Telltale Games CEO Talks Episodic Gaming, Mac Plans, More

Little did Mac gamers know that Telltale’s Macworld announcement that it was diving into Mac gaming would be the start of something special: what looked like a steady stream could turn into a raging river, thanks to Valve’s plans to bring its entire library of games – along with its revolutionary Steam store – to the Mac next month. Already publishers are expressing interest in bring their games to the Mac via Steam too.

I recently spoke with Telltale Games CEO Dan Connors to get his take on not only this new life in Mac gaming but also his company’s resurrection of LucasArts’ classic adventure titles. Mr. Connors is a LucasArts veteran who broke into the industry in 1993 and worked on such games as Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, X-Wing: Alliance and Sam & Max Hit the Road before co-founding Telltale in 2004 with another LucasArts alum, Kevin Bruner.

“We believe the Mac is a great platform for entertainment, especially digitally distributed entertainment,” Mr. Connors remarked. “Obviously Mac users are very comfortable with new ways of doing things and Telltale’s model is a new way of experiencing games.”

A classic confrontation: Guybrush vs. LeChuck

That model involves episodic content delivered a chapter at a time until the story is complete. Of course, Telltale wasn’t able to jump straight into that line of work in 2004: the company cut its teeth on its first title, the poker game Telltale Texas Hold ‘Em, before developing a more expansive game, CSI: Hard Evidence, which GameTree Online sells for Mac. (The company also developed a pair of other CSI games, although it doesn’t list them on its site.)

Texas Hold ‘Em is not available for Mac, but Mr. Connors said: “It is by far the funniest poker game there is, so it might make sense to bring it to the Mac. Fortunately, the marketing guy who came up with the tagline ‘you will die laughing or die trying’ is no longer in our marketing department.”

Some Things Never Go Out of Style

Telltale then made its first foray into episodic gaming with Bone, based on the popular comic book by Jeff Smith. Unfortunately, only two episodes were released; the first one was ported to the Mac by a company called Vanbrio, which later disappeared. Asked about that series of events, Mr. Connors only commented: “Bone was a great series for us and great content but we still had a lot to learn in making episodic work when we set out to do Bone.”

That learning experience served Telltale well as the company drew on its roots for Sam & Max Save the World. They were unable to get the rights to complete LucasArts’ aborted Sam & Max: Freelance Police, but since the videogame rights to the comic book property had reverted back to its creator, Steve Purcell, they simply approached him for a license.

Sam & Max survey the situation in Save the World

The success of Save the World led to another “season” of Sam & Max episodes, Beyond Time and Space, as well as Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, and Tales of Monkey Island, which brought the granddaddy of LucasArts’ classic adventure games back to life. While the Monkey Island games weren’t the first of their kind, they struck a chord in players, leading to four entries in the series before it petered out in 2000.

The Tales of Monkey Island announcement last summer coincided with LucasArts’ plans to revive The Secret of Monkey Island as a Special Edition with enhanced graphics and music, as well as a dialogue track. Aspyr is bringing the Secret of Monkey Island SE to the Mac soon, and during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this month, LucasArts said it will publish a Special Edition of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge for Mac, PC, iPhone and iPod touch, and other platforms. (You can get the SE of the first game at the App Store too.)

The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition

Asked why those classic LucasArts adventure games have returned, Mr. Connors commented: “Great content lasts. I think the time in which those people came together at LucasArts and were given the freedom to create those IPs was special. It will never be repeated and the content that came out of it people connected with. For Monkey I think Guybrush is a great videogame character who is the virtual embodiment of the people who made and played those games at that time.”

Mac Gaming on the Rise

Mr. Connors confirmed that future Telltale releases - starting with next month’s release of the first episode of Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse - will come to the Mac at the same time as the PC. Meanwhile, a poll conducted during Macworld revealed that Telltale’s consumers want the first season of Sam & Max, Save the World, next, so Telltale will oblige. Current plans are to release the entire back catalog for Mac, except Texas Hold ‘Em, the CSI games, and Bone.

Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse

“I think things are starting to grow,” Mr. Connors said of the recent rise in Mac gaming. “I don’t think publishers or developers [were previously] building games that are the right experience for a Mac User. Every time you try something different in games it requires a unique approach.

“Unfortunately game publishers usually try something once, it doesn’t meet expectation and it is declared a failure. Not many companies take the time to learn from their mistakes and alter the product to improve the next time. It’s too easy to go back to the old formula.”

Telltale, however, has found a formula that works, and Mr. Connors said: “Now that we are cross platform and have a reliable episodic production process, the gameplay is the next thing we will be focusing on.” As far as what might be next, he could only say: “We are considering the line up of franchises for the next 18 months right now and it is all over the board.”