Kuba (Former Telltale Creative Director) AMA!
Kuba, a former Telltale employee and the Telltale Community Discord Server held an AMA about anything Telltale and gaming related on the 19th! Here are some of the Q&A's:
Q: Hey Kuba you're a cool guy.
Kuba: I try
THE WALKING DEAD
Q: Why was Kenny/Jane given an abrupt death in the beginning of S3 rather than being given their own different story lines?
Kuba: Oh yes this is the question that we've gotten quite a lot and I'm not sure if I have the one true answer to this question. At the time Season 3 was in the works, there were A LOT of wheels turning at Telltale. This was truly the dark times meaning we had a lot of games in development and teams we're working on multiple games at the same time.
The people actually making the game don't always make the final decision as to what direction the season is going to take. I'm confident in saying that most of us would have liked to have produced the game you all expected with Clem as the protagonist but the powers that be decided to go into a different direction.
(This is a multi part answer here so let me chunk it out bc I know this is important to a lot of fans.)
I'm not sure what the exact reason was to not use Clem again. I wasn't heavily involved in the WD3. At the end of the day, the execs make the final call and then the Creative Director, Executive Produce and design leads execute the story they design around those parameters. There was a lot of creative shifts around S3 and I frankly dont think Telltale set themselves up to be able to tackle a multi character story with that many branching paths with the amount of things that were happening at the time in the company.
As a creative lead, especially on the marketing side, we don't have final say. We just provide influence and feedback and at the time of WDS3, I was on the outside mostly. I was honestly surprised by the creative shift and direction WDANF took. We wanted nothing more to give everyone the game they hoped and wanted. Javi was meant to be a more universal character that would draw more newcomers into the franchise. At the end of the day, we loved Javi and wanted his story with Clem to be great. We understand it wasn't what everyone expected but I think the developers on ANF did their best despite the ups and downs with the production and cards that were handed to them.
Q: Hello Kuba, if telltale didn't went bankrupt and they finished The Final Season, would the ending be still the same?
Kuba: Yes actually. I wasn't able to participate in Skybounds finish of the game although they did ask me to return to design the remaining trailers. I actually had big plans for the final season trailer. But the outline I read for the final episodes was very similar to the game you all received. Kent Mudle, James Windler, and Chris Rebbert deserve all the credit. We really clicked on tone but they're responsible for delivering TFS. They all returned to finish it for you all as well knowing they may not have a permanent job afterwards. I can't stress how important this is to understand for the fans. They wanted to finish the game so much that they gave up other opportunities to deliver for the fans.
I did not do any of the marketing for the trailers that dropped after the closure. I handed them off to one of my great colleagues and mentors. I was already at a new company and couldn't spare the time.
It's something that will always be in the back of my mind bc I did have big plans that I'll never see come to fruition.
Q: Why even add Lilly in TFS? She wasn't used effectively at all. Her whole character changed from S1. Talking to Lilly about the past (like Kenny after his return in s2) would've helped the player relate to S1 Lilly, so really, the question is were there any plans to utilise Lilly and her past instead of just killing her off in ep3/4. could've been interesting
Kuba: These specific character details are out of my realm. These decisions are made above me. I wish I had a better answer to this question but I honestly don't. I'd be interested in hearing the opinion as to what changed so much from her character in S1 though. Perhaps a discussion to have later.
Q: Why was Lilly featured in the trailer rather than being a surprise character?
Kuba: It was known that her appearance had already leaked and making waves all over social media. People looked at the source code and figured it out but that wasn't the entire reason why we decided to drop her in the trailer. When marketing a game, we have to consider our current players but also fans from previous installments. We wanted people from S1 to return to Telltale and finish Clems story. I think they were hoping that seeing Lilly would draw some fans back into Clems story.
Sometimes those decisions come from the top. If I remember correctly, that was a direction given to me.
Q: In the earlier drafts of The Final Season, was Clem and AJ supposed to return back to Georgia, to where Clem originally lived? Clem’s house in current time can be seen in promotional artwork for the Definitive Edition, seemingly left over artwork from TFS
Kuba: Wow awesome question here. I didn't know that this was known. Yes, you are correct. There was the idea to have Clem 'return home'. The original creative team on the project had this idea. I'm actually not sure as to why this never happened in the final product. I think they just couldn't figure out narratively and rather try and shoe horn it in, they removed it. I trust James and Kent whole heartedly and know that they wouldn't remove something unless they felt they couldn't justify its reasoning to be in the story.
This answer is more 'my opinion' rather than fact. I don't know the exact reasoning. I trust the directors though
Q: Also just a compliment,i think the season 4 trailer was absolutely exhilarating
Kuba: Why thank you! I think Melissa messaged or called me crying after she had watched it. Melissa is one of the nicest and sweetest humans you'll ever meet. I'm not just saying that. She's a great human being all around.
