Recently, Telltale Games—developers of Sam & Max, Tales of Monkey Island, Strong Bad, Wallace & Gromit, and every other non-German adventure game made in the past three years—posted a survey on their site asking for fan input on what their forthcoming Back to the Future game should be like. They asked questions like “What characters should be in it?”, “What themes should it explore?”, “Should the Delorean be in it?”, and “How cool would it be if we did a crossover with Time Bandits?”
They also—welcome to the interesting part—offered a few potential storylines for the game, and asked for people’s input on them. Now, it’s possible that they won’t end up using any of these storylines in the final game, but it’s also possible that they will use one or more of them. Since I, personally, am literally dying to know what this game’s going to be about, I figured I’d take the opportunity to round up GameCola’s biggest Back to the Future fans and discuss these possible plots. The scenarios below are quoted directly from Telltale’s survey. Enjoy!
May 12th, 1986. After stopping Biff Jr. from getting in a fight with his time-displaced son, Marty leaves the dance floor and sneaks into Strickland’s office, looking for the keys to the detention hall. He doesn’t know how three teenagers from 2010 got their hands on a time-travelling Delorean, but the most important thing now is getting them locked up in one place before they mess up everyone’s future—assuming they haven’t already!
Concept art by Eric Regan.
Michael Gray (author of “Fabricated News,” “Oh, the Humanity!“, “The Ten Reasons,” and more):
The first bit of this premise could work for me. The game starts off with Marty and Jennifer at the the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, only the dance is interrupted by Marty Junior, Biff Junior, and a third teenager from 2010, who I can only presume is Carl’s Junior. Looks like Marty and Jennifer have beeen thrown into another adventure! Woo hoo!
The rest of the storyline makes no sense. Why is Marty’s first instinct to put the time travellers in detenion? And why would he unnecessarily complicate things by breaking into the principal’s office? Seriously, I’m going to have to trust there’s a good reason for this, and that they’re not just making up a random reason to duplicate the “Marty breaks into Strickland’s Office” scene from the second movie.
Elizabeth Medina-Gray (author of “testgame.exe: Making the Adventure“):
This concept seems like it might have some potential, assuming I understand this slightly confusing description… The way I interpret this, by “Biff Jr.” they mean Griff, who would be the same age as Marty’s son (we’ve never met any “Biff Jr.”, and I think we would know by now if Biff had a son Marty’s age). So that means the three teenagers would be Marty’s son, Griff, and an unnamed third character, all of whom have somehow traveled back in time from 2010 (when Marty’s son would be, what, 12 or 13 years old?).
This sounds like a pretty straightforward scenario, with the player controlling good ol’ familiar Marty a few months after the third movie ends. I’m intrigued, actually, by that third unnamed teenager, and my interest level in this potential game would increase significantly if this turned out to be a female character, and not Marty’s daughter (I’m not really interested in her). One minor concern might be that this concept doesn’t mention anything about Doc, but one imagines that with a flying Delorean on hand, these characters shouldn’t have any trouble meeting up with him soon enough. Also, I’m not particularly interested in hanging out with Marty’s son (who, if I remember correctly, is kind of boring). So my overall verdict on this concept is “eh” with the possibility of “OK, I’ll play it,” pending additional information.
Paul Franzen (Editor-in-Chief and author of “Minus the Pudding“):
Before I get started, I’d like to say that this survey makes me a little nervous by virtue of its existence. The game’s supposed to come out this winter, and…they haven’t even started working on it yet? Uh-oh. Telltale, listen: if you want to push it back, like, a year or two, I wouldn’t mind. There’s no need to rush what should be the greatest videogame ever made.
Anyway, Scenario #1. …Biff Jr.? Who’s Biff Jr.? The only Biff we know from the movies is Biff, period. They’re not talking about Griff, are they? Maybe Telltale needs a better fact-checker… That aside, I’m not really sure how “Biff Jr., Marty Jr., and Unnamed Teenager #3 steal a time-traveling Deloreaon in 2010” makes any sense, continuity-wise, but I guess I’d be willing to give this one a shot, especially in comparison to the other three. I do kinda like how it ties the franchise to the present day—I wonder if 2010 in Back to the Future would have any of the technological advances of BttF‘s 2015, or if it’d look just like real-life 2010.
