To Delos Crossing and back: Memories from Tell Me Why’s development

On August 27, 2020, players all over the world experienced Tell Me Why for the very first time, exploring Delos Crossing and unraveling the Ronan family’s past alongside Alyson and Tyler.

Today marks one year since then, and our team hopes that Tell Me Why has left you with meaningful memories – whether because of the game itself, or where you played it, or who you played it with.

Since memory is such a big part of Tell Me Why’s story, our team wanted to honor its anniversary by sharing memories of our own from throughout the game’s development.

On each anniversary of Tell Me Why’s chapter releases – August 27, September 3, and September 10 – we’ll update this page with insights, behind-the-scenes photos, concept art and more from our team across DONTNOD Entertainment and Xbox Game Studios Publishing. Keep checking back each week!

 

PART 1 (August 27)

Name: Elena Montuschi

Job Title on Tell Me Why: 3D Animator, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Junior Associate Producer, DONTNOD

Favorite Line of Dialogue: “You can’t let yourself be defined by the parts that are broken.” This is what Mary-Ann said when Sam was injured.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • The moment we first heard the soundtrack was so intense and precious (I’ve cried!)
  • When I started to feel “at home” in the Ronan House after months spent working in it
  • When we have seen our friends and colleagues having an interview for the game!
  • Watching people’s reaction to the first trailer!

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: Making Alyson and Tyler hugging each other after years apart!

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • All the weird bugs! (Like when Alyson had a huge head!)
  • Alyson had a brown/blond shatush at the beginning! It then evolved into her beautiful wavy hairstyle with blond highlights!
  • They built a wooden car for the mocap shooting!

A Personal Message for Fans: This game means so much to me: it has been a beautiful experience I have been lucky to share with an awesome team <3 Thanks for playing the game, we mean it!

Close-up of Alyson's concept art, featuring a blond shatush.
Close-ups of some Alyson Ronan concept art, featuring a beautiful blond shatush.

 

A screenshot in which Alyson's head is twice as big as normal.
(We don’t want to know how this happened.)

 

Name: Erik Yeats

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Publishing Services Project Manager, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Current Job Title: DevOps Product Manager, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Favorite Tell Me Why Character(s): The Crafty Goblins!!!

Favorite Line of Dialogue: “We look out for each other. That’s what goblins do.” – Tyler Ronan

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: I contributed nothing, but I get to support people who make amazing things! That means I get to claim credit for everyone else’s accomplishments. 😉 (My team built the website and the tool that aggregates player decisions to show you how your decisions compare.)

A Personal Message for Fans: This game, and the fans, mean so much to me. I am so proud to have been even a little part of something that was able to touch your lives.

A black tattoo on light skin featuring the Crafty Goblins.
Erik Yeats (Publishing Services Project Manager, Xbox) got a tattoo of the Crafty Goblins!

 

Name: Frederic Liebgott

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Lead Animator, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Lead Animator, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character(s): I really liked Sam and Michael, because they bring some lighter moments in this heavy story.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • The discussions between animators and the real team for finding the good tone and bringing as much emotion as possible on each scene with the facial animation were always very interesting.
  • The motion capture shooting with a great technical team (Metricminds) and great actors. Everyone was so talented and professional.
  • It was really interesting to think up the system for the exotic gameplays (Fishing, plush battle…) from scratch. We formed strike teams to think on it with little time or budget but cool ideas to make it doable.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: The different animations phases in the dynamic dialogues to keep the scene engaging with as few animations as possible. Giving life to Tyler and Alyson faces in the key moments (the revelations, the lake scene, the flashbacks…)

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development: I’m proud to have been able to deliver a game with so much cinematic (the equivalent length of an animated series) with such a small animation team within a healthy work environment.

A Personal Message for Fans: Working on a game with such a strong engagement was a luxury and an honour. I hope that the next [games from DONTNOD] will be as impactful.

Elise Baldwin and Dennis Cheng smiling on a ferry boat with mountains behind them.
Elise Baldwin (Senior Audio Director, Xbox) and Dennis Cheng (Executive Producer, Xbox) enjoying the ferry to Hoonah, Alaska during the Tell Me Why team’s research trip.

 

Name: C. Riana Manuel

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Product Marketing Manager, Xbox

Current Job Title: Director, Brand; G4

Favorite Line of Dialogue: This never appeared in the game, but my absolute favorite line in canon (part of an extended universe press kit that early fans and influencers received) is a note written to Tyler from his Fireweed counselor, Aaron. It reads “…Remember: when the rules are written against you, change the game!”

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Watching the IRL scavenger hunt that the marketing, community, and narrative teams crafted unfold in real time as fans connected dots and followed the Secret Keeper’s clues to special BTS content.
  • Developing a thoughtful and inclusive spoiler guide to ensure fans have the information needed to experience the story of Tell Me Why without fear of unforeseen triggers or trauma.
  • Creating the Tell Me Why Developer Interview series on Xbox’s YouTube channel – having those conversations taught me so much about the level of consideration and care that DONTNOD and Xbox put into bringing Tyler, Alyson, and Delos Crossing to life.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: Commissioning Jeff Skaflestad and Lisa Andersson’s Tlingit formline print on wood posters, along with a certificate of authenticity explaining the artform in our limited-edition press kit package.

