How Telltale Games Saved the Adventure Genre
It all started with a crime-fighting dog and his “rabbity-thing” sidekick. The pair starred in the 1993 PC game Sam & Max: Freelance Police. LucasArts announced the game’s sequel in 2002, but canned it in 2004, just a few months before its planned release.
Although LucasArts wrote off its decision as just not the right time for such a game, most fans suspected a different reason. Sam & Max was an adventure game, and a landmark of the genre that has been nearly lost in the age of first-person shooters and racing games.
The voices of discouraged fans were enough to inspire a team of programmers, artists, and storytellers who were working on the project. They were soon joined by others working on different LucasArts projects. They set out that same year and formed Telltale Games, an independent company with a mission to restore the adventure game genre.
Adventure games have a different premise from what has become the norm in the video game industry. They’re typically non-violent, and are based heavily around character dialogue and thinking of ways to solve different situations.
In the early days of computer games, the now-nearly forgotten genre won the hearts of fans through clever puzzles, lighthearted humor, and the art of storytelling.
“Adventure games were successful at a time when computer gamers were a very specific group,” said Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games via e-mail.
“In 1991 even getting a game to run in the first place was a puzzle. So it was a very clever demographic, and adventure content was perfect,” Connors said. “As PCs became more mass-market and easier to use, the audience widened and they were interested in different experiences.”
After forming Telltale Games in San Rafael, Calif., the team of former LucasArts employees spent some time trying to decide which titles would be compatible with the adventure game mechanics.
They already had some of the top talents in the adventure game industry. All of Telltale’s original staff were around in the golden years of LucasArts, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when the company was teeming with creativity, according to Connors.
“A character like Guybrush Threepwood could only have been created in that environment,” Connors said, referencing the swashbuckling hero of the “Monkey Island” series, now being produced under Telltale.
According to Connors, they saw there were a couple of modern successes in adventure games, namely in titles based off the “CSI” and “Law and Order” TV series. They found their niche in popular titles that “weren’t about driving and shooting.”
“We felt if we started there and evolved the mechanic we could work on all kinds of franchises that are currently not represented, or poorly represented in the interactive world,” Connors said.
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Photo Credit: Sam & Max. (Courtesy of Telltale Games)