Walking Dead serves up human hands at E3, and then things get dark (Episode 2 details, no spoilers)
I watched around 20 minutes of the second installment of the episodic Walking Dead adventure game, and in that short time I witnessed the lead character pick up an ax and choose between three places to hit someone, or something. There were multiple characters screaming during this scene, and the timer ran down quickly. The TellTale employee made his choice, and those of us in the audience sucked air through our teeth. The company served the press turkey legs served in plastic severed hands. You’re left with what looks like a severed limb once you eat the meat off the bone. The picture at the top of this article is a finished meal. It’s a little disconcerting to watch a game while people around you seem to be chowing down on human arms. Onscreen, a character died. Things spiraled even further out of control, and someone else died. It happened in the blink of eye. The mistake was a moment’s hesitation at having to do something horrible to another human being. This is the world of The Walking Dead: Many of your choices consist of picking one of two terrible things. “I think one of the great things is how heart-breaking it is. Have you read the books? I think ‘Oh my God, it can’t get any worse,’ and then it gets worse. And then it gets worse again,” Kevin Bruner, the co-founder and CTO of TellTale Games, told the Penny Arcade Report. “Coming up with ways that things can go south… you can lose shelter, you can lose food, your relationships with people can go crazy, you can lose your mind a little bit. Coming up with new ways that things can get worse is kind of fun.” The game delights in giving you situations that are unsolvable, or at the very least will always result in someone being mad at you. It’s not a matter of saving people, it’s being given a moment to decide who dies. Or who eats and who goes hungry. “We try to outdo each other with how bad it can get,” he said.
Episode 2 is coming, very soon
The entire season has already been written, but the later episodes are still in production. Episode 2 should be out by the end of June. “There are different layers of detail. We’re working with Robert Kirkman, Skybound, and Gary Whitta; the whole season arc, what happens in all five episodes, is all kind of laid down. But we wait and write the dialog as late as possible,” Bruner said. “This is particularly useful for The Walking Dead, because the game is tracking everything. Everything you say, every interaction, we can reference from previous episodes. There are many times we end up with characters in a situation and we think 'wow, it would be so awesome if Larry reacted in this way if he remembered that this happened'. Those details are what make the game really special.” Episode 2 is filled with details both great and small that build on your many choices in the first episode, and the game will take advantage of every thing you do and say to build an experience that’s tailored to how you’re playing the game. While the major narrative beats will be the same for each player, the people you save, allow to die, and how they react to you will change from player to player. Major events can play out multiple ways. Bruner is counting down the days until players are introduced to some of the harder moral decisions in the game. “There is a moment in Episode 4 where we present you with one of the big choices. It’s not a violent choice. It’s not a verbal choice, it’s like a silent thing. I can’t wait for people to play it. You’re going to have the controller in your hand, and you’re going to see this choice we present to you, and it’s super heart-breaking, and I hope people think ‘you gotta be kidding me.’ It’s not a choice to physically hurt anyone, it’s kind of like the most subtle thing you can possibly do, but you know how heart-breaking it is to the characters that are right there. And it’s a no-win situation. It’s brutal.” That’s the secret of the The Walking Dead: no matter how nice or mean you are to the characters around you, everyone is stuck together. The world pushes the characters together and makes it so that they have to deal with their differences. What’s it like to do something terrible to someone, and have them right there with you in a hostile environment? What if they were starving? The game will continue to do things to attack the player and make them feel both unsafe and unsettled by the compromises needed to survive in this world. I pointed out that Bruner seemed to take pride in punishing players who try to do the “right” thing. “It’s like reading the books!” he said, laughing. “You read the books and think this is horrible, and you throw the book down, and then you pick it up and read some more.” He said that people complain about video games that desensitize people to violence. “This is a game that just preys on your sensitivities to horrible things that can happen in this world and exploit them. That’s what makes it fun.”