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Future Tense

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I get tense and worried about all sorts of matters, but most of them are based on a general fear of the future. Global warming, for example. It's terrifying because of how it might affect the future – the image of myself wandering a barren and parched world wearing nothing but scanty bathing shorts has haunted my dreams many a night. And what about the way that everything changes? Will I become like old people today, staring listlessly out of my bedroom window, quivering in confusion at the world outside? I feel estranged enough from the world ten years ago – how will I cope in 50 years time? Already Richard and Judy are moving from Channel 4, and Harold Bishop has left Ramsey Street.

A psychoanalyst might say that I am merely afraid of what I do not know. It certainly seems that the level of my anxiety about future events does not correlate about the terror of the actual events. Terrorism is a possible future event, and undoubtedly terrifying, yet I can safely file it away under the folder marked "probably won't happen." The play-date next weekend, however, I am certain will happen – and though it is infinitely more pleasant than terrorism, it fills me with tense speculation. What shall I do? Where shall we go? The questions scream around and around in my head.

Perhaps I'm not the only one who feels like this. "Speculation kills part of my soul," rattled Emily Morganti, Telltale token woman character, on a Mix'n'mojo comments page. Her problem is surely different from mine, though: for her, the anguish is people infinitely guessing the unguessable, dancing in a circle of ignorance until the press release, at which point it all starts again. My problem is the opposite: having to guess what Telltale, or other companies, will be doing next. Part of me is interested in what the new episodic game licence will be; but mostly I am trying to quell the madness inside of me that says "what will it be? Will I be interested? Is it Futurama? Will my computer be able to play it? Will it fit with the other games? Is it Futurama?"

The last series unveiled was Wallace & Gromit, but simply knowing that information does not exclude me from the tango of tension. There's all the other details to find out about: screenshots, videos, reviews... for some this may be a pleasant experience, gradually finding out more about a game that they are looking forward to. For me, the idea that I don't know – that it perhaps isn't even decided yet – adds to my general fear of the unknown future.

Thumb "Which of these options will Telltale choose? How can anyone make a decision like that? The vibrations on my fragile mind are unbearable."

The biggest source of anxiety at the moment is sequels. We've had two seasons of Sam & Max, and we've got a season of Strong Bad and Wallace and Gromit – but then what? A third season of Sam & Max is, apparently, on the horizon - but then what? A fourth season, perhaps – but then what?

I can't believe that I'm the only one nervous about this: there must be people in the Telltale Office (currently orbiting Jupiter) who are as anxiously unsure about this as I am. The danger is always outstaying one's welcome; an issue as important for a game series as it is for a guest at a summer tea party, and both make me equally anxious. Sam & Max is poised to continue for a thousand years, thanks to its episodic nature, but the difficulty is keeping the series as fresh as it was in the beginning.

It is convenient to look at television to see how that medium has responded to the problem. Some television shows are scared that they will outlive whatever charm and attraction they once had, and so shut themselves down, quitting while they're ahead. It makes a certain amount of sense: the play that finishes when the story reaches a satisfying climax will be more cherished than the play that trapezes on, the actors taking bow after bow after bow until the last audience member has left the building.

In the play analogy, the created piece must end simply when it is finished, though for Sam & Max there is no finish written into the script. When it must end is defined by two matters: when Telltale feels that it has said all it wants to say on the subject, and when the audience feels that they have heard all that they want to hear; but since both writers and audience can be changed and replenished, this can still mean that a series like Sam & Max could theoretically continue until the end of the universe. I would have no problem with this if I knew it to be true: the issue is that Sam & Max could continue into endless adventures or suddenly end abruptly, say, after season three. Which of these options will Telltale choose? How can anyone make a decision like that? The vibrations on my fragile mind are unbearable.

If Telltale did want to make season after season of Sam & Max, then they may borrow some tricks from TV Land so as to keep people as interested as possible. Reinvention is sometimes used, when a show retains the core elements that make it what it is, but everything else is changed. A future season of Sam & Max may still have the duo loosely solving crimes, but in a different location that changes the way the games feel: in outer space, for example, as with Infinite Machine's aborted baby; or in 17th century England, or something else like that. The comics have pulled similar stunts themselves. Similarly, Sam & Max might take a break for a year or two before the fun begins again, in order to keep the novelty fresh for writers and players.

It is only by calmly noting Telltale's options that I can hope to reduce my anxiety about the future of their game franchises: if I know what their options are then I know a little more of what the future might bring. It is complete ignorance that anguishes me the most. Uncertainly remains, however, in the nature of the decision that Telltale will have to make – how long they continue to make Sam & Max games will depend on a whole range of factors, and the same is true for their decisions on Strongbad and Wallace & Gromit. Most people are content to say "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it." I am not as lucky as them: for me the bridge is constantly in sight, always an intimidating prospect: and I have my eyes so firmly fixed on the bridge that I cannot tell how long it is until I reach it.

-- "Gabez"

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