Telltale hasn’t been in the most enviable position of late. Their recent games haven’t performed well–critically, commercially, or technically–last year they laid off nearly 100 of their staff, and they are currently embroiled in a legal battle with ousted co-founder and former CEO, Kevin Bruner. Once revered for their point-and-click, choice-based adventure games, the studio has suffered from a lack of innovation and follow through. The big “super show” project announced back in 2015 seems to be vaporware at this point and gamers are suffering fatigue from games that lack any kind of evolution.
One of those problems is the elephant in the room, a flagging game engine that simply can’t keep up with demands. People have been criticizing Telltale’s game engine since the last generation of consoles, but the studio has insisted on using Telltale Tool for the long haul. A report by Variety today hints that Telltale may finally be moving past their dated engine in favor of Unity for future releases. According the the Variety piece, The Walking Dead: The Final Season will be the last game to release on the Telltale Tool engine, with the recently announced Stranger Things game shifting workflow over to Unity.
Most surprising is how good The Walking Dead: The Final Season looks in the leaked gameplay footage, despite being on the older engine. Of course, new engines come with their own growing pains, and the studio will need to learn how to manage their workflow differently, even if the engine is ultimately better for them. Telltale games will initially see longer development times as a result, part of the reasons we’ve seen games like The Wolf Among Us Season 2 pushed out to unspecified release dates.
The rest of the Variety report paints a disheartening picture of the culture at Telltale over the last few years, including the studio themselves not fully realizing what people love about Telltale games. A series of high ambitions, poor decisions, and failure to read the culture brought the company to its knees, and it’s only been recently that new leadership has managed to turn the ship around. Part of that turnaround is the deal with Netflix, which is not only producing a Stranger Things game, but will actually see Telltale games releasing on Netflix’s platform as well, beginning with Minecraft: Story Mode.
Variety indicates that are rumors of other Netflix projects in the works. Most of the evidence points towards Black Mirror receiving a Telltale collaboration, due to an interview with former Telltale Head of Communications Job Stauffer where he mentioned the series and creator by name. As the Telltale Netflix partnership continues–and based on how successful it is–it wouldn’t be surprising to see Telltale become the de facto interactive arm of Netflix, making even more games based on Netflix properties. This could be the realization of the combined games and streaming services that Telltale was talking up last year.