A Personal Message for Fans: If any of the characters, settings, or stories in this game have expanded your own worldview, please share that newfound perspective with someone in your life.

Riana Manuel holding out a poster featuring Tlingit formline art.
Riana Manuel (Product Marketing Manager, Xbox) with one of our limited-edition wood posters.

 

Name: Lucie Prunier

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Senior Associate Producer, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Senior Associate Producer, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: Sam: despite all his flaws and mistakes, he is trying to be a decent person.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Working with [composer] Ryan Lott was a real pleasure.
  • The design team had regular episode reviews where we all watched one team member play, and we noted improvement suggestions. It was very constructive, and helped appreciate how far we’d come every time.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development: We were able to create an impactful game within a healthy and supportive work environment.

A Personal Message for Fans: Thank you so much for your support! I was a DONTNOD fan before working here, and I know all too well what our games can represent for fans. I’m honoured I could work on one so narratively deep and with an important message.

A "photo" of Alyson and Michael sliding down stairs in a cardboard box.
An in-game photo of Alyson and Michael as teenagers.

 

Name: Dimitri Weideli

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Producer, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Executive Producer, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character(s): The twins as children. I like the idea to see these characters in the past, see what they’ve been through and to understand their present through all the flashbacks.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • At the release of episode 1, and waiting at the same time the publication of the first reviews and see the Metacritic going up, and thinking “Yes the people loved it :)”
  • All the MotionCapture sessions : planning, shooting, and see the game coming to life through the help of the actors, the team and the mocap studio

Favorite Thing You Contributed To the Game:

  • Organize and manage the Mocap sessions.
  • Work with an amazing team, and find solutions together to make this game as great and meaningful as it is.

Favorite Facts about Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • For a Mocap Session an actor couldn’t play his part, so while we waited for a long term solution, I had to take the suit and “perform” some small Michael animation. ^^
  • We had a lot of bugs with Alyson’s jacket and hair; By bug we mean they were always moving in weird unatural ways when Alyson was not moving… We spent days to fix and refix these bugs!”

A Personal Message for Fans: Thanks a lot for playing the game!

Dimitri Weideli sitting in a black mocap suit.
Dimitri Weideli (Producer, DONTNOD) performing motion capture for Michael during the Chapter 3 fishing scene.

 

Name: Jesse Hiestand

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Web Developer, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Current Job Title: Senior Full Stack Web Developer, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Favorite Scene: The moment of levity & youthful joy where Tyler & Michael are winging stuffed Tom Vecchis at each other.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories: The pins & needles that the Web Team sat on during the page by page, slow reveal of the Book of Goblins artwork & characters. Getting the imagery to layer juuuuust right for the hero on the website.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: The website!

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development: There’s a poster in the [Xbox] office with a dialogue bubble taped to it that finishes the title with well-known song lyrics.

A Personal Message for Fans: We all also wanted Tyler’s denim jacket immediately.

Finalized concept art of Tyler Ronan.

 

Name: Yoann Pignolé

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Lead Designer, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Lead Designer, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: Michael, for his good mood, benevolence and humour.

Favorite Line of Dialogue: “She was trying to save the planet way before Al Gore made it cool.”

Favorite Scene: The Ronan House attic, in Chapter 3, where Alyson and Tyler pick up the pieces of Mary-Ann’s story.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • First time I saw Florence [Guittard]’s illustrations for the Book of Goblins. So beautiful!
  • The atmosphere in the design team, full of energy, talent and humor. Thank you 🙂

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: To have done everything possible to make the design team happy to work on the project and to bring their ideas to life.

Favorite Fact About Tell Me Why’s Development: For the passage under the house, in Chapter 1, we planned to integrate a puzzle using the power of twins, where the player had to match the image of the interior of the house transmitted by Alyson with the configuration of the basement. In the end, we realized that it didn’t make sense and broke the emotional fabric. It’s not easy for a designer to take away a more advanced gameplay opportunity, but it’s a good lesson in the importance of properly integrating a puzzle to keep a coherence between what is being told, the atmosphere, and the gameplay.

A Personal Message for Fans: Thank you all to play our game. We did our best and we put our heart into it and it’s always moving to see that the result is loved by the players, whether they’re used to DONTNOD games or newcomers. See you for our next production 😉

Concept art of the crawlspace under the Ronan House.
Concept art of the crawlspace under the Ronan House.

 

PART 2 (September 3)

Name: Erica Lindbeck

Job Title on Tell Me Why: English Voice of Alyson Ronan

Favorite(?) Tell Me Why Character: Dude the Mad Hunter scared the crap out of me. I didn’t like talking about him, didn’t like seeing him. No sir.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Meeting August for the first time. I was SO excited.
  • Seeing the final launch trailer put together with the song “Till I See You Again” by Unsecret (who I love). Wild. I couldn’t believe I was IN that.
  • Recording for the more emotional scenes (the graveyard scene, etc). Very taxing, but totally worth it.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: I had the privilege to work in the booth with August (Tyler) on his first ever video game role, (a daunting task for anyone) which he absolutely nailed. I hope I was helpful in that process for him.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • For most of the record, August and I were actually able to be in the booth playing off of each other in real time, which is super rare for a videogame.
  • There was a lot of crying. A. Lot.
  • The development team was an absolute DREAM to collaborate with. Day in, day out. Every single session (for which they were present mostly via the interwebs). As was our fearless director, Amanda Wyatt.

