Walking Dead video game takes different angle than show
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 08:03
The Walking Dead is a pretty hot intellectual property these days.
Since AMC began making the super successful show, sales of The Walking Dead graphic novel have heated up, but a quick survey of the show or the graphic novels will tell anyone that the mega-violent nature does not seemingly lend itself to glacially paced adventure game play. A deeper reflection on what makes The Walking Dead so compelling reveals the genius behind the choice to create an adventure game in this universe.
The hallmarks of The Walking Dead’s film and comic incarnations make it distinctive compared to other zombie entertainment. One of the hallmarks is that its characters are often thrust into incredibly trying circumstances with no acceptable choices to make. These choices reveal a great deal about whom the characters are, more than many shows do in entire seasons with reams and reams of dialogue.
Another essential component of The Walking Dead’s magic is that, at its heart, none of it is really about zombies. They are just another hazard. They color the story, but they don’t define it. The Walking Dead is about people. It’s about what we as humans do when ripped away from all we have ever known and thrust into a new world where everything is always in flux. The zombies are part of that, but they’re not the centerpiece. Because of that, The Walking Dead is a much more universal narrative, as the best art tends to be.
So with these traits in mind, the rationale behind making a Walking Dead adventure game becomes clearer. They needed a game that would capture the desperation and moral gray areas that come with being thrust into impossible circumstances. That kind of situation is not enjoyable from a typical gameplay perspective.
Most types of games are about empowering players to change their surroundings and dictate events as they go, but adventure games are a different kind. They’re about using your head and figuring things out from a more human perspective rather than running and gunning through every scenario.
Warner Bros. could have commissioned a Dead Rising clone and slapped The Walking Dead on the box. They could have made the game all about the trademark brutality that permeates The Walking Dead’s setting. It would have sold a million copies, but the choice to make the game to the strengths of the IP shows great vision on Warner Bros. behalf.
They realized that the real draw of The Walking Dead doesn’t lie in its routine splattering of zombies. And not only that, someone at the company knew exactly who to call with the project: Telltale Games, veteran adventure game creators.
Critical reception of the Walking Dead video game has been rapturous, immediately vindicating both Warner Bros. decision and Telltale Games’ craftsmanship. It won upwards of five "Game of the Year" awards, in addition to very high scores from nearly every review outlet in town. Its emergence onto the sequel-sodden turf of the gaming scene was totally out of the blue, almost on par with the sudden emergence of Minecraft, as the must-play indie experience of the year.
The takeaway from all of this is twofold. First, if a company takes the time to actually understand what the real values of its IPs are, they can create entertainment experiences that play to the strengths of their IPs rather than highlight their deficiencies. Second, game developers need to realize that pushing more buttons doesn’t make game play better. Telling gripping stories, creating compelling characters and posing interesting dilemmas are powerful game play elements.
There will always be games with fully destructible environments, heart-pumping explosions and 60 frames per second action. But if this Walking Dead adventure game has taught us anything, it’s that these things aren’t always necessary to make something special.