Like the limb-dragging zombies it depicts, The Walking Dead franchise has already transformed once from a little-known comic series to a hit TV show on AMC. Now, Activision has enlisted game developer Terminal Reality to give it yet another life: As a first-person shooter. Fans of the show, which has become one of the top cable series on TV, will get an origin story for Daryl and Meryl Dixon.
“These guys seemed like a perfect fit for the game, because as we looked at the Internet and what the fans really liked, they really loved Daryl,” said Glenn Gamble, principal effects artist, Terminal Reality. “If you’ve watched the series over the course of Season 2, he really has shown this huge growth in his character.”
Working with AMC, Terminal Reality has planted the seeds of what Daryl becomes in his early days. The game will sketch in a number of details from his past, including how he acquires his famous crossbow, what he was doing when this whole apocalypse went down, and what events transpired to bring him and his brother to Atlanta.
“We’ve also got other aspects in the game,” said Gamble. “These two guys seemed like a perfect fit because they’re also natural hunters and survivalists. Since this game is focusing heavily on survival, that format fits them really well.”
Like the television series, the game will challenge players with more than just aiming at “walkers.” The structure of the game will allow players to make decisions both minor (like what direction to venture), moral (like which survivor to invite into your truck) and tactical (whether to shoot the undead with a headshot and risk more coming your way).
Because of the horde mentality of walkers, Gamble said guns are usually a last resort in taking out these zombies. Melee weapons, which are strewn throughout the game world, make a more discreet way to eliminate threats. The game also rewards players for avoiding walkers completely, something the characters in the TV series do regularly. Sometimes it’s hard to see enemies, which blend into the surroundings. And dark areas inside structures are perfect places for zombies to take you by surprise. One bite is all it takes to end your life, and the game.
The undead won’t look alike in this game. Terminal Reality is randomly generating its zombies from a palette of hundreds of options, including skin tone and quality, animation, eyes, wounds, and other deformities.
The Dixons aren’t the only humans remaining in the world. They’ll come across many survivors as they navigate towns, cities and open fields on their journey to Atlanta. And not every human will be equal. For example, a hunter will be a sharpshooter when targeting walkers, but a doctor can find the necessary medicine to keep your group alive.
“We’ve been working on an original story that takes place only a very short time after the apocalypse hits,” explained Gamble. “AMC has been really helpful in helping us guide our story, so it feels more like a story arc and not just like an episode of the show. There are certain rules we need to follow from the show, like: Walkers are slow and stupid and they can’t use weapons or anything like that.”
Many of the developers at Terminal Reality were fans of the show even before Activision approached them to develop this prequel. Gamble said fans will get a lot more back story and history.
“I’d love to tell you some of the ideas we have of where to take these characters, but unfortunately, I don’t want to ruin anything for anybody,” said Gamble. “I can guarantee you that there will be some surprises along the way and a lot of interesting events. Hopefully, if you re-watch the first episode of season one, you’ll see these guys in a different light after you play the game.”
Gamble said the game’s focus is on a survival-FPS type hybrid. The player has to figure their way across a town. They can look for supplies to help them out later as they’re travelling, or they can try to blaze their own trails. There are all these open options to the actual game and how the player plays it themselves.
“You’re travelling across Georgia, collecting resources, and finding other survivors,” said Gamble. “We’re trying to go with a deep story, because that’s what Walking Dead is all about, that deep story with engaging characters. The Walkers are there to never let you feel comfortable. Then we’ve got the whole FPS aspect of it, where the player is actually in survival scenarios, going through a town that’s maybe abandoned. Maybe there’s someone trying to get their attention or trying to send a signal.”
Because of the decisions players will make, the adventure should offer a variety of twists and turns that separates one player’s experience from another. Gamble said this game will separate itself from the critically acclaimed The Walking Dead from Telltale Games, which is based on Kirkman’s comic book.
“It’s actually a great world that we live in that we can actually have two Walking Dead games at the same time,” said Gamble. “As a fan and a developer, I’m excited to be working on one and being able to play the other.”
With the third season of the show debuting this fall, the new game will launch in 2013 to offer fans another entry into Kirkman’s acclaimed work.
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