Post-Telltale: 2 games and 1 film that show choice-based narratives are still going strong

Posted on January 11, 2019

Undoubtedly one of the saddest stories in all of gaming last year was the closing of Telltale Games. Even knowing what we know now, and seeing the issues in the company’s history, it’s still hard to fathom an industry post-Telltale. The innovations that this company has brought to the table, such as choice-based mechanics, have caused major ripples across the industry.

2019 will see more of such narratives. DONTNOD have four more episodes of Life is Strange 2, not to mention their new project Twin Mirror, set to take a more mature stance. Dying Light 2 boasts of the influence you have on the world.

All this is because developers are pushing the boundaries of what choice based narratives are all about. Here are a few from the year just passed:

Black Mirror Bandersnatch

Unfortunately, the grand dream of Netflix and Telltale joining forces wasn’t in the cards. But Netflix is still pushing the boat out with interactive content. Netflix has been quietly building a catalogue of interactive media on its platform. The reason this hasn’t gone popular worldwide is most of the audience has remained uncatered to. This is because interactive works are mostly child-focussed.

Perhaps this is to be expected. There is a pervasive belief that video games are for kids. It’s not hard to see how all interactive media may illicit a similar viewpoint.  But Telltale and many other developers have shown that such a narrative can hold sway across age groups. So it’s great to see Netflix taking a big step in the field of interactive media. Enter Bandersnatch.

As of December 28, with the launch of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, we have seen interactive films being brought to a more mature audience. This episode, set in the 1980s, shows Stefan Butler, a games developer descends into madness trying to complete their magnum opus. Bandersnatch.

The choice-based gameplay is pretty minimal. At certain times in the plot, the action pauses to let players make decisions. Different choices lead to different paths in the narrative, and thus, different endings to Stefan’s tale. There are in its entirety a possible five “official” endings, with a handful of “dead end” endings. All in all it’s a rather impressive undertaking on the part of the entire cast and crew. The story itself, whilst it does have issues, is solid proof that interactive media can make for some engrossing and unique viewing.

The Shapeshifting Detective

FMV feels at times like a bit of a forgotten art. The 1980s were ripe for this type of media, for example, the FMV game King’s Quest. FMV  game or full motion video games are games that use regular live-action film techniques. It’s a bit sad that the genre seemed to fall out of favour. But over time computer generated graphics made the process easier, more efficient and more consistent in its quality. But FMV still serves as an interesting counterpoint to interactive films. They’re reflections of each other. Interactive films are game-like films, FMV games are film-like games. So hopefully we will see

Whilst it still seems to be an unfairly derided genre, there are still developers doing interest things in the field of FMV. Take D’avekki Studios, a UK games team. Starting out life as a producer of Murder Mystery Party DVDs, the studio has smoothly transitioned into making FMV games. The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, their first release from 2017, is an impressive pitch. Players step into the role of a psychologist, filling in for the titular character, upon his death. Players can type in whatever question they would like of the patients, to help them unravel their psychological problems, and the mystery surrounding their carer.

Following soon after, last year’s The Shapeshifting Detective is rather self-explanatory. In a case laden with the supernatural, you are detective trying to piece together the murder. Your distinct advantage, is your ability to shapeshift, allowing you to impersonate others to find secrets and procure testimonies.

D’avekki are really going the extra mile, recording hours and hours of content to create an immense database of responses. Every eventuality is planned for creating an unfathomable spider web of possible investigations. It would be insanely impressive without the dedication of filming every situation individually. I certainly hope to see this developer go from strength to strength in the coming years.

The Council

Finally I would be remiss to not talk about The Council. It’s fair to say that this title is a more familiar fare for the Telltale Gamer. A five episode season filled with binary choices, puzzles and dialogue options Set in 1793, the plot follows Louis de Richet, who is invited to a private island to investigate the disappearance from a lavish event. It’s a rather prestigious guest list, including the likes of George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. Over the course of the adventure, players must use their wits and skills to persuade and to deceive their fellow party guests.

There are a few elements that could do with some polish, but the really exciting stuff is the gameplay. By incorporating RPG elements such as skill trees, energy meters and the like, players have to choose which battles are worth fighting. Convince a character now, and you may be unable to use skills later when it may be more pertinent.

There’s something so purposefully meta about all this. Not only do you have to make decisions as to how to convince people, but you must weigh up the utility of it. You’re making decisions about what to do now and what you can do later. There’s a constant balancing act  All this goes into crafting what becomes this very engaging Illuminati-esque feeling game of epic consequences. Big Bad Wolf has a lot to be proud of with this title.

In the hole left by Telltale, there have many new creators that have come out of the woodwork to create new exciting experiences in their stead. Hopefully 2019 will prove to further expand on what choice-based narratives can be.