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The Walking Dead: A Gateway Drug

My girlfriend doesn't mind the fact that I have a mistress, because she knows my concubine can't touch me; well, apart from a soothing judder through my Dualshock. I've spent an eternity trying to convince her to take a more active role in our incestual love triangle, yet she just doesn't find the shiny-black of my PlayStation as alluring as I do.

So, I embarked upon a long and arduous journey; one that aimed to take her to distant, exotic lands. The objective was to buy a PS Vita for 'her' birthday. That way, I will never be without soft, black plastic. Mmm shiny.

It started with a bra. It was ill-fitting, and the white lace carved lines into her flesh - causing her to constantly update me on her ever-decreasing comfort levels. I tried my best to point at the screen animatedly, nodding my head in agreement , but also nodding my head towards the TV in an attempt at embodying Derren Brown. I endeavoured to get her to focus - it was fruitless, and I could tell that her interest was waning, verging on non-existent.

The Walking Dead

It wasn't my first attempt to addict her to my vice.

One year, I purchased a Nintendo DS for her birthday and she happily rampaged through the world of GTA: Chinatown Wars, for a time. That is until she reached a section where she was on a strict time-limit, and with a whimper, she yielded. So, I diagnosed the affliction as 'difficulty' and at the time, the counteragent was simple.

I loaded up Journey, promising her a unique experience, both tranquil and scenic. "So, what am I supposed to be doing?" she said after a few minutes, "I don't get it". I explained that the sole objective was to head towards the mountain looming on the horizon, and that the game was about the journey, not the destination.

Even with the pervasive landmark, the illusion of openness distorted her sense of direction and I was constantly required for input. Experienced players can pick up on the little signposts, tugging you towards the intended location; to the uninitiated though, these are just incidental details, meaningless debris.

The Walking Dead

"This game is pointless!" she said, "reach a mountain? What's the point in that?"

I tried to explain the emotions she would feel along the way, and the joy of interacting with a nameless, mute human. Alas, she thought it was stupid. And that, was the end of her journey.

It seemed that beauty, accessibility and simplicity wasn't enough; she needed a more restrictive game with a more linear template, and a strong narrative binding it all. The Walking Dead was a perfect fit: we had already watched the television show, and I was sure that she would enjoy the episodic structure of the game.

I hoped that with her occupation as a full-time mother, she would grow attached to Clementine and form a virtual bond through the controller; baptising her to my chosen religion. I also hoped that the forgiving nature of the checkpoint system would ease her into the action sequences. I believed that the narrative would draw her into the fantasy, loosening the straps that bound her.

Yes, The Walking Dead is a perfect starting point for any gamer...isn't it?

The Walking Dead

I managed to divert attention away from the bra, shutting her senses down and drowning out distractions, by lovingly placing headphones over her ears and turning off the lights. In the blackness I could sense her immersion: she was Lee Everett, sat in the back of a squad car, being ferried to a cold, dark cell.

Much like life, my beloved didn't exercise her right to remain silent in the squad car. Whilst chatting to the officer, she familiarised herself with the cursor, giving the car a good scanning. As she was flailing, I noticed the silhouette of the walker in the road, and chose to give no warning as it collided with the windscreen. She flinched. The game had her attention.

She figured out how to escape from the police cruiser pretty quickly. Upon emerging from the wreck she wasn't sure which way to go, but, after what felt like an eternity of watching her walk into a tree stump, she was on her way.

Her first encounter with a walker didn't go so well, and before she could react, she was dead. The game's forgiving nature started her at the exact point she died, alleviating the frustration of replaying long sections, as I believed it would.

The next time she managed to crawl away from the zombie, but once the controls switched from crawling with the left stick, to searching with the right, she was doomed. The third attempt saw her reach the bullet on the ground and load the Shotgun; only to miss the shot and die horribly. How she missed the shot is beyond me, but miss it she did.

The Walking Dead

I could see the look on her face; I had seen it many times before, when I had forgotten something she wanted me to do, choosing instead to lie in my underpants hitting Spriggans in Skyrim. It was a look that would have Kratos shaking in his sandals, but I encouraged her to press on. The fourth attempt saw the zombies' head splat like a catapulted pumpkin. Success!

I noticed a smile flash across her face, like that of a serial-killer. Was she convinced?.

She went over the fence and made a beeline straight for the relative safety of the house. Once inside she stood glued to the spot, seemingly scanning the surroundings with gusto, but actually she had forgotten movement was an option.

