If you're a big fan of Rick Grimes, the series' main protagonist, you'll be glad to hear that you may see him and other regulars in Telltale's game. Rodkin did say that the game's characters will "cross paths" with the main Walking Dead storyline, though he definitely doesn't want to fall in line with the story we already know. "As we go along, the number of crossed paths will reduce, and it'll focus down on the story of our game."
Lee's story, then, starts off in a cop car, where he's being transferred as a prisoner to a new facility. During the trip, the cop driving the car crashes, and after a brief period of unconsciousness Lee wakes up to find the zombie apocalypse has started. After "dealing with" the cop, who has become undead in the crash, he finds his way to an empty house nearby, with an unlocked door and children's toys in the yard.
Here, the player will find examples of what could be called environmental storytelling. "It's a kitchen that's been ransacked," Rodkin said about one of the screenshots, "but if you look around you'll see some specific stuff, like a stool that's been pushed up into the back corner, and the pantry full of food has been completely raided. You might wonder what's going on with that." An answering machine will tell another story -- a message will play featuring a woman idly calling a babysitter at the house to discuss details of a daughter's care, and the next message will mention a lengthened stay away with more trouble arising, while the final message will feature the mother tearfully telling her daughter directly that she loves her before being cut off.
Eventually, Lee will come across the babysitter herself in the house (now a zombie, of course). After struggling with her, he'll get his introduction to Clementine, who runs inside with a claw hammer for Lee to use as a weapon. Rodkin said the idea of partnering these two will make for some interesting dynamics, especially because the player won't know right away just why Lee happened to be a prisoner in that cop car. "What he did, why he did it, what actually happened, is something that simmers on the back over the course of the story. He's in a cop car being taken to prison, so presumably he's been found guilty in a court of law for something." But what that is the player will have to discover.
And there's one more thing about The Walking Dead
that will make it stand out from the rest of Telltale's games. Previous titles were more or less episodically self-contained, but Rodkin said that episodes in The Walking Dead
will "be able to talk to each other." Characters that die in one game in Episode 1 will stay dead, or if the player keeps them alive, they'll reappear in later episodes.
That extends to "even the smaller stuff, where, in a conversation, we want the permanent feel of these things. If you're talking to someone, and they ask you what you think about this or that and you're like that sounds like the stupidest thing you've ever heard and they're like what an asshole. Well, you've just told that person something that makes them think you're an asshole, and the game logs that down and moves on."
That persistence should increase game's sense of permanence, and pull the player into a world with real consequences for their actions. "We want the conversation to feel much more like an actual conversation where when you say something, you can't just unsay it by re-exploring the same dialog tree."
Telltale declined to even hint at how far out the game was from release, so it seem we'll be waiting a while for this one (maybe even long enough to see a season or two of the TV show go by). There are obviously some interesting ideas here, and I hope Telltale can follow through with what it has planned for this fascinating setting.