A Personal Message for Fans: Thank you, thank you. For the kind messages, the fan art, the impactful stories. I am honored to have been a part of this project, a mirror that the Trans community can look to, and finally see themselves looking back.

A selfie of Erica Lindbeck and August Black lit in purple lighting.
Erica Lindbeck and August Black.

 

Name: August Black

Job Title on Tell Me Why: English Voice of Tyler Ronan

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: One of my favorite characters is Sam (feel like choosing Tyler or Alyson would be twin bias haha). He’s old but trying in “his way” to show that an old dog can learn new tricks. I feel like he shows some of the biggest growth and acceptance with Tyler’s transness.

Favorite Scene: One of my favorite moments in the whole game was when Alyson found  the book and showed Tyler. His whole perception of the past shattered but in a good way. I also loved performing this scene. For me it was a moment that made me realize I was up for the task as an actor.

Favorite Book of Goblins Story: Hmmm I’m not sure on the Goblin stories. There are so many good ones!!

Favorite Line of Dialogue: Alyson has some pretty profound moments but Tyler Dad jokes gotta win. Think I added a few of my own in there too!

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • My first day was one for the books! I was walking into something I had never done. When I got to the studio Amanda [Wyatt] was like… “Okay so the entire dev team flew in and are here to watch you this week.” Thought my knees were going to give out then and there. The moment I walked in I swear it felt like the room went silent and everyone was staring. I figured a hello was going to follow but Florent just said “Have you seen the character art yet??” I was like “Nooo…” slightly confused. That’s when I found out Tyler and I were the real twins in this story! Such a crazy coincidence. The whole first week was filled with beautiful memories of the TMW team, including the lunch pictured below!
  • Meeting Erica and sharing a booth with her was truly special. It sounds sappy but it’s true. She is an incredible voice actor and someone who taught me a lot about voiceover and acting. Amanda Wyatt too. They are both titans in their field and learning from them are memories I will be able to draw on for my career. On a less sappy side Erica and I had some hilarious moments together. We couldn’t help but laugh throughout most of our recording sessions. We just had fun!
  • Another of my favorite moments was when one of the Mo-Cap actors mispronounced a word. I think the entire team laughed for 10 minutes straight. I’m gonna keep it at that, a little inside joke for my TMW fam.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: Can’t pick one. I feel like every person who worked on this game gave a little piece of themselves. For me I definitely feel like Tyler carries a little bit of me throughout the story.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development: [CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING]

  • The one everyone is surprised by most is that Tyler was designed before I signed on.
  • Tyler and Alyson were voiced by Erica and I in the same room at the same time! This helped with the conversational parts of the game!
  • A weird part. When we were recording the ending of the game I found out about LEO, the lost Ronan brother. In what is another crazy coincidence is that I went by the name Leo for a few months at the start of my transition.

A Personal Message for Fans: A massive thank you! Every day even a year later I get messages about how TMW has helped you or someone you love. It has been an honor to be a part of that. So just thank you! Love you guys.

August wearing a navy sweater and taking a mirror selfie.
“That selfie was taken day one! so I had to include it ;p” -August Black

 

Members of the Tell Me Why team having lunch on an outdoor patio.
Members of the Tell Me Why team enjoying lunch after the first recording session.

 

August Black hugging Amanda Wyatt.
August Black with Amanda Wyatt, the voice director for Tell Me Why.

 

August Black wearing headphones, a white baseball cap, and a pink tie-dye shirt in the recording booth.
August in the recording booth.

 

Name: Florent Guillaume

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Game Director, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Creative Director, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: Tyler! Love his sense of humour, pride, sensitivity and overall his kindness with others. Favorite Line of Dialogue: Tyler’s “I’m more of a T person” as he makes fun of Alyson when she asks him to choose between tea and coffee. Favorite Book of Goblins Story: “The Princess and the Tiara” because it’s so heart wrenching!

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • The first time we met August (Tyler), Erica (Alyson) and Amanda (our voice director), such a great team that we spent so many nightly recording sessions with in between Los Angeles and Paris time zones.
  • When our composer Ryan Lott landed the first piano notes in a live meeting of what would become the game’s main theme.
  • Shooting the murder night scene at the end of Chapter 1 was so emotional and overwhelming that we all ended up in tears and hugging other.
  • Watching players experience the game on launch day and connecting with the characters and get emotional with the story.
  • Working daily with our amazing team, such a friendly and benevolent work atmosphere!

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: Making a step forward in trans representation with the creation of Tyler, and working hand in hand with our team and partners to make it happen.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • The initial story was structured in five shorter chapters, but we rescoped it for a better and tighter three-chapter rhythm.
  • Our producer Dimitri had to take the mocap suit and play Michael in the fishing gameplay scene because Michael’s actor was sick that day!
  • We recorded about 10k lines of dialogue and shot about 50k seconds of mocap animation for the entire project!

A Personal Message for Fans: Thanks to our amazing community of fans, it’s been a dream project for us to work on a game with such a strong and important message. We’re blessed you liked it!

