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I’ve only a passing familiarity with Michonne from seeing a bit of the Walking Dead> TV show, where she is one of the few competent characters, but I broadly understand she is, as the kids say, ‘pretty dang cool’. Cool enough to get her own spin-off game and be voiced by Orange Is the New Black>‘s Poussey, certainly.
Payday studio Overkill announced in the summer of 2014 that it had begun work on a co-op FPS, with elements of action, role-playing, survival horror, and stealth, based on The Walking Dead. (The comic, that is, not the TV series.) It was originally slated to come out sometime this year, but Overkill parent Starbreeze Studios now says that it won't be out until the second half of 2017.
That's a significant delay by any measure, but the reason is a good one. Word of the postponement was tucked into a larger announcement of a $40 million investment in Starbreeze by Korean gaming company Smilegate, which gives Starbreeze rights to develop a new co-op FPS based on the Crossfire franchise for Western markets, and will also allow it to release Payday 2 and The Walking Dead on Smilegate's platform in Asia. There are other business-y elements to the deal, but the bit that's especially relevant to our interests is that all that fresh, sweet green being showered on Starbreeze will mean a bigger (and, hopefully, better) zombie game from Overkill.
Overkill's The Walking Dead will be expanded with more content where an Asian version will be developed for simultaneous launch with the Western version, Starbreeze said. To maximize the new opportunities, Starbreeze, 505 Games and Skybound have decided to release the game in all markets during the second half of 2017. The partners are convinced this will pave the way to success, maximize revenues and cement it as a tent pole product for the next decade to come.
Hopefully this means that Overkill can afford to give its Walking Dead a proper subtitle, too.
Telltale’s resume has grown enormously over the last few years, spurred on by the success of their Walking Dead franchise. They’ve always had a number of franchises on their run at any time, from the mediocre Sam & Max to their truly dreadful Law & Order games, before finding some comedic feet with Strong Bad. But those were the olden days when their games were cartoonish point and click adventures. Now they are choose-your-own adventures with SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES. Currently we concurrently have The Wolf Among Us, Tales From The Borderlands, Game Of Thrones, Minecraft: Story Mode, and The Walking Dead. Recently they announced they’re adding Batman and a Marvel title. But I’ve uncovered even more, exclusively revealed below.
Now that Telltale have wrapped up the first series of Tales From the Borderlands and Game of Thrones, it’s time to show a little more of what’s coming next. Last night they announced a Batman series, but also showed off something sooner. A wee trailer for The Walking Dead: Michonne [official site] shows that the three-episode miniseries, which fills in the story during a gap in the comics, will start in February 2016. Oh, and Michonne won’t be voiced by her TV actor, but is having words put in her mouth by the excellent Samira Wiley – Poussey from Orange Is the New Black>.
The Walking Dead: Michonne is a three-episode "mini-series" Walking Dead adventure announced in June by Telltale Games, starring—surprise!—the katana-wielding super-survivor Michonne. At the time, Telltale said the new game would be out in the fall, and as the crappy weather outside my window attests, fall is now upon us.
There's still no hard release date, but Job Stauffer, the "head of creative communications" at Telltale, suggested on Twitter that it'll be coming soon.
— Job J Stauffer (@jobjstauffer) November 10, 2015
To be clear, this is not The Walking Dead Season Three. Stauffer said in a follow-up tweet, that "there will be no news on @TheWalkingDead S3 until, at earliest, after the new Michonne Mini-Series concludes." Telltale has so far released two "seasons" of its Walking Dead adventure, each divided into five episodes, the last of which came out in August 2014. It was, in our estimation, pretty good stuff. We liked the first season just fine, too.
This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, which you really should play if you haven t already. You might want to skip the second-last footnote if you haven t played Spec Ops: The Line too.
Telltale s games each begin with a warning: This game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored by how you play. That sets up an expectation plenty of players have been disappointed by—an expectation they ll be able to radically alter the plot, twisting it into something like one of those pictures of a cobweb made by a spider on caffeine. In reality, Telltale s The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and more recently Game Of Thrones and Tales From The Borderlands1 funnel players back to a baseline every couple of episodes. Then they branch, and then they funnel again. It s not The Stanley Parable Adventure Line, but it s a close relative.