THE WOLF AMONG US 2
Q: If you are allowed to comment, was Wolf Season 2 going to have the same art style as Wolf 1?
Kuba: I think some of the concept art for Wolf 2 leaked already? Maybe that will answer your question. I know that the team was super passionate about Wolf and I say early demos in unity. It looked like it was going to be a wildly different game than anything Telltale had done before. Their team was great and one of the original writers from Wolf was the Creative Director on the game. Nicole Martinez would have done you all very proud. I was on Stranger Things when Wolf was still in its early stages of production and actual dont know much of the story besides a few things. I was deep in Stranger Things at the time.
GAME OF THRONES 2
Q: Do you have anything to say about Game Of Thrones Season 2? Was it going to be cancelled eventually, was there some draft of its plot lying around, anything? (asked by me!)
Kuba: I was waiting for this one. Believe it or not, I might have even had a 'title' tease made for Season 2 that I had to cut.
I don't know the official reason as to why it was cut entirely. We had every intention of making it but the game never went into development that I know of. And there are multiple stories as to why that is.
And maybe I can close out today discussing this a little bit more bc this isn't an easy answer. One big reason is that it didn't reach sales goals which was a surprise to the company. We expected it to sell like hot cakes and it just didn't.
Also, I should say I wasn't involved in GoT from the start because I joined Telltale towards the end of S1 production. I remember hearing that it was super difficult to design a story while the show was also running. Its difficult to design character arcs when you know they're going to survive in the show. You also have to be respectful to those character motivations bc it has to align with their characters in the show and not veer off. Just a lot of work to make it right. If Telltale didn't get flooded with a bunch of other big IPs, perhaps it would have been made but I'm not sure.
Q: How close was Stranger Things to completion when Telltale closed? We know it was pushed back from 2018 to 2019, so it must've been close?
Kuba: It was pretty close I'd say. We had a working demo without any of the lighting, facial animations, and rigging. That demo kinda leaked but not in its entirety I think. The story was there, we had the kids already recording VO. Noah's first couple of scenes was already recorded and in the demo. People criticized how the demo looked. It was just an internal demo. The final product would have looked wildly different. They characters looked plastic and 'scary' because it wasn't meant for the public to see lol. We obviously know it looks weird lol. That's what games look like in its early stages. It actually ruins the magic of playing games somewhat haha.
You'd be amazed how much changes closer to release.
Q: Is it possible that we ever know what the story concept for the Super Show (Telltale’s original IP announced in 2015) was going to be?
Kuba: Oh this one comes up a lot. The answer is 'no'. It was always this mysterious project that was brought up every now and then at company meetings. Frankly I think it just died due to bandwidth. This was one of those projects that fell off because the studio was overwhelmed with so many other projects.
It looks like Netflix attempted something similar though with Bandersnatch
TELLTALE WORKING CONDITIONS AND MANAGEMENT
Q: What was it like working for Telltale? Was it smooth, or were there problems?
Kuba: It was a roller coaster. Its no secret that it came to a point where it was too much for the devs to handle. The studio became overwhelmed with projects and throwing people at it wasn't solving the problem. Quality started to drop. It ultimately lead to the restructure and lay off. After that happened, working conditions did improve. Most importantly, the people that worked there were amazing. We were like a family and we made games like a family. They are relationships I'll never forget. Real people make these games and they work their asses off to do it.
Q: Did staff frequently utilize and lurk the forums for feedback?
Kuba: I did and I'm sure others did as well. I think having social media is a double edged sword. You the positive and negatives about what you're putting out but you can assess and overall vibe. If people like it, they like it and that will always shine through on social media. We would drive our direction based on fans which wasn't always easy when you're trying to get games out in a timely manner.
Q: What was the change in leadership like once Hawley became CEO? If Telltale was able to get funding, do you think Hawley’s ideas were a better direction compared to before?
Kuba: I didn't interface with Pete directly and I know there are controversial opinions on him. I don't know him well but what I can say is that he was more of a 'hands off' CEO unlike Kevin Bruner. Things DID improve from the creative folks and developers on the ground under Pete. My job was easier under Pete and we all got to develop the games and characters we liked because there wasn't much interference from higher ups. Obviously things ended terribly under him so obviously he didn't manage everything well behind the scenes.
WORKING AS CREATIVE LEAD IN GAMES
Q: What are the tips you can give to people who have stories and characters and want to tell it through the medium of games,what are the baby steps,what are the bad things one should avoid and how did u tackle the moments of conflicts when ur decisions weren't executed by the people above you
Kuba: Oooff. There are so many ways to answer this question because it applies to so much in life, not just games. Without getting too detailed, let me try to answer this more generally. Creating something, trailers, marketing, or games is a collaborative effort. I always looked at myself as a 'funnel' of great people around me. I truly loved working with people. I didn't have final say or major influence on the games. As I said, that was mainly the production team. But I did want them to feel like they were part of everything I did. I worked with them closely on marketing designs and trailers.