Florent standing with the sun behind him on an Alaskan beach, with water and mountains behind him.
Florent Guillaume (Creative Director, DONTNOD) on the team’s research trip to Alaska, at a beach near the site of the historic sinking of the SS Princess Sophia at Vanderbilt Reef.

 

Name: Axel Riviere

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Technical Level Designer, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Technical Coordinator Game Building, Quantic Dream

Favorite Scene: Really hard to choose. I really like the ferry scene (The Crossing), the atmosphere, the landscape, the music, the slow rhythm, the dynamic between Alyson and Tyler. It’s like a gateway to a wonderful universe.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Seeing the chapters being built from nothing to their final state was kinda magical. I loved what the level designers and narrative writers did.
  • My first day when I discovered one of the very first scenes of the game, “A Big Wooden House.” I felt instantly connected with Alyson and Tyler.
  • The puzzles at the end of the game. We did not know exactly how to do them with the systems we had already for the game, but we found some nice solutions. And love the artistic/story side.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: No particular contribution on my side, I’m just happy that we did it in time 🙂 Actually my favorite contribution for the game is not visible: I helped to improve the interface of our interactions editor to help the level designer to work faster 🙂

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • All the bugs involving the ferry. It was so funny (ok, maybe not for our QA team :p)
  • There was some funny Easter eggs in the game (which were removed before release) involving a famous Internet meme. I had to tell it :p

A Personal Message for Fans: Thanks a lot for the reception and the messages. And for the streams. It’s always really moving to see you play our game.

A screenshot of a bug on the ferry where Tyler has disappeared but his glasses are floating in midair.

🕶

 

Alyson spinning very quickly through the frame.
Look at her go!

 

Name: Antoine Sarrazin

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Game and Level Designer, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Tell Me Why is the first ever game I worked on! Straight out of my design degree, hopping onto big chucks of mechanical design for the game.
  • As the saying goes, nobody reads game design documentation… So, to try and make it easier to read, I added the “Hide the Pain Harold” meme after huge paragraphs, or complicated parts of it, each with a bit of flair.
  • Going to the mocap shoots with the Animation Leads and the Lead Programmer. Those were fun times!

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: The album cover in the General Store scene (or, the reason I’ll keep working as a designer, and not an artist)

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • For a very long time, our placeholder assets for picture frames was an edited version of the “Hide the Pain Harold” meme which made some early versions of cutscenes way different.
  • At first, the confrontation dialogue in the store from Chapter 1 was supposed to be much more complex, inspired by “Phoenix Wright” and other investigation games. But once all of the logic and dialogue was written, we realised it would take the whole episode budget for cinematics. …Did you know making games is hard?

A Personal Message for Fans: I hope this game mattered to you, that we made justice to the game’s subjects, and shown you the dire need for more diversity and representation in games. And, it goes without saying: Trans Rights are Human Rights.

A meme of a grimacing man in place of Mary-Ann's photo.
An example of Harold as a placeholder image in Chapter 1.

 

Name: Talal Selhami

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Cinematic Director, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Cinematic Director, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: The Mad Hunter. He is not only scary but also very complex. I love when fantasy is used as a metaphor of the subconscious of the main characters.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • As a first experience in the game industry, I felt very lucky working at DONTNOD and with such a human, generous and dedicated team.
  • Working on the mocap was fun. I loved working with all these talented actors.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: The opening of Chapter 2 when we see instants of young and adult Tyler and Alyson, play together in the Ronan house. A moment lost in time. I love the very oneiric tone of that scene sublimated by the song by Tiny Deaths – “Stop The Stars.”

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development: Originally Alyson’s nightmare was supposed to be a little bit longer. There was this scene where Alyson was stuck on the ceiling of the kitchen, watching young versions of herself and Tyler eating ice cream while the Mad Hunter replaced Mary-Ann. This whole nightmare scene was conceived as an “Alice in Wonderland moment,” where Mary-Ann was the White Rabbit.

A Personal Message for Fans: Thank you so very much for playing the game! Be yourself, and stay true to yourself, no matter what.

Concept art of the Ronan house's kitchen underwater, with young Tyler and Alyson sitting at the table and the Mad Hunter standing behind them.
Concept art of a scrapped version of Alyson’s nightmare.

 

Name: Jennifer Armstrong

Job Title on Tell Me Why: QA Test Associate, Xbox Studio Quality

Current Job Title: QA Test Associate, Xbox Studio Quality

Favorite Scene: I love the Goblin story recaps at the beginning of Chapters 2 and 3, the Goblin drawings and narration from the voice actors really do a good job of drawing you into the story and reminding players what last happened without feeling repetitive.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Once when looking at an animation issue, I put a video of Sam telling the story of breaking his leg (Chapter 3) on 2x speed. Hearing Chipmunk Sam saying “Was stuck on my a** for a month” may be one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.
  • The QA team had in our office room a stuffed beaver with a cowboy hat named “Justin Beaver” named after the one in the Police station, it’s still floating around the office I believe.
  • It was exciting on Chapter 1 release day seeing all the people all over the world waiting to play the game the second it came out.
  • Working with everyone on the Test team was great! It was such a fun project to work on watching this game come together.
  • I was delighted to hear Eddy chew out Alex Gershwin in his office in Chapter 3, it really feels good after seeing how much of a jerk he can be in Chapter 1 and 2.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: All different bugs I found that got fixed and the community will never know about. 😉

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • The devs did a lot of work with the Huna Heritage Foundation to get the Tlingit culture accurate and there are even some references to them on the bulletin board on the boat in Chapter 1.
  • I love all the little ways your choices change things especially the conversation in Eddy’s Office in Chapter 2. (My favorite is throwing the ring, then forgive Eddy.)

