15/07/13 - The Stumbling Dead
To call them walking might be a bit of a stretch.
So, it’s summer, and every good nerd knows that when summer comes around for real, so does the Steam sales! For those of you who are blissfully ignorant, in possession of well-preserved savings and suitably adequate social skills who actually play in the sun during the summer, I’ll enlighten you. Steam is a multi-functional gaming platform created by Valve. The platform is almost like a hub for games and includes community sections, friends lists, the library of games that you’ve purchased from the Steam Store (virtually any games are available these days) as well as software directories and stores. It’s one big fusion of nerd beauty and gives us all a place to intermingle in cyberspace… aside from the hundreds of thousands of blogs, forums and chat-rooms elsewhere on the world wide web. As a veteran of these areas of the internet, Steam is much better.
Every season Steam offers huge discounts on the games they offer. This is brilliant for entertainment at Christmas when its dark and a bit dingy. The house is the better place to be. It smells like recently lit candles, pines, soup cooking in the kitchen, turkey (or duck, as we have in our house). Its snowing outside, cold air is blowing in through the cracks in your windows and beneath doors, there’s an amber glow in the sky from the streetlamps lighting up at 3 in the afternoon. The soft twinkles of fairy lights distracts you a little from the harsh glow of LCD (or probably more likely LED) computer screens, bah humbug! Steam offers us plenty of goodies at Christmas. But during summer?! Are they conspiring against the British this year? Is it all a ploy to make sure we can’t enjoy this glorious heatwave we’re having this year?
I’ll leave that up to you guys. Maybe if we all stopped playing games, we wouldn’t contribute as much to climate change and have such glorious weather as a result… Something to mull over, but back to my original point as I fear that I’m getting sidetracked!
In this summer’s Steam Sale, I’ve bought a few things and worked out that I’ve probably lost quite a few cold lagers in the sun as a result of my dwindled finances. Bioshock Infinite, The Walking Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 were big must-buys for me. L4D2 mainly to finally cash in on the Helms Deep mod that some of my friends love, Bioshock because, well lets face it the first game was amazing and I’m a sucker for good stories (being a writer and all) and The Walking Dead because, again, I’m a sucker for great stories. In this post, I’m going to chat a bit about The Walking Dead.
I tried the series, loved the first season, hated the second, and was talking to my brother earlier. He recommended I pick it back up. I think I’ll give it a few days, let my emotional state balance out before I venture back into it, but eventually I’ll get there.
I’d hear great things about the game. What I wanted was a game where you believed in the characters, the setting, and the situation whole-heartedly. With all Zombie Apocalypse fiction, whether in literature and games, there’s always the big how looming over, at least for me, but I found myself not caring this time round.I didn’t care how it had started, or why, what I cared about was how the character I was inhabiting (and you truly do inhabit this character, this is not simply a tool to get you through the game, you live and breath for this character, make decisions to benefit them and those around them - as it should be in all games!) was going to survive in the wake of the absolute and indisputable end of life as we know it.
SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW (but I’ll do my best to make sure they don’t. Proceed at your own caution.)
The setting is present-day Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, the Gate City and no doubt chosen as the setting for the Walking Dead franchise due to its Latin motto of “resurgens” which translates to "Rising Again."
The character is a man called Lee Everett, a university professor.
I’ll try not to divulge too much more indepth information about the story, the decisions or any of the nitty gritty but I’m going to re-affirm the above spoiler warning and apologise outright if any slip through my net.
I found this game incredibly creepy. There, I said it. I’m a wuss. I know that. It’s a point and click adventure where you explore areas, looking for clues, equipment, entrances, escape routes and more. To begin with, I was sceptical of this style. I thought that it would remove the player quickly from the action of the game, mostly done through cut-scenes but with quite a lot of interactive scenes (where you help to control the action of the cut-scene) peppered throughout. Let me be the first to say: I. Was. Wrong. I thought this style increased the urgency, I regularly felt like I was wasting precious and valuable time as I walked Lee around, talking with characters and interacting with what sometimes appeared to be useless objects. It also gave you the opportunity as a player to enjoy and marvel in the richness of the environment the developers built. You were able to appreciate the art-style that the game was designed in, you were able to enjoy conversations that might otherwise be skipped over if you rushed through the game. This was a game you could enjoy. And it doesn’t happen that often.
Games are entertaining, sure. But are they always enjoyable? How many more Modern Warfare sequels can they churn out before the over-used FPS formula river runs dry? How many more run-and-gun zombie games can they release before the genre is destroyed? Not many.
The Walking Dead is a brilliant, innovative and supremely ENJOYABLE way to dive into a game. For me, it’s games like this that show a peak into the potential of the future of games, With a world that is crying out for immersion (just look at the way 3D is used in films and TV nowerdays to draw people closer to the story) this game is so close to perfect.
