Returning to ‘Jurassic Park’: Telltale adapts beloved franchise in new game seriesWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It is a rainy night on Isla Nublar. Dennis Nedry, a portly computer engineer, is racing through the jungle. He’s just disabled all the security systems on the island, letting the creatures who inhabit it — dinosaurs — run wild. He’s trying to escape with his precious cargo, samples of dinosaur DNA that he has stolen. But he’s attacked by a pack of dilophosaurs, and the samples are seemingly lost forever.
Or are they?
For over seven years, Telltale Games, a company out of San Rafael, Calif., has produced some of the most interesting titles in gaming, especially for fans of beloved pop culture franchises. Utilizing a unique episodic structure, Telltale has made entertaining adventure games based on popular franchises like “Back to the Future,” “Wallace and Gromit,” the web cartoons from the HomestarRunner.com site and more.
“It’s a very collaborative, supportive environment, where everyone pitches in, and risk taking is valued. Nobody’s phoning it in,” said game designer Joe Pinney in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “At the same time we’re working hard to meet demanding episodic schedules. Ideas are quickly brainstormed, implemented, iterated, then boom — game! It’s intense and gratifying. You create and learn with every episode.”
Pinney, who has been with the company for over three years, was the lead designer of perhaps Telltale’s most ambitious title yet — a game based upon the Steven Spielberg/Michael Crichton blockbuster “Jurassic Park,” released Nov. 15 on PC, XBox 360 and PlayStation 3. He said he wasn’t sure how long the idea had been in development, but the title had been worked on for well over a year.
“It’s a new kind of game for us, full of action and thrills, and we’ve re-invented our gameplay and UI to suit it. Still it’s very much a Telltale game, a story-driven adventure, and story and character are the heart of it,” Pinney said.
One of Telltale’s signatures has been its ability to capture the feel of classic pop culture characters. Pinney said that ability comes from the genuine love its designers have for the franchises they are trying to adapt.
“We work on stuff that we genuinely like, so it’s a pretty natural process,” he said. “We dive deep into the property, talk about what makes it awesome, talk about what new experiences we’d like to have in that world. Sometimes the licensor is intimately involved in all that, sometimes the collaboration starts after we’ve homed in on a specific idea, or maybe a menu of a few ideas. Then it’s pitch, discuss, revise, rinse and repeat till everybody’s happy.”
The “everybody” Pinney speaks of includes the general public. In a world where most licensed games are seen as disappointing, Telltale’s titles have been generally well-received by critics and audiences alike.
“I think it’s because we really care about the licenses we work on. That word license is so inadequate. ’Jurassic Park’ isn’t just a product or a franchise. It’s a piece of art, it’s a treasured memory, it’s joy and wonder. I mean come on, dinosaurs! So we’re not going to stamp a license on a generic genre title,” Pinney said.
Telltale’s game is set parallel and in the immediate aftermath of the first film’s events, dealing with some of the dangling plot threads left by the movie — primarily, whatever happened to that fake can of shaving cream containing the samples Nedry was trying to smuggle off the island?
“There’s a lot of love here for that first movie, and we wanted to return to Isla Nublar, see the sights from the film, and find out what the heck happened next. The Barbasol can plot thread was a natural. I always wondered what happened to that thing,” Pinney noted.
The look of the game is one of its great pleasures, as it captures the feel of the original film and its creatures to a T. It’s a more realistic style than many Telltale games have tried to emulate.
“We knew we wanted the dinosaurs to look just like they did in the movies — that was a touchstone,” Pinney said. “Building an authentic park was also important. We built realistic characters to fit with that realistic look, but we tried to take them far enough away from straight realism to steer clear of the ‘uncanny valley’.”
Telltale isn’t resting on its laurels in the months to come — titles based upon “The Walking Dead,” DC Comics’ “Fables” series and “Law and Order” are being worked on. But for now, Pinney said he hopes players enjoy the chance to return to Isla Nublar and that they’ll experience “that feeling you had when you saw ‘Jurassic Park.’ The pleasure of being engaged in a compelling, well-paced story, full of awe, discovery and danger.”