There s a moment in the third episode of The Walking Dead when the character you chose to save in the first episode—either Carley or Doug, though for the 75% of us who prefer competent gun-wielding survivors it was Carley—gets unceremoniously killed off. In the moment, it was shocking. Later, when I realized it happens no matter who you save and the decision was at least partially motivated by the cost of writing and recording different dialogue for future episodes (the character in question plays a noticeably reduced role in episode two for the same reason), I felt like I d seen behind the curtain. Some of the impact was reduced.
The choices you make in Telltale games have limited consequences for the plot, it s true. But they have massive consequences for the characterization and theme, which is something few other games offer. There s more to stories than plot, after all.
The comic book The Walking Dead is based on is overt about its theme. At the end of issue 24 Rick Grimes delivers a speech making it very plain, saying we already are savages and then, shouting over a two-page spread, WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD. It s classic Man Is The Real Monster stuff, fitting for a grim series where survivors betray each other constantly. Telltale s game gives you the option of choosing a different interpretation. Lee doesn t have to become hardened by being forced to make hard decisions; he can maintain his belief in human nature and then pass that on to Clem. He dies no matter what, but whether he dies with words of warning or compassion on his lips whether this is a story about hope or fear—is up to you.
Like a lot of zombie fiction the comic takes a cynical view of humanity, suggesting civilization is a thin veneer and we ll fall into savagery as soon as catastrophe strips it away. That s not what happens after disasters in the real world, however. After Hurricane Sandy hit New York, the Gothamist reported that crime rates dropped by 31%. We expect the opposite, sometimes with dangerous consequences. Reports of looting and violence in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina were exaggerated by politicians and the media to such an extent that a bipartisan committee later wrote, The hyped media coverage of violence and lawlessness, legitimized by New Orleans authorities, served to delay relief efforts by scaring away truck and bus drivers, increasing the anxiety of those in shelters, and generally increasing the resources needed for security. 2
Maybe a plague of actual zombies would be enough to turn us into lawless beasts, and if you believe that Telltale will let you tell that story. When the survivors decide to steal from the car at the end of episode two you re welcome to join in. But you can also tell a different story, one about a man who refuses to steal because he wants to set a better example for a child. The endpoint of both those stories is the same if you reduce them to their barest plot points, sure, but why would you?
Similarly, The Wolf Among Us lets you subvert Fables, the comic it s based on. Bigby Wolf is feared because he was once the Big Bad Wolf of legend, but it s on you whether he lives up to that reputation or not. After a bar fight with Grendel you have the option to tear his arm off, Beowulf-style, to ensure he doesn t try it again, or you can simply walk away. The comics often portrayed Bigby as ruthless and apparently Bill Willingham, the writer of Fables, removed Gren s arm when he played the game3. But The Wolf Among Us doesn t have to be another hardened hard man story. Your Bigby doesn t have to be the monster everyone thinks he is, and can take actions that would never happen in the comic it s based on.
Big Choices have become part of the shared toolkit of modern video games—take, for example, retro RPG Wasteland 2. Early on you re forced to decide between saving a settlement or a laboratory, with the obvious implication that the other will be destroyed before you can get to it. The repercussions seem large different areas to explore, different characters to talk to, different missions to complete but while the meat-and-potatoes of the game changes, the theme remains the same either way.
You ll be berated for letting one place be destroyed no matter which you save, but you ll never be asked why you made the choice. Maybe you saved the settlement because there were children there, maybe you saved the lab because trained scientists are more valuable than ordinary folk, maybe your decision was informed by the fact that one provides food and the other water. It doesn t matter. Wasteland 2 doesn t care why bad things happen, it just knows they need to because that s how post-apocalyptic fiction works4.
Forcing us to focus on why we make characters do things brings us closer to them.
Letting players pick their own morals is something Telltale s games have in common with Edgar Allan Poe s stories. The author of The Tell-Tale Heart disliked the idea of writers forcing a single reading of their work, or bending all their stories to an overarching morality. While the murderer who narrates The Tell-Tale Heart is wracked with guilt and eventually confesses, the murderer who narrates The Cask Of Amontillado feels no guilt and suffers no consequence. Poe thought it was better for writers to focus on creating effect (if he was writing today he d probably have said feels ), and that s what Telltale s games achieve 5. Forcing us to focus on why we make characters do things brings us closer to them. It s why the endings of both seasons of The Walking Dead are such tearjerkers, and why we share Bigby s shock at the end of The Wolf Among Us.
