Telltale to retire their engine after The Walking Dead S4

Telltale retiring their old engine - a dramatic reenactment

Telltale have been very busy lately, in-between signing deals with Netflix and tussling with their former CEO. The studio that (gradually) popularised episodic games has a lot on their plate, and now they’ve got a pretty heavy dessert lined up for once they’ve finished the upcoming fourth and final Walking Dead game season. According to anonymous sources speaking to Variety (and somewhat supported by job listings), the studio are retiring their long-lasting but occasionally wonky in-house Telltale Tool engine and moving over to Unity.

The Telltale Tool engine did last the studio through a great many games, including the remarkably charming (and sadly no-longer-sold) Wallace and Gromit series, but reportedly it was never that easy to work with. While I wouldn’t exactly be surprised that the studio is moving to Unity (on account of Unity’s CEO John Riccitiello on their board of directors), it’s a good pick. Powerful, flexible and rapidly growing, and should make porting to other platforms a bit easier.

While those of us with decent-spec PCs were spared the worst of the horrors, Telltale’s engine has suffered from a plethora of nasty issues over on lower-end systems, and especially on consoles, with framerates plummeting during key action-focused sequences on the Xbox 360 and PS3 in many cases. And while the precise cause is unclear, save corruption bugs have been a recurrent problem robbed him of much of his enthusiasm for The Walking Dead series.

A move to Unity would of course bring its own set of challenges, hence why they’re hiring in additional talent to help with the transition. Variety’s sources claim that Telltale’s Stranger Things game will be their first game on Unity.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season begins on August 14th, and you can find it on GOG, Humble and Steam.

25 Comments

  1. lancelot says:

    My eyes read the title as The Walking Dead 54, and my brain didn’t find that weird.

  2. Catweasel says:

    Good, they could never make their engine work right.

  3. haldolium says:

    I imagine their upcoming games will suffer from typical Unity beginner mistakes then… fingers crossed they find the right coders along that switch. I really would love to see one Telltale game that isnt a complete technical mess. Especially if thats the only one I still care about

    • theslap says:

      And what would those typical mistakes be?

      • ThePuzzler says:

        In my experience? Failing to save data before hitting the Run button, then hitting an accidental infinite loop in your code, and having to shut it down from the Task Manager, and then realising Unity Editor lost all your changes to the scene.

      • woodsey says:

        Unity games have a habit of running like a puddle of poo, so probably that.

      • haldolium says:

        For example not offering exclusive fullscreen by default. Even new releases with 2017.x or 2018.x framework still come without it.

        • mac4 says:

          This. I’ve this widget that remains visible in most (but not all) Unity games. It’s a small issue maybe that can be overlooked, but it is nonetheless as my Indian friends might say a botheration.

          • Halk says:

            It’s not the developers’ fault on this one. For a long time there actually has been no way to make it an in-game option when developing in Unity. You can only select it when you build the game, and exclusive fullscreen has just has many opposers. It can interfere with streaming and recording gameplay, for example.

            Unfortunately the only available workaround is adding a command-line option.

      • Baines says:

        There are a number of performance-related mistakes that are easily made in Unity. Unity’s ease of use makes it really easy to get something running, but it still takes knowledge of the engine to get something running well.

        Unity, in its desire to be easy to use and fast to get something running, allows simple black box-style access to a lot of complex features. It isn’t a real black box, you can still deal with the complexity directly, but you can also just say “Run this game at ‘High’ quality” without actually bothering to set all the individual graphical toggles that compose ‘high’ quality. You can do things in really inefficient ways, because it is easy to code and it works, without ever realizing just how inefficient it is.

        You can easily make a general loop that will pointlessly max out either your CPU or GPU. Yes, you can do this with pretty much any language, but it feels like you are much more likely to see it happen in a Unity product. Well, both happen and not be fixed after release… Devs not using Unity seem slightly more willing to try to fix the issue when people start complaining that their brand new high end CPU is running at 100% while running Sudoku, or that your main menu running at 1800fps caused their graphics card to fail.

        haldolium mentioned another good Unity mistake, in that people working in Unity tend to rely on the (easy to use) launcher for dealing with game settings rather than coding the interfaces for full support directly within the game itself. (There are games on Steam that can only claim “partial controller support” simply because they rely on the Unity launcher.)

  4. milligna says:

    At least the fans will be able to smoothly segue from complaining about the Telltale engine to complaining about Unity with zero speed bumps.

  5. ShadeyM says:

    Maintaining an engine really doesn’t make sense unless you’re doing some really cutting edge stuff. Maybe this will help Telltale focus more of their energy on good storytelling.

    • Rich says:

      I wish Bethesda would realise this.

      • Megatron says:

        Everyone wishes Bethesda would realise this.

      • Werthead says:

        I think every article and review post-Fallout 3 has suggested it would now be a really, really good idea for Bethesda to develop a new engine and it still hasn’t happened. People got excited when they announced the Creation Engine, but there were quite a few people who said, “Bet it’s a rebranded Gamebryo,” and yup, so it proved.

        It does feel a bit stupid that in 2015 (and I suspect 2018, unless they’ve really levelled up the engine for FO76) you can’t see into the interior of buildings from the exterior or open the door and enter an interior space without passing through a discrete loading screen. Bethesda weren’t helped by CDPR coming along with their home-grown engine and showing them that it’s really not that hard.

  6. Premium User Badge

    keithzg says:

    That their own engine had save-corruption bugs was made even worse for me personally because I would have just been handling my games in a Git repo if it’d been on Linux, where I have a dropdown terminal set to F12 all the time anyways, but the other effect of them having a bespoke engine was that it wasn’t really multiplatform! Hopefully switching over to Unity solves that, too.

  7. revan says:

    While their engine wasn’t exactly the best, this move to Unity isn’t something I’m looking forward. Maybe they will do it right, but after games like Battletech, with terrible optimization, memory leaks and GPU overheating, I’m pretty fed up with this engine.

  8. Catchcart says:

    Here’s hoping this will finally mean Telltale linux ports (of new titles at least)

  9. DoctorDaddy says:

    I agree that Battletech’s tech(hah)nical implementation left a lot to be desired, and some of that is probably rightly attributed to the Unity engine. However, Battletech has significantly larger scenes, and an overall level of complexity that is quite different to a Telltale style game. Honestly, I think it’s a fairly ideal engine for what they have been producing. This is of course just my own, quite limited experience with the engine talking, but I feel good about this shift in general.

  10. yobokkie says:

    And all the data miners around the world are rubbing their hands together in anticipation of being able to fire up their favourite decompiler in order to pour over the source code of all future telltale games. Seriously, looking through all the secrets in unity engines games is ridiculously easy.

  11. HiroTheProtagonist says:

    Any word on when Telltale is going to make a game where choices actually affect outcomes? The engine was mediocre since its inception, but since 2012 the writing team seems to be entirely stymied by the idea of writing more than 1 outcome for a decision chain. I’d also wish for some actual puzzles, but that’s probably asking too much.

    • Lawlcopt0r says:

      Well that’s what happens when you make a ton of games simultaneously and also continue them throughout several seasons which makes branching paths even more unrealistic. I hope Detroit inspires/shames them though.

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