Telltale Games has made a name for itself over the last few years delivering a series of episodic video games based on existing franchises like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. From the start, Telltale’s series have taken on more the model of a TV series than a regular game, with each episode formatted like a television episode, the focus squarely on characters and story. These episodic games go one step further than a TV show could, giving players the opportunity to choose dialogue and actions that affect the flow of the overarching season.
It’s no surprise then, that Telltale’s newest venture bridges the gap between episodic video games and television and combines the best of both worlds—a Super Show.
Lionsgate, the studio behind TV hits like Orange Is the New Black and Mad Men, announced today that it will be investing in Telltale, in an effort to produce original franchises, which will include properties made in Telltale’s new Super Show model. Telltale will be developing its first original IP as a Super Show, with more information to come about the project.
EW spoke exclusively with Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner to find out wha exactly a Super Show entails, what the deal with Lionsgate means for the developer, and how the developer will operate as this hybrid game and television studio.
EW: So what exactly is a “Super Show,” and how is it different from or similar in focus to what Telltale currently produces?
KEVIN BRUNER: A “Super Show” episode combines one part of interactive playable content with one part of scripted television style content. Both pieces, when combined together, are what make an actual Super Show “episode.” As we’ve been developing the series, we’re using both mediums in concert to deliver our story. Developing both aspects simultaneously is key to utilizing this new medium. 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 story telling expertise we’ve pioneered.
That said, television and game content are actually produced in different ways and on different schedules. Live action scripted content is shot and produced quickly on a tight schedule, while games require more iteration and flexibility. Integrating these two radically different production styles is a huge challenge, but we’ve been producing games episodically for over 10 years and have brought a lot of television production techniques to our game studio.
Super Show episodes will also contain a lot of content, much more than a standard hour-long television episode. With this in mind, the release cadence will be more predictable like TV scheduling, but still a bit further apart like our games [are released] to allow newer audiences time to consume and discuss both aspects of the show across their game consoles, tablets, mobile phones and computers.
Is the current intent for Super Shows to encapsulate original franchises created by Telltale, or could this type of project also be wrapped into an existing franchise?
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.
Producing this kind of content is also a much deeper investment for us so it’s been important that we own or co-own the IP we develop as Super Shows. As we move forward I certainly can imagine building future Super Show series based on existing IP when it makes sense.
How integral does Telltale see the game and TV show portions of a Super Show being to one another? Can they be experienced on their own and remain satisfying?
Our goal is to create products that have a legitimate chance of winning both a Golden Globe and a Game of the Year. This means both aspects of the productions must be first class work.
Each Super Show episode [the interactive game and the scripted episode] will be released as a package designed so that you can consume the interactive portion or watch the scripted show portion in any order you’d like. For instance, if you play the interactive episode first, certain elements of the scripted episode portion will be tailored to reflect some choices made in your interactive play through. If you watch the show before playing, some elements in the interactive portions may be presented differently than if you played first. The interactive episodes will never release without a scripted episode, they will always come out together.
At some point, non-interactive episodes of the scripted content will become available as traditional TV-style episodes on streaming services and broadcast TV. While this obviously can’t deliver the interactivity, this version of the scripted episodes will still stand as completely satisfying top-quality television entertainment.
Can you speak a little more to how the partnership with Lionsgate came about and how that specifically will help Telltale to produce these super shows going forward.
Telltale has spent the last 10 years working with Hollywood biggest licenses, so it was inevitable that we’d cross paths with a giant like Lionsgate. We quickly found out that we share many similar ideas about the future of scripted entertainment. Lionsgate has already made bold moves with shows like Orange Is the new Black, which aren’t just distributed via emerging digital channels, but are actually written, designed and produced to leverage that environment. That thinking obviously resonated strongly with us. As we explored various opportunities in gaming we both quickly realized there was much more here than simply licensing properties.
Successfully bringing a Super Show to market requires more than just game development and television acumen. It needs an entire integrated development, production and publishing strategy. We felt Telltale and Lionsgate are both best in class at what we do and we’re eager to combine our efforts and compliment our skills.
I have to ask as I’m sure many will want to know—does this partnership make the possibility of a Lionsgate property being turned into a Telltale franchise more feasible?
Prior to the Lionsgate investment, the possibility of Telltale working on a Lionsgate property was always feasible. We have a ton of respect for the IP they own and control. We will continue to explore how we can work together on some of their IP just as we have been doing for some time, but there’s nothing to announce right now.
Will Super Shows be the model for Telltale projects going forward, or is the plan to continue developing purely episodic games as well as Super Show seasons?
We plan to develop both formats going forward. Each one offers us a rich palette of storytelling tools and is engaging in different ways. We expect to have a healthy mix of both in our plans in the years ahead. You might even see us introduce other interesting ways to use modern technology to make stories more personal and enriching.
Interactivity allows us to move past the “one size fits all” stories you’re used to seeing and empowers great storytellers to tailor the story to each person. Imagine your favorite author or movie director writing a book or making a movie just for you. That’s ultimately how we’re using new technologies to empower storytellers, just like sound did for film or cable networks did for television. In the right hands, interactivity is as significant as any of those tools. It’s an amazing time to tell stories in this new frontier.