Telling Tales: Molyneux Vs Vanaman

By Jim Rossignol on June 19th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.


Game Informer have done a lovely thing and put Sean Vanaman (the creative lead and author of Telltale’s The Walking Dead games) in the same room as famed promiser-of-worlds, 22Cans’ Peter Molyneux. The consequence of this gentlemanly meet was an extended discussion of how Telltale have tried to up stakes on the adventure genre, writing for games in general, and some stuff about zombies: a topic on which all developers now have to pass a three-stage exam if they want to be allowed to continue developing videogames.

Watch it below.

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65 Comments »

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  1. InnerPartisan says:

    Sean “Famous” Vanaman vs. The Molyneux? That should be… interesting :D

  2. grechzoo says:

    ah, nice to know the name behind one of the most emotionally cheap and manipulative games I have ever played.

    will make sure to avoid him wherever he goes.

    • InnerPartisan says:

      You forgot to put scare quotes around “games”.

      • Captchist says:

        We’re talking about Project Milo right?

      • Chalky says:

        Did I miss something? What’s with all the hate on the walking dead telltale games? I heard they were pretty good.

        • Grygus says:

          While not flawless, they are, in fact, excellent. However, there is a certain kind of intellectual currency that can only be earned by implying that the general public are idiots and then placing one’s self above that roiling mass of mediocrity, which is only mediocre at one’s own assertion, you see – and so you stand on a pedestal that you built for yourself.

          • Runs With Foxes says:

            Or it might just be a boring game.

            Edit: “game”

        • InnerPartisan says:

          I guess it’s the inevitable backlash by Internet Hipsters Who Hate Everything That Is Popular, or something.

          Although I’ve never heard it being called “manipulative” before (and don’t get me started on how utterly idiotic this “criticism” always is).
          So far, I was under the impression that the most popular flavor of Hateorade was “It’s so linear, and there’s absolutely no manshooting, so it isn’t really a game!!”

          • Trillby says:

            Didn’t you realise that anything that makes you feel anything apart from a bland and monotone acceptance of the inevitatbility of the worthlessness of life is manipulative and out to get you? Feelings are not to be trusted, not now, not ever. Those things that make you feel things, oh man. They’re the fucking worst!

            He’s right. Avoid that Vanaman like the fucking plague. He’ll make you *shudder* feel stuff with his manipulative tactics of telling stories that resonate and stuff.

          • grechzoo says:

            please see my reply to thrillby below, before discounting my comment as hipster counter arguments.

            i had NO intention of disliking the game. i just did, and i explained my reasons more fully below.

            so please stop jumping to ridiculous judgements of commenters you have no idea about. thats just as dumb as being a counter culture hipster.

          • Grygus says:

            Okay, but you should have just said that to begin with; there is a large difference between, “I found the plot transparent and was never drawn in by the writing,” and “this game is cheap and the developer is someone to be avoided forever,” implying that he is so terrible that he could never improve.

            I don’t mean to pick on you, but I am annoyed when someone starts with a legitimate personal criticism (or even an illegitimate one), but then is so insecure in their own statement that, instead of merely expressing it, has to expand the problem into an objective evil, attempting to placing their criticism above reproach and frame anyone who disagrees as somehow intellectually inferior. It is not an honest argument, is unworthy of intelligent people, and tends to degrade any dialogue into which it is injected. It’s the opposite of your clarification posts, which actually have something to talk about. Enough of that.

            My own problems with The Walking Dead are purely mechanical; I do not enjoy the QTE-based action sequences, and also have mere tolerance for the pixel hunt aspects of the game. I found the story quite affecting, and while yes giving gamers a little girl to take care of is an obvious way to engage them emotionally and make them feel protective, it is still well-written; it could easily have been annoying (see: Ico) or written in such a way that no real connection ever occurs (see: Save the Date as a statement on this state of gaming.)

            I’ll put it this way: if The Walking Dead had made Clementine dying into a requirement for a win condition, I would have refused to win. I can completely understand not liking the game if it did not have this effect on you, but it’s a mystery to me how you played it without forming that connection, unless you consciously refused it.

    • Trillby says:

      Ah, emotional manipulation through non-cliched and touching drama and prose. I hate it when games do that. All those feels….

      Get over yourselves and make bigger ‘splosions already geez!