After being reminded of the existence of the left stick, she walked straight for the telephone to eavesdrop on some messages like an apocalyptic voyeur. She stood, patiently waiting for the messages to play through to the end, planted to the spot, instead of investigating the area for further clues.

The Walking Dead

Even the 'audio diary' is alien to a newcomer it seemed, yet to hardened gamers, this type of storytelling has become cliche and often allows character movement. After the messages had ended, she strolled up to a barricaded door and asked, "Can I go up"? "That isn't stairs", I replied, "it's an upturned bookcase".

This could be a long few days.

Once the house had been abandoned for search of a safer haven, Shawn Green asked about Lee's relationship with Clementine. She chose to say Lee was her neighbour.

Compulsive lies, should I really marry this woman?

Later, once the group arrived at Herhsel's farm, she proceeded to complain about the pain in Lee's leg to any NPC who would listen. I felt sorry for the NPC's. That poor AI, stuck in a perpetual, virtual existence and forced to listen to the whinings of a hypochondriac.

The Walking Dead

I questioned her parenting technique when she taught Clementine the naughty word for 'manure'. My faith in her parenting was restored however, when she chose to rescue the little boy, Duck.

Even though, in retrospect she would have chosen Shawn, because she believed he could lift more, assuming he would be her pack-horse. She expected all her followers to be automatons, mindless thralls; much like my experience with her at the supermarket.

Everything was going smoothly, until she was faced with the deadliest of puzzles – a radio with missing batteries. She spun the radio around with vigour; I could only guess she was thinking the problem was gravitational and the radio needed to orbit an invisible sphere. Around and around it went, until she decided on another tactic and put the antenna up and down - that didn't do it, so she pressed the power button...nothing.

What do you do if the power won't come on? To her, the answer was simple, and she tried to tune the radio.

I was just about to resign myself to an intervention, and then she noticed the battery compartment.

The Walking Dead

In her search for batteries, she came across an energy-bar and asked me if you used it to replenish Lee's health. This was no doubt a byproduct of my attempted indoctrination, half heard conversations about standard gaming tropes. The Walking Dead, however, is not bogged down by such conventions.

I told her she should use it on one of the survivors, and she accidentally gave it to Lilly instead of the little girl she was supposed to be protecting.

She eventually found the batteries and then left, without talking to anybody. On top of her blissful ignorance, the changing camera angles disoriented her, and she was constantly struggling to retrace her steps.

At this point I realised, I may have been terribly wrong.

During the motel encounter, I had to point out the cushion that was needed to subdue the first monster. She dealt well with the rest of the situation without direct input from me, dying on two occasions, but both at different points.

The Walking Dead

Once direct control of Lee was granted, she crouch-walked into a wall, like a senile Sam Fisher. So I pointed her towards the stairs and explained to her the difference between those and a bookcase.

At the top of the stairs, two zombies attacked, and there was audible panic in her voice as she uttered the naughty word for 'manure'. Her instinct was to place the cursor perfectly over the zombie's head. When in reality, the hit-boxes in the game are absolutely huge, allowing a lot of room for error and playing a pre-scripted animation, regardless of accuracy.

Her poor eyesight often made it hard for her to see the transparent circles indicating a point of interest, and the game would benefit from an option to make them more opaque.

During one of the action sequences she noticed that the game was 'laggy', no doubt a word she has picked up from me complaining during an online FPS battle. The frame rate does drop to despicable levels at times, which is pretty crazy, considering the game is mostly a string of cutscenes.

The Walking Dead

When she was faced with the choice of saving Carly or Doug, she chose Doug. I asked her the reasoning behind her choice, and she said that Carly was a snobby bitch, had dirt on Lee and Doug could carry more (is she with me for my skill with carrier bags?) never once taking into account Carly's proficiency with firearms.

The mind of a non-gamer does seem to be extremely different to the reflexes of a brain seasoned by years of muscle-memory. Things like backtracking at the start of a level, something we all do as gamers, ever since 2D side-scrollers taught us that behind the screen, treasures be hidden. Things like spotting potential points of interest is also another talent gamers take for granted. It's easy for us to spot a slightly different texture and see a breakable wall, or a moveable object, isn't it?

We know which choices are likely to be beneficial on a gameplay level, instead of a thinking encumberance levels were important in The Walking Dead. We instantly get comfortable with new concepts, especially in this generation, where designers try to keep control systems familiar.

