Telltale Games, the indie studio behind the critically acclaimed narrative adventure The Walking Dead, has become known for its emotional poise in the art of storytelling, a profound display of character development and artful narrative design within a video game. Now the indie company is at it again, tugging at our heart strings with The Wolf Among Us, a title that is canon to the Fables comic book series. With a gorgeous art design that captures the comic book frame for frame, the game follows Bigby Wolf in his endeavor to protect the mythical creatures of the Fables universe.
After being captivated by the demo for The Wolf Among Us at PAX Prime, Hayden Dingman and I spoke with two of Telltale's developers, Nick Herman and Dennis Lenart. In our chat we talked about what influence its predecessor The Walking Dead has had on the development of the title, as well as art choices, narrative design chocolate bars, and even The Walking Dead Season 2! Read on:
Nick Herman: I think with The Walking Dead, the goal was to get it to look like the comic. But I think with Fables we started there, getting the game to look like the comic... and in stills it looked just like it. So we wanted to try and push it even farther and give it our own sort of flavor. This game is a prequel as well, so we can play with the era and the colors a bit more. And we have an amazing art team.
Katy Goodman: You were saying the game is a prequel... how will this tie into the Fables series in terms of characters and narrative? The Walking Dead was a game that left me with an emotional hangover; can we expect to see the same thing here?
Dennis Lenart: There are pieces within the game that happened after the books started, but our story takes a lot of those familiar characters, then we throw in some other ones that aren't really in the books or had smaller parts--we really expand on them. But it does have the same feeling of The Walking Dead. You get caught up in the story, and that's the main selling point for the game.
Hayden Dingman: Is there a scene that's going to be as upsetting as the candy bar "hand-out" scene in The Walking Dead? (group laughs)
Lenart: I'm sure there will be.
Goodman: Well great.... Carley... ugh. (laughs)
Dingman: How much crossover is there between The Walking Dead development team and this team?
Herman: I mean, we started fresh. We announced that we were working on The Walking Dead and Fables at the same time actually... so there was a lot of work going into this while we were working on The Walking Dead. We have a new writer and he came in and got excited about it and then we jumped on it. It's so different from The Walking Dead.
Lenart: Yeah, we were on The Walking Dead while the script [for The Wolf Among Us] was being created. They had us jump over because we were just so excited about what it could be.
Dingman: When is this slated to release?
Herman: It's slated to release in September. However, we're going to announce something soon!
Dingman:The Walking Dead Season 2 is coming out around the same time, right?
Dingman: You guys are a busy studio!
Herman: Always making games. Every night.
Goodman: What drew you guys to the Fables comics? The Walking Dead has such a heavy and emotional narrative design... so what aspects of Fables comics inspired the game to come into fruition?
Lenart: Well I think the idea of it being such a rich storytelling world in the comics--that's what initially attracted us to the licensing of it. Like Nick was saying, a while ago, even before we were making The Walking Dead, it just seemed like everyone in the studio agreed that it would make a great Telltale game. It's really all about these characters and how their relationships affect each other. Same thing with The Walking Dead, it's an opportunity to tell all of these really great stories.
Herman: I think for me too, it's just like you know these characters, you know their names, you know what happens, but when you close the book... what happens after that? It's messed up most of the time, and that's why it's fun.
Goodman: With The Walking Dead many of the dialogue options were either absurdly depressing or serious. I noticed in the demo here that there are some comedic options. Is that a trait of the protagonist or is the whole came going to take itself a little less gravely?
Herman: Well you play as Bigby Wolf who is the Big Bad Wolf. He is just a different character, a different guy, and he comes from being the bad guy and now he is sort of in charge of keeping the town safe and protecting the fables. He brings his own personality to the story.
Lenart: Like you were saying, the comedy element is another element that excited us about it [Fables]. With The Walking Dead, working on that for so long, it's such a grave world and every situation is so terrible. With the Wolf Among Us it's nice because you're playing in this world and it's fantastical with bright moments and colors. It works with the narrative.
Goodman: Exactly. It didn't feel out of place at all.
Dingman: And you guys have one writer working on this? That's different from The Walking Dead, which had one person writing each episode, right?
Lenart: We're going to be doing a five episode season, so there will be different writers on different episodes.
Dingman: And will the episodes be released monthly?
Lenart: Nothing is confirmed yet, but it's going to be similar to what we did with The Walking Dead. Each one has a similar kind of feel, when it gets published it can be played in a night. It'll be coming out for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. We will have season passes for it.
Goodman: Once the season is complete will there be a hard disc release as well?
Herman: We have nothing hard right now, but I'm sure there will be.
Lenart: We always try to do that. We always want to get out on as many platforms as possible.
Goodman: With The Walking Dead you had the psychological profile or choice percentages at the end of each chapter. Will we see something similar in the Wolf Among Us?
Lenart: Yeah, that's a big part of our games.
Goodman: What are some of the differences we will encounter in the overall gameplay or controls compared to The Walking Dead? It feels like there is more action.
Herman: We start you off in an action sequence and there are more action scenes in this game. The majority of it is the same with the dialogue options. The action scene in the demo is a little different--there is more branching to choose how the fight unfolds.
Lenart: Yeah, we tried to take a lot of the mechanics from The Walking Dead and evolve that for a new franchise. Choice is a really big thing in fights as well. Some people see two different places to go. It's funny watching everyone interpret, "Well if I go here... that's probably a nicer way to attack. But if I go here... not so much."
Dingman: What about the irrelevant small touches throughout the game... the one I noticed in the demo was the phone, and putting it on the hook before you go in the apartment. It didn't make a difference but for some reason I felt like I had to hang-up that phone. Are those choices found throughout the game? With The Walking Dead it seemed like everything you touched had a major consequence or point.
Lenart: Even with The Walking Dead Season 2, we definitely tried with all aspects, the colors, the environments, the storytelling, we really tried to involve everything... and one of those things is having those little interactive moments that are nice touches that make the world feel immersive.
Goodman: I'm glad you pointed that out... during the demo I got so excited and thought that hanging-up the phone would change everything. I was like "I'm gonna do this!" and be a paragon for life... and it didn't do anything. But I felt like my OCD was cured and I could enter the apartment completely free of guilt. (everyone laughs)
Dingman: What would you say is one thing you guys learn from The Walking Dead coming into this game?
Herman: I think one thing we learned from The Walking Dead is that the player felt like everything they did mattered. So we wanted to push that... everything you do matters, everything you say, people will respond to.
Goodman: "So and so will remember that..." I always question my own morals whenever I see that pop-up.
Dingman: So the Walking Dead Season II and the Wolf Among Us are coming out at the same time, but is there stuff you learned from working on this [the Wolf Among Us] that you're pulling back over to the Walking Dead?
Lenart: Yeah, there's definitely some of the action stuff that we took from the first season of The Walking Dead, evolved it for Fables and it worked really well, and after seeing that we're bringing it back over to it. Since we are all the same studio, we learn something new with every new project we do and that gets carried over to our other titles.
The Wolf Among Us is slated for release later in 2013 and will be available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.