A Personal Message for Fans: The amount of excitement and love for this game as been wonderful to see and I hope you continue to enjoy this beautiful game.

A stuffed beaver in a cowboy hat and sheriff's badge.
The Xbox QA team’s version of Justin Beaver.

 

Name: Patrick Shettlesworth

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Art Director, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Current Job Title: Principal Art Director, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Favorite Scene: My favorite scene was the opening music montage in Chapter 2 with Alyson and Tyler chasing each other around the house. It was this brief moment of absolute light in an emotionally difficult story. The music, the cinematic direction and everything came together into this perfect scene. I remember seeing it in its shippable state for the first time and knowing we had something special.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Our trip out to visit DONTNOD was my very first time in Paris. The city was beautiful, the food was amazing and I was already such a huge fan of DONTNOD. Meeting them was the icing on a delicious cake.
  • Getting to work with Lucile Meunier when she moved up from lead concept artist to Art Director for the game was a pleasure. She created the beautiful box art we used for the game and I was so proud to have the developer create something truly unique to the title.
  • The community “mailbox bandit” event we had leading up to launch where we got to create all the fun “from the world of the game” assets like brochures from delos crossing and letters between Tyler and Alyson. Very fun.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: Getting to digitize and clean up real Tlingit art from Jeff Skaflestad, an Alaskan artist. It was truly a pleasure to get extremely close-up to these pieces and feel every curve, line and color choice. I loved them so much I bought a few.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • The original pitch was much different but a lot of the mood and tone remained consistent throughout production.
  • The project had 2 art directors over the course of development. Both of them were incredibly gifted and amazing.
  • I learned that I love Basque food.

A Personal Message for Fans: Thank you for playing this and showing all the love and support you have. The community has been amazing. When I was a teenager in the 80’s I could never imagine a world where a story like this would get the love and acceptance that it has and I’m so grateful we got here from there.

A sketch of Tell Me Why's iconic key art.
The DONTNOD concept art team’s mock-up sketch of Tell Me Why’s iconic key art.

PART 3 (September 10)

 

Name: Morgan Lockhart

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Lead Writer

Current Job Title: Senior Writer, ArenaNet

Favorite Line of Dialogue:

  • “Some people are worth making puns for.” -Michael to Tyler
  • “We write stories to help us understand, and be understood.” -Mary-Ann

Favorite Book of Goblins Story: My favorite story in the Book of Goblins is The Big Bear’s Big Paws. Since the Bear is (hopefully not a spoiler at this point) Sam, I intended the story to crystalize how Mary-Ann wanted Sam to accept his flaws and do the best with what he had. I imagine her giving it to him, perhaps even asking him to read it to the kids, hoping it would get through to him. Sam’s my favorite character as well, in no small part due to Dave B. Mitchell’s great performance.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • The first day we had Tyler and Alyson in the recording booth. A bunch of us were in the voice recording studio that day, though we did most of the later sessions remotely, and it was clear their performances were going to bring these characters to life exactly as we needed.
  • Casting Michael proved to be our most difficult casting, and he was the last major character uncast. Then we found Forrest [Goodluck], and he was perfect, and our cast came together.
  • Members of the team met most days in a small cafe in Paris to do most of our story breaking. The staff were incredibly gracious and brought us loads of espresso that fueled our sessions. It was a short walk to the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery nearby, and we often walked through it and paid tribute to Auguste Maquet, the uncredited writing partner of Alexander Dumas who, in a gesture of magnificent pettiness, had the names of all the books he contributed to inscribed on his tomb. The whole experience of getting to travel to Paris and work with DONTNOD was special to me, and I’ll treasure it always.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: There is a moment where Tyler talks about the feeling of learning you had something precious at the same time you learned you also lost it (in reference to Leo). This is a feeling I have had before and funneled into the story as part of the development of Mary-Ann, as a fellow mother who has experienced loss. Her arc generally ended up very personal & important to me.

Favorite Fact About Tell Me Why’s Development: The team in Paris were usually up until 3AM to attend VO sessions remotely. I did one session that way while I was there working on-site with them for a week, and I have no idea how they did it every time!

A Personal Message for Fans: I challenge you to play the game again and make uncomfortable/weird choices! I promise it’s worth it. 🙂 But also thank you for all the support.

A group of Xbox and DONTNOD team members at Hollywood Boulevard.
“American team members dragged the Parisians to Hollywood Blvd to pay back all the wonderful iconically Parisian memories they gave us with the terribly iconic American experience of Hollywood Blvd.” -Morgan Lockhart

 

Clay Carmouche, Morgan Lockhart and Elise Baldwin around a small table with computer screens.
“The final table read session with members of the Microsoft team.” From left to right: Clay Carmouche (Narrative Director, Xbox), Morgan Lockhart (Lead Writer), Elise Baldwin (Senior Audio Director, Xbox).

