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Never fallen in love with a game or cared for characters like you care for family? Try the Walking Dead Video Game.
No, not the crappy one that proved Daryl Dixon can’t save everything. We mean the wonderful, episodic masterpiece brought to is by Telltale Games. Few games out there have the ability to craft situations and characters you feel for. Even less can make you cry. This one has both in pretty much every episode. Damn that studio!
After finishing up the second episode of Season Two I began to see how they were doing it: how I started to love characters, how the game tested that relationship and finally, eventually, when Telltale would make me regret it like I regret that timeshare down in Guatemala. And here’s how they do it…
Step One: Establish a world where anything can go wrong, but characters remember a time before. This sets up the suspense of a rogue zombie ruining everything, and the struggle to adapt to newly life-threatening situations, like giving away a granola bar or crossing the street (if you live in Queens, NY you’re already covered).
Step Two: Introduce a main character that acts as you dictate. That way, it’s not like you feel like you’re the one doing the horrible things you have to do, but you can still feel like you caused it. Ugh.
Step Three: Introduce a character or group of characters that clearly wouldn’t survive without you. If an individual, they have to be utterly defenseless without you. If a group, make some of them appreciate you so you’ll be hurt more by their eventual death soliloquy and make a few hate you so when you have to do something horrifically against your morals, like giving away your granola bar, you have to think twice about it.
Step Four: Introduce an adversary. An adversary, like a rival group, wild animals or the weather brings a group together like nothing else. Unless it comes from within, like a thief or hunger. Then things get bad quick.
Step Five: Kill someone. Nothing makes the wonderful human mind more distracted than the sudden, permanent absence of another game character (Aeris, Kaiden/Ashley, your third party member in Oregon Trail…why did I name him after my Uncle Jimmy…*sob*) Whether sudden or a long, drawn-out eventuality, it can make you a little more heroic and gives you a great opportunity for your character to try to keep hope alive. For now.
Step Six: Make the characters move along just when they’re getting comfortable. A house is not a home, but in this world, it’s a sanctuary. By taking that away, we feel like nothing is safe or permanent. Also, you love the characters that come with you that much more, and the developers have a subtle giggle at your expense.
Step Seven: Tragedy. This can come in many forms; serious group arguments, fist fights, someone leaving the group and convincing others to join you. Whatever it is, you are forced to pick sides, usually between someone you love and someone who is right.
Final Step: Kill the one the player loves the most. Anyone who made it to the last episode of Season One is already shedding a few for our friend Lee. Those who haven’t, it’s been out more than a year and I’m sorry you lost your volleyball in the ocean. That final choice not only broke our hearts, it showed us what happens when the other steps are executed perfectly: we actually feel for people that aren’t real.
So far, Season Two is progressing at much the same rate. Steps One through Six have been covered extremely well in just two episodes, but now comes the problem: while Step Seven will be relatively simple with the town we’re coming up to, there’s only one character I would be truly sad to lose, and that’s Clementine. And that would simultaneously be the best and the worst character to lose. She’s the face of the franchise now, a young child, and one of the survivors of Season One. Unfortunately, that also makes her the perfect target. But I know until that happens, we will fall in love again, and have our hearts torn apart by one of the best games of the last few years.
I can’t wait.
Who did YOU love on Season One? Who do you want to see in Season Three? Drop your comments below to let us know!