Telltale's garnered a reputation for building licensed games not just around a popular setting, but around strong stories and characters as well. The Walking Dead game will fit right into that tradition. It won't feature the main characters of the comic book or the TV show, however -- Rodkin said they didn't want players coming in with preconceived notions about how the game's story should play out. If the game presents you with a choice of going left or right, players may think, "'Well I've seen him turn left twice now, I saw it in the comic book and in the show, so I'm going to go left.' And as much as a designer would hope that people are going to experiment with your system, people would just want to see that story again."
Telltale's game will follow Lee, a prisoner, and Clementine, a young girl he comes across in the zombie apocalypse. And anyone with hopes of anything resembling a feel-good ending should probably check that at the door on the way in. "The Walking Dead," Rodkin said, "is not really a game about people who save the world. It's more about a story of trying to survive as people inside of this huge and horrible situation."
If you're a big fan of Rick Grimes, the series' main protagonist, you'll be glad to hear that you may see him and other regulars in Telltale's game. Rodkin did say that the game's characters will "cross paths" with the main Walking Dead storyline, though he definitely doesn't want to fall in line with the story we already know. "As we go along, the number of crossed paths will reduce, and it'll focus down on the story of our game."
Lee's story, then, starts off in a cop car, where he's being transferred as a prisoner to a new facility. During the trip, the cop driving the car crashes, and after a brief period of unconsciousness Lee wakes up to find the zombie apocalypse has started. After "dealing with" the cop, who has become undead in the crash, he finds his way to an empty house nearby, with an unlocked door and children's toys in the yard.
Here, the player will find examples of what could be called environmental storytelling. "It's a kitchen that's been ransacked," Rodkin said about one of the screenshots, "but if you look around you'll see some specific stuff, like a stool that's been pushed up into the back corner, and the pantry full of food has been completely raided. You might wonder what's going on with that." An answering machine will tell another story -- a message will play featuring a woman idly calling a babysitter at the house to discuss details of a daughter's care, and the next message will mention a lengthened stay away with more trouble arising, while the final message will feature the mother tearfully telling her daughter directly that she loves her before being cut off.
And there's one more thing about The Walking Dead that will make it stand out from the rest of Telltale's games. Previous titles were more or less episodically self-contained, but Rodkin said that episodes in The Walking Dead will "be able to talk to each other." Characters that die in one game in Episode 1 will stay dead, or if the player keeps them alive, they'll reappear in later episodes.
That extends to "even the smaller stuff, where, in a conversation, we want the permanent feel of these things. If you're talking to someone, and they ask you what you think about this or that and you're like that sounds like the stupidest thing you've ever heard and they're like what an asshole. Well, you've just told that person something that makes them think you're an asshole, and the game logs that down and moves on."
That persistence should increase game's sense of permanence, and pull the player into a world with real consequences for their actions. "We want the conversation to feel much more like an actual conversation where when you say something, you can't just unsay it by re-exploring the same dialog tree."
Telltale declined to even hint at how far out the game was from release, so it seem we'll be waiting a while for this one (maybe even long enough to see a season or two of the TV show go by). There are obviously some interesting ideas here, and I hope Telltale can follow through with what it has planned for this fascinating setting.