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Lord Of The Dead: An Interview With Robert Kirkman

by Ben Reeves on Nov 26, 2012 at 07:30 AM

The Walking Dead started out as a black-and-white comic book that narrowly avoided early cancellation. Since then the property has grown into a transmedia behemoth. The Walking Dead trades consistently land in the top 10 sales charts. The AMC television show based on the property is basic cable’s highest-rated series, with last season’s finale drawing 9 million viewers. Telltale’s The Walking Dead adventure games became the developer’s fastest-selling series. Creator Robert Kirkman has shepherded The Walking Dead through its many incarnations, so we talked with him about the property’s gaming future, what makes zombies so popular, and why we’ll never see a Mega Man/Walking Dead crossover.

The Walking Dead has been a very successful property. Does its success ever surprise you?
It’s kind of crazy. When I pitched The Walking Dead, I pitched it as the zombie movie that never ends – the story to tell on paper that would go for years and years as we watched people survive a zombie apocalypse and grow and change over time. But at the time, I hadn’t done anything that hadn’t been canceled. I had no confidence that The Walking Dead would survive past issue 12, so I crammed a bunch of story into the first issues. I blew through that Shane storyline in the first six issues because I didn’t know if the book was going to last.

Were you familiar with Telltale’s work before you started collaborating with them on the Walking Dead game? 
I played their Strong Bad game. I like their approach to puzzle-based storytelling. I thought they were more focused on telling a good story, and I thought they were good at engaging the player in the narrative. That’s what interested me in making a Walking Dead game. They came to me with a proposal that involved decision-making and consequences rather than ammunition gathering or jumping over things; I was impressed by that. The only thing that’s really special about The Walking Dead is the human characters and the narrative that they exist in. It’s all about drama and loss, so I felt like doing a game with that focus, but that wasn’t something that I knew was really possible. When Telltale came and told me about the way that making decisions changed the game and the way that players would be forced to choose between two bad decisions and how the survival aspect of The Walking Dead would actually be brought to the forefront – that’s when I was sold on the game.

How involved did you get during the development of the game? 
With anything Walking Dead, I try to be as involved as I can, which is not always as much as I would like to be. With The Walking Dead television show, I’m in the writer’s room. I work on that show every day, but I come from comic books. I’m not an expert in TV, so I’m able to allow other people who are experts in television to take the lead and run the show and really do it justice. I’ve taken that stance with Telltale. I don’t really know the world of video games as much as they do; I don’t know what works and what doesn’t work, so I’ve been kind of the godfather, saying, “This is what The Walking Dead is about and this is what I think is its secret.” Then they turn all that stuff into a video game. I’ve been kind of hands-off, but I’m impressed with the brilliant storytelling and with how good this game has turned out, which is really a testament to how talented their writers are.

How involved are you with Activision’s The Walking Dead game? 
That’s actually something that AMC is heading up and it’s based on the television show. I’m not as involved because that’s their thing. I’m looking at stuff. I’m aware of its existence. I know Activision is working very hard to make a cool-looking game and I’m hopeful it will be something that is worthy of the Walking Dead brand, but it’s not something that I’m actively, intimately involved with. Telltale’s game is based off the comic book, so I have a bunch more control over that than I do with what AMC does. I know there is a quote out there where I said, “It would be dumb to do a first person Walking Dead game because there are so many that it wouldn’t be something that would be competitive in the marketplace, and you’d always be compared to Left 4 Dead so why bother.” I don’t think AMC read that quote. But I will say that this game is very much the Dixon brothers’ game. These two characters don’t exist in the comic, so the ability to play as those characters and learn more about those characters, who are very popular in the show, could actually push this game over the top and make it a worthwhile experience. That’s what I’m hoping on.

If you had one dream property you could work on, what would that be? 
I love Spider-Man, so I’d love to work on that with the freedom that I have on the books I write now. I love Mega Man too, but honestly, I like creating new properties. I think it’s a lot more exciting to create the new Spider-Man than it is to tell new stories for a character that was created 60 years ago. I think it’s important to generate new ideas and stories that generations of people will enjoy for years to come. 

I know Archie is doing a Mega Man and Sonic crossover in its comics. Maybe you could write a Mega Man/Walking Dead crossover. 
I think that would be the stupidest thing ever.

[This interview originally appeared in Game Informer issue 235; Photo by Megan Mack]