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Blog: Does Walking Dead really tailor itself to your actions?

posted by The13thRonin on - last edited - Viewed by 2.3K users

Telltale's the Walking Dead... Where your decisions matter... Except when they don't... All of the time...

Don't get me wrong, a brilliant emotional journey but one without any kind of consequences for your choices at all.

Save Carly? She dies anyway. Save Doug? He dies anyway. Steal from the car? Dude abducts Clementine and tries to kill you. Don't steal from the car? Dude abducts Clementine and tries to kill you. It's not a choice if both options are going to lead to the exact same outcome... Its flavour text...

I figured that we would at least get some pay-off from the epilogue... I feel kind of dissapointed.

I hope that season 2 maintains the same great level of story-telling but actually makes the choices have proper game-changing consequences.

I would not complain if you had not given me such high hopes :p. Season one was good but I hope season two is great.

114 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • Another game that really reminds me of Telltale's approach is "Tales of Symphonia" for Gamecube. In that game, sprinkled around the overworld (or directly within the main plot) are occasional dialogue options on how to respond to people, and sometimes what path to take next. These responses ultimately affect each character's "Affection Meter" with Lloyd, and they ultimately have a role in shaping who you speak with in Flanoir (which causes a minor variation in the game from then on as to which character you're closest to; Colette, Genis, Sheena, etc.). While these responses do not change the story, they provide a different feel for the characters around you, which is a lot of what these games are about.

    In TWD, it's not about branching the narrative through your choices; it's more about affecting your relationships with the other characters. And even if, at times, these result merely in changes of dialogue, that actually makes the experience a lot more significant than you'd think.

    Think about it - what would any movie or TV show be without meaningful dialogue? The fact is, dialogue and character interaction play a HUGE role in telling a story. The fact that dialogue in certain scenes can be drastically different (in each of the 5 episodes) depending on the choices you've made, actually does help to tailor the story to you.

    My only real hope is that Season 1's choices carry over into Season 2 (similar to the Mass Effect games), and that characters whose endings are currently left unanswered are brought to light (such as: what ultimately happened to Kenny, Molly, Omid and Christa, Vernon, Lilly (after she leaves the party; hopefully something related to her time with Lee and the group comes to light before she takes on her role in the comics), Jolene's daughter, the St. John brothers (if you chose to spare them), Hershel (before his story begins in the comics, depending on whether or not you lied to him, and whether or not you tried to save Shawn), and especially Clementine. That way, there won't be loose ends of the story just left dangling there with a lazy "You interpret what happened to these characters" just tacked onto the end of the season. Hopefully, this will be the case.

    Overall, bravo to Telltale for creating an emotionally driven experience. TWD surpasses Heavy Rain in so many ways, IMO, even with Heavy Rain's branching plotline.

  • What really makes the illusion of choice so prominent in this game is the internet, TBH. That and second playthroughs. Think about it: If you played through the game thinking your choices actually mattered and wondered what would happen had you done x instead of y it would feel a lot more realistic and you'd love the game a lot more.
    For me, I never play games like this a second time or reload checkpoints because I like to believe my choice is set in stone and I have to live with it. I loved thinking that I could have actually saved Carley had I said or done something differently, but of course this was ruined as soon as I visited the internet.

    Short version: I hate that the game has a cannon story, but would have been fine with that fact had I not known that.

  • @Rambo297 said:
    4. Team... it doesn't change anything... Just possibility to cut your arm by other person...

    That just made me realize there is a scene out there of Ben chopping Lee's arm off...

    I know what my new goal is for when I replay...

  • To sum it up, your decisions will do one of two things. It will either:

    A: Alter future dialog (or minor details), either directly or after calculating multiple decisions against one another. Or...

    B: Delay an inevitable plot-point until you're back on the same track either way. Every single character that can be optionally saved/killed/abandoned will die/leave somewhere in the near future regardless.

    It's nice how many old decisions get referenced often, but it's really no more groundbreaking than Mass Effect, to give one example.

  • I explained this before, but it is well worth explaining again. In television/film screenplays there are A plots, B plots, and C plots. The A plot has to stay the same or else you're writing a completely different narrative. The B and C plots, or the subplots involving supporting characters, can be altered or changed to shift emphasis without altering the A plot.

