As part of letting people know that #TelltaleIsBack, we hosted an AMA on r/gaming talking about everything from our return to The Expanse: A Telltale Series, which is now mere days away from launching! We had such a great time – and had so many great questions – we wanted to share some of those answers with you here, as well.
On hand from our side were…
- Jamie Ottilie: CEO of Telltale
- Stephan Frost: Game Director, Deck Nine Games
- Gigi Mundheim: Animator, Deck Nine Games
…and, yes, we did somehow manage to avoid dropping spoilers during the AMA.
What was the reasoning behind releasing the game in episodes rather all together ?
Jamie (CEO): Episodic is a hallmark of games for which the original Telltale was known so we wanted that keep that through line. But, unlike previous Telltale games, The Expanse: A Telltale Series will be episodic, with development completed on the entire series (5 episodes) prior to the launch of the first episode. We’re on a tighter release cadence more like a TV show, with the pacing of 2 weeks between episodes, so that we give players the space to think about and discuss their decisions while maintaining momentum.
I’ve only just started watching Season 1 of the Expanse – should I binge the rest to get up to speed before playing, or will it be separate from the show?
Gigi (Animator): You don’t need to, but it helps!
The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a prequel to the show! But we’ve made sure to include references that stay true to the show and the Expanse universe, we’ve fleshed out the story and characters so that new fans can dive into the game without prior knowledge of the show.
What was the biggest challenge in adapting The Expanse to a Telltale game? And a little fun one who is your favorite Expanse character OTHER THAN Drummer? Mine is a tie between Amos and Bobbie. Thanks, can’t wait to play later this month!
Frost (Game Director): Adapting anything from one medium to another is difficult. With the Expanse there’s a crazy amount of places we could go, so narrowing it down was hard. After that, we want it to feel like the show, so we studied it like crazy. Cinematography, how characters moved/acted, music, Belter creole, plot points, etc.
Other favorite character? I can’t pick one, but I like Avasarala, Amos, Prax, Dawes, and Ashford. 😀 In the books I really like (to hate) Duarte.
How did the Expanse get close to finished so quickly? I don’t understand how it came out before Wolf Among us despite TWAU being announced long before.
Jamie: The Expanse started development shortly after Wolf2 – but we held the announcement. It’s shipping first because we worked with Deck 9, who had a team versus our internal team – which we started building just as Covid hit. You can find more details in this IGN interview regarding why Wolf is taking longer.
Are we going to have a physical edition?
Jamie: That’s something we are exploring but it won’t be available at launch. Right now our primary focus is the launch on digital store fronts!
Will there be more emphasis on gameplay? Actual shooting mechanics, puzzles to solve when not in combat? Skill trees or perks? I love Telltale’s story telling but the gameplay department has always struggled.
Frost: Storytelling is obviously the core focus of Telltale games, and for the Expanse, we wanted to lean into ‘storytelling on the sticks’ with our zero g mechanic. You can float and rotate in any direction, use your magboots to walk on ceilings, and collect items to bring back to your crew to build rapport with them and change the story. We still have some quicktime events for more of the action oriented moments, and we have light puzzle solving elements in zero g as well.
Does this game follow the original story, or does it branch off into its own self contained story within the universe?
Gigi: The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a prequel and follows “Belter” Camina Drummer prior to the events of the television series. The story takes place years before the events of The Expanse season one. This prequel serves to give us an understanding of Camina Drummer’s experiences as an XO on a scavenger ship before the events of the show, and gives us some insight into how she became the person we meet in season 2. Obviously, the amazing Cara Gee joined us to reprise her role as the no-nonsense Camina Drummer, and there will be a few more noteworthy characters who make appearances throughout the show, but watching the show first isn’t required (but it’s great and we recommend you watch it).
What made you decide to do a prequel story with Drummer? What was your inspiration?
Frost: When we got the Expanse as our setting, we talked about lots of potential characters, settings, and time periods of the show. (IT’S A MASSIVE UNIVERSE.)
Drummer was our favorite character from the show. (The speech about Belters going through the ring gate, are you KIDDING ME? So good.) Drummer also didn’t have a backstory in the show or books that was really explored. This allowed us to have an awesome character, great actress, and more freedom within this massive world.
Our inspirations were the show obviously, and “The Butcher of Anderson Station” by the authors, Ty and Daniel.
How hard was it to try to keep the realistic grounded feel of the series represented in the game?
Frost: This was a fun challenge in a lot of ways. One was the gameplay elements of making Zero Gravity Gameplay feel approachable, fun, and fit the shows take on the science. This took a mix of tuning gameplay feel through playtests, motion capturing people in swings and harnesses, and our animators combining all those things together to make it look good. A big focus was a seamless FLOW of using magboots, walking on ceilings, jumping into space, and landing with minimal “bumps” or “hitches” that feel bad when a player goes between those states.
On the cinematics side, we actually have a great video of behind the scenes footage of our mocap team cranking on awesome ways to sell these gravity moments in cinematics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5eY3Cgg6KY&t=16s
Will gravity, g-forces and such also play a big element in the game?
Gigi: Absolutely! We knew we wanted zero gravity movement incorporated into our gameplay. It allowed us to stay both true to the Expanse universe as well as to encourage exploration in the game.
What has changed since you have gone out of business? It’s my understanding that there were too many projects and there wasn’t any real leadership. It sounded like a nightmare for programmers.
Jamie: We revived the studio from its foundations in late 2019 to operate differently from the past. New management, new approach, new engine…all that. A core belief around this new Telltale is building a company without crunch and focusing on having a healthy work environment.
