The story of Telltale Games is among the most fascinating in the video game industry.
After plugging along for years with licensed games of various quality, the developers struck gold in 2012 when they adapted 'The Walking Dead' series of comics into video game form.
The studio was founded by former LucasArts employees, with the studio behind beloved hits such as 'Sam and Max' and 'Monkey Island' helping pioneer the point and click genre.
Telltale Games plugged along with adaptations of 'Jurassic Park' and 'Back To The Future' gaining them some notice in the industry, but it was their spin on 'The Walking Dead' that changed their fortunes - for better and for worse.
'The Walking Dead' TV show recently shambled to an end on American television after 11 seasons, but it's easy to forget that the two seasons of the show were genuinely gripping television.
The game had some small crossover with the series, but the game largely told its own story, following the story of Lee Everett, a man convicted of murder who finds himself thrust into the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
Lee comes to care for a girl called Clementine, and the resulting game is something that changed the landscape of video game narratives forever.
The following year saw players around the world become engrossed in the story of Joel and Ellie in 'The Last Of Us', but the relationship between Lee and Clementine is that much more dramatically rich.
At the outset of the game, Lee is on his way to prison for the murder of a State Senator who was having an affair with his wife, and the initial conversation the player has with the police officer tasked with transporting him to prison allows the player to set the tone on their own terms.
Will you play Lee as a caring man with a dark secret, or a ruthless individual who will do whatever it takes to survive?
The moral gray areas the game presents are a prime example of what video games can do as an art form.
The broad strokes of the game are the same, but each player plays Lee in a slightly different way.
What results is a gaming experience for the ages, with a story that stands among the very best in gaming.
What's The Story?
The "choose your own adventure" genre has been going strong since the 1980's, but the advent of 3D graphics made these branching stories become more impactful for players.
The world of 'The Walking Dead' has always had a sense of pathos and emotional grit to it, with the TV show quickly becoming a global hit thanks to its gripping storylines.
When the world of 'The Walking Dead' is transplanted into the world of video games the choices characters have to make become that much more striking.
Telltale Games got a fairly deserved reputation for your choices not actually mattering all that much, especially in later seasons of 'The Walking Dead', but in the first season, your choices carried weight and consequences.
In subsequent seasons the choices became that much more transparent and there was a major element of railroading the players into making certain choices, but it is important to remember the context and landscape the game was released in.
By 2012 games like 'Heavy Rain' introduced the idea of branching narratives to gaming and became a blockbuster in the process.
As we all remember with 'Heavy Rain', the cast members sounded like they were mid-lobotomy, and the gritty David Fincher thriller scenes were undermined by the bizzaro-world voice acting.
With 'The Walking Dead' the voice-over performances are a major part of the journey, and Dave Fernoy's performance as Lee shows tremendous versatility.
His deep, yet calming voice helps sell the gravitas of any given situation, from giving Clementine practical advice about how to shoot a gun or when he's facing off against Larry or Lily.
By the time the credits roll on the final episode and we end our journey with Lee, we feel every laboured word of Lee's voice, and that's all on Fermoy's performance.
Melissa Hutchison also received high praise for her role as Clementine, and seeing as the game lives and dies on the core relationship between Lee and Clementine, it's something of a masterstroke that the two lead performances are perfectly in sync with each other.
Video game voice-over actors rarely get the accolades or attention as Hollywood movie stars, but the pairing here is easily as powerful as the Pacino or De Niro team-up in 'Heat'.
'The Last Of Us' garnered significant critical and commercial acclaim mere months after the release of 'The Walking Dead', but Telltale's spin on the zombie franchise did what George Romero achieved in the 1960s: they instilled a sense of pathos and dramatic weight to a tired genre.
Games in the 2010s became defined by the "play your way" design philosophy, but 'The Walking Dead' helped define that.
'The Walking Dead' walks a tightrope between being a linear adventure and a choose-your-own-adventure game, and unlike future games by Telltale, the choices here actually mattered.
Best of all there is a sense of ambiguity with your choices, with no sense of right and wrong.
At this stage of the article we're getting into spoiler territory, so if you haven't played the first season of 'The Walking Dead' come back and read later.
At the end of episode 4 'No Way Back', the prevailing sense of threat that's been dangling over the series comes to a head.
In the final few moments of the episode, Clementine goes missing and Lee is bitten by a zombie.
The game doesn't give you a preview of what's going to happen next, and in between the release of episode 4 and 5, internet speculation was rampant about what was going to happen next.
