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The Walking Dead Is Not For Me
by Seth Sivak on 01/09/13 07:36:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The Walking Dead is kind of a big deal for the game industry. It is the culmination of years of work by Telltale Games to finally nail episodic content with a hit game and create a brand new twist on the adventure genre. Numerous blogsmagazinesaward shows and individuals consider this game to be their Game of the Year for 2012.

But I hate it. 

Let me stop here and say that I completely respect this game and Telltale. There is no doubt this is a pivotal game for the industry. I understand why people love it, and I think they should love it. However, this game is just not for me. 

I play games for several reasons:

  • To feel good about myself
  • To feel smart
  • To develop mastery of a skill, mechanic or world

Don't get me wrong, the story is great, the scenes and timing are fantastic, the art and animations are well done. Academically, I understand that this is a good game. The problem I have is with the core mechanic of making dialog choices and action choices. So lets take a look at each one of these.

I play games to feel good about myself.
Some people will argue that this game is not about winning and it is structured so the player cannot feel good about himself or herself. There is no win condition here; there is just the end (or so I am told, I haven't finished it). The player cannot save everyone. The whole point is making difficult decisions that the player is personally invested in to give the feeling of true despair after the apocalypse. I can deal with that, I made tough decisions in other games--decisions I felt were lose-lose--but in those cases the decisions came with some good feedback.

I play games to feel smart.
Feeling smart is about making the correct strategic choice based on the information available. One issue I have had in The Walking Dead is that I do not have all the information I want. Some dialog choices are ambiguous as to how they will be delivered, so I have found myself frustrated when I make a choice that I assume will do one thing, but then my character says it in a way I totally did not expect. I always want to blame the game for this, because I feel betrayed about the information I was given. Other games, like the Mass Effect franchise, get around this by coloring responses to make it clear the tone and outcome. I understand why Telltale chose not to do this, but some hints could have improved this for me.

Knowing that you made a correct choice is about feedback, having the game tell you that you did something "right". Or at the very least telling you what you just did. In The Walking Dead, the feedback you get for the decisions you make is confusing and muddy. The only feedback the player gets is "Clementine will remember that." This is not good feedback. What will she remember? I can't easily tell how exactly she just took my last comment. I have no way to know the outcome of the decision I just made. This feedback could easily be more clear without giving away the story, and it would have made it easier for me to feel satisfied with the choices I made.

I play games to develop mastery of a skill, mechanic or world.
I cannot get better at this game. Over the course of my experience playing I have yet to feel like my understanding of the world, my character, or the other characters has improved. I struggle to find patterns I can follow, or strategies that seem to consistently work. The game does a great job of pushing me into new situations, but each time I feel woefully unprepared. I think this could have been fixed by giving me more feedback about my progress along the way. Let me know how I am doing on the axis of friendly vs. solitary or merciful vs. cruel or whatever scales the game is using to determine how my character is being treated. (There is some of this at the end of episodes, but that did not help me while playing)

Sadly, I will not finish this game.
Dredging up a common game design idea: Flow requires that the subject have goal, understand how to reach that goal and is given constant feedback on the progress towards that goal. This game did not provide these for me. I felt frustrated often with the choices I made, like buyer's remorse after each major decision. I do not blame the game, or Telltale. 

The goal I wanted for this game was to make a certain type of character and watch a certain story play out. The character I wanted to make was honest, helpful, and unselfish, the proverbial "good guy". The story I wanted to craft involved me helping others whenever possible and sacrificing myself to reach that end. However, I had no way of knowing if the character I was building and the story I was watching were the ones I was trying to achieve. There was no way for me to know if I was making my character as virtuous as he could be, or being as chivalrous as possible towards Clementine. This made me feel like I was wasting my time, which is deadly to any game, and it is the reason why I stopped playing.

I do not think it is impossible to get a player like me to love a game like The Walking Dead, but I think there needs to be more care around establishing goals and giving clear feedback to meet my needs as a player.

Does anyone else feel this way?

 



 


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Comments


Ben Serviss
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I feel pretty much the opposite about everything you've said, but I respect your opinion.

I think Telltale was intentionally trying to do something different, and ground everything in the ambiguity of reality. The whole vague "Clementine will remember that" feedback was annoying to me at first too, until I began to realize that this is *exactly* how the world actually works - people remember the things you do, for good, bad or insignificant.

That, combined with the emphasis on split-second decisions (another very realistic mechanic), made me feel even more like I was right there in Georgia with the rest of the survivors, and less like I was playing a game with clear 'good, bad and neutral' answers, which I can get from any number of similar games. This is what makes The Walking Dead stand out, in my opinion, and why it's such an amazing game.

