games / Columns

Working Title 12.01.12: Working Title: The Walking Decision

December 1, 2012 | Posted by Jordan Williams

If you like yourself you won’t click play.

WELCOME BACK TO THE #1 COLUMN TO BE GONE FOR THREE MONTHS BECAUSE IT WAS FILMING A MOVIE, WORKING TITLE! Oh man, I know you guys haven’t seen me around the site and I apologize…but a few months back I got handed an honest-to-gawd chance to do a movie and I just had to take it. The movie isn’t a big budget picture or anything so you won’t see me on posters or anything. I’m actually not even IN the movie. I was working security for some of the assets that were used for filming and generally keeping actors, extras, and crew members in line. Once the film gets picked up to be released I’ll be sure to post a trailer or information regarding it…but right now mum is the word.

Man, a lot has happened since I last wrote a column. Games came out, games got cancelled, we have a new console, and we had an election. For those of you that don’t know what exactly Working Title is…it’s a rant. Plain and simple. Every week or every other week I just sort of show up on this site and literally open a Word Document and just fuckin’ type nonsense. Complete stream of conscious nonsense. It’s usually short and sweet and filled with made up words and needless cursing. It’s also the longest running anything on this section of the site.

But hey, its game related.

This week we have a topic that I had been wanting to talk about for a while before my break and I just never got a real chance to discuss it, but I think just before Game of the Year voting starts is pretty much the perfect time. Since this is my first week back and doing a Working Backlog could easily take a whole column by itself, I am going to skip doing that…because Working Backlog will take a full column next week.

This week though I just want to rant a bit and examine a little dilemma that I am having.

Working Title: The Walking Decision

So there was one game I did stay pretty up on the whole time I was away, and that was Telltale’s The Walking Dead. It’s getting A LOT of Game of the Year buzz and second looks, but I have been pumping that game full of gas since Episode 1. Now that it is finally over and people have the full product…I am starting to realize a dilemma I am going to have to face in about a month.

Can The Walking Dead, by virtue of its medium really be considered GAME of the Year?

Not before you all go apeshit, let me tell you that I fucking LOVE this game. I am not lying when I say it is probably of the best gaming experiences I have had this year if not THE best. But there problem I am having here is that…somewhere buried deep in all of the writing, all of the character moments, all of the decisions you have to make, and all of the wonderful pacing…there’s actually a fully functional and playable game in there.

…and it’s not good.

Whenever I look back at all of the great moments in The Walking Dead, all of them come from character interactions, or big character reveals or moments. I can’t think of a single point in that game that resonated from me ACTUALLY playing it. The puzzles were too simple to really be considered a challenge, the shooting elements in the game were flat out terrible and every other piece of action was as simple as a quick time event or “Click here at the right moment”. None of the non-canonical deaths I suffered in the game were from a challenge go awry. It was because the controls were fuckin’ terrible. The more and more I think about it, the more and more I realized I loved TWDG the same way I love a good book, or a good TV show. It had all of the elements I wanted in emotional attachment to characters and all of the twists and turns to keep me interested.

Now not to sound completely reductive, there was mechanics working towards “It’s a game” argument. What was that mechanic?

That wonderful little piece of pain right there. If this were a normal, non-interactive medium Clementine would just be another child character that would tug at your heart strings. You might end up hating her or loving her but she would develop completely independent of your actions and wouldn’t change. But in TWDG she becomes something that is molded by you. Truthfully she doesn’t change THAT much, but the mere fact that you make every single decision to how Lee Everett will react to the world around him and the happenings means that Clementine will see what you do.

She judges you.

Imagine if Grand Theft Auto had a character like Clem who took note of every single time you ran over a pedestrian and then threw it in your face later? Imagine if the morality systems in games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 were actually morality system? If you killed too many innocents in a town instead of getting an extra line about how you are murderer you instead had someone looking at you and calling you a monster and refusing to have anything to do with you…even after you’ve changed your ways.

This little piece of interactivity could be what TWDG is all about. It might not be in the failed shooting segments or the easy puzzles. It might be the interactivity of the characters that leads to TWDG being considered a game. There has been a bit of a backlash because TWDG offers illusion of choice in the same way Mass Effect 3 did. You are seemingly making big choices or the surface but no matter what you are heading to one of two outcomes. But…maybe if you look at it from the perspective that you are not trying to change the outcome of the game, you are not trying to change the narrative.

