Let me start this off by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Telltale Games “The Walking Dead” video game. Episode 1 “A New Day” was absolutely riveting, pulling no punches and forcing players to make some absolutely horrendous choices and rumor is that its only going to get harder as the series progresses. The Walking Dead game is an emotionally draining experience and by the time most people had finished the first episode they were emotionally invested in the characters and trying to figure out how the decisions they made might come back to haunt them later on. The truth is that it’s bloody brilliant work, in fact its much too good for an episodic format like this. I would have liked to seen them release it as one full game or if they had to do episodes I wish they would have at least had the first 2 episodes completed before they released the first one. It would have given them some breathing room that I think they so desperately need.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why Telltale Games had to do it like this, I’m sure they had trouble pitching it to a big studio and weren’t quite sure how fans would receive it. I’m almost positive that they didn’t expect the critical acclaim that it received after it released and the pandemonium that followed as word of mouth spread and more people gave it a try and got hooked. That’s actually how I picked it up, a friend on Twitter suggested it and that was it. A few weeks after release, TellTale Games announced that they had sold over a million copies of Episode 1 which I’m sure they were ecstatic about. But success like that can be a double-edged sword, because now you have set a standard that you must live up to. You start to try to make things perfect and you start second guessing yourself because at this point there is a lot on the line. The pressure builds at every level, gameplay designers start to make too many changes to certain mechanics and the writer inherently feels pressure to live up to the quality of the story that the last guy delivered. At the time that Telltale Games decided that every episode would have a different writer I bet they thought is was a great idea, I’d bet that they are rethinking that decision now.
To introduce a new writer every episode leaves a lot of room for things to go wrong, for decisions to be made that make the episodes seem incoherent. The major thing that complicates this is the same thing that has many fans of the game livid, the long delays between episodes. On their current schedule, TellTale Games would deliver the final episode of The Walking Dead sometime around Christmas. That is a very, very long time to wait to find out how a story ends and if it doesn’t wrap up loose ends properly and give players a satisfactory ending we could see a backlash in the vein of what we saw with Mass Effect 3’s ending.
Several players have already complained about the fact that Episode 2 takes place 3 months after the events of Episode 1. What has happened during that time? How have the relationships changed and developed? A major issue at this point is that to keep the suspension of disbelief going players are going to have to believe that the actions they take from the beginning of the episode are what determines what these people think about you and that is what drives the storyline. But in 3 months of living together in such a confined situation, we are supposed to believe that all the relationships are EXACTLY the same as they were the last time we left these characters?
For me personally, it is a tough sell. I know video games skip over days, weeks, and even years sometimes but not games like this. With games like this where your decisions matter so much, I just can’t fathom losing out on so many crucial decisions in that lost 3 month time span. Perhaps they will go back and create some DLC for the “The Lost Months” at some point. At this point, we don’t know how much more time we will lose out on between episodes, but hopefully not too much.
To be clear I’m not upset with TellTale Games, they made what they felt was the best decision for them at the time. The fact that a major publisher wouldn’t take a shot on it is understandable too, who knew that the game would develop such a cult following. Moving forward, TellTale Games has a tight rope to walk both in terms of the quality of each episode and the timeline between them. The consequences of a drop in quality or the coherence of the story could be devastating. As I said earlier, The Walking Dead is a compelling game but will only remain so as long as players remain invested in the characters and the story. If players lose that investment either due to a drop in quality or long delays between episodes, then both TellTale Games and us as players will have missed a marvelous opportunity.