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Skybound Games: Modern Live-Action Video Games Inevitable

Skybound Games deep interest in narratively-driven games is driven in part by a belief that modern live-action adventure video games are an inevitability.

“I think this particular part of gaming, this particular genre is, is evolving quite rapidly,” Ian Howe, CEO of Skybound Games, told Variety in a recent interview. “I’m really pleased to see that because it’s a genre I personally love.”

Howe said his love classic adventure games go back to the days of Lucas Arts and even his own work on games like “Grim Fandango.”

That interest is in part why Skybound Games worked with Telltale Games on the studio’s take on “The Walking Dead.” It also drives some of the conversations the group — which is a part of Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment — had with other developers.

“We met with a lot of different companies around the world who are really trying to innovate heavily in this space in terms of how you tell stories in games and how you give the player agency and how you make those choices matter,” he said. “On the surface, it seems like an easy task, but once you really get into that — once you scratch the surface —  it’s an incredibly complex thing to do. It’s actually, in many respects, the most inefficient way of making a game because you end up leaving so much on the cutting room floor.

That’s one reason Telltale Games used the same approach for its many games, something for which Howe thinks the company was wrongly maligned.

“The reality is it’s incredibly difficult to do anything different,” he said. “I’ve met with many companies who are spending millions of dollars trying to innovate and trying to figure out how to do that better or bigger or more. And the truth is not many of them are coming up with anything that innovative yet, but I wait to see what’s going to come over the next couple of years.”

One company actively experimenting with story-driven game-like experiences in Netflix. The company released Telltale’s take on “Minecraft” on its platform and even released an episode of “Black Mirror” that seemed to layer the Telltale approach to adventure-style gaming to a live-action show. “Bandersnatch” was a sort of interactive fiction that may or may not be a video game, depending on who you ask.

“Is it a game? I guess I would not class it as a game probably,” Howe said. “I enjoyed it. I thought it was great. I thought it was an admirable attempt at introducing it into that medium. So I think what they did was great. I’d love to see more of it, but I don’t know if I’d class it as a game quite yet. I think it needs another level of interactivity.”

Ken Mudle, creative director of “The Walking Dead: The Final Season,” said he thinks that “Bandersnatch” shows that a developer could “basically make a Telltale game that happened to have live action visuals.”

“Interestingly Telltale actually ported ‘Minecraft: Story Mode’ to Netflix, which I think actually kind of gave ‘Bandersnatch’ its kick in the leg,” he said. “Stuff like the dialogue timer is exactly how Telltale Games. So I think you could actually even make it more of an adventure game with just live action for every shot. As long as it was well-written and well-designed.

“‘Bandersnatch’ was kind of a weird thing where it deliberately did the many many fake endings. You don’t really have choice in ‘Bandersnatch,’ it’s more about trying to pick apart a puzzle to reach the actual ending. It’s not actually about expressing yourself or making choices that lead to viable possibilities. It’s about trying to find the correct path through a thing, which is an approach you can take. But no one has yet done the Telltale thing, which is choices are about expressing your character.”

Howe said he thinks that creating such an experience — essentially a Telltale game with live action instead of computer graphics — is inevitable.

“There’s already been a couple of examples,” he said. “In some respects, the production cost of shooting live action in some respects is actually more efficient. I think once we get to a point where that technology can be strung together more effectively. I think that’s when we’ll really see a breakthrough. I think we are right there at the moment and I think that is a natural next step for it. Something I’m paying close attention to.

“I think anybody who’s interested in this space has to be paying attention to this.”

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