Talk the Walk: The Walking Dead Universe became a Google Voice Action

How Breeder and Josephmark created Google’s latest interactive voice narrative game

The Walking Dead — Pathways
The Walking Dead Series
Excerpt from Pathways

Designing interactive stories is complex enough without the added layer of voice. How did you go about structuring a narrative gameplay in this unfolding format?

In order to deliver an experience that would meet the expectations of this audience, we recognized there was just going to be a certain amount of work that had to be done. That’s why we progressed with 6 whole different storylines– which for this format is a lot! It felt like we needed more meat on the bones, more choices that would have impacts on the actual narrative endings, as well as the ability to rediscover the same locations.

Excerpt from Pathways

How’d you find working with the storyworld of The Walking Dead?

One of the fun but equally challenging things with working with an IP this large is that the Walking Dead is such an expansive show. They have two spin-off series, webisodes, games, and all of those have their own plans for what’s going to happen next. So at some point you run out of new contexts that zombies and humans can interact within. We’d be like “What about this…” and someone would pop up with “Oh no, we can’t do that because of this episode arc”, and so then we’d come back with “Well, what about this…” and we’d hear, “No, we’ve got a version like that already out there: come up with something new!” So that was an entertaining challenge to try and find something that was undone in the massive, intersecting narrative streams of The Walking Dead universe. We’re really proud to have created something completely unique.

Excerpt from Pathways

How was working with a voice format?

It actually reminds me of long car trips when I was a kid, and Mum would put the story tapes in, and it feels like someone’s talking to you and reading you a story. With this, you just get to have more active-play in terms of a choose your own adventure story; it’s like an interactive radio play.

Script Sample

And the final touches of illustrations?

The Google Nest Home has the distinct feature of a screen, and so with Google as our partners, we were eager to work with an illustrator to leverage this additional layer for storytelling. For the creative direction, we gravitated towards an illustrative style that was both grungy and textural in aesthetic yet soft enough to compliment the atmospheric and eerie feeling of the sound design. We were also able to bring the illustrations to life by adding subtle animations, although with interactive stories you’re dealing with so many possible pathways, we needed to be able to customise a whole set of ranging emotions. We worked on a big plan of all the emotions we would need to react to the different outcomes and responses, and we worked out that if we added a single extra emotion, that would be like another 30 illustrations or something like that. In this interactive format, there’s a big knock-on effect everytime we add something new, so we had to keep it really simple because there were already like 200 variations for the illustrations. The visuals are a great compliment to the voice gameplay.

Pathways — Illustrating Variable Emotions

Is voice the next frontier?

I think what we’ve created is an interesting demonstration of voice recognition as a way of improving player agency. Voice recognition as a gameplay technology has applications that are currently underutilised in traditional games — mainstream gaming hasn’t really bitten onto that as a useful tool of interaction; yet.

Google Nest with Pathways

Any secret nods to a path we should start with?

I’d recommend going with Tamiki and Tyler for the Operations Centre storyline. That one should leave its mark!

Case Study

Behind-the-scenes case study of making Pathways Google Action.

Credits

Executive Producer: Google in association w AMC | Executive Producer: Zach Johnson | Producer: Stephanie Walsh, Val Moon, Blake Wassenaar | Lead Writer / Director: Dominic Crisci | Creative Director: Alex Naghavi | Writers: Craig Bentick, Richard Labrooy, Gianni Balatti-Hill | Illustrator: Darya Shnykina | Motion Director: Dan Rice | Additional Motion Design: Ryan McShane | Audio Production: Folklore | Production: Josephmark, Breeder | Voice App Development and QA: Bryce Woods, Paige Harkness, DJ Tusler (TalkVia) | Voice Over Recording: California Music | Narrator: Courtney Williams, Lien: Lauren Gaw, Tyler: Kyle Gold, Tamika: Teisha Wheaton, Eugene: Cody Tesnow

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