The choices in Telltale games aren t just meaningful because they foster this connection with the characters, however. By giving players control not over the plot but over the context that plot happens in, the choices become meaningful in the most literal sense—they let you alter the meaning of the story. That s a rare thing in video games, and worth recognizing.
1 I m focusing on The Wolf Among Us and the two seasons of The Walking Dead in this article because those are complete at the time of writing, though Game Of Thrones seems to be following the formula so far. Three episodes in, Tales From The Borderlands feels like the odd one out given how light-hearted it is. If its final episodes are as good as the first three it might just be Telltale s masterpiece, though.
2 Sociologists have tried to debunk the myth that theft follows disasters, which they call elite panic , but it s a pervasive part of our culture. Even a game like This War Of Mine, which is based loosely on the 1992 1996 siege of Sarajevo, falls prey to it. In This War Of Mine you have to keep guard at night to keep out raiders because your neighbors are as much of a threat as the snipers and bombs. Its initial inspiration was One Year In Hell, the account of a survivor of Sarajevo s siege known only as Selco, who wrote that, In these situations, it all changes. Men become monsters. But accounts from other survivors differ from Selco s, depicting communities coming together, sharing rather than stealing. Selco is the one who got famous, however, and now sells his expertise through online courses for survivalists.
3 That info comes from an interview with the writers of The Wolf Among Us comic (yes, there s a comic based on the game that s based on a comic). The series is still ongoing, but so far it s been weird seeing which Bigby is the Official Canon Bigby. As well as ripping Gren s arm off he burns down Aunty Greenleaf s tree. I like my Bigby better.
4 To pick another example of a game that does things closer to the Telltale way, Spec Ops: The Line forces you to commit an atrocity but allows you to choose how the protagonist feels when confronted by his crime at the game s conclusion. It was just as divisive there s no way to keep playing without killing innocent people but like Telltale s games it lets you determine how the main character feels and whether he s capable of being redeemed or not. It makes for a powerful ending that s like nothing else in modern military shooters.
5 Closer to the hardboiled crime genre The Wolf Among Us was inspired by, Raymond Chandler had similar ideas. Mystery stories are famously dependent on tight plotting, but while writing to one of his editors Chandler explained why he believed his audience cared less about that than was usually assumed: My theory was they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description... Read that back, the creation of emotion through dialogue and description is such a perfect summary of what Telltale do it should be on their business cards.
On this week’s episode of Whoa What Wait You’ve Licensed What To Make a Spin-off of Your Game? comes word that prison-escaping craft-o-RPG The Escapists [official site] has been romancing zombie world comic book The Walking Dead and is expecting a bouncy baby in less than nine months. They plan to give the wholly uncreative name The Escapists The Walking Dead. No, really. Just the two names smashed together. Yeesh, parents these days.
The spin-off will see Rick Grimes trying to keep his pals alive while escaping scary places.
Telltale Games have announced a new three-part The Walking Dead miniseries, starting this autumn. The Walking Dead: Michonne, as the name suggests, focuses on Michonne, one of the longest surviving characters in the comics. Across the three episodes, you’ll explore her whereabouts and actions between issues 126 -139 of the comics.
Telltale is returning to The Walking Dead with a new three-episode mini-series, called The Walking Dead: Michonne. Unsurprisingly, it stars The Walking Dead comic's Michonne, and is set between issues #126 and #139. According to Telltale's announcement, Michonne starts the mini-series "haunted by her past and coping with unimaginable loss and regret." So expect it to be as cheery as any other Walking Dead game.
Like Season One's 400 Days DLC, the mini-series will require players to own at least the first episode of Season Two. As to why Telltale are basing the mini-series around this character, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman had this to say:
"In many ways, Michonne herself is a reflection of the world of The Walking Dead. She is brutal and cold on the outside, but deep beneath what is broken, she remains hopeful, trying to claw her way out of the darkness that surrounds her. In our effort to bring the world of the comic and the world of the Telltale series closer together, there is no greater character than Michonne to help bridge that gap."
The Walking Dead: Michonne will be available this autumn.
You know that there are adventure games, and you know that some of those adventure games are better than others. But do you know which one is best, and which one is twenty-fifth best? Well, at last you can find out, with our definitive, unimpeachable breakdown of adventure gaming’s best moments.