 

The tomb of Auguste Manquet.
“The tomb of Auguste Manquet, patron saint of uncredited writers.” -Morgan Lockhart

 

Name: Elise Galmard

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Narrative Designer, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Lead Narrative Designer, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: Sam Kansky, for his empathy and love of the Ronan family, for his sense of humour, and for being such a blast to write.

Favorite Line(s) of Dialogue:

  • “You have taught me once again how love will always bring you further in life” – a line from Tessa’s letter if you forgive her
  • “You can’t let yourself be defined by the parts that are broken” -Mary-Ann to Sam.

Favorite Book of Goblins Story: “The Bear’s Big Paws”

Favorite Scene: Can’t pick one, they’re all great <3

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Working with such an astoundingly talented and benevolent team, and getting to meet people that have become some of my dearest friends.
  • On the very last recording session with August Black, when we recorded his final line of dialogue, everyone started bawling their eyes out because we knew it was the end of something truly special. It was a mixture of unconditional love and relief and grief. Powerful stuff!
  • Seeing Tell Me Why’s trailer for Chapter 1 for the first time brought tears to my eyes. Things were getting real, and all our hard work was becoming a reality that we would soon share with the world!

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: Writing the epilogues was extremely cathartic and bittersweet. I was closing Tyler and Alyson’s story and closing the Tell Me Why adventure as well! Tyler’s final monologue was especially emotional for me, and it hit close to home.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • Our recording sessions were in Los Angeles, so we had to stay up until 3am for remote sessions, which we would do from the comfort of our homes… And it was a struggle not to doze off at times!
  • The boat ride scene was a nightmare to script and write because of the timed spline which generated a mountain of bugs all throughout production. Every designer that worked on it would pass the buck to avoid working on it!
  • In Chapter 2 in the Ronan House, Alyson and Tyler share some childhood memories, which are all actual stories I had with my brother; I put them in as a special dedication to him.

A Personal Message for Fans: Working on Tell Me Why was an honour and a privilege. Thank you all for your support, this game was created with love and kindness; Tyler and Alyson’s story will stay in our hearts for years to come.

The DONTNOD narrative team standing in a line, wearing matching shirts with their team members' surnames translated literally into English.
Some members of the DONTNOD narrative team on Tell Me Why (from left to right): Lena Dobric, Stéphane Beauverger, Gauthier Henrio, Macha Lopez, and Elise Galmard.

 

Name: Stéphane Beauverger

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Narrative Director, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Narrative Director, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: All of them, they are my babies. But if I had to admit which one is my favorite, probably Sam Kansky, the well-intentioned but cringy fisherman, who is designed to start with a very low level of trust among the players (to say the least), but is generally highly appreciated by the end of the game, because of his narrative arc. Flawed characters are the best <3

Favorite Scene: Probably the so called « bad end », when Alyson can’t find the energy/courage to leave Delos Crossing, stays in the family house and starts writing her own new book of goblins. Her last words always tear my heart apart: “For it is not on all of us to adventure. Some must stay behind. To tell the story, and to hold shelter, for those who may come back… and those who never left.”

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • The journey to Alaska, obviously, and the incredible exchanges and interviews we conducted in Juneau and Hoonah.
  • The first time I read the brand-new 8th and final version of the script, and I realized that this was the cool story we were going to create and tell for the next 18 months.
  • The amazing satisfaction of working with so many talented people, and realizing how dedicated everyone had been, when I finally played the whole game and perceived all the love each and every one had put in the game.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: To have designed Tyler as a full-fleshed character, and constantly avoided defining him solely through his transgender identity. To have read reviews of players who were ignorant and/or reluctant about the transgender theme, and admitted the game helped them shift their view.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • The character of The Moon Hag in the Book of Goblins is inspired by the Scottish mythological figure of the Selkie.
  • Initially, Tyler and Alyson were supposed to have a similar Y-shaped scar. We deleted that visual element from their final design and backstory, but they still talk in Chapter 1 of the fall from a tall tree, which was supposed to be the origin of the scar for the first twin.
  • Tell Me Why was the original title of the game, written down since the first version of the script. It changed a lot, and many variations were tested, until we finally went back to our first choice.

A Personal Message for Fans: “You can’t let yourself be defined by the parts that are broken” <3

Concept art of in-game photos of Tyler at Pride.
Concept art of in-game photos of Tyler at Pride.

 

An in-game photo of Alyson at a poetry reading.
An in-game photo of Alyson at a poetry reading.

 

Name: Livvy Hall (AKA The Secret Keeper!)

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Community Manager, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Current Job Title: Community Director, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: Michael!

Favorite Book of Goblins Story: The Goblins Earn Their Voice; it feels like the perfect allegory for why remembering difficult things can feel so tricky. (But anything with the Moon Hag is a close second because I love selkie stories.)

Favorite Line of Dialogue: “For it is not on all of us to adventure. Some must stay behind. To tell the story, and to hold shelter – for those who may come back, and those who never left.”

