Clementine’s life is in your hands in The Walking Dead season two
Sweet, darling Clementine. She wasn’t the main protagonist in season one of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, but she stole the show for many players – including us. Season one wasn’t about staying alive to fight another day or to wrack up the most zombie murders; it was about keeping Clementine safe and helping her grow into a strong person, even if that meant seeing disappointment in her cel-shaded eyes.
In All That Remains, the first episode of season two, protecting Clementine is still important, but there’s a twist: She’s the main, playable protagonist. Her life is at the mercy of your fingertips. All That Remains director Dennis Lenart tells Joystiq that this is a unique, emotionally charged position for players.
"We’re all coming in still being really protective of her, and now that the controller is in your hands, there’s a weird thing where half of you is playing as her, and then half of you is also still kind of protective of her. It’s a really interesting thing. It’s so hard usually to get people to really care about the characters they’re controlling, as far as getting them injured or killed, because you can just go to the restart screen. So far it’s been really cool – people feel that she’s in genuine danger and feel very protective over her. It’s still kind of a similar thing [to season one], except now the controller is directly in your hands, protecting her," he says.
Not only will players now be able to actively injure Clementine, but they’ll be able to make her hurt others. Choices in The Walking Dead don’t revolve around turning left or right; they’re interpersonal, deciding who to help, who to harm or who to leave behind, Lenart says.
"The choices, for us, not only are they going to affect the people around us and those relationships, but also Clementine and her growth as a character, as a young girl in this crazy world, trying to grow up," he says.
Critics of The Walking Dead season one point out that the story itself doesn’t change much according to individual player choices. All That Remains writer and season two designer Mark Darin says Telltale is exploring how much it can branch the story and what different content it can provide players, but in the end it’s not about differing plot points – it’s about the unique, emotional nuance that each player can achieve within the given storyline.
"Producing these episodically and, sort of our live development, means that we don’t have a lot of time to create so much content," Darin says. "So we want to create the best content, the most meaningful content that we just branch for the sake of branching. But if it’s not interesting and it doesn’t give you a really good moment, then it’s not worth it. We want to make the best experience. Sometimes that means different content depending on what you choose, sometimes it means characters are reacting to you differently and your alliances are different, but the story is the same."
Telltale heard this critique and plenty more during the first season. The studio receives a constant stream of player feedback and collaborates with the audience to build a better game, Darin says. Each episode of The Walking Dead offers a new chance to incorporate audience suggestions:
"We were hearing that all the way through and responding to it, and building the game with the community," Darin says. "It makes it a little bit easier going into season two, to already know what people like, what people want and what we want …. We’re fully focused on telling a real, heartfelt story and creating a game that lets you experience and craft and be a part of how it’s told."
At least one player provides positive feedback to Telltale during its seasonal rollouts: Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comic series. Every meeting Telltale has with Kirkman is “super positive,” and he even throws in his own ideas – he was just in the office last week, Lenart recalls.
"He’s a fan of what we did in season one," Lenart says. "Early on in the production of that game, he realized that we all kind of got what he was going for with the books, and that we can take that in a different direction with the game – use the same world to tell our story. He felt really comfortable with that."
Kirkman probably won’t be writing episodes of the game any time soon, Darin says: “I don’t think he has time.”
For All That Remains, Darin is handling the writing. To get a sense of his style, Darin’s favorite character from season one is Larry, the hot-tempered, controlling ex-commander whose lines include, “We almost died because of this bitch and her itchy trigger finger,” and, “What do you want? A handout? Oh, I’ve got 60 cents in my pocket, if you’d shut up and quit being such a pansy.”
"I love writing Larry’s lines," Darin says.
All That Remains premieres this month on PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360 and PS3 – Steam lists its launch as December 17 and Microsoft says it hits Xbox 360 on December 18, but Telltale hasn’t confirmed any dates.