I Have Some Things To Say About The Walking Dead (spoilers)

Posted by Atlas (2444 posts) -

An hour or so ago, I finished The Walking Dead. I played it over the course of two weeks in five sessions in which I played through each episode start to finish; it took me about 10 hours. I have a lot of good things to say about it, but I'm also ready and - as it turns out - able to nitpick about the game's story and question why it wasn't as triumphant and awe inspiring an experience to me as it was to so many others.

First though, my choices for Ep. 5.

- I didn't chop my arm off; I was dead anyway, so since I'm the only one in the group capable of getting shit done, I decided that Lee had a better chance of getting to Clem with two working limbs.

- Got pissed at Kenny; dunno exactly what happened in that sequence, and how things could've gone differently, so...

- Gave up my weapons; I wanted to play along, see how far this guy was willing to go. I went in not intending to kill him, but I would if I had to - I just wanted to get Clem out.

- Clem shot him; I screwed up a QTE I guess, because he had me pinned down on the floor and Clem shot him in the head.

- I had Clem shoot Lee; she needed to do it. She needed to have closure. It was important to her that I not become a walker. And besides, I wanted to show her that she could do anything, no matter how hard it was, no matter how much it hurt. She had to be strong going forward, because that's the only way she'll survive.

I lost Ben in Episode Four, and Kenny died on the rooftop incident, so I only had Omid and Crista at the end. My epilogue was Clem in the countryside seeing two figures in the distance.

I didn't cry at the end, or at any point during the experience. I don't cry. If the film Incendies didn't make me cry, then a video game, no matter how was devastating, sure as hell wasn't going to. It's not because I'm a super macho guy who's not in touch with his feelings. It's not because I have no heart. It's probably because I have Asperger's syndrome. My feelings at the conclusion at the episode were definitely sorrow, but not devastation. I would describe it more as an...emptiness. But I was always in control; there was never a case where I physically didn't want to press a button to do something - even when I shot Duck, I did it quickly and decisively (he wasn't a innocent kid any more. He was one of them) - and I never had a situation where I ran out of time to choose a dialogue option. I'm not even sure what happens if you don't get there in time; does the game choose one for you, or do you just say nothing if that's an option?

I have to laud the ambition of this series, even if some of it's storytelling is a little uneven and some of its characters less than engaging. The core principles of TWD - the relationship between the two central characters, the dialogue, and the atmosphere - were absolutely marvellous. The issues I had were with certain beats of the story, and with a certain disconnect that arose when certain options were made that didn't reflect how I actually wanted them to go (thinking of a very specific moment in Ep. 5 where I made a dialogue choice and Lee's reaction was very different to the one I had intended).

I'm going to judge the game based on how it presents itself and what it was intended to be; I have no interest in complaining about what it isn't. There is one major problem with the game - and I'm only being negative here as a reaction to all the people flipping their fucking lids over this game, and the fact that it is gaining momentum on the GOTY circuit. The story is good, but not great. Sure, maybe it's one of the best examples of storytelling in games history, and it's ambition is incredible. But it feels inherently cinematic, and many of the examples of the game giving the player agency in the story are actually superficial. Even aside from that, if this was a film or TV series, it would be a good one, but probably not a great one. It's too predictable and formulaic. I haven't really gotten into the TV series of The Walking Dead - watched the first three episodes of series one, liked them, but didn't end up watching more of it. And I take issue with some of the characters. Yes, TWD does more to characterise its cast of NPCs more than any other game I've played, giving them arcs and meaningful moments, but that alone isn't enough; characterisation by itself doesn't make good characters, you need to fit all the pieces together. And the sad truth is that many of the side characters felt inessential or even detrimental to the experience, and many of them argued over stuff that was too petty and made decisions that were too arbitrary.

My best example of this is Episode Four (maybe me favourite episode), and having to decide to save Ben or let him die. This was a pretty easy decision for me. And it's a massive disconnect with the game, that it gives you this hideous oppressive horrific story where characters are seeing and doing some of the worst shit imaginable, and where a small mistake could cost you your life - and then I'm supposed to weep over having to let a stupid fucking kid, who put all of our lives in danger on multiple fucking occasions, drop to his death, when he specifically tells me to drop him for the good of the group. Ben had his heroic moment, which in some ways made up for everything that had happened before, but then the game's attempts to try and make me feel bad about it were annoying as hell. I played Lee to be as much of a nice guy and a team player as possible, but that was too much.

And then there's Kenny. Was he really supposed to be my buddy throughout the game, the guy that I related to and trusted with my life, with whom I would see this thing through all the way. Because when Kenny died, I didn't miss a breath. My heart rate didn't speed up. I didn't feel any significant loss or pain. I just shrugged my shoulders, thought to myself something along the lines of "well, there goes another one", and then I decided it would amuse me to say out loud "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!", "You bastards!"