    Most games have a required A plot narrative, even when they have multiple endings. The real question is how do games disguise the rigidity of the A plot through narrative sleight of hand?

    Fallout does this by compartmentalizing its B and C plots. The B plots and C plots, while numerous, are are usually completely ignored once you step outside of their spheres of influence. For instance, you can blow up the town of Megaton in Fallout 3 and NO ONE CARES. It almost never gets mentioned ever again. You can destroy Tenpenny Towers and outside of Tenpenny Towers there is no change to the game at all.

    The game goes on like this until the end when a patchwork series of narrated alternate ending stillframes, each ten seconds long, reflect what you did. Even then, the game has the same A plot ending despite great variety in its recognition of your B and C plot exploits.

    The Walking Dead plays harder and tighter with its B and C plots. The A plot will never change and keeps the same structure, but the B plots and C plots directly alter your story and change the decisions you make later on. Characters remember what you did in those subplots although the narrative will remain consistent. They will comment on your progression REPEATEDLY, initiate conversation with you in such a manner that they acknowledge the decisions you made, and generally consider your previous actions in their own response to situations.

    If you take each Episode separately, it's obvious that the game acknowledges your B plot and C plot choices. As a whole, however, the game brushes off those choices in the end. But the climax of the game is DIRECTLY tied to the actions you've taken in B plot and C plot decisions and your effect on the world.

    This is closer to Mass Effect than Fallout 3. And Mass Effect still demands credit for integrating broad choices your character has made into sequels. That said, Mass Effect 3's failure was that its climax truly ignores everything you had done up until that point. There is no surprise twist. There's no echo from the past. Once you walk away from Liara, you are entering the exact same storyline every other gamer has been playing and will witness plenty of prerendered animated scenes slightly altered based not on your decisions but on an arbitrary number easily affected by playing multiplayer sessions.

    While it's true you can make a decision that alters the ending and choices you made will limit the variety of faces that appear in one of those cutscenes, the climax doesn't care about your friends one bit.

    This puts The Walking Dead at an advantage. Your dialogue changes are DIRECTLY altered based on how you played the game. The entire climax is a reflection of your choices and your mindset and that of your friends. And you get to revisit them. So, yeah, your choices tailor THE GAME even if the ending is the same.

  • Great post and sums up my feelings. Episode 3 hit me like a truck. Episode 1 and 2 set you up for these decisions that you think are going to be big.

    *You choose either Lilly or Kenny as your main friend
    *Doug/Carley are still around so you gain the illusion they will meaningfully impact the story in some way

    These, to me, were the big choices for episode 1 and 2. Episode 3 destroyed them. No matter how you treated Lilly she does the exact same thing and Doug/Carley both end up the same.

    What if Kenny had bailed on you with his family because he didn't trust you and left you Lilly for the rest of the game? Telltale could afford keeping Doug/Carley around until episode 3 but couldn't think to do more dialogue for Lilly for episodes 4/5?

    And the Doug/Carley incident... my gosh... the sole purpose of that scene was only meant to get rid of them. It seemed like the first half of episode 3 was just devoted to get rid of all the important relationships you built in episodes 1/2 so they didn't have to keep making them matter.

    Then it continues for episode 4. Illusions of important decisions were:

    *How you treat Vernon and if you tell him to take Clem or not.
    *Who goes with you in the final episode. (I still remember the forum exploding with, "IT ALL MATTERS NOW! GO TT!" :/)
    *Ben's fate

    Two of which were crushed in the same scene five minutes into the next episode. No matter how you treated Vernon he steals your stuff and no matter who goes with you everyone is together after the first five minutes of the episode.

    On top of that, we wouldn't want to start thinking that anyone we try to save is going to survive huh? Ben just has to go halfway into the episode.

    I still enjoyed the game, don't get me wrong. But anyone who thinks the game is "custom-fit", aka tailored, around your choices is delusional. It's a wonderful story and a great interactive movie but the game does not change based on choice and there is little reason to replay it.

