Giant Bomb News

33 Comments

Faces of Death, Part 01: All That Remains

Telltale's Dennis Lenaart and Mark Darin break down the design decisions behind the first episode of The Walking Dead's second season.

The Walking Dead's first season was nearly Giant Bomb's game of the year. The year-long adventure of Lee and Clementine's struggle for survival in a wasteland of hope was powerful, sobering, and left more than a few with less-than-dry eyes by the end of it.

No one would have blamed Telltale Games for ending Clementine's story there, but you can't blame them for trying, either. It's a double-edged sword, one especially sharp now given season one's lead creatives--Sean Vanaman, Jake Rodkin--left to form their own studio, Campo Santo.

But episode one, All That Remains, pulled few punches in returning players to The Walking Dead's bleak world, now in Clementine's shoes. It's a new dynamic. Lee was an adult, but Clementine is still growing up.

Last season, I spoke Telltale's designers and writers about their work on each episode. We're continuing that feature this season, as well. Director Dennis Lenaart and writer Mark Darin joined me on the phone earlier this week. It's not as long as I'd hoped, but scheduling conflicts related to the release of episode two, A House Divided, got in the way. We'll have something more substantial for next episode.

(Unfortunately, the audio quality is so poor that it cannot be posted as an Interview Dumptruck. Sorry!)

Beware of spoilers, obviously!

***

Giant Bomb: You guys had certain expectations, you set out with a story you wanted to tell. What surprised you about the reaction to episode one?

Dennis Lenaart: The thing I was actually happiest about was people really feeling like they were playing Clem--way quicker than we ever expected them to pick it up. Even watching YouTube playthroughs, it seems like, within the first 15 minutes, people are sold on “now I’m playing Clementine, and now I’m thinking of my decisions as her,” as opposed to Lee or thinking about it from a third-person player perspective. I was really, really happy to find out that people jumped on board that quick.

There was a lot of worry going in. We wanted it to feel like you were playing this young girl in this apocalypse. That means a lot of limitations in what you can do fighting [back], your strength--things like that. We knew we were going to embrace it wholeheartedly, and we weren’t 100% sure if people were going to be on-board, or if they were going to be bummed if you can’t do as crazy of a thing in an action scene as you would. Just seeing that, and seeing people jump on that was awesome.

Mark Darin: I’ll back that up. We were hopeful people were going to find the transition from playing as Lee, somebody protecting Clementine, to jumping into Clementine’s shoes and actually being Clementine [smooth], and still feeling the same type of protection. That went really smoothly, and people really embraced it. It was also interesting--we anticipated this--we provided space for the player to now play Clementine however they wanted to play Clementine, whether they wanted to keep Clementine as innocent as she seemed in season one...or branch out and get a little meaner, a little sassier. It’s fun watching people explore those depths of Clementine.

Lenaart: To add to that, I was extremely surprised at how much people loved playing devious Clementine in areas. In the end, there’s an opportunity to call out to Rebecca about whose baby is it in a really sort of devious way. Everyone does that, and everyone loves it. It’s their favorite part. [laughs] I thought people were gonna be like “no way!” Nope.

Darin: I will say the thing that surprised me is how much people roleplay the hell out of the juice box. You get the juice box when you’re sewing up your arm, and it does absolutely nothing, but people will take a sip, then take a sip, then take a sip. They roleplay the hell out of the juice box because they have it. [laughs]

GB: When it comes to designing Clementine’s story arc for season two, the relationship with the player is different. In season one, Lee's he’s an adult making adult decisions. That impacted Clementine, but you weren’t controlling her. You are her in season two. How much does that change how you shape the player's choices?

Darin: We have to build enough context within the game, in the narrative, for you to be able to make those decisions, and not just pulling from your life experience as a human. It’s both. You have a certain amount of experience in life to be able to make those moral decisions, but I think we also have to work really hard to provide enough context, so that people of all ages have a base to make a decision and see how it plays out. Even if you don’t have that life experience, then the results of your actions will lead you into situations where that will impact you, as well. If that makes any sense at all. [laughs]

"Omid was the unfortunate victim of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, both narratively and with our design needs."