You have to learn to not be too possessive over your work. At the end of the day, you're making it for the fans. Take criticism and learn from it. If you feel your situation is untenable, maybe it's time to look to another project. Align yourself with people you feel support you and want you to succeed. I had a great director that empowered me and allowed me to take risks. I think great work comes from being surrounded by people you love working with. Great games come from happy passionate people. Surround yourself with those kind of people and remove yourself for people that dont share those ideals. In my opinion, the best creators are people who never set out for glory. They do what they do because they truly love doing it.
Q: Hey kuba! What were the most scariest parts of being the creative head,what pushed you to take this story a step further and also what were the most exciting bits on this journey you had?
Kuba: The scariest part for me is always pitching an idea that maybe in my head worked but didn't click with others. There's so much pressure behind this because I'm essentially the goal keeper for the game.
What I mean by that is, a huge portion of our sales will come from folks who watched a trailer or saw a piece of marketing and though "that looks cool, I'm going to buy it"
So basically the hard work of hundreds of people dedication rests on marketing. You can have a fantastic game but if the marketing is bad, new people aren't gong to buy it.
Word of mouth plays a huge role but trailers hold a major influence over someone's decision to buy. And while I was at Telltale, the scale shifted slightly and influencers became the biggest influence behind a purchase.
So the scariest thing for me is designing something for the people on the ground creating the game and hoping they love it. I want them to love it bc it's their blood, sweat, and tears in a trailer.
A lot of times, its emotional for the devs to watch the trailer bc it signals that their 'baby' is getting ready to enter the world. They're seeing it finally come to life. I'll never lose the nerves of showcasing the first launch trailer for a new game. It's always super scary for me but the positive reactions make it all worth it.
You are the leader when things go right and wrong. You have to be there for your team and take responsibility regardless of the outcome.
Q: Kuba, what's your favorite Telltale walking dead game character?
He was under appreciated. He was diligent watching the wall. He was always on guard. Lets give it up for Willy. He's also BRUTALLY honest.
Q: Kuba, did you prefer Lee and Clementine's relationship in S1 or Clementine and AJ's relationship in S4?
Kuba: We shouldn't have to choose because one couldn't exist without the other. Clem is who she is bc of Lee and AJ couldn't have the Clem he does without Lee and Clems relationship. We knew that and wanted to be sure that dynamic is what you saw. The story coming full circle. Clem is AJ's Lee in a somewhat symbolic way. And I'm a huge fan of AJ and how they wrote his character. I also think Tayla Parx voice work on AJ is great.
Q: Hey kuba, what is your opinion to pineapple on pizza?
Kuba: I love trying new things. People are free to eat and enjoy whatever food they want. I'm originally from NJ so I have a serious love of a pizza. A plain slice of pizza is my go to. Cant go wrong with the classic slice.
Q: What interested you about telltale and was there any drive that made you want to work there?
Kuba: Yes! Wolf Among Us was my first Telltale Game. A friend of mine recommended it to me (again word of mouth is so important to sales), because I always believed that cinematic storytelling would become more interactive as time went on. Telltale blew me away with Wolf. I think played their other titles at the time. After that I had the crazy idea of applying for a job there and...the rest was history.
Q: I dunno if this has been asked yet, but is there a trailer you've worked on that you're proudest of?
Kuba: This is a great question.
Trailers can seem like a small thing maybe to some but they are actually very personal to those who create them. It's hard to choose because I'm super critical of my work. I would probably say that the launch trailer for WD4 The Final Season may be my favorite one.
It was very personal for me because I truly loved Clem as a character. I think she is one of the best characters in gaming across all genres. WD4 was a culmination of her story and I wanted it to feel very personal to her. I steered away from the typical "Walking Dead" western vibe and gave the trailer a tone that speaks more to her growth across 4 seasons. If you notice, there aren't any western or walking dead vibes in her trailer. Another reason why we did that was to distinguish ourselves from the TV show and other Walking Dead properties. At the time of S4, WD was pretty well known and exhausted. Its hard to seem unique in a work where The Walking Dead had now been around for 10 years.
Q: If there was a Poker Night 3, who would your 5 Telltale characters be
Kuba: Before I list any of the others, Willy is definitely there because....he's Willy and has great stories.
Willy, Royland from Game of Thrones because he's so hot headed, Axel from MCSM, Bigby, and Kenny. And if there was a dealer, it'd be Clem
Also leave any thoughts down below : )