November 5th, 2010. Working together, Teen Marty, Doc, and Present Day Marty finally corner the man who made off with Doc’s Time Train. While they argue about what to do with the well-intentioned time-hopper, a scary black vehicle appears out of nowhere. A familiar bulky presence steps out and confronts them. “Detective Tannen, Temporal Preservation Squadron. I’m afraid you’re all under arrest.”
Michael: This seems like a good opening cutscene. I repeat, opening cutscene. NOT THE CONCLUSION OF THE FIRST EPISODE. This sounds too much like the end of the first Tales of Monkey Island for my tastes. Seriously, it was pretty obvious they just threw in two minutes of plot at the end of the “game” in order to make sure people would stay tuned for the next installment. They do that on Days of our Lives all the time.
Hmmm…the game is being released this winter…the date tied with this scenario is November 5th, 2010…I think we just found a release date, everyone! This scenario gets my vote for the one that’s most likely to be used.
Elizabeth: This concept strikes me as the most promising of the four, and is my top choice given these limited options. A “Temporal Preservation Squadron” sounds like something that could conceivably exist in the future (perhaps even as the result of something that Doc or the train-bandit do?), and this could be an interesting way to get some new story elements into the game while still letting us hang out with the characters we know and love. I also like that this scenario sounds like it might act as a direct sequel to the third movie, especially if Teen Marty is the main playable character (which would be my preference).
Just one comment/criticism: What is a Tannen doing as a law enforcement officer? This feels pretty wrong to me, since every Tannen we’ve met has been on the wrong side of the law (and this series is all about the similarities among family members). Then again, maybe this is an opening for some interesting character development among the Tannens, which is something we’ve certainly never seen before.
Overall opinion on this concept: “OK, sounds cool,” but of course with the right to change that to “hmm… maybe not” at a later point.
Paul: I kind of don’t hate this one, because I like how it explores the characters interacting with their younger/older selves, which the movies actively avoided, just because it might possibly destroy the universe. (BTW, in this scenario, why doesn’t it destroy the universe? I hope they explain…) I also like how it continues the movies’ usage of the entire Tannen family tree as the series Bad Guy, and I think the time police concept almost sounds like a natural extension of the invention of time travel. I’m a little wary, though, about Telltale creating a new (possibly main?) character in this scenario, given their less-than-stellar track record in creating characters that aren’t boring stereotypes.
June 18th, 1938. Young Emmett Brown is about to announce his engagement to a gold-digging young woman, turning his back on scientific pursuits forever. If Marty and Doc can’t bust into the party and get a singular Jules Verne novel into his hands, Emmett will never invent the time machine, a possibility too horrible to contemplate. Maybe they can sneak in with the swing band!
Michael: OK, I think I understand why Paul is so upset about these plotlines. Getting Younger Doc to read Journey to the Center of the Earth does not sound like the most thrilling plot ever. I mean, getting kids to read is the goal of your local library, not a blockbuster movie series. (Support your local library, by the way!) The only possible good thing I can see in this scenario are scenes of Doc Brown swing dancing to Babyface.
This is the bad scenario they threw in just to make the real scenario seem better, right?
Elizabeth: I had an immediate and intensely negative reaction to this premise as soon as I read it, and I’ll tell you why: This is not how time works in the Back to the Future universe. In the rules of the movies, the only way a time-line ever changes is if someone goes back in time and actively changes it. So if Doc Brown had been planning on getting married instead of becoming a scientist, then that’s exactly what would have happened, and the Doc and Marty that we know now would never have even existed, let alone been able to travel back in time in order to change Doc’s original behavior. The only way that this scenario could possibly work is if some unmentioned evil-doer already went back in time and caused Doc to become interested in girls rather than science, and that just seems too [choose one: silly, improbable, boring] to have happened. I can’t even think about this anymore. If someone actually makes this into a game, I will just cry.
Paul: …What? What’s going on here? Where did the gold-digger come from? Why does interrupting Doc’s wedding to give him a book automatically fix everything forever? I mean, yeah, I get why, in BttF continuity, Doc would need to read that book (I guess), but I don’t understand the literal circumstances of this plot. Was this an episode of the cartoon, or something?
