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Something Different

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One of the problems with having a blog (apart from being pegged as a narcissist who’s easily swayed by internet trends) is that I’ve gotten completely dependent on it. I genuinely need this thing in order to remember when stuff happened. Pretty much everything that occurred between 1971 and last week is a big jumble of barely-connected memories that I’m assuming were spaced out fairly evenly, but as far as I’m concerned might just as well have all happened in 2002.

And because my journal is splayed out on the internet, it makes it seem like everything is an announcement, even when it’s really not. More of a “reminder” or a “notation” or maybe a “fun fact” for the world’s most boring “what happened on this date?” calendar. Today’s entry: my last day at Telltale Games.

Not my last day ever working with those guys, I’m hoping, just my last day as a regular full-timer. I’m extremely proud of the games we made while I was there, and the teams continue to exceed my expectations. And I think Telltale is regularly doing stuff that games desperately need to have — storytelling moments, and concentrated chunks of originality and imagination (and just plain weirdness) — and doing them at a level than no other studio is matching. Even those with multi-million dollar budgets.

It’s absolutely no exaggeration to say that I’ve wanted to work on a Sam & Max game since I was a sophomore in college. First from reading the comics in the back of The Adventurer that came with my Star Wars games, then playing Hit the Road and being amazed that a game like that could even exist. (It always felt kind of like sacrilege to say so, especially when I was working on Monkey 3, but I was always a bigger fan of Sam & Max than anything from Monkey Island or the other LucasArts games). I don’t know if I wanted to work on thirteen Sam & Max games, but maybe that was just a case of getting enough chances to get it right. So thanks to Dave Grossman and Kevin Bruner at Telltale for giving me the chance to work on a Sam & Max game that was actually released. (And to Brendan Ferguson for being an excellent puzzle designer and a pretty tireless lead).

And huge thanks to Steve Purcell for letting me spend so much time messing around with his characters and trusting us enough not to ruin them. Getting to do season three brainstorming with Dave, Mike Stemmle, and Steve was one of the best things that I’ve gotten to do in my career so far. (And that’s saying a good bit, considering how lucky I’ve been at stumbling into great jobs).

But it’s been pretty clear for a while that I wasn’t going to be content unless I could get out and try to do my own thing. A while ago I wrote a bunch of over-long posts about storytelling in videogames, and the more I wrote, the more I came to the obvious conclusion: the people who are really making a statement about videogames aren’t making statements; they’re making games. I need to start trying out ideas and attempting to make something more experimental than even a smaller studio like Telltale could practically take on. Maybe nothing will come of it — it’s entirely possible that I’m ridiculously over-estimating my own abilities — but with all the tools and support for independent games right now, there’s no better time to try it and see.

Plus, I’ve never been one of those people who thrive on an accelerated schedule; I’m more the type of person who ruminates and meanders. Moseys, even. There’s an episode of Star Trek called “Wink of an Eye” about a race of aliens who’d become “hyper-accelerated” so that no one else could see or hear them. I’ve felt like that quite a bit over the past few years — especially driving over the Golden Gate in the morning and seeing all the sight-seers stopping to check out the bay, and finding myself wondering “Where do these people find the time?” It seems like a good time to slow things down a little so I can get productive again.

And in case anybody’s wondering about the rest of season three of Sam & Max, which is still in progress: don’t worry. I think the season has been some of the company’s finest work so far, and what I’ve seen of the rest of the episodes carries on at that level. My work on the final episode is pretty much done, and it couldn’t be in better hands to wrap everything up. I think people are going to be impressed, disgusted, and horrified.

I hope the people who wandered on here as a result of my work with Telltale will keep stopping by, and will check out whatever game I happen to come up with, assuming this whole scheme works. (And if you know of any game contracting gigs to help pay the bills, let me know).

But for now, I’m planning to get reacquainted with being bored; it feels like it’s been a long time since I have been. Enough time with that, and I’ll be even more motivated to get off my ass and try something different.

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12 thoughts on “Something Different

  1. Kroms says:

    :( I’m kind of sad. But good luck, Chuck, and hopefully we’ll hear from you soon. I’ve always looked forward to your episodes. It’ll be a little weird finishing “The City That Dares Not Sleep” and then realizing we don’t know when you’ll come out with the next thing.

