Telltale Games’ episodic adventure series based in the world of “The Walking Dead” was lauded by critics as one of the most innovative gaming experiences of 2012. The developer put its own stamp on creator Robert Kirkman’s hit franchise, creating a story that chose not to rely on the popular characters from the Image Comics title and AMC television series, instead focusing on the story of an escaped convict named Lee Everett and a young child named Clementine, who face a series of harrowing scares — and difficult choices — over the course of their journey. Season one of the game wrapped up with one heck of a cliffhanger, which we won’t spoil here — you should experience for yourself.
In the wake of Telltale and “The Walking Dead” winning Game and Developer of the Year at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards, CBR News spoke with Executive Producer Kevin Boyle about the impact of the game on his company and the industry at large, as well as what fans can expect from the game’s second season, which is currently in the works.
CBR News: First, congratulations on the big win at the Spike Video Game Awards for both Game of the Year and Developer of the Year, as well as receiving various Game of the Year awards from other outlets. How stoked is the team to receive these honors?
Kevin Boyle: Thanks. I can honestly say we were thrilled to be considered for those awards, let alone to win them. The acknowledgement feels great, considering how far off the beaten path we are with this game.
What do you think it is that makes “The Walking Dead” stand out from other blockbuster games? The emotional impact?
I’d say it has been a combination of things. Bringing emotional impact to center stage as the core of the experience was a challenge, but that’s exactly what the source material and Robert Kirkman’s comics are really all about. If we couldn’t make players care, it would be easy to make the choices we hoped they would struggle with, or regret after the fact. It’s something we put a lot of energy into, and I’m glad players have responded as we hoped they might. I also believe the time between episodes helped to reinforce relationships, giving players more time with Lee and Clementine than they would likely have spent otherwise.
You’ve received very strong support from the gaming community since launching in 2012. Did you guys find it at all overwhelming?
Even as we were getting close to wrapping up Episode 1, we weren’t certain players were going to take to Lee and Clementine as we hoped they would. It’s difficult to take an outside perspective of something you’ve been so close to for a long time. When the first episode went live and was getting a strong positive response, we were both thrilled and relieved. Having players that can’t wait to see what was next for Lee and Clem was a strong motivator for the team; we couldn’t wait to share what was coming.
It was nice to see Robert Kirkman actively supporting the game’s release. What did he think of your approach when it came to the choices you make and the consequences that follow?
We met with Robert early in the process to talk about plans for the game, shared the details of our story and characters as they were coming together and showed early content in development. Robert knew from the beginning that we were aiming to make a game about hard choices, strained relationships and living with consequences. This was no small part of how we ended up working together. He’s also a self-professed fan of a lot of Telltale’s earlier work like “Strong Bad” and “Back to the Future.” As he’s said before, it was games like those that he played before deciding to work with Telltale on a project that could hopefully do his work justice with an increased focus on storytelling. Like his comic, our story is filled with choice and consequence that these survivors have to live with, and I think it’s fair to say that we’re all happy with the results of going in this direction for the game series.
The game has immense replay value, as you can play through it more than once with Lee possessing different attitudes. Is there a “right” way to play through, or is it meant to be so open-ended in terms of what it has to offer?
A “right” way to play is something we actively avoided. The gray area between two equally bad decisions is much more interesting when both can be justified, and that’s exactly what we were trying to translate from Kirkman’s source material. Players have come away with their own take on which decision is right, and we’ve tried to make sure the game isn’t contradicting them or making assumptions about their motives.
Where did the idea for the Collector’s Edition with the reprinted comics come from?
We’ve obviously done our share of poring over the comics; there’s no shortage of fans here at Telltale. So when it came time to plan a collector’s edition, it was an idea that didn’t take long for our marketing team to come by. Adding the entire first compendium I think was a very big win, not only for fans of the comic, but also for fans of the game that never had a chance to really dive into the source material.
Were there any memorable pieces of feedback you received from fans of “The Walking Dead?”
I enjoyed how badly players wanted rid of Larry after Episode 1. We had plans for Larry, of course, and after all of the venomous comments and posts about him, I was surprised by how people were almost unanimously inclined to attempt to save his life in early Episode 2 playtests. It was so one-sided, we ended up making some changes to the content to make it a harder decision.
Of all the characters in the game, do you have any personal favorites?
I’d have to say Clementine is my favorite. She’s what gives so many of the tough decisions in the game the weight they need to be worth struggling over. I’m also fond of Clementine because of the nervousness we had about including an eight year-old in the game, and the questions we had about whether we could pull it off with a child actor, or casting an adult to voice a kid. We had serious concerns that one of our main characters might not be believable. The writers did a great job of making her a likable, competent eight year-old, and Mellissa Hutchenson delivered such a strong performance that it’s entertaining for me to look back at the trepidation we had.
2013 is looking to be a huge year for “The Walking Dead” brand, between the return of the AMC series, Activision’s new game project, the continuing comic and, obviously, Telltale’s next season. Are you looking forward to meeting up with the community again — and serving up more zombie turkey legs?
We’re definitely looking forward to meeting up with the community again. Our relationship with our players is different from most game companies. Hearing from the community while the season is being developed has been both informative and entertaining. Hearing the nuance behind the decisions of different players, or hearing their frustration or delight from choices we’ve had them make is good fuel for the team.
For us, beyond “The Walking Dead,” Telltale has more in the pipeline that we’re excited to have our community sink their teeth into. As far as what’s already announced we can remind your readers to stay tuned for our upcoming series based on Bill WIllingham’s “Fables” from Vertigo. We wish we could tell you more details now, and we certainly will in the near future, but we think that both fans of Mr. Willingham’s comics and fans of “The Walking Dead” are going to like what’s in store for this series.
Finally, you may not be ready to talk about it just yet, but can you give us a hint of what to expect from Season 2?
We’ve learned a lot over the course of the first season, about the kinds of choices players struggle with, about how to build a game that lets the player express their own intent and about not showing your cards when you’ve got something exciting in store for your players.
“The Walking Dead” is available for iOS, PC/Mac, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.