Lenaart: The thing we had going for us that was really nice was that we tried to put thought into all the decisions that were made. Everyone was a kid at some point in their life. Whether or not you had 100% analogous experience growing up, we still tried to take that instance of “oh, I got caught stealing the cookie, I can probably get away with it.” Or “I would say this kind of thing to lie and no one’s going to call me out on my bullshit.” Giving you experiences like that [s] you could, at least, relate to in a general way. Except in this case…it’s people wanting to lock you in the shed. [laughs]

GB: When the season starts, you’re not quite sure what characters you’re going to run into, what Clementine’s situation is. This episode opens with reminding you “hey, by the way, we’re going to be killing people really quickly.” Why did Omid need to play that role?

Lenaart: That’s a good question, and you’ll get a long answer on that. I think it was important for us to start [like that]. We spent a lot of time debating where we were going to start, but we knew that we wanted to get Clementine to a point where she was going to have to be on her own. But we also had to tie back into season one. The last people we saw were Omid and Christa. Omid was the unfortunate victim of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, both narratively in our story and, also, with our design needs. [laughs] I think that’s how he ended up being the one to bite the bullet.

Darin: At the end of season one, we say to Clementine “find Christa and Omid." The last shot of is season one, seeing people in the hills, wondering who it is. It was definitely something we knew was seeded in people’s minds at the end of season one, and it was just a question of how early do we pay off on that. As a hope for the season, in episode one, we really wanted to focus on Clementine removing all of the familiarity, and really just being on her own in this terrible world. It seems like the sooner we could do that--actually, in the first scene!--it would give us time to explore her being alone in episode one, and setting up her journey for the rest of the season.

GB: There’s a lot of powerful moments in episode one, as there normally are in The Walking Dead. But there’s always one that has me cursing you guys.

Darin: [laughs]

Lenaart: [laughs]

GB: I’m a dog owner, and there's the harrowing moment where this dog starts biting me. I don’t expect that my chihuahua is ever going to get that crazy, but still. In The Walking Dead, you’re usually offered choices between two bad decisions. Here, you either kill the dog or leave it to die. What did that decision represent for you?

Lenaart: Well, you didn’t play episode two, where zombie dog comes back to kill you and you have to put him down! [laughs] The dog was a really interesting situation. When you start the beginning of the episode, learning you were separated from Christa and Omid is no longer in the picture, and you’re off on your own. It seemed like a good first step on the road to recovery for Clementine. She doesn’t have a family of people anymore. She doesn’t have anyone helping her. It’s her first step--coming across his animal. It’s a familiar thing. Dogs used to be pets, and it’d be great to have one as a companion!

It was actually fun to watch how well that worked with players. Pretty much everyone I talked to, they said that in that scene, they were pretty sure this was going to be their companion for the next episode. The thing that was surprising to most people is that when they met the dog, they were like “oh, man, I don’t want to get attached because I feel like, at some point, this is going to go bad.” But no one had any clue it was going to be in the next scene. [laughs] That surprised pretty much everyone I talked to, which is good.

It’s funny, too, with the choice. I feel like 90% of our conversations in meetings--and this is going to seem really bizarre--were that no one would kill the dog and this choice would be super unbalanced. It ended up being quite the opposite of that, which was super surprising to us. When you even mention the situation to people, in principle, people are just like “no, no, you never kill a dog--you never do that! That’s horrible! You never do that!” That line that we give to Luke: “You don’t kill dogs, man!” Once you saw it in the game with the horrible sound effects and everything, it’s amazing to me how much that tips people to the completely opposite end of the spectrum.

Darin: On the design side, we spent a lot of time concentrating on moments where it’s a really hard decision and it’s a really horrible decision either way you go. I wanted to experiment with [moments] in-between some of those really hard decisions, [and] have some decisions that feel like they’re actually easy decisions. For some people, this was the dog. Upfront, we had the decision to burn your photo of Lee or burn an old, wet log. They’re not difficult decisions, but they elicit a response from the player, reminding you that you do have choices and there are things that mean something to you, even if these things don’t end up being hard decisions in the moment. As soon as that choice comes up, it elicits an emotional response, and those were things I wanted to explore in that episode.

