Interview: Telltale Games CEO talks about The Walking Dead

It started out as yet another independent black and white comic book from Image. However, The Walking Dead has become a true pop culture phenomon as writer Robert Kirkman has created a zombie story that's really more about the human characters than the undead horde. The comic book, and its many hardcover and softcover collections, are huge best sellers and of course the AMC TV show has brought The Walking Dead to a whole new audience.

This week, Telltale Games has brought us the first of five planned episodes of The Walking Dead action-adventure game for the PC. Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms. Telltale's CEO and co-founder Dan Conners gives us some more information on the game adaptation, which is already generating solid reviews. You can also enter our contest right now to win a season pass for the game.

First, how did the idea come about for Telltale to adapt The Walking Dead for games?

It all started because we're simply huge fans of The Walking Dead comic books. Some Telltale guys went to see Robert Kirkman at San Diego Comic Con a few years ago, before the franchise blew up to become what it is today. They talked about making a game and Robert really liked the approach that we wanted to take. We didn't want to make another zombie shooter, we wanted to do something completely in-keeping with the comic books and focus on the human stories within the apocalypse. If you're a fan of the comic books, you know that The Walking Dead is really about people rather than zombies; the apocalypse becomes a crucible where their true nature comes to the surface.

How much influence does Robert Kirkman have on the game's development?

The Walking Dead was created by Robert and continues to be driven by him, so his influence is huge. It's of paramount importance to us that we create an accurate portrayal of his world, so we work with him at every step. He sees all of the scripts, approves the artwork and so on. We're incredibly honored and excited that Robert has determined that our story is official canon to The Walking Dead comic book universe.

How does the game's storyline relate to the comic book series?

It was important to Robert that we didn't simply re-tell Rick Grimes' story from the comic books. That would make for a pretty boring game because at the very least, you'd know what was about to happen. So, we tell a new story of The Walking Dead with a new group of survivors. Our game begins right at the outset of the zombie apocalypse and in terms of comic book timeline Rick would be in a coma in Kentucky when the first scene of our game begins on a highway heading out of Atlanta. The great thing about telling a new story set during roughly the same period an in the same general location is that we can expand one things seen in the comic books to give fans of The Walking Dead a more thorough background for characters and locations. So for example, you'll meet Glenn before he rescues Rick in Atlanta and you'll see how the barn on Hershel's farm became the infamous location that it is today.

We have seen lots of zombie shooter games. How does the gameplay in The Walking Dead differ from games such as Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead?

It's completely different. Those are fantastic games, but again, both Robert and Telltale wanted to do something different. And again, that's what drew Robert to choosing Telltale to work with on a Walking Dead game. Many games of the type you mention are about the fantasy of a zombie apocalypse, rather than the reality of what something like that would be and many of them don't have much of a story or any real character development. That's great and those games are awesome, but telling deep stories with characters that you care about is what Telltale does. So while our game will certainly feature numerous intense action moments, it's more about the decisions you make in that world - it's about choice. We're calling it a tailored game experience. This is the first time that we've done anything like this. The story that you experience will change based on your actions and the way to choose to interact with people. Everything you do and say has the chance to change the story to the point that YOUR Walking Dead game could be very different to that of your friend. We're evolving our Adventure game roots and this game is a great example of that.

There's as much human conflict in the comic as there is with the zombies. How will the player have to deal with the humans in the game?

That's an excellent point. The walkers in this world are pretty much a constant. They're a threat for sure, but its other humans that you really need to watch out for. Zombies do what they do, but they're not intrinsically evil. However, humans can be evil, selfish and any other negative you care to mention. You'll have to deal with other humans - not only within the fragile peace of your group of survivors - but also with other survivors you'll meet along the way. Episode two of the game really shows how horrific other humans can be. It's a very shocking part of our story.

What other elements do you think are important in The Walking Dead game?

Aside from the huge importance of human drama, it's important that we observe the rules of the world that have been established in the comic books. Although they're not written down anywhere, these rules are very important and affect game-play. One of the bigger rules is that noise can be a very bad thing. Gunfire or any other loud noise will attract walkers - sometimes entire “herds” of them - and that's the last thing you want. Because of that, and because resources are scarce, you‘ll often need to figure out how to deal with the undead in ways that don't make noise. That's just one example, but it highlights that surviving the apocalypse is more dependent on being smart than on firepower.

Telltale Games specializes in making episodic games. Since The Walking Dead is both a monthly comic as well as a TV show do you think that made it easier in terms of adapting it to a game?

It doesn't make it any easier, but it makes a lot of sense; fans of The Walking Dead will be used to getting their fix on a monthly or weekly fashion. The episodic approach is cool because it allows us to do and see things that one-shot games don't get to do. First, we can provide people with a great, digestible piece of content for a relatively small price that's easily downloaded via whatever service they're using. Second, we get to see player response between episodes. From a creative side, it's great to tell a long-form story over five episodes that might take years to tell in a traditional format.

This is definitely a game that is for mature audiences. How far was Telltale able to go in terms of its content?

There'd be no point in making a game based on The Walking Dead if it didn't cause the player to be horrified. Robert has told us that he likes to torture the reader and we've taken that to heart, not only with gore and violence but more importantly with the psychological impact accompanying it. We want people who thought that they were desensitized to find that actually, they're not. When our writers meet, if something comes up where someone says “you can't do that, it's terrible!”, then we know it's probably the right thing to do. We want people to be uncomfortable and have to deal with it.

If the game gets a good reception, will we see more Walking Dead game episodes?

This first season is comprised of 5 episodes. We'd love to do more…you'll have to wait and see what's next!

Finally, is there anything else you wish to say about The Walking Dead?

We can't wait for people to play it and let us know what they think. It's really important that you share your thoughts with us, so please “Like” our Facebook fanpage at www.facebook.com/thewalkingdeadgame and send us a message!

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