I hope you can get to where you can give it a second chance at some point, it's exceptionally well-done.

Tom Baird
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It feels like they focussed on there not being any 'good or bad' decisions. Just like in real-life, there is no global moral decision making compass that pings after each decision. Decisions are tough, and the results of choices are rarely immediately and fully apparent.

This made me engage the story so much more, because when the decisions I made to save people got them killed, I felt responsibility. It makes those decisions so much more heavy when it's not 'good choice or bad one', and the results are not readily apparent.

I am normally a non-story gamer, and don't really connect with the narratives, but this game is really catching me with it's characters and story, specifically because of it's ambiguity and focus on personal choice and personal morality, with a clear lack of a global morality that is generally in most games involving moral choices.

Luis Guimaraes
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Personally, I cannot feel responsible for anything that's already written, when I know it is happening because somebody made it so.

Michael Stevens
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I've only played the first episode, and I liked the format, but I found it really frustrating.

The game continually asked my character ambiguous questions then gave me limiting answers. I knew why I saved one character over another, and it didn't let me tell them about it when they asked. It branched too much to let me feel like I was inhabiting a character, and not enough to let me feel like I was being myself. The disconnect made my character's answers inconsistent, and the time limit on some questions only made it worse.

A more honest (but possibly less attractive) way of doing it would be to flip it and let the player evaluate other characters (likability, usefulness, trustworthiness, etc) during conversations and then use that info to determine some branches and dialogue options. I'd rather the gameplay centered around understanding characters than manipulating their understanding of you.

Adriaan Jansen
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I don't really like the Walking Dead as much, but not for the reasons listed. I'm fine with a game that makes me feel bad about myself (Spec Ops: The Line), the ambiguity in the game gives a realistic sense, and I don't mind a game being all about plot. The thing that really annoys me about the Walking Dead is the role of the player. Movies and Books have one big advantage over games when telling a story: There is no player. That means the writer has full control over the characters and situation. Games need to give options to the player to choose from, and hope that the player will buy into it. The Walking Dead had some bad scenarios that threw me out of the game. I felt the game was fooling with me, and was frustrated over the game more than I was feeling bad for the story. Some examples (WITH SPOILERS):

SPOILER ALERT************************************************************
In Episode two, when Mark gets wounded, I was infuriated that I had no choice to check how he was doing. I was already thinking the bussiness was fishy (and the game hints so too), but it refuses me to even look at how my friend was doing. When the game was all like:" TUMDUM DUM! LOOK AT WHAT THEY'RE DOING WITH HIM!", all I thought was:"no shit, what do you think, that I'm 4? and would buy into that"

Another moment that ticked me off was the lack of meaningful interaction with Lilly in Episode 3. It was easy to see it was going to be bad, but you had no options to take actions. When she did what she did, (especially in that "film-y" setting where the camera goes switching around to confuse you) I really felt like a spectator, and in no way connected to the story. I never had a chance to stop this, and I never felt the game wanted me to try.

The worst, absolutely the worst, was at the beginning of episode 4, where Clementine gets surrounded by zombies. You then get a shooting sequence, but there is a damn zombie who is invincible, no matter how much you shoot him! Then he gets to Clementine, and Chuck has to sacrifice himself to save Clementine. That was so infuriating, that I stopped right there. I'm not an actor in the story and don't influence area around me in a meaningful way. I'm a spectator.

END SPOILERS********************************************************
That doesn't mean that The Walking Dead doesn't have it's good moments. The choices that you make are more meant to be reflective, and that is done very well, especially when calculating in the influence of Clementine. The characters are great, and the relation between you and Clementine is really good. Also, the story is really good for a game. But all in all, I didn't enjoy most parts of every episode after episode 1.

Kale Menges
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Personally, I'm just burned out on zombies, period. I feel they've become a really bad cliché, gimmick, and seemingly a creative crutch for developers in the last couple of years.

Sean Monica
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Boo sir.. boo
No I agree with you. I am a zombie fanatic and I love a great survival game. The over burden that around every corner could be my last step and the struggle to find food and water etc... However after checking out tons of games on the IOS, Droid, and Steam market i'm sick of seeing all these zombie games. I enjoy one great one every now and then but when I see games like "zombie farm" I just.. get sad that such a topic filled with potential is wasted on these petty little money grab games. It defiantly turns people off of the topic :( I agree with you 100%


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