Lenaart: It puts you in an interesting emotional space when those options pop-up. One of them is a picture of Lee, one of them is a photo of Kenny’s family. You have the log. Every time I’ve watched someone play through, most people don’t burn the pictures, but they immediately have that visceral response “what? no way! I’m keeping these!” Some people--[this is] more rare--see that and go “well, you know what, Clementine? You need to grow up, you need to move on.” Even though people usually go into that choice knowing exactly what they’re going to say right away, it does make an emotional impression on them.

GB: The impression for many was that this dog would be a companion. Was that something you considered?

Lenaart: For episode one, it was importance to establish that isolation, to make Clementine and the player have expectations…and, then, pull the rug out from under you and know that you’re going to be humbled a few times. This world doesn’t pull any punches. That was extremely important.

Darin: The phrase that we always have around the office is that “the world doesn’t give a shit if you’re a little girl in the zombie apocalypse. It’s going to treat you horribly.” The whole first half of the game is just making that click. At every step of the way, you think something could go well, and, then, we say “nope, in reality, this would probably be horrible.” If you had that food, the dog would probably try to take. Even if you have the best intentions and want to make a friend, it wouldn’t really happen.

GB: When Clementine comes across the house, she’s not trusted. You might think there would be sympathy to a child, but the house is very divided. How did you approach setting up that group dynamic?

Darin: Those group dynamics evolved over the course of creating the first episode. We struggled with finding an identity for the group. Are they going to trust you outright? How much are they going to distrust you? How much do they trust each other? It went through a lot of iterations. It’s hard to look back and think what, at any given point in time, we were thinking about the group. [laughs] A lot of the situations first came up with the simple scenario of getting bitten by a dog. You’re a person in the zombie apocalypse, you show up in front of strangers with a serious bite on your arm, what does that mean? From there, we built out and found the voices, how they were going to treat outsiders, and what it means to trust people.

"You’re a person in the zombie apocalypse, you show up in front of strangers with a serious bite on your arm, what does that mean?"

GB: Was there a particular moment in this episode that you had to workshop the most?

Lenaart: A lot of what the dynamics within the group themselves and the relation to Clementine. There was a lot of stuff we went back and forth on. Just classically, all of our episode ones go through a lot more iteration than the rest of the season because we’re trying to get as many people in the office to play it and give opinions and see what parts of our opinions are validated and what stuff we need to work on more. The group was a huge part to me.

Also, just [figuring out] how to start the episode exactly. How soon is too soon to separate Clementine from people? How much time can you spend alone? That was all stuff that we calibrated pretty significantly over the course of production.

Darin: The beginning and the end was the thing that we worked on the most, over and over again, to see what felt right.

Lenaart: We’re really happy with how episode one sets up what we’re trying to do with the overall character arc for Clementine in season two. One thing that I was a little bit surprised on with some of the reaction to getting to know the characters a bit more. I think episode one is a really good foundation for what we want to do. Over the course of the season, when all the episodes come out, it’ll be a pretty awesome thing to look back on. It serves a really good function.

Darin: That function is that it’s Clementine’s story.

Lenaart: It was weird for us, too. How much, exactly, could we play with her [being] alone? That was something we debated a lot, too. A lot of our games are dialogue and talking to people. Again, one of the things I was happy with was that a lot of people really loved the Clementine [being] alone sections of the game, which is cool. It’s not something that we often do in Telltale games.

Darin: It’s difficult to make that work narratively when it’s just one character with nobody to talk to. [laughs]

Patrick Klepek on Google+
36 Comments
Posted by AMyggen

Aw yeah, one of my favourite features on the site is back. Thanks Patrick!

Posted by Bobafeet

So excited that this feature is back. Love it.

Posted by JeanLuc

Loves these articles. Glad your continuing them for season two!

Posted by MrGtD

I'm always curious about how they feel about the percentages. Episode 1's seem to have come down to 75/25, which to me, seems like a slight failure. It's only been out for about a day, but so far, Episode 2's decisions are almost all 50/50. That sounds way better, and representative of Episode 2's way better everything over the first one.