The Walking Dead is inherently exploitative. Telltale made an engine that feeds on the tears of gamers everywhere, and they did a bloody brilliant job of doing that..to a certain extent. For me though, their attempts to paint everything so bleak were hit-and-miss. By Episode Two, the game had conditioned you to expect the worse, to not expect anything good to come of almost any decision you make. And in Episode Three, when Lilly shoots Carley for no good goddamn reason, you also know that everybody in the group except for you and Clementine is fucking worthless, at least as far as surviving an apocalypse goes. Maybe this is realistic to how a zombie apocalypse would actually go. But there were plenty of occasions where I just wanted to throw my hands up and say "fuck all y'all, Clemetine and I are gonna go hide in a shed somewhere." And that's the opposite of what good game design is supposed to do.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that The Walking Dead is the antithesis of video games. It's putting a blank canvas in a gallery and calling it art. It's impossible to approach the game with the same mindset with which you play any other game, but you're still holding a controller/using a mouse and keyboard. The game still follows video games rules to a certain extent, and then does everything it can to take agency out of the hands of the player and direct them through a path that may be entirely variable, but ends at the same path.

The Walking Dead would have not been significant worse, or different, if it was a TV series. Seriously, what would be different about it? If a video game is structured like a duck, is paced like a duck, and begins each episode with a "previously on" and ends on a credit roll like a duck, then what is it? You'd only get one path to the finish as opposed to the variables that they added, but unless you wanted to play through the experience more than once, you're only going to walk down this road once.

Is the gameplay good? Shooting guns and melee combat is functional but not particularly visceral or engaging. And going through the dialogue wheels and interacting with characters was not more rewarding than any of the other great games I've played that have this as a core feature, such as those made by Bethesda (especially Fallout 3) and BioWare (especially Dragon Age: Origins). Does the game do a good enough job of putting an avatar of the player into this world? No, because it's too limited. Because the game didn't give me the choice back at the motor inn to say to Kenny and Lilly "fuck you and your squabbling, I'm clearly the only person in this group that's able to make a sensible decision. I'll fucking be in charge!" Kenny even says in Ep. 5 that Lee was always the smartest, and Carley talks about thinking you would be the best person to lead the group. But unless I missed it, the game gave you no opportunity to actually be a leader until significantly later in the series, and certainly not while Lilly was around.

If the game was really going to give the player agency in the story, then where was the option to put a bullet in Clementine's brain at the end of Episode One and let her die as close to an innocent little girl as possible? Is that not, in some way, a valid option? I'm not sure I'd have done it, but then again the whole game is based around her, and it's obvious that she's going to be the link into the next series. But I'd have thought about the ramifications of doing it. It only becomes apparent later that she can take care of herself, but whose to know what this whole experience has done to her. There are several points along the way where the game makes it very clear that everything is fucked, and all we're doing by carrying on is delaying the inevitable and being stubborn in that inherently human way. The game even shows you people who took the choice to take the "easy" way out, but gives you no opportunity to do so yourself.

I am nitpicking. I am nitpicking about a game that I think is probably one of the best games I've played all year - top ten, maybe on the fringes of top five, but it's been a less than great year in games for me. But it's telling that I feel the need to nitpick. It suggests that something is wrong, that I wasn't absorbed enough in the world and its fiction to look past it flaws.

I have two potential thoughts about this. First, is that appreciation of good controls and effective mechanics in video games is more universal than engagement in a narrative. Of the media in our age that is narrative focused i.e. not music and visual art, books are the most divisive, followed by films and television series, and video games last. Books do less than any of those media to empower the person who is experiencing it; you even have to create your own image of the world and the characters based on descriptions. I don't need every game to be an empowerment fantasy, but the most beautiful thing about games is how their mechanics work to provide a good amount of feedback and a satisfying experience to the player. The Walking Dead doesn't do that enough. So maybe a game like Dead Space having great controls, or a game like my Game of the Year, Crusader Kings II, having great mechanical systems, is more objectively universal than a game having a good story, which is inherently more subjective. That's a loaded statement, but it's a theory.

Second, if you're going to make a game in which it being a game is "relatively incidental" - a bold and incredibly flawed statement, but you know what I mean, so roll with me on this one - if you're going to do that, then you had better fucking nail it. If story is 99% of your game, then it better be brilliant. And maybe this is just a case where The Walking Dead came close, but not close enough. The argument that it's a better narrative than a video game has ever had holds no water with me, because it cannot compare to other games that I consider to have great stories (Dragon Age Origins, Red Dead Redemption, and BioShock to name a few), because those games strike a much better balance between a story that was emotionally engaging AND gameplay that was compelling, rewarding, and added to the experience. The games that can do both will always be more inherently impressive than games that do only one, even if they do it really well - this doesn't apply to games that are purely mechanical and have no fixed narrative, like SimCity or Civilization. Those games aren't worse for not having stories.

