At some point or another, most of us have considered boycotting (in some form or another) a video game developer or publisher. Unlike a lot of other entertainment mediums, the video game industry often sees a lot of interaction between the consumer and the producers. Sometimes, this relationship works out for the best; through social media services, gamers and developers are able to communicate, and some studios have become well known for the positive relationships they have forged with their fan base.
I became a fan of Telltale Games nearly a decade ago, when the studio began releasing their first, downloadable episodic title. Sam & Max Save the World was by no means a perfect game, but it (in my eyes) stood for something much more important. Long after Lucasarts had abandoned the adventure game as a whole, a phoenix had risen from the ashes to take over. At the time, Telltale Games was my savior.
From there, things were looking up for Telltale as a whole. Not long after the release of Sam & Max Save the World (which is also referred to as ‘Season 1’), Telltale went on to release two more seasons of Sam & Max, as well as episodic seasons for franchises such as Wallace & Gromit, Monkey Island, Strong Bad, and one of my favorites, Back to the Future. There was really no better time to be a fan of adventure games, though things quickly took a turn in a completely different direction.
Like most critics and gamers, I was a big fan of Telltale’s debut season of The Walking Dead. Compared to their other titles, it marked a huge leap forwards in terms of story-telling and acting, and it was widely regarded as one of the best games to have released in 2012. Still, as a fan of the company as a whole, The Walking Dead marked a huge turning point for Telltale Games. Rather than focusing on the humor and puzzle-solving aspects that defined adventure games for decades, Telltale decided to focus on their unique brand of interactive dramas, which were known for their use of ‘soft choices’ and branching paths. Unlike ‘hard choices’, which you can see employed in the Mass Effect and Witcher series, Telltale decides to focus on giving the player the ability to shape their playable character’s experiences and actions, rather than providing ‘black or white’ style choices that shape the game world in significant ways.
Yet, this change in direction didn’t really bother me as a whole. Plenty of other developers have stepped up when it comes to delivering classic adventure games, and in the last couple of years, Telltale Games has grown, and is now handling adaptations for much more popular franchises, such as Game of Thrones, Minecraft, and more recently, Batman. My main issue with Telltale, and what has now led me to stop playing their products altogether, is the lack of support they show for their games and their customers.
Despite the praise they have received over the years for their games, it’s been well known that most of Telltale Games’ releases are filled with audio and visual problem that are enough to make someone’s head spin. While I could list them out for you one by one, Kotaku has already compiled a massive list of issues that plague their titles, and even to this date, some of these problems still haven’t been resolved. A few colleagues and friends of mine have still not been able to finish the first season of The Walking Dead due to a save glitch that erases their saves, and I myself don’t even bother with the last-gen versions of all of Telltale’s products.
For a long time, I was able to brush off all of these issues. Despite the many technical shortcomings, Telltale Games have managed to capitalize on strong stories and interesting adaptations of franchises we know and love, and that was enough to keep me going, despite having to wade through a sea of frame rate hitches and audio skips. Unfortunately, that all came to a grinding halt with the release of Batman: The Telltale Series. As reported by Digital Foundry, the PlayStation 4 version of Batman runs quite poorly, sporting the lowest resolution to date for a PlayStation 4 title, running at 1600×766. The game doesn’t make use of any form of anti-aliasing, leading to a very pixelated look, and to top it all off, the frame rate can vary from 60 frames per second to a very low 15. The real surprise here is that the game is sporting a brand new iteration of the Telltale Tool engine, which we were hoping would have fixed some of the long-standing problems we’ve come to deal with.
Now, let me be clear. I perfectly understand that most games feature technical issues, and there are only a few games I can think of that never suffered from any bug or glitch during my playthrough. That being said, it’s become clear to me that as a whole, Telltale Games doesn’t much care for solving the many technical problems that their titles have, and I don’t see this improving anytime soon. If the years of glitchy games is not proof enough, we can turn to Telltale Games’ Twitter account. Rather than using their own social media accounts to communicate with players about problems and issues, Telltale Games mostly uses this account to retweet and share solely positive experiences that people have had with the game.
For those who are suffering from glitches and other issues, Telltale Games will redirect you to their support section on their website, away from the public eye. While other developers do much the same thing, Telltale’s website as a whole is a complete mess to navigate, though I’ll attempt to break it down. The main community section is easily accessed from their front page, but for the most part, this is a forum that focuses on discussing Telltale products as a whole. Granted, their website does also sport a support section (which is also accessible from the front page), though this section mostly answers simple questions about each of their titles, and rarely dives into technical issues. For that, the site asks that you submit a support ticket, in the hopes that someone will respond to your issue. You also have the option to email their support team directly. After a lot of digging, I eventually found a game support forum, though I could not access this forum at all from the site, and only stumbled upon it from a lucky Google search. Unfortunately, this support is largely a waste of time, as all of the threads on it have been archived by the site’s moderators, who direct users to submit a support ticket.
With more than two dozen games under their belt, and with close to 250 employees, it’s become quite clear that Telltale is more than happy with churning out games at a quick pace, rather than taking a step back to communicate to their fan base and solve these issues. Granted, I’m not really surprised. While these sorts of issues and shortcomings would have not gone unnoticed in more action-focused games, these technical problems simply settle into the background, as the interactive nature of most of Telltale’s products don’t require high frame rates or precision control. That, coupled with the popularity of the franchises they choose to adapt, means that Telltale will be able to churn out episode after episode of popular series. Just don’t expect any of them to run all that well.
I know I won’t.