Telltale Games is working on an episodic Walking Dead video game slated for release late April. Unlike other games with zombies in them, The Walking Dead won’t be another zombie shooter. Their adventure game stars Lee Everett, a convict freed during the zombie outbreak, and an orphaned girl named Clementine who travels with him. We sat down with Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games, to get the scoop on The Walking Dead and their plans on how to tie this into the greater zombieverse.
Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games: The TV show might’ve been announced, but it wasn’t out yet. We had met with Skybound at Comic-Con and they were interested and they knew they had a strong property. We started telling them what Telltale was all about, in that we’re about the characters and the story, and that we weren’t going to take the game and turn it into a massive zombie shooter. We were going to take a different spin on it and be more about character development. That really resonated with them. So, we started the partnership there and started working together.
The characters that you guys centered on are a new group of survivors. Why did you want to go this route?
We think the situation is fascinating and we think the rules of the world are really what makes it interesting for people. We wanted to take some liberties in storytelling and kind of create a new story that provides more backstory into what’s going on with the show and with the comics. We kind of sit between the two, but we have the freedom to create in the world, which is what we really want to do, but with all the trademarks of The Walking Dead.
The lead character, Lee, is a lot like Rick. Instead of being a police officer he’s a criminal so he’s on a redemption path. You don’t know whether he did it or not. We’re not exactly sure of the circumstances of what happened. We don’t fill in a lot; that kind of gets filled in as the story goes on and he gets built as a character over the five episodes.
Lilly’s in there from the comic. Glenn’s in there from the show. Our first episode focuses on what happened to Herschel’s farm before Rick and Shane got there. It’s a way for us to say, “You’ve seen this world; now here’s more ways [to see] what’s happening in the world at the same time.”
How would you describe Lee?
Well, on some element, he is a reflection of the player’s choices. Because you’re in a moment, you can pick three or four different things to say, but they all have different paths. You’re not just working your way through a dialogue tree, you’re choosing how you present yourself to the characters in the world.
I think Lee is ultimately… first, he’s a survivor. He’s tough and smart. He cares about people and is smart around people. He has an emotional intelligence to him and he knows how to navigate a situation, like post-outbreak survival.
You mentioned that we’re going to see a progression of the player’s choices within the game. How is that going to affect future episodes?
Well, it’s less about a light side-dark side path kind of [Star Wars] “Sith” thing and more about how you are choosing to interact with the people in your group. You aren’t going to just start killing characters in your group, you’re going to be trying to work with them in the group as a survival thing.
There are going to be situations with two characters where one lives and one dies, and whoever you choose to save appears in the next episode. Whoever you choose to let go of is dead.
Those are the kind of choices we’re trying to set up for the player. The story is putting you in a world where the characters all have different agendas. You need to figure out how to navigate that, based on what you say. They’re going to remember what you do and ultimately there’s going to be situations where the group is in peril. You have to decide who continues and how it all plays out from there. Who you side with and that kind of thing.
I know Telltale usually doesn’t have combat in their games, but at some point there’s going to be confrontations with zombies. What options will we have to deal with them?
Well, you’re certainly going to take out zombies throughout the game. In some cases, they’re going to be people who you know who’ve “turned”. We’ve really made it about a real visceral kind of attack feeling. In the first episode, I think you have an axe. You have a hammer. You have something like an ice pick. In most cases you’re either using stealth or reacting and swinging and using an action to kill zombies.
How are players going to fight the zombies? Will more spawn?
Yeah, it’s not really a combat game in that sense. More like you’ll be in a situation where there will be zombies. Some you’ll have to kill, others you’ll have to distract, and others you’ll have to hide from. We’ll rarely give you a level where you blast through and have a horde of zombies attacking. It’s more like the franchise itself. People don’t go on zombie-killing sprees, but you do have to take out zombies in different contexts.
One of the scenes, there’s a character stuck in a motel room. They’ve boarded themselves in and there’s six or seven zombies on the scene, and you need to kind of stealthily go around and take out each zombie before the others recognize that you’re there. That would be a situation where you use kind of a stealth and attack mechanic.
How does the distract mechanic work?
Well, it’s more of a stealth mechanic, but distracting is kind of a puzzle element that works inside the rules of the zombie world. They respond to sound, so if you can find a way to trigger a sound in the environment, you can distract them enough to get past them. That type of rules based puzzle-solving is about knowing the Walking Dead universe and knowing the things zombies respond to.
The Walking Dead Game sits between the comic and the TV show, so are you’re going to explain gaps in lore that neither has explained yet?
Yeah, we’ll get more back story. We’ll provide maybe how a situation might have started. We’ll take any advantage we have to tie in what we’re doing to the larger story. We’ll give people perspective of, “OK, this is Atlanta. What’s going on in Atlanta?” And then, what’s going on around Atlanta, what’s going on in other areas outside Atlanta, and just kind of a general state of the world as well. The game is generally aware of what’s going on with the show or what’s going on in the book.
You mentioned going outside Atlanta. How far will you Lee travel?
The first episode spends a lot of time in Macon and then they need to get from Macon to Savannah. You’re going to see a lot of the countryside around Georgia, so it is a bit of a road trip experience and you can see everything that’s going on outside of the city.
Are you talking with the creators about how some of the characters in the game could go back into the TV show or the comic?
Not necessarily, but I don’t think that would be impossible, especially with Lee having such a prominent role and Clementine having such a prominent role. We’ve really invested a lot of effort into fleshing out the back stories of the characters. If it was something they’d want to plug back in, we would be obviously ecstatic about that. Robert [Kirkman] is doing the comic on one hand, the show has its own screenwriters on the other, and Robert sits in with that. Ultimately, he makes the decisions on that kind of thing.
Telltale has had Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3 for Sam & Max. Is Walking Dead a series that you plan to have multiple seasons with?
Yeah, we would love that. So, we would get in and do the first one, and see where it lands us and how gamers feel about it. We’d love to do a second one.
Could you tell us a little more about the platforms it’s on?
Well, XBLA, PSN and PC to start. We’ll figure out the iOS strategy after that. It’s definitely a downloadable product.
You’re not going to release a retail compilation like you’ve done with other titles?
We’ll do a Christmas retail compilation in stores as well, but instead of Jurassic Park where the retail was the primary channel, it’ll be like a compilation disc like we did with Back to the Future.
No Wii U-Ware?
We’re not working on it currently, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t do it. It seems like it would be a nice opportunity, so we’ve just gotta kind of watch that a little closer. Getting involved with a launch platform involves a lot, so we’re in the process of figuring that out with Nintendo.