Regardless of how I felt about it, it's a game that I would recommend to anybody who appreciates games - I'm even considering recommending it to those that don't particularly have much interest in games. As far as games in 2012 that I respect the most? The Walking Dead is top two or three. In terms of games that I felt were best, or that I had the most rewarding experience engaging in, it doesn't beat Journey, it doesn't beat XCOM, and it sure as hell doesn't beat Crusader Kings II. I think it probably does beat Dishonored though...just.

The Walking Dead is a game that is important, and probably needed to happen for the medium to thrive going forward, but I at least will remember the game as an experience that had ambition and heart that is impossible to question, but was dragged down by its limitations.

#1 Posted by Atlas (2444 posts) -

An hour or so ago, I finished The Walking Dead. I played it over the course of two weeks in five sessions in which I played through each episode start to finish; it took me about 10 hours. I have a lot of good things to say about it, but I'm also ready and - as it turns out - able to nitpick about the game's story and question why it wasn't as triumphant and awe inspiring an experience to me as it was to so many others.

First though, my choices for Ep. 5.

- I didn't chop my arm off; I was dead anyway, so since I'm the only one in the group capable of getting shit done, I decided that Lee had a better chance of getting to Clem with two working limbs.

- Got pissed at Kenny; dunno exactly what happened in that sequence, and how things could've gone differently, so...

- Gave up my weapons; I wanted to play along, see how far this guy was willing to go. I went in not intending to kill him, but I would if I had to - I just wanted to get Clem out.

- Clem shot him; I screwed up a QTE I guess, because he had me pinned down on the floor and Clem shot him in the head.

- I had Clem shoot Lee; she needed to do it. She needed to have closure. It was important to her that I not become a walker. And besides, I wanted to show her that she could do anything, no matter how hard it was, no matter how much it hurt. She had to be strong going forward, because that's the only way she'll survive.

I lost Ben in Episode Four, and Kenny died on the rooftop incident, so I only had Omid and Crista at the end. My epilogue was Clem in the countryside seeing two figures in the distance.

I didn't cry at the end, or at any point during the experience. I don't cry. If the film Incendies didn't make me cry, then a video game, no matter how was devastating, sure as hell wasn't going to. It's not because I'm a super macho guy who's not in touch with his feelings. It's not because I have no heart. It's probably because I have Asperger's syndrome. My feelings at the conclusion at the episode were definitely sorrow, but not devastation. I would describe it more as an...emptiness. But I was always in control; there was never a case where I physically didn't want to press a button to do something - even when I shot Duck, I did it quickly and decisively (he wasn't a innocent kid any more. He was one of them) - and I never had a situation where I ran out of time to choose a dialogue option. I'm not even sure what happens if you don't get there in time; does the game choose one for you, or do you just say nothing if that's an option?

I have to laud the ambition of this series, even if some of it's storytelling is a little uneven and some of its characters less than engaging. The core principles of TWD - the relationship between the two central characters, the dialogue, and the atmosphere - were absolutely marvellous. The issues I had were with certain beats of the story, and with a certain disconnect that arose when certain options were made that didn't reflect how I actually wanted them to go (thinking of a very specific moment in Ep. 5 where I made a dialogue choice and Lee's reaction was very different to the one I had intended).

I'm going to judge the game based on how it presents itself and what it was intended to be; I have no interest in complaining about what it isn't. There is one major problem with the game - and I'm only being negative here as a reaction to all the people flipping their fucking lids over this game, and the fact that it is gaining momentum on the GOTY circuit. The story is good, but not great. Sure, maybe it's one of the best examples of storytelling in games history, and it's ambition is incredible. But it feels inherently cinematic, and many of the examples of the game giving the player agency in the story are actually superficial. Even aside from that, if this was a film or TV series, it would be a good one, but probably not a great one. It's too predictable and formulaic. I haven't really gotten into the TV series of The Walking Dead - watched the first three episodes of series one, liked them, but didn't end up watching more of it. And I take issue with some of the characters. Yes, TWD does more to characterise its cast of NPCs more than any other game I've played, giving them arcs and meaningful moments, but that alone isn't enough; characterisation by itself doesn't make good characters, you need to fit all the pieces together. And the sad truth is that many of the side characters felt inessential or even detrimental to the experience, and many of them argued over stuff that was too petty and made decisions that were too arbitrary.

