It's been a busy year for Telltale Games. Just over a year ago, principals Dan Connors, Kevin Bruner, and Troy Molander left LucasArts and formed their own independent team. Since then they've hired a slew of talented people, released their first Bone game, acquired the much sought-after Sam & Max license, and begun developing a CSI sequel on the sly. What's next for this ambitious outfit? Dan Connors and Kevin Bruner took time out of their cram-packed schedules to dish the dirt on Telltale's projects—past, present, and future. They also surprised us with some concept art from the next Bone game, The Great Cow Race… as well as the first screenshot!
Dan Connors, Telltale's Chief Executive Officer
People had a lot to say about Out from Boneville very soon after it came out. Was the response what you were expecting?
Dan Connors, Telltale CEO
We were expecting, to some degree, that it was going to surprise people in a lot of ways. That it was going to be different from what a lot of people are used to, and that it would generate a lot of feedback. We definitely knew we were out on a limb and knew that people would respond to it in all different ways. It surprised us a little bit how quickly people were going through [Out from Boneville], because we didn't really build it to be the type of game for people to just go out and beat. You don't imagine it as the type of experience where someone wants to go out and finish it as fast as they can. That's not what the product is about. Not that everybody did that on purpose or intentionally; it just might have happened to them because they solved the puzzles quickly or that's the way they play. We definitely made a concerted effort to make the game accessible to a lot of people, and there's a big difference between people who are at Adventure Gamers, who live adventure games, and Mom and Pop and the general public and everybody else. And Bone comic book fans. We were keeping everybody in mind. We knew we were delivering on the acting, and the performances of the characters, and the look, and executing the story. We knew we had a lot of things there for people to really like. It is that gameplay mechanic underneath that's going to work for a large audience. So I'm thankful for the feedback. It means people are interested in us and interested in what we're doing. We definitely want to improve, and it's our goal to figure out the right game design that satisfies everybody that has a proclivity for the type of game that we're building.
Have you had a lot of feedback from people other than adventure gamers? From the Bone comic fans, or from Mom and Pop?
They're not as passionate. That's good and bad. The beauty of the adventure game crowd is that they're there, and they love the games. That's a great thing, but it's a double-edged sword. The other folks play it, and enjoy it, and kind of walk away from it, and don't say anything about it. Or their kid plays it three or four times. My brother called me after like five weeks, "Oh hey, I finished it. Why is it so hard?" We'll see. It's definitely going to move into other channels. I think we did accomplish something unique, in that the game is being reviewed on hardcore game sites, and at the same time we will be on major casual game sites as well. The only other games that have ever done that were Jane Jensen's [BeTrapped and Inspector Parker], and her stuff was definitely—no knock on it—it was great casual gaming stuff, but it was casual first. So we feel like, for our first time out, for everything the company's been through and everything we've tried to do, we're in a great position with our tool set, we've got a bunch of people that are willing to offer us free feedback, and we accomplished our goal to get out there into the masses and see what's going to make people respond to interactive entertainment.
The feedback that you're getting, has it changed the way you're going to go about distribution, the length of future games, anything like that?
We're in it to be a successful company. We know we have to respond to the audience and do what's required to keep people happy and to meet their needs. That's what it's all about—at the end of the day people vote for you with whether they purchase the product or not, and whether they're happy with it. We certainly understand that, and we've tried to always be honest and very clear about what we're doing. We'll continue doing that, and we'll do a better job of it. There are certainly a lot of things we can do to extend gameplay and make puzzles tougher, but the one thing we swore against was we weren't going to make up random puzzles that didn't fit in the story. We basically succeeded in that [with Out from Boneville]. We weren't going to make the player be frustrated. Maybe some of the puzzles are a little frustrating, but I don't think there were any random puzzles.
Are you open to more than just digital distribution?
Yeah, we want to be on every platform, but we want to own our product at the end of the day. Certainly, digital distribution is not a swear word across the industry, or across entertainment in general. It's still the way of the future. When interactive TV comes online, when games are being played on iPods, it's going to be a whole new paradigm. Just like music. You don't have CDs for your music anymore.
I think people were surprised by the CSI announcement because they thought you were going to do digital distribution through Telltale Now. Now they're saying, "Wait a minute, what are they doing working with a traditional publisher?" How did this happen?
We were always interested in television licenses, which we said from the start. CSI is the television license. So from a strategic standpoint for the company, it makes complete sense for us to work with that license and to have Ubisoft as a partner, to help us figure out the right way to do television-style gaming, because I think there's a lot of room for growth there. With the reach they provide to audiences, it's a lot more than we could ever do as a startup. Maybe now that we've got some things under our belt, we could show Bone to television producers, and there's actually a good chance that people would be interested in this model. Then it would be about whether we have the distribution channel that merits their license. The proof will be in the pudding with how Bone does, and how well Telltale Now does.
So the CSI game is going to be retail, in boxes?
That's all Ubisoft. They'll probably have a digital component online, but that's not our decision. And actually it's kind of liberating not to have to think about it. It's been a good relationship, we're really happy. It was a good decision for us.
What's different in this CSI, compared to the CSI games that have already come out?
I would certainly say 3D, and the immersion that comes with 3D. I think it's safe to say that the previous games are pretty static, which is common throughout the genre, though it's improving each time out. We just went all out, and Ubisoft made the commitment to bring the whole thing into a 3D world. It changes how you view the product, I think. You do feel like you're in the world. That's a big change.
As far as how much you got to do, and how much Ubisoft did for you—what was the balance there?
It's been a good blend. They gave us some direction, we ran with it, and then they had feedback throughout. And ultimately CBS says yes or no. It's funny to go from working on a Bone game to coming up with a CSI design. I'm out in the office saying, "Oh, what's that splatter on the wall?" and everyone yells at me, "No no, that's spatter!" The stuff you learn.
Going between the humorous game and the serious game, has that been hard to do?
It's fun. We haven't had a softball game or anything.
Do you have different teams working on each?
There's some shared, but it's mostly different teams. Bone is so cartoony and CSI is so realistic, it's hard to switch. Though a lot of our artists are very capable, we wouldn't want them to switch mindsets like that. It wouldn't be cost-productive.Continued on the next page...
Platform(s): Mac, PC
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2
Platform(s): PC, Wii, Xbox 360Also known as Sam & Max Save the World