The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners VR Interview -- Creative Director Delves Into a Game Where Moral Choices Reign Supreme
In an interview with the The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners devs, the importance of realistic combat and moral choices are delved into.
During my time with the upcoming VR title The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, I was able to sit down with Creative Director, Adam Grantham and VP of Global Interactive Marketing, Guy Constantini. We delved deeper into the mechanics, story, and what makes the game feel like a living, breathing world that players can fully immerse themselves in.
Allisa James: The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners seems to imply that moral choices matter. How will the game handle these choices?
Adam Grantham: So we’ve got a strong linear core to the story but things can be very different around that core as you go. There’s definitely a strong authored story that we worked closely with Skybound to put together, but how that ends up playing out and who’s there and what’s going on and what people’s motivations are, those are going to be very different depending on how you play. We have Saints & Sinners in the title and there’s a lot of choices that are kind of straightforward. You might run into someone begging for food and then obviously the “Saint” person might help and give them something and of course, you can be the “Sinner” and just threaten them or shoot them with something.
So there are some choices that are pretty black-and-white like that and there are others that are more morally ambiguous. Being true to The Walking Dead a lot of our choices aren’t quite that crisp and we want the player to be thinking about choices they’ve made in the past and dealing with them. And you’ll have NPC’s in the world commenting on choices you’ve made. So there are both systemic consequences and authored narrative consequences.
“How that unrest plays out and what part you play and the consequences of what causes this mystery are what drives the different endings.”
AJ: And can we expect alternate endings based on those consequences?
AG: We don’t want to spoil too much but what we do is drive to this one thing that everybody out there is after and it changes who are there for that and how that situation plays out. So it does lead you to different possible setups for the finale.
Guy Constantini: So translating from designer to consumer, yes there will be alternate endings. The overarching story is that there is a mystery causing all this unrest and how that unrest plays out and what part you play and the consequences of what causes this mystery are what drives the different endings.
AG: And even within that final ending there are still some final choices to make so you set the stage for these final events and how they play out and then you have to make a final difficult call.
AJ: From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a unique story from the TV comics and other games. Is there any overlap at any point between those and this title?
AG: So New Orleans is our setting and [the franchise] hasn’t really touched on New Orleans that much so we had a lot of freedom to create our own lore. We’re in the comic book universe but we got our own conflicts, our own factions, and other things going on there but there are some nods here and there that you might find. You might hear some people mentioned. I think thematically is really where we drive home, where you really make it feel like Walking Dead. Like how this moment reminds you of the types of choices that [the characters] run into or thematically how difficult it is to come across food or how important medicine is. Those little elements you’ll find yourself saying “now I get what it’s like to be these characters.”
AJ: Was there any particular reason for the New Orleans setting? How do you feel the setting enriches both story and gameplay?
AG: There’s a lot of reasons but just in general New Orleans is a great site for anything, right? It is one of the most interesting cities in the world. So there’s that but I think even broader than the Walking Dead or any zombie apocalyptic game is that’s a setting that people really wanted to see but no one’s ever been there. There’s also a lot of culture — it’s unique and it’s kind of this mysterious exotic place. And we wanted to definitely fit in with the larger Walking Dead universe but bring our own style to it, our own surreal flare to it. We felt like New Orleans was a strong setting that allowed us to do that. At the beginning of the game, you feel like you’re getting pulled down the rabbit hole and you get to experience something strange and new that still feels like The Walking Dead.
GC: When you think about Walking Dead a lot of it takes place in these abandoned semi-rural areas and cities that aren’t really major cities, except when they go to Washington briefly. But there’s not a ton of iconic cities there. New Orleans has these crazy Victorian mansions and the Bayou and a lot of other areas that are not just iconic from that perspective but from the different ways in which you would explore such a locale.
“At the beginning of the game you feel like you’re getting pulled down the rabbit hole and you get to experience something strange and new that still feels like The Walking Dead.”
AG: And also we think the flooding allows us to make a city into a place that people can survive. Usually, a rule of The Walking Dead is that you don’t go to cities because there are so many people there, so many Walkers. So this archipelago phenomenon that happened in New Orleans made it into a place where some communities have been able to gain a foothold and flourish — like the tower. So it makes it unique among American cities that this has happened there.
And if you look at a lot of the other post-apocalyptic stuff you get a lot of similar looks to places. It’s kind of these rural communities and dull color palettes. But New Orleans is bright and vibrant and even though it’s rundown we have a chance to let that culture still come through and show what it’s like in the apocalypse and we’re really excited about that.
AJ: Speaking of environments, are there any other environmental aspects that can be used to one’s advantage during combat and exploration?
AG: Yeah actually. For instance you can grab these propane tanks and toss them and shoot them or throw them over a balcony into a group of unsuspecting people down below. You can use any kind of object that you can find to beat Walkers back with and even if it’s not sharp enough to bring them down it can buy you a few precious moments if you dropped your weapon. You can also do clever things like use a frying pan to cover yourself if your getting shot at really quickly. There’s also these gutters and rafters and chipped off siding that you can use to climb up and sneak into the sides of houses and the upper floors. Lots of ways to use the environment.
GC: The thing that I really enjoy is that people will come up with really creative ways to play, like what we jokingly are calling now “The Beer Build”: a backpack full of beer bottles. Drink for stamina, crack the bottle and stab a Walker in the head. And then just keep doing that. I think it would be funny. So there’s really no limit to how to use the environment to your advantage
AJ: How did the idea for a Walking Dead VR title come about? What unique experiences do you believe this lends to the game?
