Walking Dead: Survival Instinct artist defends game’s graphics, but early coverage remains negative
Activision is publishing a first-person Walking Dead game, subtitled Survival Instinct, and many gamers first saw the game via a trailer that turned out to be a fan-edit of early game play footage that was released as B-roll. The reaction was intensely negative, even though we were assured that the final game would look much better. I spoke with Glenn Gamble, the principal FX artist and system designer for the game, about the fake trailer. “That was interesting, because no one knew anything about it,” he stated. “We had the same reaction as everyone else, which is… what? That’s the short answer. Nobody really knew where it came from, or what happened.” The challenge is to convince gamers that the footage they saw isn’t indicative of the game’s final quality.
It’s going to look better
“The big thing right now is changing the perception. People don’t realize that a computer may not have the top end graphics card, and also a game is constantly changing,” Gamble explained. “Every time we work on a level, every time we add new stuff to a level, we have to re-bake and re-light map it, which gives it the fancy lighting and everything else. When you work on a game, you tend not to do that until the very end, because you’re constantly adding things.” “At the same time we were working on a post-processing filter… I don’t know if you’ve seen the behind-the-scenes Lord of the Rings stuff, but every time they take a shot the lighting may be a slight shade of green, or it’s blue in another scene, and then they do this pass over that unifies the movie so it seems like one cohesive piece of work,” he continued. “You do the same thing with a game, where you make that pass to level everything out. What was shown was earlier development footage, because that’s what we had in the time. So the trailer got made, I don’t know what possessed the person to do it, but it caused a lot of confusion out there. We’re working on stuff to get out there to show people what the game looks like now.”They recently showed the game to press, and the reaction was… mixed. “Terminal Reality’s new zombie game boasts humble graphics that’d look more at home on an original Xbox, with character animations and movement that emit a distinctly low-budget vibe,” the Official Xbox Magazine wrote. “Truth be told, we’re still eager to play it, though — and not just because it’s set in the same post-apocalyptic, ghoul-riddled world as AMC’s hit TV show. Another preview stated that the visual filters may have hurt the game. “Terminal Reality's decision to adopt that particular art-style appeared to have the unwanted effect of creating a flat, somewhat textureless ambience, which was disappointing, compared with the uniformly amazing-looking games that have recently graced this late stage of the console cycle,” the Guardian wrote. Is this why there wasn’t game play in the official trailer that was launched soon after the fake? Wouldn’t that be the most efficient way to convince the skeptics? “I would kind of agree with you on that. I work on the game, and I hate to say, but that’s marketing type thing. It’s like marketing tells me to go somewhere and talk, and that’s what I do,” Gamble admitted. “There are a lot of aspects of this industry that are still foreign to me after 10 years, like marketing and how those decisions are made sometimes. I don’t get it, and for my end I just have to look and wonder sometimes.”
The Telltale Game's Walking Dead adventure game won a pile of Game of the Year awards, and proved to be a monstrous hit. Following that up with a first-person game that acts as a prequel to the show has to be intimidating. “Honestly, the intimidation factor for me is working in the Walking Dead universe itself. You don’t want to be responsible for messing up someone’s favorite franchise,” Gamble said. “There’s a lot of pressure there. We were already well into development and we found out the same time everyone else did that they were working on Telltale’s game. We were immediately saying it was cool, but then said wait, there are two Walking Dead games at the same time?” As a gamer, he’s excited that there are two Walking Dead games so close to each other, and they’re complimentary. “Yes, to answer your question simply, it’s intimidating. Those guys knocked it out of the park, and I’d like to shake any one of their hands and tell them they did a great job… I’m excited to have had a chance to even work in the universe.” Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is coming to the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and PC on March 26.