Talk the Talk, Walk the Dead

By Peter Drescher
March 23, 2013

This is a story about a video game with the emotional power of a movie. The final episode of Telltale Games "The Walking Dead" is so intense, players weep at the end of it (I sure did; cried like a baby).

Now ask yourself, "When was the last time you wept after playing a video game!?" Ever? It certainly was a first for me, and I've been playing since Space Invaders (Gamer answer: "well, maybe tears of joy at a high score" :)

Critics agree this game is special. It has won an insane number of Game of the Year awards. Each episode is easy to play, available on many platforms (even mobile), and costs five bucks (unlike, say, the $60 / 40 hour commitment of a console game).

Audio credits screen

This make me very happy for two reasons:

a) It means that, moving forward, there will be more games featuring character driven drama (gee, whatta concept!). As they say in Hollywood, nothing succeeds like success, and I believe any game genre can be revitalized by good writing and acting, rather than more explosions and aliens and jumping up and down.

b) I've got a credit on it :)

From an audio guy point of view, this is great luck, because it's an instance where game sound (frequently relegated to the bleacher seats) is up front and center channel, contributing significantly to the success of the game. While the graphic novel look is fun, and the gory gameplay entertaining, it's the voice acting that really pulls people in.

The main character is Lee Everett, played by the incomparable Dave Fennoy (aka "the voice of Hulu"). The trick is you can choose to play Lee as a good guy or a badass, and your decisions have moral consequences later. The storyline of other characters' development is based on how you behave in a variety of extreme and horrifying situations (like, say, shooting zombies in the head).

To pull that off, you need digital audio files of each character saying every line of dialog in multiple branching storylines through five episodes. That's over 10,000 lines from dozens of actors to be recorded, edited, mastered and integrated into the game. It's a complex process, but a team of highly skilled professionals worked tirelessly to make it happen [fists on hips, cue theme song!]

My contribution to the Voice Over Production Crew was simple: receive raw files of VO recordings, edit the takes, and deliver (thousands of) clean lines, free of annoying "pops and clicks" mouth noise. Sometimes you can wave a magic audio wand at the problem, but usually it means digging into the waveform to snip snip the offending data.

Last year, I played through each episode as it was published, which was interesting, because I sorta knew the myriad storylines but had never seen the graphix, or solved the puzzles. I played Lee as I hoped I might behave in an impossible situation, and not always with the desired results (ya know, kinda like real life). By the time I got to the final episode, I was completely invested in what would happen to Lee, and especially, Clementine (voiced by the astonishingly talented Melissa Hutchison).

The end of the game reminded me of Hitchcock's "Spellbound". In the final scene of that movie, the hero and heroine confront the villain, who is armed with a revolver. The POV camera shot is straight down the barrel, like a 1945 black-and-white version of a First Person Shooter.

The defeated villain, convinced that all is lost, turns the pistol on himself (in the theater, the gun points directly at the audience) and BLAM! At that point, Hitchcock spliced a single red frame into every print of the picture, making the gunshot extra shocking and visceral.

The final scene of the last episode of Telltale Games "The Walking Dead" is that one red frame ...

- pdx

Special Thanks to Jory Prum, Julian Kwasneski, and the folks at Telltale Games.

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