The first 4 episodes of the season were an exercise in storytelling and character development, but episode 5 is the culmination of what the game does perfectly.
All the choices you made come back in subtle ways, and the ticking clock mechanic of trying to find Clementine in a zombie-infested city while Lee is fighting off the lethal infection gives the proceedings dramatic weight and heft.
Players are given a sadistic choice - cut off the infected arm, at the expense of mobility and giving players more time, or persist with the infected arm, with the fear of the virus overtaking Lee any second?
The fact we are never given an answer and fans are still debating the merits of the choice 10 years later is a testament to how Telltale created something extraordinary.
The creative force behind the first season is Irish-American game developer Sean Vanaman, and it's worth noting that subsequent seasons of the Telltale Game didn't have Vanaman on the writing staff.
Vanaman parted ways with Telltale to create 'Firewatch' in 2016, and based on how strong that games writing is in comparison to other seasons of 'The Walking Dead', it becomes apparent Vanaman was the creative genius behind the project, much like how it became apparent in later years that Stephen Merchant was the brains behind 'The Office'.
Again, it is important to place these games in the cultural context in which they were released, and gamers hadn't seen such a gut-punch ending in gaming in living memory.
The final 15 minutes when Lee is slowly turning and tells Clementine how to survive is still as wrought and heartbreaking as a Kenneth Lonergan drama.
Players take lives in hundreds of video games, but when you spend dozens of hours with them and get to know them, the death of a character you've grown to love is as affecting as any other form of media.
You're left with the choice of letting Lee turn - the slow, painful death where he's left to become just another zombie, no different to the ones we've dispatched over the course of our journey - or shoot Lee, the cold, but effective option.
Games where you decide the ending became nearly dime-a-dozen in the 2010s, and it's worth noting how groundbreaking this was in the gaming landscape of 2012.
That same year also saw the release of 'Spec Ops: The Line' and 'Far Cry 3', and that trifecta of games represented gaming growing up.
Gaming in the early 2010's had a reputation for being aimed at the lowest common denominator, with media outlets taking potshots at the likes of 'Grand Theft Auto' and 'Call Of Duty' for inspiring violence or anti-social behaviour, but the stigma around gaming started to erode in this decade.
The mature, bold themes of 'The Walking Dead', 'Far Cry 3', and 'Spec Ops: The Line' represented a bold new era in video gaming, like how the French New Wave tackled what cinema was capable of in the 1960s.
We will be covering 'Far Cry 3' later on in this series and how it's gameplay set the template for the following decade, but the strong story elements helped set it apart from the pack.
Yes, you could feel like the action hero in the heat of battle, but in the quieter, character-driven moments, you realised you are controlling a human being with agency, morals, hopes, and dreams.
'The Walking Dead' got right what David Cage games couldn't do with a bevy of A-list talent and cutting-edge graphics; it made you feel emotion.
Subsequent seasons of the game were missing the sparkling writing that made season one sing, and it became apparent that the Telltale formula managed to capture lightning in a bottle once, never to return.
Other games by Telltale such as 'The Wolf Among Us' and 'Tales From The Borderlands' are brilliant hidden gems, but they were mere novelties in the wider Telltale family, with adaptations of 'Game Of Thrones', 'Minecraft' and 'Batman' taking up the studios time and attention.
In the long run, the Telltale model proved unsustainable, and the studio folded in 2018.
No game studio has risen so high and fell as far as Telltale Games.
In the film sphere, Michael Cimino became the toast of Hollywood after his Vietnam War epic 'The Deer Hunter' swept the Oscars.
With his new-found clout, Cimino retreated into the wilds of Montana to make his sweeping western 'Heavens Gate'.
After going over budget and over schedule, Cimino turned in a cut that was subsequently buthered by the studio and the finished product was roundly trashed.
Cimino, the golden boy of Hollywood only a few years prior, became an outcast, only having a crticial re-evaluation of his work later in life.
Telltale Games are the gaming analogue; a generation-defining hit is followed up by a failure, but unlike the massive blowout failure like 'Heavens Gate', it became death by a thousand cuts.
The studio still exists in some form and is reportedly hard at work on 'The Wolf Among Us 2'.
Crunch culture became a symptom of the Telltale culture, and the new Telltale are keen to avoid the mistakes that led to their downfall to begin with.
Telltale became the unwitting protagonist of video gaming in the 2010's thanks to its groundbreaking storytelling techniques and tall tales of over-ambition.
The artform of video gaming is richer for their existence, warts and all.