Update: Added full SXSW panel video on Tales from the Borderlands.
Unreliable narrators are a uniquely compelling prospect in vidyagames, where tricksy designers can force players to occupy whitewashed worlds and live through altered events dreamed up by storytellers with ulterior motives.
It’s remained a chiefly literary concept, however – until bullshitters helped elevate Dragon Age II beyond its repeating level design, and render Call of Juarez: Gunslinger an unlikely candidate for best shooter of last year.
The same trick will power the future of a post-Walking Dead Telltale – whose Gearbox tie-in Tales from the Borderlands will feature two playable liars.
The game’s two protagonists, featured in its VGX trailer, are dapper con artist Fiona and augmented Hyperion suit Rhys. The player will switch between both characters in the course of telling the same story – though it won’t be long before they begin to disagree on the details.
“You never really play what actually happened,” said Telltale’s Kevin Bruner during a SXSW panel. “You’re playing this Big Fish version of what happened.”
Fiona and Rhys’ lies are motivated by greed – and that desire will drive the events of the game, not to mention the choices players are presented with during its course. Where The Walking Dead forced players to pick between the lesser of two evils, Tales from the Borderlands will ask you to select the shiniest of two alluring outcomes.
If that sounds like a tonal shift to you, you’d be right – Bruner reckons Borderlands marks a return to Telltale’s comedic roots in Monkey Island and Sam and Max.
“We’ve got all this pent up comedy in boxes around the studio that we’ve been wanting to unpack,” he told the SXSW audience.
That scope for laughs has expanded as Telltale have moved further away from the heroes of Borderlands’ world, the Vault Hunters. Gearbox writer Anthony Burch compared the game to Star Wars short story compilation Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina.
“The cool think about Mos Eisley, or any kind of expanded universe stuff like that, is, let’s tell a story in this universe that’s not specifically about the world savers, it’s not about the badasses doing badass things – its about schmos trying to get by.
“Borderlands can be more than just shooting people in the face repeatedly,” he added. “That it could be shooting people in the face repeatedly and then talking to them is a cool possibility for us.”
Action will form a part of Tales from the Borderlands’ remit. It’ll still feature shooting segments – “just in a Telltale kind of way”.
“It’s a Borderlands game, there has to be crazy stuff going on,” explained Bruner. “We want to keep things cinematic, and have action sequences tell stories. We got better between Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, and I think we’ll get better as we move into Borderlands, because you have to have crazy, over-the-top action scenes, or it’s not a Borderlands game.”
Are you particularly bothered about Tales being a Borderlands game? Are are you just hoping, between this, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones, for more regular opportunities to scratch for your Telltale itch?