You are just controlling how Lee reacts and what decisions HE makes. It’s a balancing act that the game DOES pull off….

…but so do some of the best Choose Your Own Adventure books…and even those have multiple endings.

And that is my issue…I don’t know if the sum of TWDGs parts allow it to be called GAME of the Year.

Experience of the Year? Best Game Writing? Best Voice Acting? All of those could fit and I wouldn’t have a problem. But…when I think a GAME. I think of something that has interactivity beyond “Pick an Option.”

Think of it like a restaurant. If the place looks fucking FANTASTIC and has all of the top of line cookware and the best trained staff ever…but the sole reason you came there–the food–was really lacking…would you still be able to call it Restaurant of the Year?

Not to say TWDG has stiff competition, a lot of games this year that are on my GOTY ballot have big problems or missed opportunities…but most of those games at least got the point where it was a GAME down.

I keep coming back to that word…GAME. I keep coming back to it because that’s the part that keeps nagging me in my side. I know TWDG was great, I know that it will almost universally acclaim, I know that it’s going to take Telltale Games to new levels in both popularity and in stock. Hell, it will probably be looked back on as one of the best Adventure Games ever made. …But that’s only if you ignore the part that you actually play the parts that try to be a GAME is where it falls apart.

So can I knowing all of these go forward and make The Walking Dead my Game of the Year?

I don’t know. It’s on my list. I can see it…maybe when it comes down to the tiebreaker and can start to factor that sort of thing in. But right now I can’t feel comfortable calling Walking Dead my game of the year. I have not had a bigger emotional experience than TWDG, but from a gameplay perspective I’ve had more fun and better playing experiences with other games. When I get reductive and break it down TWDG feels more like a really well made FMV game from back in the day. A scene plays out, you make a choice, another scene plays out, you make a choice, QUICK REACT TO THIS REAL QUICK, watch a scene play out, and you make a choice.

The difference is that this was well-made, it was good, and it was well acted. But…

I just don’t think it’s as much of a game that everyone else thinks it is.

It’s a great everything else, probably the best “Everything Else” I’ll play all year.

But I don’t know if that Everything Else is better than the Games I have played this year. I guess we’ll have to find out.

Working List

So seeing as Working Title is always a bit on the short side, I decided that every week I will go ahead and throw a little list at the end. Let’s you know a little bit more about what the hell I think about video games.

This week’s list?

Top 5 Properties That Deserve Better Games

5 – Power Rangers How has Power Rangers not had a decent game yet? It’s not like they are short for content. They could easily make an Ultimate Alliance-like game from any Power Rangers series.

4 – Avatar: The Last Airbender While everyone with an Xbox might’ve played ‘The Burning Earth’ because of the easy achievements, it still doesn’t make it right that that is all the game is known for. There’s a decent story and LOTS to do with a proper video game.

3 – Star Trek I know that Star Trek isn’t as popular as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a decent game. Now I am not saying that all of Star Trek’s games were bad. Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force was actually a pretty damn good game.

2 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles This is right up there with Avatar. There have YEARS of stuff to go off of; Turtles with great personalities and stories…but the last good TMNT was almost 20 years ago. There’s something seriously wrong with that.

1 – Lord of the Rings One of the most celebrated fantasy novels of all time doesn’t have a decent game to go with it. That’s…really sad. Especially given how much current Dark Fantasy games crib from LOTR to begin with.

Working Question

And now for the Working Question; in your definition…what is a game? I know it’s a lofty question but what would you consider a video game? Does it have to have challenge? Gameplay mechanics in play? Does it have to have advanced level of interaction? I’m really interested in seeing what you have to say.

You know, after you talk mad shit about me.

Well, that’s that! I’m back…and I’ll try my best to keep up appearances. But who knows? Life gets in the way. Next week is going to be all Working Backlog where I talk about all of the games I’ve been playing and why I like…or don’t like them. After that? Game of the Year time.

Until next time, I’m Jordan Williams…and YES, you should be getting major douche-vibes off of the fact that I lead the column off with a Lonely Island song.


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