Today, Mojang and Telltale Games announced Minecraft Story Mode, a narrative-driven episodic tale set in the Minecraft universe. The standalone title is coming for PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Xbox, and PlayStation platforms some time in 2015. Mojang is quick to let people know that this won't be an "official" story for the Minecraft universe; instead, it will be a game inspired by the game and its robust community.
"Telltale's game series will mix new characters with familiar themes, in an entirely original Minecraft experience, inspired by the Minecraft community and the game that continues to inspire a generation," said Telltale Games in the company's announcement post.
"People really like the idea of stories about Minecraft, but forcing a narrative into our core game experience would restrict players' freedom to view the world in their own unique ways. Instead, letting them explore an alternate interpretation via Minecraft: Story Mode, driven by the proven might of Telltale, seems like a no-brainer," said Mojang chief word officer Owen Hill in a press release. "We're big fans of Telltale Games at Mojang, and we can't wait to reveal more details on Story Mode soon."
Otherwise, we're rather light on details at the moment. Like Hill said, they'll reveal more details on Story Mode soon.
For me, the most interesting facet of the announcement is the chance for both Minecraft as a property and Telltale Games as a company to grow.
Exploring the Hidden Reaches of Minecraft
While Minecraft has expanded into a wide variety of merchandise, including LEGO sets, t-shirts, plush toys, lanyards, and phone cases, Mojang has been reticent to create narrative products based on the series. This makes sense, as the main strength of Minecraft is giving players a set of tools and allowing them to create their own worlds and adventures. There have been a number of fan-created Minecraft comics for example, but Mojang has stayed out of that arena entirely.
The company did attempt to craft a cinematic outing with the help of Warner Bros Entertainment however. The news was first revealed nine months ago and at the time I was pretty excited, as the LEGO Movie had just proved that you could craft an excellent narrative out of nothing. Fast-forward to October and Deadline reported the Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy was onboard with LEGO Movie producer Roy Lee steering the project's production side. It sounded like a done deal.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Levy recently confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that he had left the film behind. Why? Because Mojang didn't agree with the direction Levy wanted to take. Levy said his pitch was "an adventure movie", comparing it to The Goonies.
"I feel like I let the children of America down," said Levy. "We came up with an approach that felt good to us and I discussed it with Mojang and they were like, 'That doesn't sound like what we want. If we're going to see a movie get made, we don't know what we want, but that doesn't feel right.'"
Telltale Games had something that Levy didn't. We don't know what that is yet, but expanding the Minecraft universe outside of its player-created boundaries is potentially interesting. Telltale's press release even expands Story Mode's potential beyond just their take, mentioning that the game will told in collaboration with "Mojang and members of the Minecraft community." Enlisting Minecraft's fervent community in the creation of Story Mode is a boon, if there's someone at Telltale Games willing to wrangle all that passion.
Story Mode will be the first time that Minecraft will have any hint of a story and that's a big change for the property. It's a chance to answer the question, "What is Minecraft?" beyond the simple answer of "The players."
Telling a New, Expanded Tale
Even more intriguing is the chance for Minecraft Story Mode to allow Telltale Games to grow a bit beyond the well-worn path the studio has crafted for itself. After the critical success of The Walking Dead, Telltale has developed a specific type of game and the studio has a solid framework that it can adapt to nearly any property. The problem is that's still a set framework. If you've played one Telltale Game - whether it's The Walking Dead, Tales From the Borderlands, or Game of Thrones - you're playing largely the same game in a different universe. In a way, it's not much different from Travellers Tales' LEGO games, which extend a basic set of gameplay to a wide variety of properties.
Part of the reason I believe Telltale Games exists within this framework is because it's difficult and time consuming to craft a larger world. The studio's titles live in discrete sections of each universe, like movie sets.
With Minecraft, the process of buildings great-looking sets becomes much easier. Minecraft exists in a block-based world; Telltale Games can use Minecraft's procedural-generation, snap a few blocks together on top of that, and create bigger worlds than they could in other titles. If the studio is willing to lean on the Minecraft community, a community that's spent hours upon hours crafting some amazing creations, their world-building should be easier.
This could potentially mean the world you inhabit in Minecraft Story Mode could be much bigger than other Telltale titles. A bigger world could mean more exploration, something that hasn't really existed in Telltale's recent games. I like the framework Telltale Games has created so far, but I'd the studio to innovate and grow beyond those confines. Bigger isn't always better, but I think the studio has the chops and the chance to explore what it can really do.