The Walking Dead (Writer, Designer, Creative Lead) is a five-part episodic game series for XBOX360, PS3, PC & Mac from Telltale Games based on the wildly popular comic book series by Robert Kirkman. The goal for the project was to tell a new story within his world that focused on what it was like to have to make the impossible choices required for human survival in a world that has lost all of its humanity. While the zombie apocalypse is the backdrop of The Walking Dead, any fan will tell you it’s a story actually about the people trying just to get by in their day-to-day and the zombies fade into the background, like the weather. With so many zombie games focused on the fantasy of surviving the zombie apocalypse in the marketplace, it was exciting to focus just on the abject horror of it all and what that means for an individual person.
I co-wrote the overarching season story for the game which was pitched directly to Robert Kirkman and based on the idea of building family during crisis. We created the characters Lee Everett and Clementine, a man and a little girl, to give the players the chance to play as a flawed human being (Lee has large portions of his past he regrets) who attempts to navigate the choppy and muddy rivers of “right and wrong” in a time where those ideas have been rendered obsolete. Making morally grey choices with a little girl at your side made the story infinitely more interesting. Of course, the onus was then on us to make Clementine someone you actually cared for — something I believe the game succeeds at.
Along with writing the season story I wrote the first and last episodes of the series, voice directed those episodes, oversaw the writing on all other episodes, and designed the timer and choice driven-dialog system used throughout.
The first, third and fifth episodes of The Walking Dead are some of the more personal bits of work I’ve done. I love characters that don’t love themselves and giving gamers the opportunity to be one of those was an immensely satisfying experience.
Praise for The Walking Dead
VGA: Game of the Year 2012, Best Female Character (Clementine)
Puzzle Agent (Co-Writer, Story By) Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent is an original puzzle adventure game franchise from Telltale Games for iOS devices. Based on the work of Graham Annable, it tells the story of Nelson Tethers, the FBI’s sole member of their puzzle research division. When the factory that supplies The White House with erasers mysteriously shuts down, Tethers is sent to Scoggins, MN, a snowy and sleepy nordic town to see that it reopens. What he finds is a town plagued by dementia, haunted by myth and disposed to madness.
Working on a small team of five or six hidden beneath the cistern room at Telltale and collaborating with Graham Annable who sat nestled in a cabin the Pacific Northwest was an absolute delight and writing the Puzzle Agent story outline after outline, sticky note note after sticky, was an exercise in labyrinthine mystery writing and tonal acuity.
My first conversations with Graham centered around his short film, The Hidden People, about the terror that lurks behind every tree, out there, in the woods. From there, Telltale Creative Director Dave Grossman hatched the idea of Nelson Tethers, an FBI agent ill-equipped to handle much of anything, I became obsessed with lunar cycles and Nordic lore, and the Puzzle Agent story was born.
Tales of Monkey Island: (Writer) I grew up loving Lucasarts adventure games and, along with Full Throttle, Monkey Island was on the top of a heap of classics. Guybrush said everything I wished I was smart enough to say, he wandered a world full of the unexpected that I yearned to wander, and he could hold his breath for ten minutes (an obscure skill I’m sure I would’ve found a way to put to good use). Then, years later, I found myself at Telltale Games writing for Guybrush in a reboot of the original series. There are jobs you take and then there are jobs you leap for. This was the latter.
Writing on the game was the highest profile thing I had done and put me on the map as legitimate writer in the business. That same year I spoke with Tim Schafer and Rhianna Pratchett on a writing in games panel at GDC.
Praise For Tales of Monkey Island
“To say that the supporting cast is hilarious and well-written would be quite an undersell. Leviathan [episode 3] is unrelentingly excellent, with dialogue that doesn’t just set new standards for Telltale—it goes to the level of the original Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, and that’s not a statement I make lightly. There is almost no pause in the comic success of the dialogue; every character hits every note exactly right. I was not familiar with the writing of Sean Vanaman prior to this, but he is without question an immediate superstar in the realm of comic game writing, and has scripted a masterpiece.” - Adventure Gamers
“This is a genuinely funny episode…Even throwaway gags are laugh out loud funny. The few small bits of real pathos here are surprisingly moving and it’s to the writer’s credit that the romantic parallels and tender subtext aren’t strained too far.” - IGN
Epic Mickey (IP & Concept Development) In the summer of 2004 I interned at The Walt Disney Company and reported to the Director of Creative Development in their video game division. I had no official job description or daily deliverables and this being my first real job in game dev, I couldn’t figure out if that was normal or I had simply been hired by a free-thinking zen-minded media-mega-corp-subversive who kept telling me to “you know, create.”
That was the summer I learned the value of a closed door. After being put in a 15’x15’ room with some other interns and asked “what type of game would you play that featured Mickey Mouse,” we spent a few weeks tooling on some ideas inside of a room where nobody ever opened the door. What we quickly found amongst each other was not a desire to re-imagine Mickey as a new character that a bunch of early twenty-somethings would latch on to but a yen to steep ourselves in the complex visual and iconographic history of the mouse himself. No matter how many ridiculous outfits the company had stuffed him into during our lifetimes, we kept coming back to the mouse in the shorts, the one we remembered from t-shirts of our youth, who battled dragons in Fantasia and climbed beanstalks to slay giants.
Over the course of a few months we developed this idea: what if Mickey were forced to return to the shorts (in both fashion and narrative) and in doing so had to remember all of the skills, tricks and abilities that had endeared to him for audiences for decades? In the twenties and thirties especially, Mickey was the subversive. He pulled tricks and pranks and was a mouthpiece for a creator (Walt) struggling against his own goliathan enemies as he tried to give birth to the world’s first great animation studio. We liked that. We shared his spunk.
Because of Epic Mickey, I didn’t leave Disney after my internship was over. I was brought on to develop the idea, build a first playable and prototype, and usher it through the green-lighting process. It being my first title, I was exposed to an… inaccurate depiction of launching a multi-million-dollar video game title into development. Apparently you just pitched executives with story-boards and concept art and eventually you’d have pitched them all (including Bob Iger, the CEO of TWDC) and they’d let you make the game. That’s what happened, more or less.
Seven years later, the game Epic Mickey, helmed by industry giant Warren Specter, was released. Between those early creative development meetings and the final product, some things remained: the concept of Mickey’s journey into a cartoon wasteland filled with long-forgotten characters and his encounters with Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, Walt’s original animated creation. Of course much has changed. Nevertheless, I hold the creative development of Epic Mickey as one of the most exciting times of my career.