My best example of this is Episode Four (maybe me favourite episode), and having to decide to save Ben or let him die. This was a pretty easy decision for me. And it's a massive disconnect with the game, that it gives you this hideous oppressive horrific story where characters are seeing and doing some of the worst shit imaginable, and where a small mistake could cost you your life - and then I'm supposed to weep over having to let a stupid fucking kid, who put all of our lives in danger on multiple fucking occasions, drop to his death, when he specifically tells me to drop him for the good of the group. Ben had his heroic moment, which in some ways made up for everything that had happened before, but then the game's attempts to try and make me feel bad about it were annoying as hell. I played Lee to be as much of a nice guy and a team player as possible, but that was too much.

And then there's Kenny. Was he really supposed to be my buddy throughout the game, the guy that I related to and trusted with my life, with whom I would see this thing through all the way. Because when Kenny died, I didn't miss a breath. My heart rate didn't speed up. I didn't feel any significant loss or pain. I just shrugged my shoulders, thought to myself something along the lines of "well, there goes another one", and then I decided it would amuse me to say out loud "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!", "You bastards!"

The Walking Dead is inherently exploitative. Telltale made an engine that feeds on the tears of gamers everywhere, and they did a bloody brilliant job of doing that..to a certain extent. For me though, their attempts to paint everything so bleak were hit-and-miss. By Episode Two, the game had conditioned you to expect the worse, to not expect anything good to come of almost any decision you make. And in Episode Three, when Lilly shoots Carley for no good goddamn reason, you also know that everybody in the group except for you and Clementine is fucking worthless, at least as far as surviving an apocalypse goes. Maybe this is realistic to how a zombie apocalypse would actually go. But there were plenty of occasions where I just wanted to throw my hands up and say "fuck all y'all, Clemetine and I are gonna go hide in a shed somewhere." And that's the opposite of what good game design is supposed to do.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that The Walking Dead is the antithesis of video games. It's putting a blank canvas in a gallery and calling it art. It's impossible to approach the game with the same mindset with which you play any other game, but you're still holding a controller/using a mouse and keyboard. The game still follows video games rules to a certain extent, and then does everything it can to take agency out of the hands of the player and direct them through a path that may be entirely variable, but ends at the same path.

The Walking Dead would have not been significant worse, or different, if it was a TV series. Seriously, what would be different about it? If a video game is structured like a duck, is paced like a duck, and begins each episode with a "previously on" and ends on a credit roll like a duck, then what is it? You'd only get one path to the finish as opposed to the variables that they added, but unless you wanted to play through the experience more than once, you're only going to walk down this road once.

Is the gameplay good? Shooting guns and melee combat is functional but not particularly visceral or engaging. And going through the dialogue wheels and interacting with characters was not more rewarding than any of the other great games I've played that have this as a core feature, such as those made by Bethesda (especially Fallout 3) and BioWare (especially Dragon Age: Origins). Does the game do a good enough job of putting an avatar of the player into this world? No, because it's too limited. Because the game didn't give me the choice back at the motor inn to say to Kenny and Lilly "fuck you and your squabbling, I'm clearly the only person in this group that's able to make a sensible decision. I'll fucking be in charge!" Kenny even says in Ep. 5 that Lee was always the smartest, and Carley talks about thinking you would be the best person to lead the group. But unless I missed it, the game gave you no opportunity to actually be a leader until significantly later in the series, and certainly not while Lilly was around.

If the game was really going to give the player agency in the story, then where was the option to put a bullet in Clementine's brain at the end of Episode One and let her die as close to an innocent little girl as possible? Is that not, in some way, a valid option? I'm not sure I'd have done it, but then again the whole game is based around her, and it's obvious that she's going to be the link into the next series. But I'd have thought about the ramifications of doing it. It only becomes apparent later that she can take care of herself, but whose to know what this whole experience has done to her. There are several points along the way where the game makes it very clear that everything is fucked, and all we're doing by carrying on is delaying the inevitable and being stubborn in that inherently human way. The game even shows you people who took the choice to take the "easy" way out, but gives you no opportunity to do so yourself.

I am nitpicking. I am nitpicking about a game that I think is probably one of the best games I've played all year - top ten, maybe on the fringes of top five, but it's been a less than great year in games for me. But it's telling that I feel the need to nitpick. It suggests that something is wrong, that I wasn't absorbed enough in the world and its fiction to look past it flaws.

I have two potential thoughts about this. First, is that appreciation of good controls and effective mechanics in video games is more universal than engagement in a narrative. Of the media in our age that is narrative focused i.e. not music and visual art, books are the most divisive, followed by films and television series, and video games last. Books do less than any of those media to empower the person who is experiencing it; you even have to create your own image of the world and the characters based on descriptions. I don't need every game to be an empowerment fantasy, but the most beautiful thing about games is how their mechanics work to provide a good amount of feedback and a satisfying experience to the player. The Walking Dead doesn't do that enough. So maybe a game like Dead Space having great controls, or a game like my Game of the Year, Crusader Kings II, having great mechanical systems, is more objectively universal than a game having a good story, which is inherently more subjective. That's a loaded statement, but it's a theory.