  • I read the linked article in its entirety. Now, I am absolutely sure that the words "This game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored by how you play." is nothing but a play on our limited understanding of what TT considers 'The Story..'. The linked article was written by someone with a distinct command of the written verse. It seems more an apology that a fact stating concourse.

    The average, reasonable gamer played the episodes believing that the word 'adaptation' would result in an alternate ending than what we were fed. Instead, it has meant nothing more than a pointless round of choices that left us emotionally reminded of our ability to make good decisions within a small increment of time.

    Time wasn't the enemy. Choices proved to be nothing more than a graphical representation of where we would end up in the scenes to come. It was not a true adaptation to choices as we soon learned that the story is the ultimate decision maker regardless of our own.

    Did it really make any difference in the finale that the entire group went with Lee to find Clem? Where in the entire episode did Lee need anyone but himself to rescue Clem? While it comforted many to have company during the search, the choices only affected the stats before the credits.

    So... This game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored by how you play. is not a complete lie. It is an illusion or even a deception primarily used to make players believe choices would provide a certain story ending. The result of all that button mashing and mouse clicking is nothing more than wear and tear on a players gear.

    If I played the game without making a single story choice, which is separate from action
    choices like shooting a weapon or climbing a ladder, the story would adapt in such a way that it would flow to the end result. Without me, as a player, Lee would have been bitten , the stranger would have died, and Clem would still be facing an uncertain future, alone.

    (How many times do we need to read this stuff?) We felt cheated in the finale because of the story ending, not the ability to affect the scenes within it. Controlling the scenes is what makes TWDG a game. Otherwise, we are merely mashing 'turn the page' buttons on a well thought out visual book.

    In fact, it takes about 10-15 hours to read a good book. We did that in five episodes running about 2 hours on average (perhaps more for some). So yeah... we played an active role in a book that was graphically displayed... great idea and that is the only thing I really walked away with. The ending of this season was poorly thought out and made people question does this story adapt to the choices you make? Simply put... No.

  • @Luminoth: What you're saying about relationships is spot on, and is basically what I was getting at in the blog. In fact, character relationships and emotional responses are far *more* important to a story than it's plot (although this seems counter-intuitive to many people).

    @FreeWater: I agree - I'm not going to play it again. BUt I was curious enough about how it functions to look stuff up on this forum. Even learning that a fair bit of it is smoke and mirrors didn't really lessen my satisfaction with it. Like I say in the article - all art and storytelling is ultimately smoke and mirrors.

    @bazenji: Very cool alternate explanation of how the plotting works.

    @Fluffyburrito and others: I think you're still missing the point of what I was saying. The tailoring is to the emotional journey, not the main plot. If you look at it from that point of view, it's very much "tailored". The decisions I made certainly impacted me emotionally in specific ways, and I would have felt different had I made different choices.

  • @Taaka: Once again, I have to respectfully disagree. The whole point of my article is that this is a game about exploring the emotional landscape of a story and its characeter; it is not about "Choose Your Own Adventure"-style branching plots. Some people may have felt cheated by this. I certainly did not - in fact, I was surprised and delighted when I realised what Telltale had accomplished, and how skilfully they'd pulled it off.

  • https://www.telltalegames.com/walkingdead/episodes/#thegame

    Telltales own words [the first two paragraphs advertising the entire series]: "Live with the profound and lasting consequences of the decisions that you make in each episode.

    Your actions and choices will affect how your story plays out across the entire series."

    Maybe the apologists should actually do their homework. Everyone got exactly the same ending... There were no lasting consequences for anything... Not one single decision you made actually mattered one rats ass. You can like the game but wake up and see it for what it is at the same time. It might have been good in many ways but it still failed to live up to goals it initially set out to meet. For all the yours that Telltale threw out up there they ultimately decided that we were gonna damn well sit back and listen to the story that they provided. While it was a mostly compelling story that doesn't take away the fact that it wasn't our story.

    [SNIP... Forgot this wasn't a spolier forum... Many examples of non-changeable story routes].

    Don't give me any crapola about this did what it set out to do. It did not. Everything leads down the same linear path with occasionally different flavour text. There are no consequences for anything you do at all. ANYTHING. Period.

    "Live with the profound and lasting consequences of the decisions that you make in each episode.

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