      • grechzoo says:

        please, i hate shooters.

        to the moon is a great counter example to the walking dead. it is an emotional story, told with care, and sublety. the exact opposite of how the walking dead goes about things.

        the choices in walking dead are designed to make you feel bad. so no matter what you do, thats 100% manipulation because the game makes it seem one choice or another may be a good choice. but in fact every choice you make as a player, the game throws it in your face like you are the architect of all the disastrous things happening around you, when in fact any choice you make, the plot still stays the same (at least the meat and bones of it).

        its so ham fisted, and horribly done, i honestly believe it is the most overrated game in history. and ten years from now. when more games like to the moon are around (you know, good writing. good characters, emotional storyline without resorting to cheap tricks). people will look back on such a pathetically written game and laugh.

        if the walking dead was a film, it would have been laughed off the screen for all the stupid and terrible things that were planted into the plot to evoke a cheap emotional gut reaction.

        please note this is all my opinion.

        i am not a hipster. i am a game player who really was excited at the critical acclaim and tried my best to enjoy it.

        the game just frustrated me in every way. its simply not good writing in my very humble opinion.

        • Trillby says:

          It wasn’t a film. The interactivity was central to the way you connect to the character. That point is moot.

          Secondly: It wasn’t the interactive elements that made the game touching. They didn’t even change the story that much. The story ended as it ended regardless, and it was told well for the format in which it exists.

          I also massively prefered and was more touched by To the Moon. I think this has a lot to do with the themes that I could relate to more easily. The existence of To the Moon does not cheapen the worth of TWD and your original comment was simply inflamtory and oppositional for no good reason. Well, not totally. I got some chuckles out of it.

          • grechzoo says:

            yeah, i was posting my opinion in the original post without much backup. ill take the heat for that an apologise.

          • Trillby says:

            Fair enough. Sorry for being quite so sarcastic =) you did touch a nerve though.

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          Thirith says:

          I was pretty underwhelmed by To The Moon, which I’d expected to like a lot. Much of what you say about it, I found to be true with respect to The Walking Dead. To me, the characterisation in TTM was sometimes good, sometimes glib – and the twist with the brother felt like a complete cheat to me, almost destroying what connection I felt to the characters.

        • The Random One says:

          I haven’t played TWD yet, but To The Moon is an amateurish, overeager mess of a story, with any sense of pacing destroyed by the bizarrely ubiquitous “comic relief” moments, as well as the games’ unwillingness to admit how absurdly creepy its central concept is. It also did what, to me, felt like pussyfooting around naming the mental condition pivotal to the story so they wouldn’t own up to the fact that they hadn’t bothered to research real ones before they wrote it and couldn’t find one that’d fit. So if you say TTM compares favorably to TWD, either TWD is horrible beyond human ability to measure, or your opinion is so unlike mine we have no common grounds to discuss this at all.

          • Harrington says:

            Well said. To the Moon did nothing for me, for the reasons you’ve described – such a weird hodge-podge of tones, plus the awkward dialogue, plus an ending that felt like a desperate kind of attempt to reconcile all these messy elements they’d added in the last hour. I love the idea of games that push the story first and foremost, but I would not hold up TTM as a successful example of that.

          • Isair says:

            In regards to the pussyfooting, they do use a real condition. They mention a real life book that makes it clear they’re talking about aspergers. Of course that doesn’t really explain why it couldn’t be stated more openly.

          • Fliver says:

            To The Moon didn’t have much backbone period. The value of authenticity at a time when death is near and the usefulness of lessons learned is over; the point of mistakes and hardships when there’s no need to get stronger – that’s interesting. The game goes nowhere with it. The decision of whether or not it’s good to have an artificial happy ending is glossed over ’cause the game gets so busy showing you that happy ending (plus a DUN DUN DUUUN cliffhanger).

            And yeah, I personally would agree the writing’s bad. Apart from awkward comic relief moments, characters pretty much just talked in plot points and key events were ruined by cliches (a forgotten promise between lovers, repressed childhood trauma, etc). Having the end literally be the most important moments of a person’s (fake and dull-perfect) life strung together was a bad call too assuming melodrama wasn’t what the intention. If it was, then just not my genre I guess?

          • Sparkasaurusmex says:

            To The Moon was a game I really wanted to like, but it just couldn’t draw me in.
            My nine year old loves it, though.

        • alw says:

          Manipulative isn’t a bad thing. Sure you’re being emotionally manipulated, but isn’t that a part of every storytelling medium? It’s necessary in order to draw you in. I’m really not sure how they could tell a story in which human relationships feature so strongly without emotional manipulation. If you make a choice and the outcome is something bad, it’s not actually the game that’s making you feel bad about it. That’s your own reaction. Another person might just resign themselves to thinking they did the best they could so they have nothing to feel bad about. If the game’s able to draw these emotional reactions from the player, rather than just showing the character having the reaction, I see that as a GOOD thing.