Second, if you're going to make a game in which it being a game is "relatively incidental" - a bold and incredibly flawed statement, but you know what I mean, so roll with me on this one - if you're going to do that, then you had better fucking nail it. If story is 99% of your game, then it better be brilliant. And maybe this is just a case where The Walking Dead came close, but not close enough. The argument that it's a better narrative than a video game has ever had holds no water with me, because it cannot compare to other games that I consider to have great stories (Dragon Age Origins, Red Dead Redemption, and BioShock to name a few), because those games strike a much better balance between a story that was emotionally engaging AND gameplay that was compelling, rewarding, and added to the experience. The games that can do both will always be more inherently impressive than games that do only one, even if they do it really well - this doesn't apply to games that are purely mechanical and have no fixed narrative, like SimCity or Civilization. Those games aren't worse for not having stories.

Regardless of how I felt about it, it's a game that I would recommend to anybody who appreciates games - I'm even considering recommending it to those that don't particularly have much interest in games. As far as games in 2012 that I respect the most? The Walking Dead is top two or three. In terms of games that I felt were best, or that I had the most rewarding experience engaging in, it doesn't beat Journey, it doesn't beat XCOM, and it sure as hell doesn't beat Crusader Kings II. I think it probably does beat Dishonored though...just.

The Walking Dead is a game that is important, and probably needed to happen for the medium to thrive going forward, but I at least will remember the game as an experience that had ambition and heart that is impossible to question, but was dragged down by its limitations.

#2 Posted by Xeirus (1305 posts) -

@Atlas: Until the last episode I would have agreed that it doesn't beat XCOM, but after the last one was over I had to face facts... nothing in XCOM will ever come close to the story, as a whole, in TWD. It's not to say anything bad about XCOM, it's probably my 2nd fav game of the year, but TWD just took it out back and had sex with it.

You're right though, TWD -needed- to happen. It's showing these other fools what story telling is.

God damn I love that game...

#3 Edited by JoeBigfoot (107 posts) -

I agree with a lot of what you say here, though your main point about the gameplay being disappointing is something I have to totally disagree with. The mechanical gameplay elements were poor at best (the shooting? terrible), the whole point of the game is the "gameplay" was the character interactions and choices. Like the guys said on the podcast, in a way its like a text adventure game, its about seeing how your choices pan out. Say what you will, but though a single playthrough, the developers make you feel like the choices you make have a significant impact (not 100% of the time, and the overall story seems pretty much pre-determined). The whole game works because they manage to emotionally blackmail the player into getting ridiculously attached to Clem. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't come across as well on a TV show.

#4 Edited by LackingSaint (1811 posts) -

Interesting post, although a few things bug me;

No, because it's too limited. Because the game didn't give me the choice back at the motor inn to say to Kenny and Lilly "fuck you and your squabbling, I'm clearly the only person in this group that's able to make a sensible decision. I'll fucking be in charge!"

Actually the game gives you the opportunity to choose not to take sides, and in the directly following scene you totally have the opportunity to tell the Dairy guys that you're the one in charge. And it's not like you wanting to be a leader automatically makes the personality-types of other characters irrelevant; Lilly and Kenny were both extremely set on taking a leadership role, the whole point was at every opportunity the two would try to seize it.

My best example of this is Episode Four (maybe me favourite episode), and having to decide to save Ben or let him die. This was a pretty easy decision for me. And it's a massive disconnect with the game, that it gives you this hideous oppressive horrific story where characters are seeing and doing some of the worst shit imaginable, and where a small mistake could cost you your life - and then I'm supposed to weep over having to let a stupid fucking kid, who put all of our lives in danger on multiple fucking occasions, drop to his death

The only disconnect i'm reading there is you seem to think it's wrong for a game to act like there is something emotionally trying to dropping a mixed-up teenager to his gruesome death. And in the context of a "team player" and a "good guy" like you played your Lee, how would you expect the game to suddenly discern you don't give a fuck about Ben? I'd be more shocked if I spent the whole game trying to be a peacekeeper and then the game suddenly treated Lee like a coldblooded killer for dropping Ben.

And then there's Kenny. Was he really supposed to be my buddy throughout the game, the guy that I related to and trusted with my life, with whom I would see this thing through all the way. Because when Kenny died, I didn't miss a breath.

This I don't really understand how the game could've improved on this. You and Kenny go through extreme emotional trauma together, you watch him go through horrible things and try to get on with it, deal with the death of people he cared about, make choices which drastically affect your friendship. Often the game used him as a contrast-point with Lee as a character in the role of protector, a cautionary tale of how emotional attachments can destroy you.

