Film studio and television producer Lionsgate Entertainment has announced that it's investing in Telltale Games. The exact nature of the investment wasn't disclosed, but Lionsgate Chief Executive Officer Jon Feltheimer and former EA CEO/current Unity Technologies CEO John Riccitiello will also join the Telltale Board of Directors. The new investment will help bring Lionsgate's film and television properties to games, while also allowing Telltale Games to bring its original properties to other mediums. The investment follows the January news that former Telltale co-founder Dan Connors has stepped down from the CEO position to be replaced with fellow co-founder Kevin Bruner.
Telltale Games was originally started by the former Lucasarts game developers to explore episodic gaming. The studio found a decent amount of success with smaller, episodic titles like former Lucasarts license Sam & Max, Tales of Monkey Island, and CSI, but reached a whole new level with the release of The Walking Dead: Season 1. That game cemented a storytelling and gameplay style Telltale first attempted in Jurassic Park, becoming a critical and commercial hit for the studio. Further licensed titles like The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, and Tales from Borderlands have shown the longevity and malleability of Telltale's model.
One thing that's been missing in Telltale's growing stable is an original world. CSI, Sam & Max, Game of Thrones, Wallace & Gromit, Back to the Future, and The Walking Dead are all licensed properties, bringing existing worlds to game players. The company's last original adventure title was Puzzle Agent 2 in 2011.
With the Lionsgate investment, that's finally going to change. Telltale Games first Lionsgate-powered project is something it's calling a "Super Show", bringing together episodic gaming and television. New CEO Bruner is careful to explain that a Super Show isn't just a television show with an additional game release.
"A 'Super Show' episode combines one part of interactive playable content with one part of scripted television style content," Bruner told Entertainment Weekly. "Both pieces, when combined together, are what make an actual Super Show 'episode.' Both parts are first class citizens during the writing and design process. It's not an interactive series with a show, or a TV show with a game, but a story integrated in a way that only Telltale can do. For us it's a very natural evolution of the interactive storytelling expertise we've pioneered."
"Our first Super Show is an original IP we've developed in collaboration with a world-class creative partner who's just as excited about the format as we are. Together we've created a world where we can really demonstrate the power of this new format and leverage the toolkit it brings to us as storytellers, much like we've done in the [game-only] space."
According to Bruner, the Super Show concept can be consumed in any order. If you want to play the game first and then watch the episode, the scripted section will changed based on your choices in the interactive narrative. Watch the show first and the game may change the presentation of certain interactive scenes.
That sounds like buzzspeak and pure belief at this point. It's not the first time that a company has tried to bring games and TV together, and it hasn't always been successful or meaningful. Trion Worlds and Syfy partnered together to create the Defiance television show and MMO, but the properties don't really feel connected outside of the occasional cameo from TV show characters in the game. Defiance the television show is about the personal and power dynamics in one city, while the game has players blowing up large bugs with guns. Telltale's The Walking Dead: Season 1 featured Glenn from the TV show and comic, but outside of that, they're different experiences simply set in the same world.
That's two different ways to bring together the two mediums. Microsoft and Remedy are still working on the time-bending Quantum Break, comprised of an Xbox One game and a television show: the game is played from the hero's perspective, while the live-action show features branching scenes based on players' choices. It remains to be seen what kind of blending we can expect from Telltale's new IP. It's a fine line to balance on, because you can never be sure that people who watch the show will play the game and vice-versa. That means you need to make each medium satisfying on its own, which tends to increase the disconnected feeling of both versions together. The TV show and game can be great, but a single cohesive story? That's a bit harder to pull off from what we've seen.
I'm inclined to think this partnership is a great idea. Lionsgate as a film producer is heavily genre-based with films like The Hunger Games, The Expendables, and Saw, while as a television producer, Lionsgate makes comparatively down-to-earth shows: Mad Men, Orange is the New Black, and Nurse Jackie to name a few. This dovetails well with Telltale's specific style, which prioritizes character interaction over the bombastic and epic moments you'd find in Call of Duty or the latest Michael Bay film. A smaller, more human project with some fantastic elements slots right in with Telltale's expertise and current engine. It's possible that with Riccitiello joining the board, Telltale may be updating the Telltale Tool engine with Unity tech to allow for more expansive storytelling and scenery.
One thing is for certain, Telltale isn't aiming low with its Super Show concept.
"Our goal is to create products that have a legitimate chance of winning both a Golden Globe and a Game of the Year," explained Bruner. "This means both aspects of the productions must be first class work."
I look forward to seeing them pull it off.