        • trajan says:

          “the choices in walking dead are designed to make you feel bad. so no matter what you do, thats 100% manipulation because the game makes it seem one choice or another may be a good choice”

          You must have lived a pretty charmed life. I feel like I run into this situation all the time in RL. Perhaps you just don’t see the consequences of the choices you’ve made so you don’t realize how it hurt someone else. Or maybe it’s just the kind of work I do. Do we buy into this family’s hopes and keep the patient alive in a horrible state with little chance for recovery or do we dash their hopes, convince them to pull the plug and make them live with the emotional burden of that? Sometimes all choices just suck. Get used to it.

          Also, i don’t think i ever felt any of the choices in the game made me feel like it was “the good choice.” I very much felt that all choices would have unintended consequences as most RL choices do. Again, perhaps you just don’t understand that your “good” choices may effect people negatively.

        • Fliver says:

          The game’s not going to be infinite. You could argue for games that have far fewer choices but don’t dovetail (eg Witcher 2) being better, but personally I prefer having more choices smuggled in under smoke and mirrors. You had the option to not replay and keep the illusion of cascading consequences, while in split path games there’s no alternative to going along for the 8+ hour ride as your one big choice plays out. Walking Dead’s style requires player corporation, but more can be done if both sides are willing. I certainly wouldn’t want all games to be this way, but calling it manipulative for problem solving seems a cheap shot.

          Besides, isn’t it nice to get negative emotions from a game? More titles are trying it these days, but it’s still not nearly as normal as ego stroking. Definitely fairer when it’s a mistake and not an inevitability that has things going to shit, but there’s some of that in here too. The achievement looking pop-ups, “Clementine will remember this” and such, are brilliant. If you suddenly feel ashamed, bad call, otherwise, good decision. It’s forces player reflection without passing judgment and that’s lazy in the best possible way. There’s times when the game took a twist for the worse and I still felt like I’d done the best I could do. This is as subjective as it gets, but I wouldn’t call that a slap on the wrist. It’s atmosphere. Wouldn’t have been much of a zombie apocalypse if you could do more than scrap by.

          Would agree that the story is manipulative. Kenny aside, characterization happens right before pay off consistently enough to let ya guess what happens next. Then, there’s the stuff the game pulls with kids. It all fits into the story/setting, but that they used children specifically and repeatedly for situations where there’s no hope, just mercy, is cheap. At least towards the end they did get a lot better at keeping Clem relevant even when it wasn’t time for her to watch you do something horrible. But that one scene before the climax was about as affecting as having Psycho Mantis read my memory card.

          Out of curiosity, what did you all think about the percent displays at episode ends?

        • Consumatopia says:

          the choices in walking dead are designed to make you feel bad. so no matter what you do, thats 100% manipulation because the game makes it seem one choice or another may be a good choice. but in fact every choice you make as a player, the game throws it in your face like you are the architect of all the disastrous things happening around you, when in fact any choice you make, the plot still stays the same (at least the meat and bones of it).

          I haven’t played TWD, but I’ve played other games that do that, and you’re absolutely right–it sucks. You shouldn’t even call it “manipulation”, because every story does something to manipulate you into having some kind of feeling for whatever Weighted Companion Cube you’re assigned. The problem is not manipulation, but dishonesty–blaming the player for something that wasn’t actually their fault. Unless your game is explicitly some kind of mindscrew art game (in which case it should probably be short–experimental games are best when they are of limited duration), this is bad game design, and, yes, I’ll definitely avoid any developer that does this. (the only winning move is not to play…any more games from you.)

        • dragonfliet says:

          You claimed you weren’t replying anymore, and maybe you aren’t, but the biggest problem I have with your criticism is this: the game doesn’t make me feel lie I’m responsible for almost anything, and it isn’t simply making me feel guilt all of the time. (PS: Spoilers below like a mofo). You are not the reason for the zombie plague, you didn’t kill Clementine’s parents, you didn’t kill the boy on the tractor, you didn’t invite the cannibals to eat you, you didn’t set the beartrap for the teacher, you didn’t steal the supplies nor incite the bandits to attack (they would have attacked no matter what–fending them off with supplies was probably a good move), you didn’t make Lilly kill, etc. While there are things that you feel emotionally responsible for, because you care for the people that it affects and you wish that you could change it, the world doesn’t cater to your every whim–you are not a demigod who’s every decision makes everyone fall in line, or rewrites the history of the world: you are a person trying to deal with other people.

