Pixelbitching with Lee and Clementine

Lee and Clementine

I don’t play a lot of video games, so I claim no expertise, but recently started playing ‘The Walking Dead’ from Telltale Games and thought I’d write about it. I don’t know if this video game represents state of the art or not — I’ve played a bit of games like ‘Fallout’ and ‘Oblivion’ (video games that I guess would be called ‘RPGs’).  ‘The Walking Dead’ seems to be a kind of interactive story game (like Fallout) but is much more like a TV show that looks like a comic book than what I think of when I think of a computer RPG.  And I don’t know if this ‘story’ type of game is common or not; it’s the first one I have played. I’m still reserving judgement until I play further, but so far there are both things that I like and dislike about ‘The Walking Dead’ game.


‘The Walking Dead’ game seems to be based heavily on the TV show (which I guess was based on the comic, er, excuse me, graphic novel, ahem — but I haven’t read the comic yet). You start the game and you are ‘Lee’ (who looks and sounds like a young Richard Roundtree, but with circa 2013 clothes, haircut and language). ‘Lee’ is sitting, handcuffed, in the back of a police cruiser and is being driven to prison by a chatty sheriff’s deputy. From the dialogue, we learn that ‘Lee’ (who is us) has been convicted of murdering a man who slept with his wife. We are given a choice of responses to the driver’s questions, and the responses we pick (which range from polite to hostile) seem to determine what the people we are conversing with will say next and how they might consider us in the future. I’m only part way through chapter one (out of five) and haven’t managed to get all the way through without getting eaten fairly early. Eventually, Lee teams up with an eight year old girl named Clementine.

Some events seem ‘hard coded’ into the story. In the first scene, the police cruiser we are riding in crashes and we are hurled head first into the zombie apocalypse.  As far as I can tell, there is no way to avoid the crash or the encounter with the first zombies that follow it. In other cases, as players we can influence the course of events a little more. We can direct ‘Lee’ around the room or wilderness area he and the others are in and there are various objects (like weapons, tools, etc.), that Lee can pick up and use. Sometimes the game is frustrating since it will sometimes not allow you to use an object in a manner that the game designers did not predict or intend — a common problem for me with most computer RPGs. Also, the gameplay alternates between phases where you control Lee’s actions  and other parts where he just seems to go on autopilot.  In scene 1, Lee picks up a shotgun and uses it to defend himself from a zombified deputy. He then drops the shotgun and runs away — keeping the shotgun to use as a crutch to help Lee hobble along on his injured leg or using it as a club to beat the other zombies are not options, a limitation of computer games which I find frustrating.*

Other ‘characters’ in the game seem have their own personalities — I suspect that if, as Lee, I chose to be polite and deferential to everyone in the game, that the ‘nice’ characters would respond positively and the ‘mean’ (or hostile) characters would take advantage.  Similarly, if I make ‘Lee’ act like a dick in every interaction with every other character, they will probably soon all lose patience with me and I will fail to succeed in going forward in the game.  The essence of this ‘Telltale’ game, in addition to solving puzzles (i.e.: you gotta find the keys to unlock the handcuffs on Lee’s wrist before he can defend himself from zombies), is to choose the right approach with all of the different characters in the game. This makes it more like a TV show in which you can take part some of the time; other times the game just takes over and you just watch… which is taking some getting used to and I can’t decide if this is OK or lame. Probably a combination of both.

Decades ago I remember reading a very enthusiastic article about programs like ‘Hypercard Player.’ ‘Hypercard’ allowed the Mac user to create groups of files that could be linked or sorted in whatever way the user wanted. The files could be words, pictures, sound files, etc., that could be linked to one another. Hypercard Player had the author of this article very excited because people had started to use it to write ‘interactive fiction’ (this was before the internet). Rather than a work of fiction proceeding as the author intended, the reader could decide where they wanted the story to go. People were sharing their ‘Hypercard Stack’ novels and the author of this rather gushing article felt the novel of the future had been born. To me, it sounds a lot like one of those ‘Choose your own adventure’ books. ‘The Walking Dead’ video game seems a lot like a more sophisticated ‘choose your own adventure’ book with better graphics and sound. According to my friend Kevin, choices you make in chapter 1 will effect play in later chapters, so, once I figure the game out, maybe I’ll play it again and see how making different choices makes the game proceed in different directions.

I’m going to say a bit about the art since I care about such things. The characters and animation look pretty good in a clean, storyboard/graphic novel style. The faces look pretty expressive and they have kept settings and lighting fairly simple; I think to help the player concentrate on the expressions and reactions of his fellow survivors (since that is what you are supposed to be using to make your in-game choices).  Everything is outlined in black, giving it the appearance of a graphic novel; the whole thing looks like an animated film. It’s not flashy or elaborate, but they do a lot with a little; gore is usually more suggested than outright.

I had a lot of problems with getting the cursor where I wanted it when I first started playing — just trying to make Lee pick a shotgun shell up off the ground and load it into a shotgun would send the cursor skittering all over the damn place — but experiements with the mouse sensitivity helped solve that problem. I also don’t understand what the keyboard commands are supposed to be — while Lee is wrestling with a zombified babysitter, I’m pressing Tab, shift, q, w, e, r, t or y, trying to get him to push the zombie away or kick it in the head. I did a little unsuccessful online hunting, but there is a lot of assumed knowledge in the video game community — perhaps most or all of these games use the same keyboard commands and everyone assumes that anyone with half a brain knows the commands, because my search turned up a lot of spoilers, but not specific help as in what key to press when in order to get it so that Lee can run away from the zombie and grab something to bash it’s head in rather than just standing there saying ‘No! Get away!’ while I desperately press keys at random, hoping one of them will make Lee do some Kung-Fu move that will save his bacon. I bought it via Steam, so there is no instruction booklet.  I’m think I’m close to figuring it out, but I don’t know if figuring it out is worth my time.  Damn; I suck at these video games.