The main thing is that she enjoyed herself and got wrapped up in the story, making my experiment partly a success, although she hasn't gamed since.

The Walking Dead is unique: it can break the barriers to entry, and for that alone, it should be applauded. But it is not (unfortunately) capable of convincing somebody that they want a PS Vita.

Miss Kirkules

kirkules | 13th January, 2013
evilgiraffeman's picture
Just got into The Walking Dead over Christmas and am amazed by its quality and emotional depth. If ever there is a game to tempt non-gamers, it should be this one.

Really enjoyed reading about your experiences and might send this to a few of my friends who are on the fence about gaming. Sometimes they won't believe me there is more to it than the Wii and FPS.
Kaostic's picture
I've never really taken an interest in this but might have to take a look
kirkules's picture
You should play it. Even if you're only playing it so you can witness a proper, adult story, in an interactive medium.
Kaostic's picture
I bought this yesterday and played about two hours or something so far. I'm at the motel.

It's a decent game and I like how it plays. It feels a bit clunky on Xbox (I bought it on Xbox rather than PC because it's something I'd prefer to lay on my bed and play than sit at my desk. It's also like a movie so made sense) but works still.
kirkules's picture
It gets better as you progress. Is it really a game? Probably not, but it is something that every 'gamer' should experience.
Kaostic's picture
It's more an interactive story such as the books I used to read as a kid and a project I'm working on at the moment. Well, that with the whole point and click aspect. I used to love Sam and Max so it's no real surprise I don't mind this :P
Dead Alive's picture
It's as much a game as any point and click game, really. Sam and Max, Broken Sword, Monkey Island, none are any different to this, past maybe using an inventory in a more contrived way. I wouldn't write off an entire genre as non-games, personally.

EDIT: Actually, this could probably be classed as more of a game than most point and clickers, given you actually control Lee directly, as well as using the pointer to interact with the world.
kirkules's picture
Classic point-and-click games were much more puzzle oriented than TWD, and none have been as commercially successful. It's the story that keeps people playing, hence why I highlighted that as its strength. I loved it, but people seemed to be completely blinded to its faults. The frame rate dropping in cutscenes is something rarely seen, but it happens often in this. The 'gamey' aspects of the title were arguably its weakest. Not to mention the countless bugs on a game that should have been relatively east to playtest.

On another note, Kaostic, your project sounds interesting. Where did you get such a brilliant idea from?
Dead Alive's picture
Playing on PC there was only one bug to speak of, shadows causing slowdown, which was never properly fixed, but was worked around by setting the shadow rendering to 'medium' instead of high. Not ideal, but made it perfect bug-wise.

I'd argue Monkey Island/DOTT/Broken Sword were all as successful as an adventure game could be. I'm sure I remember the special re-release of Monkey Island topping the charts on its release alone, that's not accounting for the originals, re-releases since then and new platform sales (phones/handhelds etc).

It's true, though, more traditional adventure games are/were more reliant on puzzles, although they are generally inventory games more than actual puzzles, which is something Walking Dead done away with. An adventure games strongest point is its story, and TWD ensured that was the main focus. As much as I adore the genre, I can't say I enjoy pixel hunting, and I'd prefer if other adventure games in the future followed suit.
Kaostic's picture
Originally Posted by kirkules View Post
On another note, Kaostic, your project sounds interesting. Where did you get such a brilliant idea from?
Just my general brilliance.
Ewok's picture
Have to say I've experienced no slowdown or bugs on PC. My only complaint is that I could find an option to invert the Y-axis on an Xbox 360 pad so had to play with M&K.
Dead Alive's picture
Oh so they did finally get around to fixing it? In the first two episodes it made cut-scenes slow down to horrid levels, specifically when the scene would change to another angle, and reducing the shadows was my only workaround. I guess I should have tried putting the setting back up each episode, but honestly, there's little different between medium and high.
kirkules's picture
I played on console. :-(
Fat Tony's picture
I know I'm late to this but whatever

(Spoilers ahead)

I downloaded this when they gave away the first episode for free over Christmas, but really never gave it any thought. I can't stand the TV show which means I paused to wonder whether I even wanted it for free. Then a few days back I gave it a go out of sheer guilt for not giving it a chance.

The next day I went out and bought 1600MSP to buy the other episodes and cleared all 4 of them over a 3-day period.