GC: I think for us as a team everybody just latched on immediately to a Walking Dead VR game, like of course, that’s a great idea. I think it’s great on two levels. One is the pretty obvious [reason] that survival horror is great and creepy. You’re in a dark house, it’s quiet, you hear the Walkers move, you have your little flashlight and it runs out of battery. It’s great scary stuff. But also it’s really about all the human moments experienced in VR. It’s equally rich and powerful so we were excited about both of these opportunities.
We also just really wanted to create a large, robust, open-world action-adventure game and be the first to make a real game in VR that’s not just an experience or one mechanic polished really well. So with Walking Dead, we thought this was a great opportunity to do that. Everybody wants a Walking Dead game, everybody wants that kind of VR game, and it just seems like a natural pairing to us.
AJ: Will any characters from the comics, TV show, or other games make an appearance?
GC: Without spoiling the game too much if you going around and looking in every nook and cranny I think you’ll find some pleasant surprises.
AJ: Do you plan on having any free updates, DLC, balancing, etc. in the future?
GC: We definitely plan on supporting the game after launch and I think that the extent and the amount we support it is obviously dependent on how much players like it and tell us what they want. It’s been built to grow and whether or not we do grow is depending on its success.
AG: It’s very much an open thing and with plenty of opportunities to be expanded and built upon. There’s a lot of quarters in New Orleans and there’s a lot of unique parts of the city to be explored. Its engine lends itself really well to open and new areas.
AJ: Were there any major roadblocks encountered by the team during development?
GC: One of them is the physicality in VR, as well as combat, exploration, and locomotion. Everybody’s kind of reinventing the wheel in their own ways and learning from each other. It’s not like making a shooter on a flat screen with so much understood, where the players’ expectations are set you know what to do. [With VR] there’s a lot of quick prototyping: if that doesn’t work trash it, do something new, etc. But that’s what you have to do when you’re cutting edge, right? We feel really good about where we landed and we really listen to how players responded during user testing. Other areas that were a big challenge that we think is paid off is this commitment to allow the player to be free and make choices in a very fluid way.
It’s not like you’re on a quest path and you only have two options. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, to whoever you want and that’s true to The Walking Dead. But what’s also true for The Walking Dead is that there are always consequences. Making the game suitably robust enough and having the narrative written in a way that holds up enough to any kind of player behavior was a real challenge but we’ve got the game in a place that we feel is doing that and we’re really excited about it. Not only has no VR game really done it quite like what we’re doing but I don’t know of any game that has done it quite this open where there’s really no one you could meet that you can’t kill (laughs).
AJ: How does that affect the gameplay if you go around and kill any NPC you meet?
GC: There are some people you’re only able to interact remotely with at first, that allows some questlines to remain mandatory because you can’t off that person right away. So we keep a couple of threads going through that. Also, if you’re just killing all the Tower people and all the Reclaim people you’re going to suffer the consequences. They’ll both be coming after you so you’ll be out in the world and the Walkers will be attacking you but the factions will also be attacking you. So we think most players will learn quickly that’s not the wisest route. So maybe they’ll try that as one experiment and they’ll have another way where they try working with one side and then with another side. A lot of the player’s choices aren’t about this side versus that side but are very personal choices. And it’s often people who aren’t even involved in the factions but are asking you to do them a favor.
AJ: Other than the Haptic feedback, were there any other physics implemented that gives the game a more realistic feel?
AG: I think another way that captures realism is the way people respond to how your weapons are out. It’s a very fine line to walk because we don’t want it where you’re just walking around with your knife out and people shoot you on sight. We want to make it very clear to the player what’s happening. So there’s a lot of fine-tuning in that but when it’s working it feels really good. For instance, if you’re in a faction that respects you and you’re holding a weapon out they won’t say anything but if you pointed it at them they’ll go “Hey put that gun away!” to warn you and if you pointed at their head they’ll react differently. So we’re capturing all this information from what you’re doing with your hands and your head because all that data is there, and the [NPCs] know where you’re pointing at they, know what you’re looking at–
GC: –your body language is very important–
AG: –so the world is very conscious of that.
AJ: Is there anything else you would like to add for our DualShockers’ audience?
GC: I think one thing you’ll find in this game that you haven’t really experienced in any of the VR game is when you’re sinking that blade in the Walker skull you really have to work at it and then it’s stuck and you have to pull it back out. We not only want the combat to be realistic but we wanted it to be really grounded in reality. We wanted every Walker kill and every human interaction to feel very dangerous.
AG: It’s very deliberate and timing matters and you really feel the pressure of the combat instead of just going out there and slashing aimlessly. It was very important to us to make sure you feel that and it’s real and that there’s a real strong physical gameplay curve. You get better at it your muscle memory gets better you find after five hours you’re all of a sudden a real Walker Slayer just like the people on the show and comics.
GC: Another thing worth noting is that when you play this game you can select your gender, you can select your skin tone, and you get to come in and make all these choices that are about who you would be. And we don’t tell you who you were or where you come from. You’re just this new person everyone calls “The Tourist.” All you really know is that you’re a badass survivor, that’s it. Besides that, you get to be as evil as Negan or worse or you get to be good as Rick or better. But all of them carry their own consequences and you get to really have that Walking Dead fantasy that “I’m surviving the world of The Walking Dead” in a way that no other game allows.
If you want to learn more about the title, be sure to check DualShockers’ preview of the game. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners will release for VR platforms on January 23, 2020.