* I accept that you can’t have a computer game where it is possible to do ‘anything’ simply because everything that happens has to be provided for in the game itself; I’m just saying that this is a limitation of the medium I find frustrating.

Legend of Grimrock?

Crabs on the attack in Grimrock.

I don’t play a lot of computer games, but I have to admit that ‘Legend of Grimrock,’ which recently came to my attention via this blog, pulled me with its video trailer (see below).  They somehow managed, in the few screen shots that I have seen, to make a video game that looks just like I used to imagine ‘the dungeon’ looking when I first started playing D&D so many years ago.  Plus, the developers are trying hard to lure in the ‘old school’ players by allowing users to turn off the ‘auto-map’ function and let you map your own way through the maze using paper and pencil.

The premise, if I understand it correctly, is simple.  You control a group of four prisoners who are dropped off at ‘Grimrock’ for unspecified crimes. Grimrock is a maze of tunnels, inhabited by monsters and filled with traps and puzzles, and you have to navigate your way through to survive (I think if you make it all the way through, you get out, so it is sort of like ‘Papillon’ but with a dungeon rather than an island). On your way through, you can scavenge food, armor, weapons and other supplies you will need to make it.

I doubt I will ever buy or play Grimrock, but I find it probably represents something ‘old’ being new again, and this aspect interests me.

Good Press! Game Developer Magazine

Just a quick note to wish everyone a happy holiday and mention that I just had an illustration published in Game Developer Magazine.

Game Developer Magazine is an industry publication for people who create video games, so you probably won’t find it on the shelf at your local news stand. A big thanks to Brandon Sheffield and Jeff Fleming of GD Magazine for the chance to have my work appear in your magazine — consider me ready to draw whatever you need in the future!

Adventuring for fun and profit.

Last night I played Oblivion on the computer (with frequent pauses for visits to the latrine because I was sick in a not so nice way). Verisimilitude took a big hit as my character was in a cave high in the snow covered mountains with a lot of loot I wanted to carry back to town. Unfortunately, the character lacks physical strength… so I stripped myself naked (there is snow on the ground, so I’m guessing it’s supposed to cold up there) and drink a “feather” potion that allows me to carry more stuff. The potion is supposed to last just a few minutes, but I have discovered that if I pick up all of the stuff (which is so heavy I can’t move) and then drink the potion, I can run outside and if I hit the ‘fast travel’ button before the potion runs out, my character’s horse will take me to the town. Here I will abruptly stop moving because the weight of all my treasure is too much…the horse disappears (a message assures me that the horse is at the stable) and I have to drop 3/4s of the treasure at the gate, run naked with the other 1/4 to the store, sell what I am carrying, run back, hoping that what I left hasn’t been taken by someone else and repeat until all of the treaure has been converted into gold. And my character does all of this in the snow while wearing only a loincloth (which apparently weighs nothing — the game won’t let me take it off). While I am moving the pile of silver weapons and jewel encrusted dwarven armor load by load to the store, beggars keep asking me for coins — hello, Mister Beggar Man? You were standing right next to this pile of shit worth hundreds of gold waiting for me to come back so you could ask me for ONE coin? These computer generated NPCs are really honest.

I then jump back up on the horse and ride back to the cave in the mountains where I left all of the stuff I wanted to keep (including my character’s shirt, shoes and pants) and get dressed… another successful and profitable adventure having been concluded.

I used to try putting shit I wanted to keep in chests and boxes and cabinets, then returning periodically to pick it up… but I think the computer got wise to me because my big treasure cache (including all sorts of magical and alchemy crap) abruptly disappeared and was replaced by shoes, velvet doublets, linen pants and things like shears, brooms and hour glasses. The shoes and clothes I can gather and sell (although they are worth very little)… or I can wear them (although there is no apparent game advantage to wearing normal clothes), but the game is full of shit like ceramic plates, mugs, pots, paint brushes, hour glasses, brooms, calipers, shovels, etc., and that stuff is all worth nothing and can’t help you do anything. For a while I was convinced that all of this shit was needed for one quest or another, so I was carrying tons of shears, tongs, dishes, etc., and I was walking past REAL treasure because I didn’t have room in my inventory and I was convinced that the game designers would’t but a shovel in the game unless I would come upon a situation where I had to dig a hole. After a while I figured out that most of it just took up space in my inventory — if it has any in game utility, I haven’t yet found it.
The game keeps hinting that I can buy a house (where I presume I can stash all of my treasure and all of the worthless calipers, tongs, shears, ceramic plates and other useless crap I can pick up), but every time I see the message, “Ask about buying a house,” the NPC tells me, “I don’t trust you enough to talk about that,” when I click on it. “What the fuck? ” I say to the NPC on screen. “You TOLD ME to ask you about buying a house and now you say you don’t trust me enough to talk about it?”

I’m also puzzled at how many pairs of shoes seem to be stashed in the world of Oblivion — there seem to be shoes in almost every barrel, box, coffin, cabinet and other container I look in. And unlike armor, weapons or boots, shoes never wear out. But they also don’t do anything for you (whereas armor and boots at least protect you a little). So what’s up with the shoe fetish?