I can honestly say no piece of media has moved me as much as this did. The ending had me crying like an absolute baby; not gruff manly man tears as shed by a manly man which I, a man, obviously am, but big blubbery wet soggy fat things plopping off of my face. I have never felt quite as concerned for a video game character as I did for Clementine. In fact, when she is grabbed at the end of the first episode, I involuntarily cried out "no!" as I frantically wiggled the analogue sticks around to help.

(Other involuntary reactions like this included leaping out of my seat and nearly throwing my controller in shock at Christa's sudden sawing of Lee's arm in the last chapter. Holy son of a mother-lover that scene was hard to watch.)

It surprised me how much Clem affected me as the player. I let the second St John brother live because of how traumatized she sounded when she saw me run Danny through with the pitchfork, and any time something heavy was beginning to go down I immediately scanned the area for her. The characterization was utterly sublime to the point where I was slightly hesitant about playing the last episode, worried that it might end with her demise.

The only thing is, I don't know if I'm necessarily looking forward to season 2. Knowing that the majority of characters will die, I know I'll be playing it without letting myself grow fond of the other characters. I was still surprised and greatly upset, even in the last episode, when characters like Ben and Kenny met their demise, although maybe that's a sign of my ignorance regarding the comics and TV show (I've been informed by those more educated than me on the "anyone can die" approach the franchise has). I'm also not sure what I'll think of any new PC. I liked Lee a lot, and his relationship with Clem was very well written. Above all else, I don't know how Clementine would even fit in with a new series. As a main character I don't think she'd have a chance to really shine, as an NPC I think it'd be hard to build a rapport like she had with Lee, and if she's omitted entirely I'm sure there'll be blood on the streets.

Clementine is my favorite character. Does it show?

The one aspect of the game that irritated me were some of the more "token" puzzles. Getting the train running strikes me as a particularly irritating moment. It boiled down to a lot of trekking back and forth between different screens and it really broke the flow of the episode. There was also that one part of episode 4 where you have to grab Molly's hand when prompted. I died something like 15 f**king times because it was impossible to judge exactly where to put the cursor, and I swear the game just refused to acknowledge my button presses.

I rambled a little longer than I meant to. I'm actually planning a Let's Play of the game 'cos I feel like a funny commentary would be fun, and it'll give me a chance to use some different dialogue options.
Dead Alive's picture
I've been meaning to re-install this and play it a completely different way. I obviously won't be as hooked as I as on my original run as I'll know everything that's about to happen story wise, but I'm interested in seeing what some of the other options allow while playing, especially where some of the more 'important' choices are involved.

I was the same with Clem though, my favourite character in a long time in a game, and Lee wasn't far behind and I tried to play him as close to how I'd imagine myself in those situations as possible.

In fact the only problems I had with the season as a whole was Episode 4 - it was filled with faux choices and made me do things I would not do and did not want to do, and the newer characters hadn't been around enough to make me give a shit about them. Shouting "But cancer!" didn't make me feel sorry for them, not when my own people who I'd been with for the entire time were at risk of a horrible death at any time.

Still, my game of the year last year by a country mile and I can't wait to see what they do with the second season. Probably worth pointing out I'm in the same boat as Tony. I don't hate the TV show but I've never watched it, so the whole 'anyone can die' thing was new to me at the time too.

I'm hoping in the second seasons we'll control Clem when she's grown up a little. I just don't hope they go the "I've seen some shit, man..." route and try and turn her into a bad ass. That will make me rage.

Originally Posted by Fat Tony View Post
In fact, when she is grabbed at the end of the first episode, I involuntarily cried out "no!" as I frantically wiggled the analogue sticks around to help.
Please tell me someone recorded this. Please?
Fat Tony's picture
(Spoilers again, fair warning)

Sorry, nope I did feel terribly sheepish afterwards. I reacted similarly a few times for some of the more shocking moments. Carley's very sudden death at the hands of Lilly, for example. I cannot emphasize how much I "connected" with and cared about the characters. The example I gave of feeling like shit when Clem saw me run through Danny was probably the most severe... I felt bad about that one long after I turned the game off!

I kinda hope we don't play as Clementine for that very reason. Having her best interests in mind was how I played the game (even restarting yesterday and trying to play like an asshole resulted in me eventually being as nice as possible... the dejected look she gets when you're out of line is unbearable!) and I can't help but feel having her make the choices will remove that aspect. While I cared about Lee too, it wasn't quite the same. He was simply the person who did what I wanted him too, she was the person it affected.

I'm not entirely sure that makes sense, in fairness.

It definitely earns my stamp as GOTY last year too.

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