June 11th, 1968. Weaving their way through the peace protestors outside the courthouse, Marty and Doc surreptitiously use Doc’s temporal scanners to look for the missing objects scattered through time by the wreck of the Time Train. After a number of dangerous encounters with riot police and hippies, there’s only one artifact left: the remnants of the train’s flux capacitor… repurposed as a peace necklace.. around the neck of a VERY pregnant Loraine McFly. Marty suddenly remembers that he’s going to be born tomorrow!
Michael: Collection quest, ahoy! This means the whole game is going to be finding items that were randomly scattered throughout different times, right? That’s the same plot as Putt-Putt Travels Through Time! And since that is the best adventure game ever, this plot officially gets a thumbs-up from me. There’s just something undeniably fun about adventure games where you take items from one time and use them to solve puzzles in another time.
Elizabeth: I would most likely not play this game. From this description, it looks like we’re dealing here with a hidden object game, and my feeling about the hidden object mechanic in general is that it is extremely contrived and only detracts from the flow of the story. I much prefer my gaming mechanics to be a more integral part of the story, and no, even if the hidden objects are explained as the result of a horrible mishap caused by a train wreck, I will not feel like I’m forwarding the plot by poring over a static screen and trying to find the five hidden skateboards. Give me character interactions and problems to solve with items and logic instead, please. Also, I don’t see this story scenario going anywhere interesting at all. Final verdict: “No.” That’s all.
Paul: Please tell me it’s not going to be a hidden object game. I don’t think I’d ever be able to forgive Telltale if they took my all-time favorite movie—at one point, my cell phone’s ringer was Doc Brown shouting “1.21 gigawats?!” over and over again—and turned it into a hidden objects game. I’d quit videogames if they did that.
Assuming that’s not the case, and that it just really really sounds like a hidden objects game, I still don’t like this idea. It’s too generic. The “find all the temporally displaced objects” plot sounds like it could just as easily belong to a Pajama Sam game or an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as it could Back to the Future. I think I want Telltale’s writers to try harder than that; this idea sounds too much like it came from their Box o’ Yet-Unused Tropes.
Michael: Call me crazy, but now that I’ve seen these plots, I’m more excited for this game than I was earlier. Now we’ve actually got some sort of idea of what the game’ll be like, and that’s something solid to work with. Sure, maybe the plotlines we’ve been shown so far aren’t the most thrilling stories ever, but hey, the premise behind the third movie is “Marty and Doc go to the old west.” That’s not a very thrilling plotline, either, but they made it work.
As for which plotline I think will actually be in the game, well…I actually think the second and the fourth ones will both be used in the game. They sound like they could be different episodes of the same series. I’d be happy if the first scenario was used, too. But as for the gold-digging swing-dancing novel-reading third scenario…I think I’ll take a rain check on that one.
Elizabeth: Of the four choices, the 2010 option is my top choice, followed by the 1986 story, and with the 1968 and 1938 stories trailing far behind (the 1938 scenario shouldn’t even be in the running). Overall, though, none of these concepts immediately jumped out at me as the best story ever, and I’m a little concerned that only half of the concepts sound like something I would actually consider playing. My hope is that Telltale was just throwing out these scenarios as sort of grab bags of ideas they’d been tossing around, aiming to get responses about the various aspects of the game (gameplay, time period/setting, mood, main characters, etc.) from as many people as possible, and that none of these are actually full concepts that they’re seriously considering turning into a game. That’s my hope, anyway…I guess we’ll find out soon enough!
Paul: My confidence is officially shaken. When I first heard that Telltale was working on a Back to the Future adventure game (which, incidentally, apparently wasn’t even true—they’re just planning to work on one), I was ready to declare it Game of the Year for every year, ever, based on Telltale’s pedigree, and based on my borderline-disturbing love for the Back to the Future series. Now I’m not so sure. The first two ideas sound kind of OK, I guess, but “kind of OK, I guess” isn’t exactly what I was hoping for. I know these are just ideas they’ve been tossing around, but if these are the stories they thought were good enough to warrant serious consideration, this game might be lining up for our “Most Disappointing” award, instead.
If you’d like to fill out Telltale’s Back to the Future survey, you can check it out here at their website.