Got pissed at Kenny; dunno exactly what happened in that sequence, and how things could've gone differently, so...

For the record choosing not to grab the statue to smack Kenny with I think is what affects that. When I saw the prompt I chose not to because it was a stressful situation, and smacking Kenny in the face didn't seem like it'd solve matters.

If the game was really going to give the player agency in the story, then where was the option to put a bullet in Clementine's brain at the end of Episode One and let her die as close to an innocent little girl as possible? Is that not, in some way, a valid option?

There's a point at which it is wholly unrealistic to expect a game to give you a certain choice, and I think that point is somewhere around when you're annoyed the game didn't let you just kill two main characters (one being a child) out of nowhere in the very first episode, despite nobody really knowing what's going on.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that The Walking Dead is the antithesis of video games. It's putting a blank canvas in a gallery and calling it art. It's impossible to approach the game with the same mindset with which you play any other game, but you're still holding a controller/using a mouse and keyboard. The game still follows video games rules to a certain extent, and then does everything it can to take agency out of the hands of the player and direct them through a path that may be entirely variable, but ends at the same path.

Now this just makes literally no sense, i'm sorry. You say The Walking Dead is the antithesis of video-games because, what, you always end up at the same path? You can say that about the vast majority of video-games, it just so happens that in the case of the Walking Dead the story is partially interactive. No agency? If you're trying to argue it offers less storytelling agency than the vast vast majority of games, you're insane. Choosing who lives or dies, choosing which characters sympathize and would follow you, how you are judged by the stranger. Yes, the game doesn't let you choose every single aspect of what happens but it's an independent downloadable game that still gives you more agency in the story than 99% of stuff out there. "Impossible to approach the game with the same mindset of other games"? Try every single point-and-click adventure game ever made, which is what a large amount of the gameplay consists of.

I'm sorry if this comes off as bitchy but i'm very tired of this disconnecting of Walking Dead as a videogame just because they give you some choices but not all of the choices.

#5 Posted by Atlas (2444 posts) -

@LackingSaint: Thanks for reading, and for writing a thoughtful reply to my post. It didn't come off as bitchy before; many good points were made. But I mostly stand by my initial post, and here's why:

There's a point at which it is wholly unrealistic to expect a game to give you a certain choice, and I think that point is somewhere around when you're annoyed the game didn't let you just kill two main characters (one being a child) out of nowhere in the very first episode, despite nobody really knowing what's going on.

Then they shouldn't have made a story that's so grim and hopeless, with a supporting cast that is entirely useless, that I'd potentially consider this a viable option.

Now this just makes literally no sense, i'm sorry. You say The Walking Dead is the antithesis of video-games because, what, you always end up at the same path? You can say that about the vast majority of video-games, it just so happens that in the case of the Walking Dead the story is partially interactive. No agency? If you're trying to argue it offers less storytelling agency than the vast vast majority of games, you're insane. Choosing who lives or dies, choosing which characters sympathize and would follow you, how you are judged by the stranger. Yes, the game doesn't let you choose every single aspect of what happens but it's an independent downloadable game that still gives you more agency in the story than 99% of stuff out there. "Impossible to approach the game with the same mindset of other games"? Try every single point-and-click adventure game ever made, which is what a large amount of the gameplay consists of.

I'm sorry if this comes off as bitchy but i'm very tired of this disconnecting of Walking Dead as a videogame just because they give you some choices but not all of the choices.

I'm going to be completely honest with you, and everyone else - I never played any of the classic 90s adventure games, and The Walking Dead is, as far as I can remember, the first "adventure game" that I've beaten. And I have very little interest in text adventures. So maybe my feelings about The Walking Dead's flaws as a gameplay experience are more representative of my feelings on the genre. I do love the character interaction in games like the best recent BioWare games, but in those games those systems are combined with good traditional gameplay; I go chat to Garrus in Mass Effect to flesh out his world and the story, but I still have a galaxy to explore and it plays pretty well as a third person RGP.

I don't care that it offers you more agency than the vast majority of video games - in many ways, TWD is more interesting in being a movie than a game anyway. Besides, 75% of the time you're watching your character move as opposed to actually moving it, which is the majority of my argument about it being the antithesis of video games (I was exaggerating, and maybe could have chosen a better word) . I very much remember a time when many people were complaining about games that had too many cutscenes, or that they were too long, and now a game that is significantly more cutscene than game is the game of the year. Strange shift.