          The writing in TWD wasn’t always amazing and some of the twists were a little too manipulative and don’t actually make sense when you consider everything, but for the most part, it is excellently constructed and built to make an experience in which you feel responsible, not because you can actually change things, but because you care, and what it does isn’t so much allow you to change the direction of the narrative, as to change the way in which you feel about the events that are unfolding–the emotional arc is what changes, not the plot points.

      • misterT0AST says:

        Yeah whenever they manipulate the story and me so that I feel touched I always feel ripped off. What the hell, since when are games supposed to make me feel better or worse? I want the experience to be just as involving as brushing my teeth, anything more and I feel manipulated as a puppet and insulted.
        And there must be a special committee or something clearly defining which things are games and which are to be sold as “things”. Words have a precise meaning that has to be protected. At this rate we’re going to use the word “siren” for fish-human hybrids rather than the appropriate winged creatures. And that would just be unacceptable.

        • grechzoo says:

          im glad you guys could enjoy it.

          i just couldn’t. whenever a “writer” builds up a relationship, just to tear it apart without any real payoff beforehand. i dont like it. its a personal thing.

          every relationship in the waking dead barring one does this. and whats worse is it makes your feel resonible for that outcome, when in fact, you can reload and change everything you did and the outcome is still the same.

          thats just bad deisgn. presenting a choice to give responsibilty to a player, but making it so the outcome is the same no matter the choice. its like me offering you a carrot and smacking whether you A: take it and say thanks, of B: politely decline.

          that would just make me a dick. and thats what this game does at every god damn step.

          i wont reply anymore. i have actually provided plenty of example why this game was terrible IN MY opinion. if you are going to put your fingers in your ears and sing a nursery rhyme and just pretend im a counter culture hipster. thats fine.

      • DrGonzo says:

        The game is incredibly clichéd. The plot is an ultra generic zombie story, and it does play like shit yes. But not because of a lack of shooting, no one even suggested that.

        • Trillby says:

          Ah wait wait. I see you woofing at the false hardwood there Gonzo.
          1) The writing of the game and the drama are not cliched. Yes, the premise of “Zombie Apocalypse” is, but I don’t think anyone would argue that that was anything more than the backdrop. Can you think of any other adventure game – as that is the medium – where the issues are so overused as to become cliches of the genre?
          2) More ‘splosions was a light-hearted jab at our friend Grechzoo who appeared to be lamenting being manipulated emotionally. He’s gone on to explain himself quite well, by the way. But I never meant to evoke anything to do with shootems. ‘splosions, happily, can happen in all the games. I think I even saw some in Peggle.

          • DrGonzo says:

            Yeah, sorry about that! He went on and explained his criticisms more in depth, it’s pretty much what I think, but less rude!

    • tnzk says:

      You say that The Walking Dead is emotionally manipulative, then offer To the Moon as a counter-argument.

      Because the story of a dying old man lamenting the loss of his autistic wife is the pinnacle of subtlety.

      I cannot be the only one who completely hated To the Moon. Forced binary choices in The Walking Dead is one thing, but To the Moon was manipulative to the utter extreme. It’s also rather offensive that the developer used a mental illness as the hook to pull heart strings. A little bit stupid, too.

      • Harrington says:

        Very stupid. It’s like that Mel Brooks quote, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” If you go full-on over the top sad by starting with a dying old man – which, really, should be emotional tenor enough – then add autism, a dead sibling….it stops being moving and starts becoming a farce. Too much misery just disengages the player from the game.

        • tnzk says:

          Oh my gosh the dead brother twist! I completely forgot about that one.

      • Ernesto25 says:

        “I cannot be the only one who completely hated To the Moon. Forced binary choices in The Walking Dead is one thing, but To the Moon was manipulative to the utter extreme. It’s also rather offensive that the developer used a mental illness as the hook to pull heart strings. A little bit stupid, too.”

        I felt this , i didn’t hate it but it didn’t sit right with me and i kind of called autism and whilst their many types it was unsettling. As a counter argument to the walking dead which i liked but had faults is stupid imo, the walking dead had limited game play but to the moon had slider puzzles and not alot else barring the music and writing.

      • Kobest says:

        Cheers, I’m glad to know I wasn’t alone.

        While I didn’t really hate To The Moon as I enjoyed uncovering the mysteries in the story, my God did it turn out to be a Korean Drama too soon. It simply tried too hard to grab us by our emotions. I remember that at the end the players were supposed to feel really sad, but all I could think was “…really? You played all your cards, didn’t you?”

