Robert Kirkman explains why there’s room for new stories in The Walking Dead’s universe
By John Gaudiosi
Skybound Entertainment has had success with The Walking Dead across all mediums.
Robert Kirkman’s comic book company has expanded into television with the AMC series, which is now the most popular show in the world. They’ve also enjoyed the same level of critical and commercial success through the award-winning The Walking Dead series of episodic games from developer Telltale Games. And Skybound has also released its own The Walking Dead: Assault mobile game from Gamagio.
Now Skybound has enlisted Starbreeze to create the first co-op multiplayer game set within The Walking Dead universe. Starbreeze-owned studio Overkill is developing the new game in conjunction with Kirkman and Skybound. The game, which will be released in 2016, is set in Washington, D.C. and will focus on a new cast of characters.
David Alpert, co-founder of Skybound Entertainment, said that Starbreeze is a company he and Kirkman have been gigantic fans of forever, dating back to the first-person shooter, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.
“Butcher Bay was a great video game, it was as true to the underlying movie concept as possible and I enjoyed the game more than the movie,” Alpert said. “That’s a game we love and respect and we’ve asked Starbreeze to make this game as true to the universe of The Walking Dead as possible. We wanted to do something different than Telltale Games. It will be a nice balance between what they’ve been able to do with the Payday games–powerful gameplay experiences where people build their own worlds and go on missions, but setting that inside the experience of The Walking Dead.”
With Skybound Entertainment developing a new The Walking Dead TV spin-off with AMC, they’re taking a similar approach with the new game when it comes to introducing a completely new cast of characters and a location not yet explored in the original series.
“What’s iconic about this franchise isn’t Andy (Lincoln) or Norman (Reedus)—they’re two of the leads of the show, but the star of the show in our mind is the walking dead itself,” Alpert said. “It’s an experience.”
Kirkman added that fans are really invested in this world and they want to see more of it.
“One of the really cool things about The Walking Dead is that all of the different versions of it are very isolated,” Kirkman said. “That gives us a tremendous amount of room to play with and room to expand. The fact that the video game series focuses on completely different characters in a completely different region than the television show and the comic book series is based on shows that we can shine a light on another corner of this universe and tell a story that’s just as compelling as the original. Time has shown that people want to see other areas of the country and see how other people are surviving in this world. That’s the kind of opportunity we have in the video game space to really dive in deep and show them that stuff.”
Alpert pointed to the approach Telltale Games has taken with its games, which only feature an appearance by Glenn Rhea from the TV series and comics. Other than that, it’s a different experience. Skybound’s creators aren’t interested in the old ‘90s Hollywood licensing strategies, which saw a lot of poor games that offered a retread of the events from the big screen.
“People want to experience similar situations from the film or television show, but from their own perspective,” Alpert said. “Games are a forward-looking opportunity.”
The new shooter from Starbreeze’s Overkill will follow the Payday: The Heist digital distribution model. That game debuted on PC and PlayStation 3 and later migrated to other consoles with Payday 2. Payday 2: Crimewave Edition comes to Xbox One and PS4 this fall. The Walking Dead game is being created with the Diesel engine, which was built to power PC and next gen console games.
“We love getting real-time feedback from players and having a real connection with the gamers, which increases the value of the experience as developers can tweak an episodic game or improve a digital game over time,” Alpert said. “We believe in community.”
Dan Murray, head of Skybound Interactive, pointed out that the new Starbreeze game is meant to be a complement and not a replacement to the Telltale games. He also said Telltale will continue making its episodic games based on the franchise.
“The Starbreeze guys and Telltale guys know and respect each other,” Murray said. “I look forward to seeing how they can collaborate and expand this universe. We’ve made a long-term commitment with Starbreeze to create something fresh and new, and the co-op game fans have been asking for.”
It’s also another video game collaboration between a pair of indies, noted Bo Andersson Klint, CEO of Starbreeze. It will be gameplay focused, ferocious, and bring chaos to the traditional industry model–from us developers straight to you,” Klint said.
Without strict deadlines and a Hollywood studio peering over its shoulder, Telltale Games was able to connect with fans of Kirkman’s comic books and the TV offshoot they spawned. Starbreeze’s forthcoming co-op shooter also has the benefit of digital delivery and the direct involvement of Kirkman (who was not involved in Activision’s The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct or the upcoming survival strategy game, The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land, in development at Next Games).
“The video game can’t exist in the video game space only because The Walking Dead is popular, it has to exist in the video game space because it’s a cool video game,” Kirkman said. “Even if it wasn’t branded with The Walking Dead, it would still be something that is fun to play and very cool. Skybound is always about breaking new ground and trying to find something unexpected in all endeavors and this game continues that tradition in grand style.”