Anyway, this thought links me back to the idea I proposed that good game design is universal, while good storytelling is subjective. Every critically acclaimed movie or book will have some people who think it's a load of junk - I can't think of the same thing applying to games that play really well. I get the impression that adventure games were big in the 90s, but for the majority of their existence they've been something of a niche genre - I can't think of an adventure game that was a big mainstream success. So it's strange to me to see that my personal GOTY, a game very much in a niche genre, gets largely ignored while another game in a niche genre receives so much praise.

What I'm now starting to think is that maybe I am in the camp that yes, games do need to be fun. And there's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't make me a simpleton stuck in a previous generation - at least I don't think so. Still, in my original post, I had to think quite hard about how to describe my issues with the game without descending to the game not being fun. I acknowledge that it's not supposed to be, but if a game isn't fun, and doesn't tell a story that I'm really engaged in with characters I enjoy interacting with, then what the fuck am I doing with 10 hours of my life? I've watched some very grim films in my time, so it's not like I don't appreciate dark storytelling, but TWD feels cheap and exploitative compared to those films.

The only disconnect i'm reading there is you seem to think it's wrong for a game to act like there is something emotionally trying to dropping a mixed-up teenager to his gruesome death. And in the context of a "team player" and a "good guy" like you played your Lee, how would you expect the game to suddenly discern you don't give a fuck about Ben? I'd be more shocked if I spent the whole game trying to be a peacekeeper and then the game suddenly treated Lee like a coldblooded killer for dropping Ben.

My problem is that I feel like the game chided me less for stuff that was way more significant. Kenny lost his wife and child, through no fault of his own, and I put the bullet in Duck's brain: and I'm supposed to feel awful because I killed a useless member of the team who sacrificed himself for the good of the team? Think about how Ben handled the situation with Lilly; he denied giving the bandits supplies right to our faces, and he could see as well as any of us that Lilly was in a fucked up state and was liable to do something crazy, and he stood and watched and said nothing while Lilly shot Carley in the fucking head. Fuck that guy; at least Carley had a brain and could use a gun.

By that point in the game, all I cared about was Clementine first and me second. I was making decisions that reflected that, but whenever there was an opportunity to do something for the good of the group, I usually did it. And just before I let Ben drop to his death, I had announced to the group that I was more than willing to leave him behind, so Ben shouldn't have been too surprised by me dropping him.

For the record choosing not to grab the statue to smack Kenny with I think is what affects that. When I saw the prompt I chose not to because it was a stressful situation, and smacking Kenny in the face didn't seem like it'd solve matters.

So let me get this straight: by me not hitting my "buddy" in the face with a statue, he got killed by zombies in something that was entirely not my fault? Man, video games are fucking stupid.

#6 Posted by Slag (4346 posts) -

@Atlas:

Just a thought dude, but you mentioned you had asperger's right?

I think that might partially explain your lack of reaction to a lot of this game and why you feel the need to nitpick. Because the emotional rollercoaster may not work on you as it does others. And so you see behind the curtain, so to speak, more than perhaps most people who played this game.

I think you points on the illusion of player agency are very fair, but I do think like horror movies this game is best experienced in an emotional state of mind. In a willful state of delusion. Most horror movie buffs know the tropes down to a science where they could probably predict the entire storyline down to every jumpscare from initial character introduction. Yet they still enjoy because they just feel then movie instead of thinking about it. If you don't think too much and just react it's a lot more fun. The same i think holds true here, because that's basically what this game is, an emotional manipulation game. I found myself falling for the false choices despite the fact I knew true player agency was not happening.

And that's actually why I found the gameplay controls to be pretty good. Which probably isn't a popular sentiment for this game (since you analyze them on their own they are at best mediocre) but hear me out. When people are stressful situations they usually lose the ability multitask well. If Walking Dead gave you too many things to do, I think it would really break up the tension too much since there'd be too many instances of things like, players not going fast enough, player dieing repeatedly due to missing something they'd normally perceive and general drawing out dramatic moments too long to where the adrenalin dies off.

So the gameplay was suited to the style of story they were trying to tell and I think it worked very well at that. The controls were simple and you were forced to act quickly with single deliberate button pushes. There's not many games where you actually have to consider which button to push. By keeping the controls simple it helps suspend disbelief for the player.

re: the Ben stuff

I don't know if you ever talked somebody down from committing suicide before, but a lot of times they will say things like "you should let me go" etc when they don't really mean it that way. It's their profound guilt eating at them that they are desperate for a way out of the emotional pain, not out of a true desire to die.

That's what I personally saw in Ben, there was no way I was letting that dude drop when I could save him. His only chance at redemption was through living and continue trying to make up for what he did. To be honest I consider it cold-blooded murder to drop somebody without max effort in that situation, even if they ask to be let go.