        • sirdavies says:

          I bet your monocle didn’t even move.

          • Kobest says:

            Not even an inch! :D

            But joking aside, don’t get me wrong, there were some geniune moments in the game. Going into the memories of an old, dying man, looking at his life, his failures/successes, I thought it was pretty neat. (Not to mention that I could relate to some of those moments as well.) But as Harrington said above: “With great power comes…oh, I mean…Too much misery just disengages the player from the game.”

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Come now, Syndicate wasn’t that bad.

  3. Radiant says:

    But did either of them cry?

    • db1331 says:

      Yes. And you will too. You will form an emotional bond with this video that is unlike anything you have ever experienced before. This video will forever change the way we as a society think about videos.

    • Phendron says:

      Any interview that doesn’t end in Molyneux crying is obviously a sham.

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      Skeletor68 says:

      Countdown to tears complete?

  4. Thule says:

    I can’t wait for the Idle thumbs episode where Sean talks about this and they go on some hilarious tangent about it.

  5. lijenstina says:

    Caption under the first photo.
    Vanaman : The fish i caught was this big.
    Molyneux : I caught once a fish so big, that i can show with my hands. Then I realized it wasn’t a fish at all. It was the Akula nuclear submarine. Had to let it go to avoid the Third World War.

  6. nimzy says:

    I was expecting a boxing match from the title. How much for one of those?

  7. jfrisby says:

    Someone should make the Molyneux & Vanaman on a boat game for Molyjam.

  8. Noviere says:

    That was great!

    • Low Life says:

      Indeed it was! While I already like Mr. Vanaman due to Idle Thumbs, Molyneux also seemed the most sensible I’ve ever seen him. And he sweared! I never thought of him as the swearing kind.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      But the story was tailored to me actions the loading screen each episode told me so!. That does sum up some of my misgivings especially episode 3. It shouldn’t be episodic and actually have adventure game concepts not turn the batteries the correct way around.

  9. wodin says:

    TWD was a very pleasant surprise. Most enjoyable.

  10. Josh W says:

    Someone give Peter a hug!

    It’s interesting, because knowing what he’s said about what he wanted his games to be, I can understand why he would say that, but he’s definately made many good games!

    That’s not even including how extremely prototypical his games have been, with loads of elements being taken on in other games.

    And that thing about tutorials was dead right, letting people settle in when playing a game is so valuable, because a kind of low stress engagement with the world/get your bearings is much more natural than giving them a set of mechanical tasks to get out the way before they can enjoy the game.

    Effectively, a tutorial is a pass/fail barrier of skill mastery, assuming that people have discovered the basic skills early enough, but because it’s assumed that those basic skills will be things like “what button does what” and not more subtle things like aiming speed etc, it doesn’t really solve it’s purpose.

    The alternative to an obvious testlike structure is to create a region of exploration exit gated by problems that require the basic skills to solve. Weirdly, this is similar to aminita’s philosophy about puzzles, that you should be able to play as your working your way to a solution.

    And I suspect that if you design this kind of early environment well enough, you can create situations based around encouraging learning, just as level designers have created situations that encourage easy traversal, with clear signals through lighting or openness of where to go next, so that you’d actually be able to learn the logic of it without obvious on screen prompts.

    This doesn’t really get rid of the question of a good narrative frame for tutorial-y bits, though. It’ll be hard in certain games to give you the downtime to pull them off, particular those that want to start with a bang, but delaying that bang so it doesn’t have to include rote sections could be pretty good, although I seem to remember uncharted doing a good job of starting with things that are like quick time events that slowly blur into gameplay as the same button combos work in normal play. This is basically just the test tutorial structure, but using consequence and result to tell you what the buttons do instead.

  11. Noviere says:

    So if you enjoyed THIS interview… You need to watch this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qOPyRRB9yWI

    Peter Molyneux rating farts apps, and talking about way to improve them. HILARIOUS!

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    Skeletor68 says:

    More like Sean ‘Handsome’ Vanaman.

  13. nannou says:

    This was a great video. When Peter talked about his disappointment over Fable 3 I completely felt his genuineness. People give him a lot of shit for a lot of things, but at least he’s out there trying things instead of sitting at home growing a neck-beard and claiming superior knowledge of all games because they’ve sunk 60 hours in to Mass Effect franchise.

  14. Blue_Lemming says:

    1 hour 30 mins later, i agree ol’ pete seems like he genuinely loves making games, I haven’t played the walking dead and i’ve never even heard of this little bearded man. But my lug oles appreciated it.