Coming off The Walking Dead, its most successful and widely acclaimed graphic adventure to date, Telltale Games has finally found its stride. While previous titles like Tales of Monkey Island and Back to the Future only found niche audiences, The Walking Dead brought Telltale’s episodic storytelling into the mainstream. Though it was light on gameplay, it lured in gamers with its interactive narrative, gripping its audience emotionally by giving them power over the story and allowing them to forge bonds with the characters. What do you do for an encore after creating such a captivating formula? You build on it, of course.

[This article originally appeared in Game Informer issue #241]

Telltale is ready for this challenge with a new project: The Wolf Among Us, based on Bill Willingham's Fables comic book series from Vertigo. In Willingham’s world, classic fairytales collide with reality. Every character is real, but lives in a separate world. Once an evil entity named the Adversary threatens their homelands, they flee to a place he would never look: our world. They hide among us with their powers intact, living an everyday existence, hoping to keep their secret under wraps. These famed characters also have a darker edge than the stories we’ve heard about them. Happy endings? Forget it. Prince Charming is a womanizing cheater, and Cinderella uses her good looks to exploit information as a spy.

Willingham’s dark interpretations have won him much fanfare, as the Fables series has topped the comic charts and won numerous Eisner awards. Imagining our favorite fairytales in a new light is a trend that is dominating popular culture right now. It breathes into our entertainment channels from movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, Jack the Giant Killer, Mirror Mirror, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters to TV shows like Once Upon A Time and Grimm. Much like picking up The Walking Dead license right before the TV show started getting popular, Telltale is striking while the iron is just as hot with Fables. The company acquired the license at the same time as The Walking Dead, mainly because both series were dominating the bestseller lists for comics. Telltale focused on The Walking Dead first, but now it’s finally showing us the seedy side to the fables we’ve all grown up with. When we discuss The Wolf Among Us with Telltale, the excitement and confidence about the new project is palpable. “The Walking Dead has been getting a lot of attention; now it’s Fables’ turn to shine,” says CTO and president Kevin Bruner. “Everything just feels right about it for our next game.”

 Making Fables Spring to Life

As Telltale has learned firsthand, there’s more to success than just acquiring licenses. The pressure is always on to do justice to longtime fans’ favorite franchises, and Telltale has always taken that very seriously. To start the project on the right foot, Telltale asked for input from not only Willingham, but also DC Comics.

“From day one, we shared the story seeds, the look, and the character design with the folks at DC and with [Willingham],” Bruner says. “Everybody’s contributing to the process, so it’s a really healthy, good relationship.”

Telltale’s love of the comics drew them to Fables, so a lot of care is going into the project. “We have the luxury at Telltale [to] pick and choose our projects based on things we really love and that we’re fans of, and that we really think we can make an enormously kick-ass game out of it,” Bruner says.

Telltale prepped for The Wolf Among Us with as much precision as possible. Lead writer Pierre Shorette absorbed himself with the comics and lore as soon as he was on the project, going as far as making James Jean’s illustrated covers for Fables the wallpaper for every device he had. Shorette wanted to make sure he knew the personalities of the characters to a tee, which meant going back to the original source material: the fables themselves. Shorette’s goal was to create a story that felt like it was written by one of the comic’s writers. “I think that Fables fans will be happy and think that we are filling in some of the gaps and opportunities opened up by the comic,” Shorette says.