The Walking Dead Episodes’ writer Sean Vanaman: “I still can’t believe people like it”
It’s fair to say Telltale Games’ recent history has been chequered at best. Back To The Future was okay, Puzzle Agent was… not, and Jurassic Park was sufficiently bad that Meiks cried so hard his spleen nearly came out.
But in the space of five downloadable episodes the developer has not only boosted its own reputation, it’s also provided gamers with one of the best story-driven experiences of the past few years. Undoubtedly the surprise hit of 2012, you voted The Walking Dead number seven in our Game Of The Year feature last issue, and it picked up that very gong at last month’s Spike VGAs.
“I still think it’s all a Truman Show production that our PR guys are putting on,” says Sean Vanaman, the game’s lead writer. “Early on I could tell that there was enough going on that no one would find it objectionable, but I had no idea that people would adore it. I still don’t quite believe it!”
Well, we can confirm that they – and we – very much do. But what’s elevated this so far above the company’s recent output? “It’s a combination of a lot of things coming together at the right time. The IP being so well-known helps – it means there’s an audience that might not have been there before,” explains Vanaman.
“As a studio we’ve also learned a lot from various successes and failures. We’ve combined things we’ve done in the past to make the most cohesive thing the studio’s done. We really focused on the writing and making it a character-driven story… we’ve made enough mistakes, so it was a case of learning from them and not making them twice!”
It’s unquestionably been a job well done on that front. What separates this point-and-click adventure from, well, pretty much every other game out there, is the strength of the emotional connections forged between the player and the characters. Just how has The Walking Dead succeeded where so many others fail?
“Every episode is authored by one person, so you have a singularity of tone and voice that you don’t get in a lot of games. Also, because we work fast we don’t have a chance to edit ourselves down to something really banal and vanilla.”
Quite right: the only vanilla involved is likely to be the ice cream you’ll need to comfort-eat after a ride on the game’s emotional rollercoaster. The good thing is that despite the original band of survivors being thinned like the Amazon rainforest, we will get to go back for more.
“We’re definitely going to do another season,” reveals Vanaman. “There’s no timeframe yet: it’ll be as soon as we feel like we can.” For all those who’ve enjoyed one of the year’s finest games, that can’t come soon enough. For those who haven’t: we’re not angry, just disappointed.