Telltale Talks "Walking Dead," "Fables" Games

Telltale Games held a press-only event Thursday evening to show off their upcoming "Jurassic Park" game and new episodes of "Back to the Future" while also announcing a slate of upcoming games including "The Walking Dead," "Fables," Graham Annable's "Puzzle Agent 2" and a reboot of the classic "King's Quest" RPG franchise. Though details on "Walking Dead," based on the long-running Image Comics series by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, and "Fables," Bill Willingham's Vertigo epic, are scarce at the moment, CBR News spoke with several members of the Telltale team about the announcement.

Several creatives responsible for "The Walking Dead" game were on hand at the event, including designer Sean Vanaman, lead writer of the game; game director Jake Rodkin; and Skybound Entertainment Editorial Director Sina Grace, who edits Kirkman's comics.

Telltale approached Robert Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment at Comic-Con International in 2010, "really knowing their facts," Grace told CBR News. Vanaman, speaking to Telltale's approach to the game, described his take on the "Walking Dead" franchise and its fan base. "People who read 'The Walking Dead,' are fans of the books and have gotten through all 13 trades or are with it issue to issue, understand that it's not really about the zombies. It's about these people. And anybody who's into Telltale Games, and has played our games, understands that our games are about the people who are in them," Vanaman said. "It's just a natural fit for us. The guys who come to work at Telltale, we choose to come work at Telltale, that's the sort of stuff we like.

"It's also a way for guys who have been told we tell jokes really well all the time to not tell jokes for a while," Vanaman continued. "The fact that life and death and humanity play giant roles, are really the only thing that are at stake in this franchise -- it's not about money or who's taking over the world, it's literally life and death and the ones you love. That's a really exciting thing for me, personally, as a writer.

"All those things are in our games already, but now we get to really focus on those things and make gameplay out of them, so that's what's really exciting. It's going to be about character interactions and the choices you have to make, not so much about how many zombie faces you shoot.

"Although shooting a zombie face might happen," Vanaman joked. "It might not. Not confirmed."

"The special thing about the game is that it's for the people who have read all 13 volumes and the issues that have come out after, and we both came in wanting that," Grace, the Skybound editor, said. "Wanting to add to the experience and not just creating another zombie shoot-em-up that says 'Walking Dead' on top. It's a 'Walking Dead' game."

"Our goal for is for it to live in canon and add to canon, but if you're somebody who's grabbed a couple trades from a friend, saw a couple episodes of the show and enjoyed it, but you're more of a gamer and this more like [your] alley to get into the franchise, it's a way to get into the franchise," Vanaman said. "That's something that Jake and I tackled on Monkey Island, actually. It was like, 'God, we're crazy Monkey Island nerds, but what about the guy who's not?'"

Rodkin added, "It's really cool for someone who is a gamer but maybe isn't into comic books. [They] could play our game and then want to devour 13 trade paperbacks -- that's the best we could hope for."

"Robert won't complain about that!" Grace added.

Grace was keen to emphasize that the "Walking Dead" game will be based on the comics rather than the AMC television series, calling Telltale's effort "another spoke on the 'Walking Dead' universe." "If you like the show, you will hopefully like the game," he said. "But it's going back to the source."

"The comics are the seed for the show, and so they're the seed for us," Vanaman said. "It's not so much like, the comics beget the show beget the game; it's really like the comics are the nucleus for the franchise."

Dan Connors, Telltale's CEO and co-founder, spoke briefly with CBR about the game publisher's other major comics announcement, an adaptation of Bill Willingham's Vertigo series "Fables." "We've been talking to Warner Bros. for a long time, and they're really interested in the 'Fables' franchise with DC and figuring out ways to get it into new mediums," Connors said. "In talking to them, we both saw that it was a really good fit for the two companies. What's important to them is the way the characters are portrayed and the way in which they go through the world, and are we going to respect the license and build on the franchise, and we were real interested in doing that. And we hope to do other things with Warner Bros., as well."

As to the thought behind developing a game like "Fables," which draws from fairytale and folklore traditions but has, after 100 issues, built up its own mythology, Connors told CBR it all comes back to the appeal of the concept and characters. "You see so much from a licensing standpoint, you see so much translation of comic books into new mediums. You see 'Walking Dead' on television, all the movies, all the superheroes, so to me, the reason it's successful is that, with the books, it's resonated with a group of people. And there are more people like them, they just haven't been exposed to it," Connors said. ['Fables'] has the meat and the depth, and enough people have said, 'This works for us.' They may be a certain type of people, but usually they're very discriminating. They really care about it -- they're not passive fans, they're dedicated fans who will go through every detail. And Telltale has fans like that, too. You don't get passionate fans with crappy content. Now, the question is, how do you take what those people love about it and expose it to other people? I think it's been through that intense scrutiny of its hardcore fans, [and] you've got something really polished at the end."

Though less directly related to comics, Telltale's announcement of a rebooted "King's Quest" series may excite fans who grew up with the fantasy RPG series. "We've had great success with 'Sam & Max' and 'Monkey Island' [reboots], and we wanted to try something that was a little more dramatic," Connors said. "The 'King's Quest' series was always hugely successful, so we wanted to do the same thing with that, which is get in there and look at the work that's been done and figure out the best way to present the characters."

Graham Annable, a cartoonist and animator whose "Grickle" comics were recently collected by Dark Horse, was also on hand to discuss his "Grickle"-based puzzle game "Puzzle Agent," which is due to be ported to new platforms, as well as the upcoming sequel "Puzzle Agent 2." Annable, who was Telltale's first art director, saw "Puzzle Agent" developed as part of the publisher's "pilot program" for in-house game concepts. "Kevin [Bruner, Telltale co-founder] and I had always talked about doing a 'Grickle'-style game at some point, but neither of us really knew what in the hell that would actually be," Annable said of the game's origins. "And then, years later, it hit me. Playing a lot of 'Professor Layton' and having done the 'Grickle' cartoons on YouTube, I thought, wow, that is the exact mechanic that would work for an idea I had. So I approached Telltale and asked, 'Would you be interested in this?' And it was just the right time because, unknown to me at the time, they were beginning their whole pilot program thing where they were bringing ideas up from in-house. So it just hit at the right point for them. Technically, I wasn't within Telltale at that point, but I had been, and it seemed like the right idea to kind of launch the whole program with.

"I'm just over the top, thrilled that I'm here getting ready to do the next game for 'Puzzle Agent.' I did not anticipate that initially. I just knew that I wanted to make a game that I, myself, would want to play."

Annable told CBR that, while many details of "Puzzle Agent 2" are still being worked out, he expects the gameplay mechanics to be similar to the original -- but better. "The first time out was the first time out for all of us, and there was definitely a lot of chatter on the forums about some of the puzzles not being where people wanted them to be," Annable said, laughing. "So we're very well aware of that. But storywise, we mapped out a whole entire story arc that went way beyond the first game -- we thought maybe, possibly we'd do more. We certainly hoped we would -- so now we're getting a chance to play the rest of the story out and that's more my focus, but technically there's a whole team of guys shoring up whatever we think we can improve upon."

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