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Leading community and social media for Tell Me Why, I got to hear from people all over the world – especially young trans people – about how our game has made them feel supported and seen and loved, which has been a joy and privilege unlike any other.
  • Honestly, it’s the everyday interactions with the team I’ll cherish most, both before and during COVID-19. This game had a truly special group of people bringing it to life.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game:

  • I suggested Tyler’s line “Was that a pun?” during the fishing scene in Chapter 3 – which you only see if you turn down Michael in Chapter 2!
  • I also wrote our website’s FAQ, which was inspired by my own experiences as part of interactive fiction circles and online queer and trans communities. I’m glad so many people have used it to play the game in a way that’s meaningful for them.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • At the overlook in Chapter 2, the last tip on a sign about bear safety reads “In case of violent attack: fight back vigorously.” This was apparently a direct quote from a real sign the team found while they were in Hoonah, Alaska.
  • There was a previous version of the Chapter 2 cemetery scene where Erica Lindbeck (Alyson’s voice actress) was crying so hard that multiple folks on the Xbox side would get misty every time they heard it.
  • I didn’t learn this until the day Chapter 1 launched, but apparently Alyson originally had a cat in early concepts!
  • I had the chance to play Tell Me Why with my parents during my first post-launch playthrough – and in fact, most of the screenshots posted to our social media pages in September 2020 came from that playthrough!

A Personal Message for Fans: This game is in so many ways exactly the story I needed when I was younger. It’s also the story I’ve needed now: helping to share the team’s hard work has taught me so much about myself and people I love, and it’s been an experience I wouldn’t trade for any other. Thank you to everyone who has loved this game, recommended it to a friend, or even said something nice about it online – it’s made a bigger difference than you might think.

A screenshot of Livvy and August smiling over camera.
A screenshot from Microsoft’s Pride 2020 livestream, in which Livvy Hall (Community Director, Xbox) and August Black (English voice actor, Tyler Ronan) talked about the experience of bringing Tyler’s character to life.

 

Name: Clay Carmouche

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Narrative Director

Current Job Title, Company: Narrative Director, Xbox Game Studios Publishing

Favorite Tell Me Why Character, Scene, Book of Goblins Story and/or Line of Dialogue:

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: Michael is such an easy answer, it feels like cheating, so I’m going to say Sam. More than any other supporting character, Sam goes through real change and our understanding of him evolves the more time we spend with him. Also, I like any character who refers to himself in third person.

Favorite Scene: The grocery store scene in Episode 1. I love hearing Tyler and Alyson rediscover their relationship. It’s also a great introduction to Michael, and contains some of my favorite ghost memories. Also, no one could get the song that plays in this scene out of their heads for months.

Favorite Line of Dialogue: “You can’t let yourself be defined by the parts that’re broken.”

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Devs from DONTNOD and Xbox lived together for 10 days in a small house in Hoonah, Alaska, a town of 800 people and 4,000 bears. We shared rooms, ate every meal together, and quickly bonded. Though there had been a number of recent bear attacks, Narrative Director Stephane Beauverger insisted on walking home alone in the dark every night. He said, it would be a great way to go out. We were always surprised when he turned up alive.
  • Meeting August Black was amazing because he’s a dead ringer for Tyler even though he was cast long after the concept art for Tyler was finalized.
  • Working with Amelia Wilson at Huna Heritage. Through her, we met many real life counterparts for characters in the game, some of whom invited us into their homes to eat freshly caught fish. Michael’s love of cooking was in part formed by the meals that Amelia and her cousin prepared for us.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game:

  • Tyler’s counsellor Aaron used to exist as a character in the game but was cut when we tightened the story from 5 to 3 episodes. Aaron was important to Tyler as one of the first people who supported him as a kid. There are a few references to him that remain, but my favorite is the letter in Tyler’s bedroom where he quotes Aaron with the line “Survival is rebellion.”
  • Eddy’s taste in music and his claim that Whitney Houston stole her act from him.

Favorite Fact About Tell Me Why’s Development: Many of the place names in fictional Delos Crossing are Tlingit words and phrases that came directly from [Huna Heritage Foundation director] Amelia Wilson’s suggestions. Fireweed Youth Center, where Tyler starts the game, is named for a local plant that is the first to grow after a fire. We loved the symbolism of rising from the ashes, and felt it was the perfect metaphor for the themes of the game.

A Personal Message for Fans: Thank you for embracing these characters. Until you began to make them your own, these characters were just hope and ideas. The fan art, posts and emails keep me moving.

Clay crouched over underneath a bright blue glacier.
Clay Carmouche (Narrative Director, Xbox) posing in an ice cave during the team’s research trip to Alaska: “We stopped in this ice cave for photos and audio, but left quickly to avoid death by cave-in.”

 

Clay took these notes during the 2018 research trip referencing an ice cave setting that was eventually removed from Tell Me Why’s story:

“Viewing the [Mendenhall Glacier] was simultaneously inspiring and sad to see how quickly it is melting. Roughly the same amount of ice has melted in the last fifteen years as in the previous sixty. Along the way we discovered and explored an ice cave. There is an ice cave location in our game so we stopped again for photos and audio. Inside, there were about fifty feet of glacier over our heads, and a river of melted glacial water flowing past us. We learned another new fact that will impact a planned location for the game. Ice caves have life spans of days to months, not years. So the twins’ ice cave hangout spot would have melted over ten years of our story.”

Members of the Tell Me Why team eating breakfast together.
Members of the Tell Me Why team eating breakfast together during the research trip in Hoonah, Alaska.

 

Name: Lena Dobric

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Narrative Designer, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: Michael because he feels like the best friend one could possibly have: an easy-going, caring, fun and laidback guy. I relate a lot to how he values his heritage and cares deeply about his community. And he’s also super cute.