And that's why the characters reaction to what you did is appropriate because based on the way you played character that action was not consistent with other people would expect a "hero" or a father figure to Clementine to behave, even if you did vocalize different sentiments. Actions usually count more in someone's opinion of you, things said tend to get written off if they don't fit the person's image of the other person. Now if you had been cold blooded in other parts of the game maybe it might have been different.

and seriously giving that stuff to the bandits does not make him directly responsible for Duck's death. Ducks' death was an unfortunate accident. Ben's intentions were to help the group, despite how misguided his actions may have been. He may have not been reliable or competent but he wasn't an ill-intentioned individual.

#7 Posted by TheHT (11238 posts) -

@Atlas said:

I just shrugged my shoulders

Atlas shrugged.

...sorry.

Online
#8 Posted by mlarrabee (2949 posts) -

@Atlas said:

@LackingSaint:

For the record choosing not to grab the statue to smack Kenny with I think is what affects that. When I saw the prompt I chose not to because it was a stressful situation, and smacking Kenny in the face didn't seem like it'd solve matters.

So let me get this straight: by me not hitting my "buddy" in the face with a statue, he got killed by zombies in something that was entirely not my fault? Man, video games are fucking stupid.

Actually, you throw the statue at the wall. Kenny is used to seeing Lee as the collected "junior leader" of the group, and seeing him lose it shakes Kenny out of his self-pity and rage. Kenny's death is unrelated to whether or not you force him into seeing other persons' problems.

I have a buddy with Aspergers who plays video games as well, and there have been times in games when character interaction and response that seemed perfectly normal to me confounded the heck out of him. It's the line about killing Clem when you first meet her that inclines me to diagnose about half of your problems with the game to your syndrome.

#9 Posted by Atlas (2444 posts) -

Ironic, considering that Patrick wrote that article about people with Asperger's syndrome playing games and specifically L.A. Noire, and I loved that game. Maybe that's why I was so negative and willing to nitpick the game - maybe it's a disappointment because it's the first game in which my condition actually affected my ability to enjoy a game that is largely considered to be outstanding. As a side note, I also have ADHD, which is known for making people impulsive when it comes to decision making, which would be very detrimental to one's ability to play the game. However, I do take medication for my ADHD, so it likely was less of a factor.

And funnily enough, letting Ben die was not the decision in which I was in the largest majority; I kept my arm in Ep. 5, since Lee was dead anyway, and him having two functioning limbs gave us a much better chance of saving Clementine.

@mlarrabee: You're probably right, especially about the Clem stuff. But let's make one thing clear: I don't think I could ever, in real life, shoot a living kid with its entire future ahead of it, nor would I let a human fall to his death if there were a chance I could save them. The Clem scenario was more of a hypothetical than anything else. The problem is the game's inability to draw me into the importance of its decision making, at least not those that involve Clementine - I did very much care about Clem over the course of the story, and the moments between her and Lee are among the best in the game. I remember thinking that the Ben situation was quite ambiguous; the game tells you that letting Ben drop gives you a better chance of saving yourself and, more importantly, Clem, and that taking the time to save him put everyone else in danger. In hindsight, it's obviously impossible that the incident could have done any significant harm to Lee or to Clem, so I actually think that were I to overthink the situation, I'd have saved him.

Also, I actually had a stronger reaction to killing Ben than I let on in my post - I did make a very quick decision, though, and I probably would have done it again.

#10 Posted by mlarrabee (2949 posts) -

@Atlas: I played Lee completely straight, trying to never let emotion affect his actions. But after Ben's failure to act in the street my thumb hovered over the "let him drop" button right up to the end of the timer. After how much damage he did to the group it was so hard to try to forgive him. Even after everything happens in Episode five between Lee, Kenny, and Ben the best Ben got was bumbling tag-along status, right up until the end.

I guess that's why I love it so much. I just finished Alpha Protocol never taking any bribes or killing any characters. I always picked the paragon option in Mass Effect 2. But TWD made me reconsider my knife-edge morality, more than any other game.

#11 Edited by Insectecutor (1186 posts) -

@Atlas said:

The Walking Dead would have not been significant worse, or different, if it was a TV series. Seriously, what would be different about it? If a video game is structured like a duck, is paced like a duck, and begins each episode with a "previously on" and ends on a credit roll like a duck, then what is it? You'd only get one path to the finish as opposed to the variables that they added, but unless you wanted to play through the experience more than once, you're only going to walk down this road once.

Well, TV can't make you feel genuine guilt or regret, it can only play on memories of those emotions. Seems like you misunderstood what TWD was trying to achieve as a piece of interactive fiction. It's not a game if you define a game as something that is solvable but I don't think it was ever trying to be that kind of game in the first place. In fact I think it was deliberately not that. It's meant to hold up a mirror and make you think about yourself and it's pretty effective at doing this.

Also what said about Asperger's syndrome.

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