure it is the best as it can possibly be and that it won't be boring or that people won't guess the right conclusion straight out. 

I know writing can be hard, especially when it comes to fiction with plots and characters, but you guys are supposed to be professional writers, and I expect nothing less of you. 

After all, for most of your games, something has already been planned out for you, whether it is characters, the universe, or the plot. Something has been done for you, so can't you take some time to make the elements you actually do the best they can be?

All it would take is a little more time to plan out this character or that plot element and I believe you can do it. After all, for most of your games, something has already been planned out for you, whether it is characters, the universe, or the plot. Something has been done for you, so can't you take some time to make the elements you actually do the best they can be?

Stop cranking out games so quickly!

Telltale has released a wide array of games in the past couple of months to year, including Tales from the Borderlands, Games of Thrones, and Minecraft. Season two of The Walking Dead wasn't released that long ago either.

That's a lot of games that Telltale is cranking out a little too quickly. Every TV show has a period where they gather their thoughts to make a new season or another half of a season. Sequels to movies don't come out months apart (even if you look at The Hunger Games for instance, which seems to be releasing its parts pretty quickly, you have to take into account that the books already have the entirety of the plot and all the characters written down). Even other video games will usually take their time to get a sequel out. While there are some exceptions to the rule, such as Ubisoft releasing a new Assassin's Creed every year, most do wait a while before releasing a sequel. Many often delay a game if it's not their best work.

Thus, Telltale really needs a break. Instead of trying to release brand new game after brand new game, they need to give themselves time to rest and make sure the game is as good as it can get. If they need to take an extra couple of months between episodes, that's fine. I'd rather wait the extra time for a good game with differing gameplay and better plots and characters then play a game that isn't worthy of anyone's time.


I thought Telltale had a lot of potential when I first played The Walking Dead, but now I'm not so sure. Their formula has become so repetitive that it bores me to tears and their plots, characters, and graphics are beginning to dwindle. There are many things they can do to help spice up their style. They just need to take their time and stop trying to release games quickly. Maybe they'll take some advice and take their time with the next one.

But hey. They could also ignore me and continue cranking out game after game. It's their choice after all.

Do you agree with me about Telltale's problems or do you like Telltale's formula just the way it is? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

[Image source 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

Published Nov. 29th 2015
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