Last month we reported on the tragic story of Telltale’s financial woes and the massive layoffs that followed, leaving hundreds jobless and in dire straits. When a once-prominent developer collapses this dramatically, there are usually many problems at play, and in the case of Telltale, mismanagement of the storytelling is likely a major one.
In the wake of last month’s events, former Telltale narrative designer Emily Grace Buck opened up about some of the problems going on behind the scenes at the company during a presentation at the Sweden Game Conference in Skövde. According to Buck, one of the biggest problems was that many of the company’s highest executives simply didn’t understand the type of audience they were appealing to. As a result, they often demanded drastic changes be made to the story at the last minute, resulting in employees being overworked and products being shipped without properly testing for quality or bugs.
“Telltale Games often got knocked for being very buggy and having a lot of frame skips. Yes, we had some of those, but a lot of the time what people thought were frame skips or buggy parts of our engine, were actually scenes that had gotten redone so last minute, that there was no time to smooth out the cinematography or the animation…. what you were seeing was not a product of a buggy engine, but buggy management system.”
— Emily Grace Buck
Additionally, these narrative changes often made the team feel like their product was not right for the intended audience. Executives often ignored or misunderstood what audiences liked about the intellectual properties they were working with, and they targeted the “core gamer-type audience” above all others.
One example Buck gave is that the first drafts of Minecraft: Story Mode ended up being completely inappropriate for the audience. Based on the direction they were given, the team produced scripts that would have given the game a T rating. The scripts were, of course, re-written, and the final product was more in line with Minecraft‘s younger demographic.
However, another re-write when the opposite way. The development team for Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy initially turned in a script that they felt was lighter, funnier, and more in line with what fans expect from the movies. Telltale’s executives rejected this script, demanding something with a darker tone.
“Our executive team insisted that what was popular about Guardians of the Galaxy, was darkness and violence, and sadness. And that people did not associate humour with that brand… So we redid the first two episodes to be less funny and more dark and more violent and more sad, and that’s the game that shipped. And one of the biggest comments in editorial, was that it felt very off-tone for Guardians of the Galaxy and wasn’t very funny. And we were like ‘we know’.”
— Emily Grace Buck
Buck went on to say that the creative team found themselves in a tough position, as they wanted to create a quality game that was true to the tone of the source material. But they also didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity altogether. Telltale reportedly would move people off of projects or let them go altogether if they fought too hard against the vision of the higher-ups.
Update at 3:48 PM: This story originally stated that the first draft of Minecraft: Story Mode was M-rated, as that’s what Emily Grace Buck originally claimed. She has since corrected the record to say that she was incorrect, and it was actually T-rated, but still very much “not appropriate for kids” based on her hands-on time with the game. Our report has been adjusted accordingly.
Source: Games Industry