Edited by Dberg

I'd forgotten about these. They were super interesting, and I look forward to a new batch of them :)

Edited by Fobwashed

This is one of my favorite series on the site. Really love being able to hear the thought process behind some of the crazier moments in a game filled with crazy moments. If you get a chance, would be nice to know about the way the filler episode between seasons 1 and 2 ties into the second season. It doesn't seem like it plays a large role yet so maybe it was just put together to keep Walking Dead on gamer's radars?

Edited by Sgtpierceface

These are one of my favourite features Patrick. Keep it up!

Edited by Nightcrawlah

Man, they've still got it. S2 episode 2 was probably the most intense one yet.

Edited by Dasdude

Thank you so much for doing these again Patrick! I loved this feature during S1, was worried this feature wouldn't return due to TWD becoming such a hit, thus making the (new) devs less willing to talk openly about designing it. Can't wait to hear the behind the scenes for Ep2!

Posted by KGreekness

"...but the house is very divided."

I see what you did there.

Edited by LackingSaint

Love these articles!

As i've said before, I thought Season 2's premiere was extremely disappointing, and all the successes of Episode 2 just exemplify that; there was barely a moment in the first episode that I hesitated about what I wanted to do, and literally no point where I felt regret about my actions. Then pacing-wise, the whole thing felt very rushed, skipping right past introducing us to the group in favour of bad-ass wound-stitching. This general idea of "not wanting to pull punches" feels a bit flawed in the case of Episode 1; sure, it set me up with the idea that they were going to hit me with something, but those hits don't hit nearly as hard when there was like 5 seconds of build-up beforehand.

On the flipside, I spent most of Episode 2 gritting my teeth, biting my nails, cursing myself for fucking up somehow, and i've ended up attached to basically every character in some form.

Excited to see the Season progress, and more of these features!

Posted by Tblockkiller

Patrick didn't ask the most important question. Is clem black or Asian? j/k

Posted by Fobwashed

@lackingsaint: I think that it's very well done on their part that you feel that the decisions were easy to make considering that in most decisions, it's a pretty big split in what people chose. The best branches I felt were the ones where when discussed with friends, we chose opposite paths while both thinking we chose the obvious one.

Mine is just another opinion but just throwing it out there that just because a choice is easy to make doesn't mean everyone is making the same one =]

Edited by LackingSaint

@fobwashed said:

@lackingsaint: I think that it's very well done on their part that you feel that the decisions were easy to make considering that in most decisions, it's a pretty big split in what people chose. The best branches I felt were the ones where when discussed with friends, we chose opposite paths while both thinking we chose the obvious one.

Mine is just another opinion but just throwing it out there that just because a choice is easy to make doesn't mean everyone is making the same one =]

I understand what you're saying, but just to illustrate my point (without getting too in-depth spoiler-ey on a comment thread);

I think most people, myself included, appreciate the choices of The Walking Dead because they carry a heavy emotional weight to them, and force us to reflect deeply on how we perceive the world. In Episode 1's case, choices like the Dog Death and Accepting Nick's Apology don't make me think particularly hard or reflect much; the Dog was gonna die either way, and not being super forgiving of a stranger threatening to kill you isn't going to keep anyone up at night. I'm not saying it's not still fun to look back at those choices, I just think it's been done better in most other episodes of the game.

Oh, and as an aside, it's not really a big split when it comes to Episode 1 choices. With the exception of the Nick/Pete choice, it was pretty much 85/15 splits.

Edited by erik_mckenny

So, as of Episode 2: the settlement led by Carver is totally the settlement mentioned at the end of 400 Days, right?

Posted by Kerned

I was writing a Tumblr question to Patrick just yesterday about whether this feature would be back or not this year, but I didn't send it because I figured, "nah, that was just a product of the zeitgeist surrounding the game last year." I'm glad to see that I was wrong.

Posted by blackno99

Yep, I absolutely had Clem drinking that juice while she stitched herself up. Thanks Patrick, I'm looking forward to part 02.