What led to going with the Epic Games Store exclusivity?
Jamie: Epic was an early supporter of the game and of Telltale as we were standing the company back up. The Expanse will be released at a later date on Steam, just not at launch!
How did you all land on what Drummer’s personality would be like for the game? She’s noticeably more green than in the show, but not so much where she’s a far cry from the version that we know. Was there any particular material from the show or books that you utilized to determine what her personality would be like during these events? Was it difficult finding that balance? Especially considering you have to make multiple dialogue options fit this personality.
Frost: Because this was a prequel, we wanted to thread the needle of Drummer learning the ropes, but also being the badass character that we know from the show. The inspiration came from the show, but also from “The Butcher of Anderson Station” novella by James S.A. Corey. Cara had said she found inspiration in that book and funny enough, so did we.
Do your choices actually matter? And will it affect the ending?
Frost: Our goal was to make your choices affect the story, and the ending. Every member of your crew can die except one, or every member of your crew can survive except one. There are also items in the world you can find that will build rapport with your crew that change the outcomes as well. In our playtests with press and influencers, numerous players stated that they felt their choices mattered as well. We’re looking forward to players playing through to the end to see how their playthroughs differ!
Since you say there can be several possible endings, do all endings fit as a lead-in to the beginning of the TV storyline, or is there only one “True ending” that fits?
Frost: Because it’s a prequel, Drummer has to end up in the same place, so what’s different about the ending is who survives. I’m excited to see how many people can get their whole crew to survive on the first playthrough. Episode 5 also plays differently depending on really big choices throughout the game and episode 5.
How has the game engine (Telltale Tool) evolved for the latest consoles/pcs?
Jamie: The biggest change is that we moved to the Unreal Engine, which we’re now using for rendering and have integrated the Telltale Tools with UE 5.
What similarities might this title have to the games from the old telltale, whats brand new?
Frost: We’re leaning heavily into motion capture tech for our performances, and we had Cara Gee herself acting on a motion capture volume with other actors.
We’re evolving what we’ve done in the past for gameplay. To convey the vastness of space — and it really is such a huge component of the show — we factor in things like gravity. Floating in zero-g, walking on walls and new ways to navigate open up exploration unlike old games.
Roughly how many hours of gameplay will The Expanse be?
Frost: It depends upon how much you explore and there are several different outcomes and varied content depending on your choices, but we’re confident that The Expanse: A Telltale series will have lots of content for players to enjoy.
Any further updates on The wolf Among us?
Jamie: This past March we announced that Wolf 2 has been delayed. We’re committed to delivering the sequel that the fans deserve and doing what’s right for the game, while protecting the health of our team. That said, The Wolf Among Us 2 is making great progress, and we can’t wait to show it off in the future. For now, we’re excited to be focusing on The Expanse: A Telltale Series!
Between starting up this new Telltale studio and making this game and Wolf Among Us 2 during Covid, what has been the most challenging/rewarding thing(s) you’ve done during development.
Jamie: Wolf is one of our favorites too!
I think the biggest challenge was learning how to hire and build teams in the middle of a global pandemic tops the list for most challenging. We had just started scaling from the core group when the shutdown happened.
What choice did you pick that we saw in the trailer: the vault or the leg?
Frost: As Spock says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” The leg goes, compadre.
The Expanse! Such a good book and TV series! As far as source material, are you drawing more from the books or the show?
Frost: Most of the source material we referenced was from the show, but we absolutely read all the books and most of the novellas. There are some parts of the game that draw reference from the books, like “Butcher of Anderson Station” for Drummer’s backstory, and some zero-g fight sequences from the books also influenced some action scenes.
Do you have any plans to bring back any of your older games that got delisted? For example, I’ve always wanted to play Poker Night at the Inventory, but I’ve never had the chance to because I only learned about it after it got delisted.
Jamie: When we revived the studio in late 2019, we acquired as many of the IPs as we could, as our goal is to keep as many of the back catalog games online as possible. Where we could acquire some IPs, the rights to others reverted back to the IP holders, including many of Telltale’s notable games.
For example, The Walking Dead reverted to Skybound, Minecraft Story Mode reverted to Mojang/Microsoft, and Tales from the Borderlands went back to Gearbox. However, we are excited about the IPs we have retained. The entire list of back catalog games we support is on our website here. https://www.telltale.com/category/games/
What are some IPs you would love to make a game for, given the opportunity? There are so many that would work really well with the Telltale style.
Jamie: That’s just impossible to answer here; there are so many games we wanna make and we are also exploring creatively. Picking what to do next is one of the hardest things we do.
Frost: Shiiiiiiiii there’s a TON of IPs we’d want to turn into games. I can’t post them here, because business development would get mad at me if a bunch of rumors started from this post, heh.
Are you gonna do batman after the expanse a Telltale Series is out?
Jamie: We love Batman but right now we’re focusing on the two games we have in development: The Expanse and TWAU2.
Hey, I love your games, I played almost all of them. I have a technical question, is The Expanse going to be using DENUVO protection system?
[This question came in after the AMA, but the CM – who is a PC nerd – found the answer for you.] We checked with the lead programmer on the game and confirmed that we are NOT using Denuvo for The Expanse: A Telltale Series. Definitely appreciate the question – and your support!
….what’s that? You still have a question that we haven’t answered here? Well, look for us in social – we’re @TelltaleGames! We’re everywhere from Threads and Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube…basically, almost everything. Except MySpace.