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"The Walking Dead: Telltale, player choice and clunky dialogue. "

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Sat 24/12/16 at 21:58
Regular
"Braaains"
Posts: 439
I have a long standing a love/hate relationship with Telltale’s The Walking Dead games and it’s slowly driving me nuts. Telltale’s have succeeding in crafting narrative tales that are not only compelling in the own right but which are populated with well rounded and, for the most part, sympathetic characters. Yet while the games profess to offer the player a choice, they ultimately negate the bulk of your decisions. I honestly thought I’d got over this but since I started replaying Seasons 1 and 2 of the game, in preparation for tackling Season 3, it’s been irking me once more.

Yet this time around, I was aware of the majority of the ‘decisions’ I would be presented with, and the minimal impact they would have. I knew, for example, that whichever character I chose to save at the end of Episode 1 would meet their demise at the beginning of Episode 2. This in turn let me focus on the way the game handled my choices and I came to a surprising conclusion. What annoys me about The Walking Dead, which nevertheless hasn’t stopped me enjoying the games, is the way the game presents the illusion of choice.

In all fairness, handling player agency is no easy task. Creating a truly branching narrative would still require the designers to impose some limitations on the player. Let’s say that the first episode of a game contained three decisions which resulted in the story branching off.

The game’s creators would then have to write three versions of episode two, each reflecting the decisions the player made in chapter one. They would then have to write nine different versions of chapter three, reflecting the decisions made in each of the previous chapters, which would be a prohibitively expensive affair.

Then there’s the ’flip flop’ approach. Some games offer the player several choices throughout the game, with the narrative continuing on a largely linear path. During the final part of the game, they then give the player the chance to make a decision that ultimately affects which ending they get. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a prime example of this. You could be as breathlessly evil as you liked and yet received the light or dark side ending based on one single decision.

The Walking Dead, on the other hand, takes a curious approach, frequently echoing your decisions through dialogue. Which leads to odd scenes where a character is dying and yet takes time to tell his father that you tried to save him. This happens frequently throughout the game, characters awkwardly reminding you of your choices.

It's not that characters adjust their demeanour based on your actions, either. Typically they adopt the same attitude throughout the game, but they throw in a line or two of dialogue reminding you what you did. It ended up taking me right out of the game, due to its sheer awkwardness. . Hopefully Season 3 will be improve things in this regard.

Ultimately, player choice is tricky to get right but if it’s handled badly, it can detract from the game, to the point where it would have been better not to have been offered the ‘choice.’
Tue 27/12/16 at 20:16
Regular
"Braaains"
Posts: 439
The characterisation was pretty good on the whole. What irked me was the way being able to change to the story was used as a selling point for the game.
Tue 27/12/16 at 12:14
Staff Moderator
"Meh..."
Posts: 1,474
Deus Ex: lots of choices, each one impacting and changing the eventual outcome. I believe the first game actually had 36 different endings all entirely based on your choices throughout your game.

Bioshock: one real impacting choice, two endings. Bioshock 2, the same, Bioshock Infinite, a few choices causing a few cosmetic changes, nothing else.

Skyrim: everything's a choice that has some impact on your game, but no impact on the ending.

Wolfenstein: One choice, two possible (fairly different) routes through to the same closing scene.

System Shock 2: EVERYTHING is a choice, radically altering your game, but ultimately not changing the ending one bit.

What's your preference? I found all of these worthy of featuring in a game, not sure any of it "fooled" me into thinking I was in control, but nevertheless it did make me feel more invested in the characters and stories.

Do you think perhaps your issue is more that the storyline is too shallow to support "choices"? Perhaps the characters just don't demand investment, aren't likeable enough to warrant interest in their behaviour.

Sat 24/12/16 at 21:58
Regular
"Braaains"
Posts: 439
I have a long standing a love/hate relationship with Telltale’s The Walking Dead games and it’s slowly driving me nuts. Telltale’s have succeeding in crafting narrative tales that are not only compelling in the own right but which are populated with well rounded and, for the most part, sympathetic characters. Yet while the games profess to offer the player a choice, they ultimately negate the bulk of your decisions. I honestly thought I’d got over this but since I started replaying Seasons 1 and 2 of the game, in preparation for tackling Season 3, it’s been irking me once more.

Yet this time around, I was aware of the majority of the ‘decisions’ I would be presented with, and the minimal impact they would have. I knew, for example, that whichever character I chose to save at the end of Episode 1 would meet their demise at the beginning of Episode 2. This in turn let me focus on the way the game handled my choices and I came to a surprising conclusion. What annoys me about The Walking Dead, which nevertheless hasn’t stopped me enjoying the games, is the way the game presents the illusion of choice.

In all fairness, handling player agency is no easy task. Creating a truly branching narrative would still require the designers to impose some limitations on the player. Let’s say that the first episode of a game contained three decisions which resulted in the story branching off.

The game’s creators would then have to write three versions of episode two, each reflecting the decisions the player made in chapter one. They would then have to write nine different versions of chapter three, reflecting the decisions made in each of the previous chapters, which would be a prohibitively expensive affair.

Then there’s the ’flip flop’ approach. Some games offer the player several choices throughout the game, with the narrative continuing on a largely linear path. During the final part of the game, they then give the player the chance to make a decision that ultimately affects which ending they get. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a prime example of this. You could be as breathlessly evil as you liked and yet received the light or dark side ending based on one single decision.

The Walking Dead, on the other hand, takes a curious approach, frequently echoing your decisions through dialogue. Which leads to odd scenes where a character is dying and yet takes time to tell his father that you tried to save him. This happens frequently throughout the game, characters awkwardly reminding you of your choices.

It's not that characters adjust their demeanour based on your actions, either. Typically they adopt the same attitude throughout the game, but they throw in a line or two of dialogue reminding you what you did. It ended up taking me right out of the game, due to its sheer awkwardness. . Hopefully Season 3 will be improve things in this regard.

Ultimately, player choice is tricky to get right but if it’s handled badly, it can detract from the game, to the point where it would have been better not to have been offered the ‘choice.’

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