It’s been a long time coming for “The Wolf Among Us.” Announced as an untitled “Fables” video game by Telltale Games in 2011 and revealed as “The Wolf Among Us” earlier this year, the highly anticipated game from the studio behind “The Walking Dead” video game casts players as Bigby Wolf in pre-Giuliani New York City before the events of “Fables” #1.
Telltale showcased a hands-on demo for “The Wolf Among Us” during PAX Prime 2013 and brought along some of the game’s development team — including Telltale Games director Dennis Lenart, whose credits also include Telltale’s “Back to the Future” video game and the upcoming second season of “The Walking Dead” game.
CBR News spoke with Lenart during PAX about the long development road for “The Wolf Among Us,” capturing the spirit of the original comics, the differences between developing previous Telltale projects and “The Wolf Among Us” and more. Plus, an update on Season Two of “The Walking Dead” game.
CBR News: What was the process like to capture the style of Bill Willingham’s writing in “Fables” and transfer it to work in “The Wolf Among Us?”
Dennis Lenart: At Telltale, our primary goal is always to be true to the license. When we started off, there were a lot of us that were huge fans of the books — it’s one of the reasons we got the license in the first place. We got it even before “The Walking Dead.” It’s something we’ve been excited about for a long time. Everyone was reading the books and got so familiar with the characters, the art style — everything. We tried to take each piece of it, like the writing and the art style, the feel of it and just try to push it. Our game is a prequel and the time period is roughly pre-Giuliani New York. We just took every aspect and tried to push it and make it even more gritty and realistic than the books. For the art style, we started with making it look exactly like the comics, but then we said, “It’s pre-Giuliani New York, let’s really push all the colors.” Same thing with the action scenes — we were trying to make those really fun and interactive, even evolving it from “The Walking Dead” and now there are choices and branches in the action scenes. We really just try to take everything we’ve been doing and the books did that we love so much and take it to the next level.
“The Wolf Among Us” demo for PAX Prime 2013 showed a very different area of Fabletown than fans are used to seeing. What made Telltale want to explore some more diverse areas in this world?
Again, it’s taking stuff we knew from the books and putting another twist on it, and do something a little bit interesting. Since we’re all familiar with the books and familiar with all the story lines, for us it wouldn’t be fun just to retell that stuff. Same thing with the locations: we wanted to find interesting and new areas to take the familiar characters that you know and put them into a different environment to see how they act.
This game differs from “The Walking Dead” in that Telltale uses a major protagonist from the comics as the playable character. Was there ever another choice for the protagonist, or was it always Bigby?
I wasn’t involved in the super early days, but I think it was pretty clear from day one that people really wanted to play [as] Bigby because it’s such an interesting character, he’s got such a history to him and he’s got these badass physical abilities. For us, it was interesting to put you as a player in those situations, which is different from Lee Everett [in “The Walking Dead”] where you’re never really in control. Bigby, at any point, can become a wolf and take control of the situation. Giving players the opportunity to be a badass or to try and overcome Bigby’s dark past and just play the nice guy or try to be really respectful of the community is really interesting to watch people play and see which direction they want to take him.
Moving on to the artistic style of the game, it’s very clear “The Wolf Among Us” takes a few artistic cues from “The Walking Dead,” but “The Wolf Among Us” has point of view shots and new angles that make it feel much more like a comic. How does Telltale walk that balance between making it seem like a comic, but also create an organic gameplay experience?
That was a tough one. We started just by completely mimicking the books 100% and some of the environments of the game are directly from the books. Actually, when we showed Bill Willingham and DC and Warner, they did this cool trick where they played a full-screen image, saying, “Here are some screenshots from the game, here’s how it’s looking.” They didn’t realize it was a movie file and the camera just started rotating around the room from the still image and apparently everyone just flipped out. “Oh my God! That looks exactly like the books! How did you do that?!” From there, we decided to really embrace this ’80s/’90s-ish vibe, push all the colors as much as we can, stylistically push all the angles, the linework — there are times when we went too far and we’d go back to the books. … It was a fine-tuning process where we had to bring in fresh eyes over and over again. We had to see where the line was where push it as far as we could, but not go too far to make it unrelatable.
