In The Walking Dead: Episode 3, Telltale Games tears the group of survivors apart, mimicking the trademark savagery of Robert Kirkman’s comic series.
“We were kind of cleaning up loose ends, and closing out those characters, giving them satisfying endings,” Director and Senior Cinematic Artist Eric Parsons said in a recent interview during PAX Prime 2012.
For Telltale, “satisfying” means a bullet in the head of characters players saved from being eaten by zombies. Each death, Parsons explained, was mapped out from the beginning. Each one has a specific purpose.
Carly (or Doug’s) death sets in motion another conflict for the group to deal with. After Ben reveals himself to be guilty of giving supplies to the bandits, he loses integrity with the group. “We think it was actually stronger for Ben to survive, because now, he has all this guilt about the consequences of his actions, and the effect that it had on Carly or Doug, as well as Kenny’s family which all rolled out from his mistake,” Parsons said.
Telltale walks a fine line trying to keep each decision grey, but finds room to keep the player second-guessing his or her choice. After choosing to abandon Lilly or not, Lee questions his decision to the rest of the group through optional dialogue choices. “Something like that where it’s an option that the player can choose to ask I think is a good way to let the player express a not 100 percent conviction and be like, ‘Oh, I made this snap judgement, and I don’t know if it was the right one,’” Parsons said. “But we never want to make the player feel like you played the game wrong, you made the wrong choice.”
In a bold move for the series, and arguably, for video games in general, Telltale offers players the choice to kill a bitten child, against a tree, point-blank.“Right after Duck dies, that’s a huge low-point,” Parsons said. The challenge of how long to dwell on the dark moments poses a tricky balance for Telltale to maintain. “How much time can we let the player stew in this rock-bottom place? Okay, not very long. We need to, pretty immediately, start to build things back up, or else it’s just going to turn into a melodramatic mess.”
With Episode 4 around the corner, Parsons promises things only get worse from here. “We have a team of very sickly, creative individuals.”
“There’s more to come, that’s for sure.”