Edited by AURON570

Wow didn't even know you could get a juicebox and some extra dialogue with that dude! Any other little tidbits I might have missed?

Posted by SharkMan

fuck Carver!

Posted by ch3burashka

That fucking dog...

I had an inkling that an animal companion would be a bit cliche, a bit too sickly-sweet for the TWD universe, but I hoped against hope it would be true. Hell, I was starting to feel a bit cynical about the role reversal (what does it say about Clementine if in Season 1 it was Lee + Clem and Season 2 it's Clem + a dog?) and that's when they decided to rip my fucking heart out. I don't usually get emotional, even during the TWD games, but the fact that they betrayed my hopes in a very believable way had me sobbing, as much for Clementine as for my own stupidity - how dare I let myself believe in any kind of happily-ever-after scenario.

At the very least, I killed the dog at the end; I'm not a monster to leave it to suffer. It had turned into an evil product of its environment - I wasn't going to allow Clem to follow it down that path.

Posted by Askherserenity

Great job, Patrick! I actually JUST finished playing the first episode today and man...FUCK TELLTALE. As soon as I saw the dog I literally put down my controller and actually thought about just closing the game. I hate that they made me kill him :[

The one who really had to suffer through this the most though was my actual dog. Had to hug him a few times after that scene.

Posted by rmanthorp

This is the only time I've ever played full renegade in a moral-choice-type game, my Clem straight doesn't give a fuck. I can't wait to ice every single person in that house.

Great write-up Scoops. Can't wait for the rest. Episode 2 will be fun. I hope you get Nick on for it and the Scoops can finally throw down.

Moderator
Edited by Ravelle

I totally missed the Juicebox somehow.

@rmanthorp said:

This is the only time I've ever played full renegade in a moral-choice-type game, my Clem straight doesn't give a fuck. I can't wait to ice every single person in that house.

Great write-up Scoops. Can't wait for the rest. Episode 2 will be fun. I hope you get Nick on for it and the Scoops can finally throw down.

Same here, I used to forgive people but this time around Clem's telling them how things are when they fuck up.

I also get a governor fibe from Carver, motherfucker has to pay.

Edited by HS_Alpha_Wolf

@patrickklepek I am glad to see you doing this again, and I will come back and read these later since I am set on truly hating myself in one big lump once all the episodes are out.

Edited by BBOYS2231

@patrickklepek Great read Patrick! Really awesome to see this feature up again. I love hearing about the developer's initial reactions as to what they think gamers will do in a situation, and it turns out they do the complete opposite!

On a side note, I would love to see you or any of the duders at the office play through the episodes to see how you guys view the game and the choices in them. :)

Posted by Orysef
Posted by trelution

@patrickklepek "I’m a dog owner, and there's the harrowing moment where this dog starts biting me. I don’t expect that my chihuahua is ever going to get that crazy."

Pixel is gonna see all that dog juicing you've done on Spelunky and go Cujo on your ass!

Posted by ManMadeGod

These are my favorite interviews on Giantbomb. I just beat ep2 and loved every moment of it. Clementine is still a great character.

Posted by Alucitary

after getting fucked by this series save system three times sadly I'm done with the series. The story and presentation is phenomenal, but unfortunately the game part is barely more than a alpha in terms of stability.

Posted by CairnsyTheBeard
Posted by Alucitary

@alucitary: Were you playing on PC? I was affected by the same issue, replayed the first 3 chapters about 6 times! But there is a fix for PC by replacing the prefs.prop file: http://pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/The_Walking_Dead:_Season_One

BTW there are no save issues with season 2 to my knowledge!

I haven't played season 2 but Gus Sorola over at Rooster Teeth said he had a save issue with season 2, though he hinted that cloud saving may have been part of the issue.

Posted by CairnsyTheBeard

@alucitary: Damn! Seems like Telltale need to get their shit together!

Edited by LegendaryChopChop
@ravelle said:

I totally missed the Juicebox somehow.

Same here, which is crazy because usually in TWD and other adventure games, I click on everything and must hear all of the dialogue for looking at, and then taking something.

I guess that moment was just really tense for me to experience so I had my mind totally locked on sewing the wound.