Despite all the negativity floating around the closing of Telltale Games, their form of episodic gameplay is thankfully surviving. There’s certainly a more selective audience and developer relationship now as a result. The mountain has two sides, after all.
All of that is to say that the formula has to be elevated in order for the term “episodic” to mean anything again. So, I say, why not take the reigns of a property that is already episodic and criminally overlooked for original video game content?
Take the World and Characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender…
Avatar, now over a decade old, was a slow break of a long-held wall. Nickelodeon made children’s shows, and none of those could be seen as anything but kid fodder – poof, gone. The tale of Aang, Sokka, Katara and their friends taking down the Fire Nation is a fever pitch that’s continued to sing over 10 years later. It was and remains a landmark in story-telling.
Which is all to say that the video game world has dropped the largest ball with not adapting more Avatar to consoles. Nothing that’s come out has told an original story, and the latest Korra game was biological warfare bad.
The world in Avatar simply feels like its always breathing and alive. Characters come and go with a precise “life will happen” quality, and one of said characters ever feel wasted. Everyone has a purpose and feels real enough to touch as a result. That’s part of the reason the world would plug nicely into…
Add the Structure of The Walking Dead
The story opens with a teenage Aang talking with Sokka and Katara, the goofy Sokka pointing out that their story will go down in history. The conversation unfolds until Aang himself reveals that he knows of another airbender that had some hardships of their own to go through, which is a bridge to an airbender mother, father, brother, and their infant Avatar-to-be that they must protect.
Theirs is the story of this episodic format, running around how some from the Earth Kingdom had the idea to take out the baby Avatar. The journey would be between air bending temples and to seek the protection of the elders in the north. Along the way, they have to keep their family together and the avatar alive and comfortable – this took me 5 minutes! Boom! Done! And this is just one possibility!
There is a big opportunity to do something new with the Last Airbender art style too. Kind of like how Korra reverted when speaking of the first Avatar, this old story could be told in a mixture of comic and woodblock print. That’s a natural fit for the Telltale engine which already relies on heavy black lines to differentiate characters. Adding some color and a grainy background would work wonders.
The directional-based controls, in my ideal vision, would be completely overhauled to fit the airbender style. Combat would be free inside of an arena with different button configurations giving you different martial art stances and capabilities. Hitting a trigger and shoulder button together could slide you to the side and duck your character, both dodging and setting you up for an attack with your right side. There’s nothing like that in games at the moment, but would seem perfect for airbender capabilities.
Speaking of “seeming perfect”, even with Telltale Games all-but eroded, this would be a fascinating, potentially-endless arena for a game company to explore one of the most beloved worlds in television. What part of that doesn’t seem worth doing?