“The Thumbs Behind The Curtain” or “Why You Should Have Blind Faith In Telltale’s the Walking Dead Game”

It Needs to be Good

I am a Walking Dead fanboy.  I read the first eighty issues of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s (with contribution from Tony Moore) serialized comic in three days.  So naturally, when I heard that the Walking Dead was being developed as a videogame, I was immediately nervous.  I conjured up images of Sheriff Rick Grimes as the star of a third-person action game reminiscent of Resident Evil, and wished for a game that would focus on the rich characters that populate the Walking Dead’s world.  As more details surrounding the game were released, I was amazed and delighted to hear that Telltale Games would be developing The Walking Dead as an adventure game.  For those that aren’t familiar (you’re missing out), Telltale Games is the developer of the recent Sam & Max, Monkey Island, and Back to the Future episodic games.  They tend to produce adventure games, and are currently the best developer in that genre (in my humble opinion).  Odds are, if you are a big adventure game fan, you’ve been playing Telltale’s games for a while now.

The Best at What They Do

If you are skeptical of Telltale Games’ ability to develop a quality product based on an existing franchise, take a look at the Sam & Max games.  Initially developed by LucasArts and released in 1993, Sam & Max Hit the Road and its sequels were incredibly fun adventure games that were bursting with character development and humor.  It would be reasonable to argue that the Sam & Max games are some of the funniest videogames ever.

Despite the daunting proposition of creating new games in this much-revered franchise, Telltale delivered a series of faithful episodic games that fans of the original Sam & Max had a hard time criticizing.  The same applies to the Tales of Monkey Island series, which was excellent.  I felt that Telltale’s Monkey Island episodes were worthy of the name in every way, which is impressive, considering that the LucasArts games set an extremely high standard.  I have faith that the people at Telltale Games are excellent at examining what made an existing franchise work, and figuring out how to update that series in an interesting and original way.

Games, Video Games, Video Games, Video Games

Except in rare cases, I don’t hold blind faith in developers.  I don’t think every game that every Visceral Games or Rockstar North game will be amazing.  Even with Telltale’s stellar track record, I’m still not at the “blind-faith-in-all-of-their-products” stage yet.  I do, however, have blind faith in some people. I don’t know who every member of the Walking Dead team is, but I know the project lead is Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin is a designer.

For those that don’t know, Rodkin and Vanaman were involved in my #2 gaming podcast of all time, Idle Thumbs.  If you listened to the podcast, you’d know that these guys are smart, and tend think about games in an unconventional manner.  Considering that the other two “Thumbs” are now working on Bioshock Infinite, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who thought the Idle Thumbs cast are intelligent guys.  Vanaman and Rodkin have also worked on many of Telltale Games’ great titles over the last few years, and their expertise regarding videogame design showed on Idle Thumbs.

Throughout the Idle Thumbs run, Vanaman and Rodkin both demonstrated that they are highly intelligent, critical of mainstream games when they deserve it, and that they put an emphasis on story and character development.  I believe these are essential traits for quality game developers to possess, and knowing that Rodkin and Vanaman are on the team has only increased my anticipation for the Walking Dead game.

Next Issue…

Over at the Telltale forums, you can download “Episode 0” of a development podcast that Vanaman and Rodkin started.  It’s only a test episode, but it gave me some insight into how they are approaching the game.  It would be easy to assume that Kirkman’s comic – and therefore the game – was all blood and guts, but the real heart of the Walking Dead is its characters, and it sounds like Vanaman and Rodkin know this very well.  Vanaman also alluded to meetings that the development team has had with Robert Kirkman, which demonstrates that the author cares about the end product.  The fact that the license went to Telltale says a lot, considering that they are one of the only companies that make licensed games in an interesting and non-mainstream way.

I hardly ever think of a game as a “first-day-purchase,” but knowing that Telltale is developing the Walking Dead game, Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin are two of the people working on it, and that the main focus of the game will be the characters increases my anticipation tenfold.  If you haven’t played any TellTale games and are upset that The Walking Dead will be an adventure-style game, go play the Sam & Max or Monkey Island episodes, and I think you will change your mind.

We will definitely be keeping our eyes on the Walking Dead game as its development continues, so expect more coverage soon.


Posted on May 29, 2011, in Editorial and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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