Favorite Scene: The fishing scene in Chapter 3. I love the quiet, rugged queerness of it all and seeing Tyler and Michael’s relationship blossom felt truly magical.

Favorite Line of Dialogue: “Emotional labor pays shit.”

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • Travelling with my coworkers to Los Angeles and meeting our cast and voice over team was absolutely incredible. It’s a memory I will cherish forever (see photo).
  • The attic in Chapter 3 was the most challenging and rewarding scene to work on. There were so many constraints and so much story to cram into such a small space (literally) but the end result is a testament to the team’s hard work and dedication.
  • Working alongside the most talented and caring team for 2+ years and seeing all the hard work that it took to make this game happen was such a privilege.

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game:

  • Writing all the cute banter between Michael and Tyler in the store in Chapter 2 was a blast.
  • Writing and designing for such a diverse cast of characters meant that I could contribute and sneak in a lot of my experience and sensibility as a marginalized person. I am eternally thankful to my fellow narrative design team members (otherwise known as the legendary pun squad <3) and Microsoft’s writing team for creating a safe and kind environment that made this possible.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • The mailbox bandit was just supposed to be this one-time joke to fill some space in the police station in episode 1 but it ended up being a whole side story that spanned all the way to Chapter 3!
  • Officer Holt and Greggs were named after Captain Raymond Holt in Brooklyn 99 and Detective Kima Greggs in The Wire 🙂
  • Justin Beaver originally wasn’t the only animal named after a celebrity in Tell Me Why. Michael was supposed to have a goldfish named Tuna Turner that he kept in the store’s storage room, but she unfortunately got cut from the game. She’ll always live in my heart, though.

A Personal Message for Fans:

  • Seeing the community’s response and how some of you connected with the story and the characters is truly the best part of our job. Thank you so much for your support!

People sitting around a table, smiling at the camera.
Tell Me Why team members from Xbox and DONTNOD enjoying a meal in Los Angeles.

Name: Sylvain Bellanger

Job Title on Tell Me Why: Environment Artist, DONTNOD

Current Job Title: Environment Artist, DONTNOD

Favorite Tell Me Why Character: Mary-Ann Ronan because she had a tough life even though we discover the truth at the very end in the attic. She is both the victim and the enemy (kind of) in this story. She deeply loved her children and that’s what caused everything. I love how her character has been constructed and how our opinion about her may evolve throughout the game.

Favorite Tell Me Why Development Memories:

  • I remember how the idea of a boat ride introduction sequence emerged out of nowhere for the first time. We were talking at the cafeteria with the environment team about a car sequence where Tyler would have been in the passenger seat. The car was supposed to drive along a huge loop to avoid repetition. During this sequence Aly and Ty were talking and some interactions would have been possible like listening to the radio… And an early test was already prototyped. But it was somehow repetitive and the camera angle was also a problem if I remember well. So we had this idea of letting Tyler exploring a larger space (the boat) to serve as a tutorial and to contemplate these big vistas of Alaska.
  • I have some really good memories of the milestone reviews when the whole team was able to share their progress with the others. It was really motivating and constructive for the game development. Plus, beers were provided by DONTNOD for after work :)!

Favorite Thing You Contributed to the Game: Even though it seems to have been really difficult for everyone, especially the devs and narrative team, the boat ride environment was really fun to make. It was the first time I had the opportunity to work on that kind of 360° vista and I learned a lot. The blocking of the scene was quite fast to complete. However the polishing phase, the details and the attention to compositions have been a long work. Together with my lead, art director and colleagues we tried to convey these feelings of immensity, contemplation and serenity. Which are quite important for the pacing of the story, especially as the rest of the journey is emotionally intense.

Favorite Facts About Tell Me Why’s Development:

  • Did you know that in the 3rd chapter, there is actually two attic locations, the real one that you explore in the barn and a dark version of it buried few meters under the ground… creepy.
  • It was initially planned that a game sequence would take place in a cave under a mountain glacier. This would have been incredible, the lighting, the translucent ice ceiling above your head. The core team also visited this kind of cave during their trip to Alaska. It was cut but we had tons of good ideas instead!

A Personal Message for Fans: I’m really proud of having been a part of this team. When you work on a game for several years, it’s difficult to step back out of your expertise field to see the big picture of what everyone is doing. Sometimes you get lost or frustrated in the creation process. But in the end, when I see you guys playing the game, enjoying it and being touched by the game, I finally see it, the big picture. Thanks to you, I know why we did what we did!

Concept art of the attic with glow-in-the-dark detailing.
Concept art of the attic with glow-in-the-dark detailing.

 

One last thing! Now that you’ve gotten this far, here is a special gift from our team to you (by way of the mailbox bandit): our stashbox of images from Delos Crossing, now available to all!

 

Members of the DONTNOD and Xbox teams waving goodbye to Hoonah, Alaska.
Members of the DONTNOD and Xbox teams waving goodbye to Hoonah, Alaska.

 

Thank you for reading the memories from our team! On behalf of everyone at DONTNOD Entertainment, Xbox Game Studios Publishing and beyond who helped bring Tell Me Why to life, we hope you enjoy the Ronan twins’ journey for many years to come.