You’re also directing “The Walking Dead” Season Two, which has a lot of fan anticipation. With Lee out of the picture for the second season, what kind of challenge do you have in getting players to connect with a new protagonist?
It’s definitely a daunting task. During Season One, there were all sorts of talks about what we would do with Season Two. Once we knew what the ending was going to be for Season One, we asked how it would translate into Season Two and what would be appealing for fans. For me, personally, I wasn’t involved in those very early story talks, but the thing that made me want to come off of just working on “The Wolf Among Us” and roll on to Season Two was that — I feel like story wise, it’s got a really great foundation. This is going to be a weird analogy, but I compared it to the first episode of “Breaking Bad” during the second half [of Season 5]. I came in thinking, “Okay, I know what happened at the end of the previous season, and I’m probably not going to find out any information until the finale,” but as soon as I came in to this new episode, it satisfied so many of the questions I had and then opened up a million new questions. I didn’t feel cheated and I felt super satisfied by the experience. I think that’s what we’re doing with Season Two. I can’t really give any details about it, but I feel like it’s something that people are going to play not knowing what they’re getting into, and then 15 minutes in, be extremely excited about the new feel of it. It’s a tough challenge. There were talks for months about how to get that right balance. I’m super excited.
As you move forward with “The Wolf Among Us” and more episodes of “The Walking Dead,” how do each of these games build on one another to create a more polished product with every iteration?
The cool thing is — we’re a decently-sized studio, but still small enough to where we have a giant office where everyone is in one huge room. Everyone’s super good friends, we work with each other all the time, so even if you’re one of the people who’s not on “The Wolf Among Us” team, you’re still having conversations all day every day, still in meetings about departmental stuff. So you’re crossing over with everyone working on all the other projects. We learned a lot from “Jurassic Park” that was applied to “The Walking Dead.” A lot of the best stuff from “The Walking Dead” has gone in to “The Wolf Among Us.” Now, there’s stuff in “Wolf Among Us” that people have really responded to that people are talking how to tweak in Season Two. It’s nice that every game that we make, we take our favorite parts from it and really just crafting what a Telltale game is.
This preview had Mr. Toad and The Woodsman in this demo, characters readers have never seen. Are there any other new characters you can tease that will appear in the game.
Actually, I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to say about that stuff, so I’m going to have to take the fifth. [Laughs] But I will say that there’s a lot more cool familiar characters that we’ll see. Our storyline is nuts and there’s all sorts of really cool new characters that I’m actually sad I’m not working on because they’re going to be awesome. There will be people just as charming as Mr. Toad.
Why go with a prequel story? What was the advantage to setting “The Wolf Among Us” before “Fables” #1?
It’s nice because it allows us to not tell the same stories from the books. A lot of times what’s cool — and something that it’s going to be interesting to see how fans react — we’re taking some of the characters that you know really well from the books and showing a bit of a different side of them 15 years before, and then show how they got to the point where the series started in “Fables” #1.
“The Walking Dead” game runs parallel to the comic, while “The Wolf Among Us” is a true prequel — those are two very different forms of storytelling. As this series moves forward and gets closer and closer to the start of “Fables,” what kind of boundaries and restrictions will Telltale have to deal with?
With the basic idea of making future seasons, we love the property, we love the characters and we’re always looking to tell new stories. If people love the game, our goal every time is to make a Season One that will have multiple seasons afterward because we’re just so into it and people like it. Right now, we’re just gauging response and what people really like about the game, so it’s tough to say. I do agree that as we get closer to what the actual timeline of the books are, it will be more restrictive, but I feel like that’s a good thing. It forces you into really clever situations and sometimes it’s harder when you have a complete open book to write anything you want. I actually would be really excited to see what our writers would come up with to really weave seamlessly into the beginning of the first set of books.
“The Wolf Among Us” will be available soon.