The Walking Dead finale,How Skybound labored to ship the final episode

Games' crowning achievement, ironically enough, might be bringing back a game from the dead. The company recent published the fourth and final of Telltale's The Walking Dead: The Final Season on the PC in the Epic Games Store, as well as on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

The game's fate was up in the air, as Telltale shocked the world by shutting down last fall and throwing hundreds of developers out of work. The game, which started as the stunningly harsh tale in The Walking Dead: Season One in 2012, wasn't finished.

So Robert Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment acquired the title from Telltale and pledged to finish the game. I talked with Ian Howe, CEO of Skybound Games, about that at the PAX East fan convention in Boston last week. It took about two months of legal limbo before Skybound could get the team on board and finish the title, and then another few months to finish the final two episodes in the 20-episode series.

You must be happy about getting the last Walking Dead episode out.

Ian Howe: Definitely a sense of relief that we managed to get that online. It's been a great project to work on. The development team has been incredible, just completely determined to get this story finished. We did a small part of making that happen, but ultimately the credit should go to those guys for coming straight back after a two-month break, when they didn't know what was happening. To come back in and deliver the final episodes the way they did I don't think we could have reasonably asked for more than they delivered.

I believe we were down through clearing legal issues and things for exactly two months. Then our release date was two months and two weeks past the original release date. It would have been exactly the day, but we chose to move the date back a couple of weeks for various reasons. We really lost no time at all, other than the time the team wasn't able to work. For them to come back straightaway, that's a testament to their abilities. I had nothing to do with that. [Laughs]

After the two months, how much work did they have to do?

Howe: We got them back to work in November. They've been working for the last three or four months on finishing episode four. Episode three was probably 80 or 90 percent done. It was at a ratings build. It wasn't fully finished from a visual standpoint, but the narrative and voice work were done. Episode four was in preproduction. It had nearly all the work left to do. They came back and blasted through episode four and came up with something really special.

How much of the team came back? I assume you didn't have everybody.

Howe: I don't know what the original team size was, but we cast a pretty wide net. There were some very specific things that needed to be done. With development it's not everybody on all the time for the whole project. People were rolling on and rolling off. But we brought back more than 40 people. That shifted and changed, because some people took other roles. Then we cast the net wider. The whole team that finished the game were Telltale people, and 95 percent were the former Walking Dead team.

Clementine is still looking for shelter.

What kind of reactions have you seen to the episode?

Howe: The feedback has been fantastic. Obviously the first thing you look toward with a game like this, where it's so known and so anticipated, is the fan reaction, more so than the critical reception. That's probably more important at this stage. I went into Tuesday's launch kind of feeling like whatever direction we decided on was not going to please everyone. But honestly I don't think I could have anticipated such a positive response. It's been almost overwhelmingly positive. Even people who have said that it's not the ending they would have gone with, they still really enjoyed the episode. It's been great to hear.

I wonder if all the choices are coming out in similar ways.

Howe: Time will tell as far as choices. We'll have a look at that data when we have a bigger sample size. Generally everyone has a different path, but they end up in a similar place at the end.

How are you feeling about finishing this? I guess there'd be some emotional attachment to it on the Skybound side.

Howe: Oh, undoubtedly. People within the Skybound team have been involved in this project since almost day one. There's a lot of people on the Telltale side who've been involved for a long time. I think we all felt that these last two episodes not happening—that would have been tough to allow to happen. We felt that not only was it the right thing to do, but it was a good thing to do, to tell that story and bring those people back as well, allow them to come back and complete the story. There was a lot of emotion involved in it.

I know from Kent Mudle, who's the creative director—he and I have spoken about that a lot, about the personal attachment they've developed for the characters. We all have that. We all talk about it in the same terms as the fans talk about it. How is it going to end? Obviously, we knew, but how is that ending going to be received? Was it the right thing to do? But the good thing was that the original team, who created this story arc and narrative in the first place, got to see it through. It wasn't anybody else that came in and made the final decisions. All the original people were involved.

 

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