Now that Telltale Games has basically let go almost all of its staff, we're starting to get quite a few stories from behind-the-scenes about the production of various games, alternate endings, and postmortem details about various projects, including Guardians of the Galaxy and Minecraft.
Over on GamesIndustry.biz, it was revealed that during a presentation at the Sweden Game Conference, Emily Grace Buck, the former narrative designer at Telltale Games, broke down some of the design decisions that led to a misreading of Telltale's games and the audience that they were making the games for. Buck explained how Guardians of the Galaxy ended up being tonally different from what fans of the series may have been expecting:
Our executive team insisted that what was popular about Guardians of the Galaxy, was darkness and violence, and sadness, and that people did not associate humour with that brand... So we redid the first two episodes to be less funny and more dark and more violent and more sad, and that's the game that shipped. And one of the biggest comments in editorial, was that it felt very off-tone for Guardians of the Galaxy and wasn't very funny. And we were like 'we know'.
I can definitely see how that happened, and it's something I both agree and disagree with. Buck states that originally Telltale's take on Guardians of the Galaxy was filled with humor and comedy, and that it was all extricated in place of the darker tone the game went for. In a way, some of the darker elements did actually help add gravitas to the overall story, and, in the later episodes, it helped give weight to some of the decisions that can be made that drastically alter the character development, especially for Drax and Rocket. Being too lighthearted likely would have diminished the impact of certain subplots; but on the flip side, maybe being more comical would have made the entire adventure more appealing and entertaining for a broader audience.
It's easy to pick apart what supposedly didn't work in hindsight, but it's not always easy to tell what wouldn't work while you're actually working on the project... unless it's Minecraft.
Buck noted that some of the original thematic elements for Minecraft: Story Mode were designed with a 'T' for Teen rating in mind, not younger kids. This was something that the studio had to go back and redo after initially developing the story.
Now in a case like that, it's pretty obvious that there's some sort of misreadings going on if the game that was supposed to be designed for little kids is being made to appeal to teens and adults.
It kind of speaks volumes to the kind of corporate culture at Telltale where some of the franchises weren't quite being built around the kind of topical matter that they should have been from the start. Rewriting, redoing and remaking content is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, and not only can it hurt the finished product in terms of story consistency, but it also ramps up the overall budget.
Obviously there were a lot of issues that culminated in Telltale shutting down, but based on Buck's retelling of what was happening with some of the franchises, it appeared as if misreading what the audience wanted helped contribute to the less-than-stellar sales that some of Telltale's titles produced.