    But yes, good luck in your future endeavors, and thanks for all the great games you’ve helped make in the past. Hope this works out for you.

    Kroms.

  2. “It’s absolutely no exaggeration to say that I’ve wanted to work on a Sam & Max game since I was a sophomore in college.”

    Man, what self-respecting adventure fan *wouldn’t* want to get their hands on those games? LEC/LA was king of the “Wish I could play in this universe” dream. Wonder what the modern equivalents are, if any…

    Good luck with the move!

  3. J-Rod says:

    It wont be the same without you, but I’m excited to see what comes next for you. You’re a great colleague, and I hope/trust that our professional paths will cross again…and again…and again…

  4. Brett Douville says:

    Hey Chuck, good luck. I’m sure I’ll see you now and again at game nights and such, for my twice annual visits. I’m glad you’re taking a chance and not getting complacent — it can be very refreshing to work on something of your own. Keep in touch! Let me know if you need anything.

  5. Mike W says:

    Wow, good luck man. Looking forward to whatever you come up with next. No pressure, but it better be really good!

  6. Chris Ross says:

    Best of luck Chuck! After I started to work for myself, the feeling of time slowing down was profound for me. I hope you like it too. :)

  7. Lena_P says:

    This is incredibly selfish of me, I know, but I can’t help thinking, “No! Telltale’s not losing another great employee!” Of course you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, and I am very interested in seeing what games you are going to make, but there’s a little tug at my chest, too.

    For the last two years, I’ve wished I could work at Telltale. Not because I dreamed of working on a Sam and Max game, or because I’m a fan, but because I wanted to work with designers like you and Brendan Q. Ferguson. I had enjoyed the stories told in games before, I’d even played games and thought, “This story was actually meant to be told in a video game! It’s not just a narrative lain on top to explain why I’m killing weird pigs!” but Telltale’s games are different. Maybe you guys aren’t writing gaming’s equivalent of “Citizen Kane”, but I love what you create. I love how you try to tell the stories through the games instead of around them. I love how you treat gameplay and story as equally important, and for taking chances that feel well thought out, as opposed to being different for difference’s sake. I’m not the world’s greatest writer, but I can bang out just about any sort of thing you’d like; short stories, novels, articles, plays, but I had no idea how you “wrote” for a video game and I didn’t care. Telltale changed that. Not that I now know how to make a video game, but I’m trying to figure it out by attending every playtest I can to see different “drafts” of a game and “reverse-enginner” how to edit games that way. I’ll probably never become a game designer myself, but a good storyteller is a good storyteller no matter the medium, and I wish I could have worked and learned from a storyteller like you.

    Good luck in whatever you do, and I hope you take advantage of this beautiful weather and go and get bored outside.

  8. Thanks everybody for the well-wishes and good lucks.

    @Kroms – “I’ve always looked forward to your episodes” reminds me of my years in the psych ward. Good times.

    @Richard – I can think of several stories/groups of characters/etc it’d be fun to make a game out of, but I can’t think of any existing game worlds I’d have much interest in continuing. (Not that I’d turn down the opportunity. And a good storyteller can come up with good material from just about any starting point). Maybe that’s why it’s a good time for a career course correction: I’ve run out of sequels to work on.

    @J-Rod – I took a job and lucked into getting to work with the best composer working in videogames today. There’s no way in hell I’m letting you avoid working with me again.

    @Matthew – I guess I’ve been outed. The main reason I’m going freelance is so I can finally finish playing Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Some people would call that foolish; I say they just need to re-evaluate their priorities.

    @Chris – Yeah, leaving EA was my first exposure to explosive decompression, except there I got the double-whammy because I’d spent so many years telling friends I didn’t have time to hang out that everybody just kind of stopped asking. This is different — it’s not the hours but being so focused on one thing to the expense of everything else.

    @Lena – Thanks, and of course the company’s got several great designers, and choreographers, and environment artists, and animators, and… so the concept of story- and character-driven games is in the company, not in any one person. You’ve been to enough playtests to see how much better the games get after the whole team’s had a crack at it; it’s not as if any of these things spring forth fully-formed from the mind of one person. i’m looking forward to seeing how they continue on that philosophy because like I (and you) said, I think it’s something that’s crucial to games that nobody else is paying as much attention to. Good luck with your own stuff, and I’ll probably see you around at the playtests.

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