As I previously mentioned, the game is designed to fit a beautiful artistic style that takes inspiration and influence from the graphic novels that it is based upon. It, however, introduces other colours other than red, black and paper white. I’ve not read much of the comics, only ever had a flick-through during a wishful visit to Waterstones when I’m skint and bored. But they are something I’d like to invest in, despite the series being enormous. Check out the homepage for some trailers, screenshots and more information: http://www.telltalegames.com/walkingdead
Something really worth note is the structure of the game. The Walking Dead is built up of seasons. Currently the only available season is Season 1. This contains 5 episodes that follow the story of Lee Everett, those he meets along the way and those who, as they inevitably would be, are left behind. There is also a DLC available called 400 Days which follows 5 new characters in an interlinked interim series that shows players, through the eyes of these new characters, different stages in the apocalypse from Day 1 to Day 400 after the crisis strikes. I’ve not played it yet, I still need a bit of time to recover from the emotional ride I’ve just taken. But I will.
Each episode of the first season brings new problems and more importantly new solutions. It’s a genius way to structure this game. I, thankfully, purchased the game after the season had finished and so had access to all of the episodes in Season 1 immediately. I still found myself only able to play 1 or maybe 2 a day, with breaks in-between, because of how bleak the game is. It keeps the audience suspended, it keeps them tense and waiting and ready to jump back in. It renews interest and vigour and gives the players a little chance to recuperate after each episode has been released. Great idea.
But don’t get me wrong. It works for this game. It could work for games like it, it has worked for games like it as I’m told this is how TellTale, the company who are responsible for The Walking Dead, structure their games. So good job to them. Kudos. It’s refreshing and new and exciting. BUT DON’T ALL GAME DEVELOPERS START JUMPING ON IT! I hope this will remain sacred.
I think one of the reasons this game is so hard hitting is because of its humanity. The Walking Dead as a franchise is not a zombie-apocalypse story. It is not about the apocalypse, as such, and it is not completely about shooting up a fuck ton of zombies to get around, though sometimes that does have to happen. This franchise, this game, is about the characters. I once heard my friend and fellow writer/class mate at university, describe the Walking Dead TV show as a character study set during a zombie apocalypse. I love this. This is exactly what I want. I don’t care about the zombie apocalypse, it’s a brilliant and recognisable back-drop. I care about the characters. Its why I go back. Its why I write inappropriately long blog posts about a game I’ve just finished and switched off.
Every teenage boy, no fuck it I’ll just come out and say it, every MAN has wondered what they would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. At the moment, my current plan is… actually, better keep it to myself for now… But its true. This subject recently came up when I was at dinner with my best friend Dan, his girlfriend Gemma and my girlfriend and fellow writer, Lucy. We discussed plans over a beautiful curry (that I couldn’t finish probably because I got so excited, but also probably because I’d also had nando’s that day…) and poked holes in each others. I say we, mostly me and Dan trading ideas, melding plans together and clasping hands in a show of solidarity that we, the living, would kick the shit out of any zombies that came for me… I mean us. That’s why this game, the TV show and the graphic novels are important in this area of speculative (genre) fiction. It’s the humanity that it evokes. You are sat thinking about what you would have to do in these situations, what you would do if you were in Lee’s shoes and what the consequences might be of your actions. And you don’t have time to sit back and think about it so that you can tailor the best out of the game experience. These are snap decisions. You have a time limit so you better think quick and you better get on with it. The game forces you to their level through its characters.
I wanted to write this post mainly because I was so riled up after finishing episode 5 that I needed to expel some energy. I also wanted to put the word out and a little bit of advice for any writers reading this.
The setting of The Walking Dead contributes of course, its the real world, that’s why it works, but its a small part of the real world and its not a part that people know and are familiar with world-wide. What draws you in is the characters, the situations they face as a result of the cataclysm and one another. Sometimes, your friend is your greatest enemy and the dead guy crawling up behind you grunting is the closest thing to an ally, or more aptly a simple inconvenience. It’s an important staple in speculative fiction, it is a fresh outlook on zombie-apocalypse fiction and the game is a great way to launch you into it. The series is also brilliant.
So my advice is this.
Watch the series, play the game. Be a part of it. Include yourself. Immerse yourself. Make sure, that if this is your bag and even if it isn’t, have a go. Look at how other people make you care so easily, so seemingly effortlessly about these characters because, God forbid, they could be you. That’s what they make you think, that’s how you react to them. They could be real. Thank fuck they aren’t.
Ronald D. Moore had the same idea about his re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and wrote in his series bible ten years ago that he wanted his characters to be "you and me". This is also another show to watch and let devour your life.
But it goes to show, speculative-fiction is human. It may be far-fetched in its settings or its premise situations, but it is about humans. They are cautionary tales, they are tales about morality and survival and doing the best with what you have. And they’re good lessons to anyone who considers, or one day wishes to consider, themselves a writer.
Hit me back with some of your opinions on the game, the show or the graphic novels (but please try, as I have, to avoid spoilers) because I’d love to hear what you all think. I’ll apologise if some of the post doesn’t flow seamlessly but I got very excited writing this!
Good to be back and blogging.
One love, folks!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Everett (CAREFUL OF SPOILERS)