Written by: Casey Lightford, Edited by: Tiffany Edwards
Telltale Games are story-driven, episodic adventure video games based on many popular licences such as Game of Thrones, Fables, and Batman. Each decision the protagonist makes has a consequence that alters the story. Telltale Games proved through comics, video game spinoff series, and book tie-ins that it can tell a compelling narrative with quick-time events (QTEs) mixed in. I challenge Telltale Games to create an episodic horror video game based on a book created by “The King of Horror” himself: Stephen King.
I know Stephen King has a lot of work that could transition into a video game. The challenge would be choosing the right book. The one book that comes to mind (especially with the adaption coming to theaters soon) is Cell. It is worth noting that the Cell movie is completely different from the book with Stephen King helping with its screenplay. The Telltale Game for Cell will not be based on the movie, I want it based solely on the book. Let me pitch the idea:
Writer’s Note: I have no affiliation with Telltale Games nor Stephen King. This is purely a fictitious piece that could take advantage of Stephen King’s movie adaption of Cell. The pitch takes place last year to connect with dates given and reads as if I am pitching the idea.
Title: Cell (Based on the novelization by Stephen King.)
Platform & Regions: PC, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, for a worldwide release. (All languages will be taken in consideration based on popularity of past Telltale Games.)
Development Schedule Outline:
Early January 2016 –
Gather game-engine aspects, and flesh out the important story decision segments for five episodes.
Late February 2016 –
Finalize story elements, begin character and controlling mechanics, and include new innovated first-person segments.
Mid March 2016 –
Stephen King will announce that Telltale Games Cell is being developed for all current-platforms.
Late April 2016 –
Begin development on episode one of Cell.
Late May 2016 –
Begin work on the first trailer, and include major story elements from the first episode. Trailer must be 30-seconds.
Early July 2016 –
Release the first trailer during the worldwide release of Cell in theaters. Expected month for movie release.
Late August 2016 –
Finish development for episode one, and include story elements for episode two.
Late September 2016 –
Release episode one of Cell, and begin development on episode two.
Mid December 2016 –
Release episode two of Cell, and begin development on episode three and four.
Early March 2017 –
Release episode three of Cell.
Late March 2017 –
Release episode four of Cell, and begin development on episode five.
Mid May 2017 –
Release final episode of Cell.
Creating a Game through Novelization:
Preserving the major plot, setting, and characters are vital with the novelization of video games. Much of the dialogue will need to be pulled from the book and approved by Stephen King himself. The narrative will follow Clayton Riddell and include flashback moments to the Pulse. Clayton will be in Boston Common when the Pulse goes live, at which time the player will see chaos ensue all around him.
Dialogue and setting are important throughout all of this chaos. All of the characters Clayton will meet along his journey will be vital to his and their survival. If Clayton takes different actions, it could mean losing a friendly non-player character (NPC) faster than usual. Though the characters are important, there will be chances for players to change their outcome slightly. Minor characters can be easily killed, while more important ones will continue with the plot based on the novel.
The goal is not to step too far from the narrative of the book. Clayton cannot have a silent option, unlike other Telltale Games. This means that the four pieces of dialogue will be pulled from the book unless creatively written, and approved by Stephen King himself.
Looking at Trending Narrative Video Games
Like most of Telltale games, we will have QTEs, selective narrative choices, and consequences for the player. With the wide success of Telltale Games Walking Dead series, which evolved over time with its horror and gore, we need to push the boundaries with Cell. The “phoners” will need to be similar to zombies, but more chaotic, self-aware, and possibly cultish.
The Wolf Among Us is another game we will look carefully at for inspiration. While it only followed the protagonist to very limited places, the narrative was focused and included multiple characters. The tiniest decisions felt much larger and Bigby Wolf’s conflict with different fables showed in his demeanor. Bigby’s emotions not only showed on his face, but through his actions. Clayton will need to be strong and driven like Bigby, but not a leader like Snow White who went from the director of operations in Fabletown to the deputy mayor in an instance. It clearly showed that she was not ready to handle a leadership role such as this since her demeanor was shy, scared, and indecisive.
Clayton will observe his surroundings carefully like Bigby, but less detective-like since he is only a graphic novelist. Clayton’s strengths will be his decision making, cooperation, and determination. His goal is to find his son, Johnny, while also uncovering the Pulse piece by piece.
One popular narrative video game worth looking into is Bastion. This was Supergiant Games first game that became a huge indie hit. Their two-dimensional, isometric, narrative driven, action-packed game won numerous awards and sold more than 500,000 copies in 2011. Accolades included Visual Art and Excellence in Audio from the Independent Games Festival, Best Downloadable Game of E3 2011, Downloadable Title of the Year by the Academy Awards, and Game Informer gave it Best RPG Innovation.
Part of Bastion huge success was based on its narrative, artstyle, combat, and exclusive Summer of Arcade deal with Xbox Live Arcade. Based on trends around events like this, creating buzz surrounding the movie in theaters could help potential sales. Early console access could be viable, but may alienate fans. If a large end of summer sale occurs during the release of the first episode, we can price Cell at discount to boost sales.
Inspired heavily by the work of Stephen King, Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake took a King-like narrative and made it into a highly successful product. The darkness, suspense, world, and story elements shined among the gaming community and proved that Stephen King could have a place in video games. The plot of Alan Wake follows a best-selling thriller novelist who tries to uncover the disappearance of his wife, and the entire video game is based on a plot in his latest novel that he cannot remember writing.
While Alan Wake was a psychological action thriller with horror elements, our goal with Cell is to be more horror with psychological elements. For example, making certain choices could alter the psychological makeup of Clayton Riddell and his cohort. Creating a tense experience like Alan Wake will make Cell stand out from other video games on the market.
Why should people care about Cell?
Stephen King has not made an official appearance in video games since The Lawnmower Man from 1994. It is time for his stories to be brought to life. With Cell releasing in theaters this summer, people will have an understanding of what Cell is and may increase sales for the book. The novel is straightforward, and since apocalyptic themes are currently trending in movies, video games, and books, this is the perfect time to try something new at Telltale Games.
Clayton Riddell is trying to navigate through a chaotic world to find his son, Johnny. This goal will help the player connect with Clayton. Piecing together the mystery of how and why the Pulse is using cell phones to create psychopaths will appeal to those who want to discover what is truly going on.
The “phoners” in Cell are not technically zombies, contrary to the more overused tropes of the apocalypse genre. Yes, the “phoners” act like zombies, but they know how to forage for food and band together. Stepping outside the zombie-genre in media will be a focus for our creative team to make sure the psychopaths look more human and cultish than zombie-like. The “phoners” have a reason to live even though they lost control.
The choices in Cell will be impactful and can make the game more difficult if specific characters die too soon. Survival will be harsher than previous Telltale Games titles. When people see that it has Stephen King’s stamp of approval, it will send a signal that King himself could offer more of his works to the video game public. We will be one of the first to make Stephen King officially become an important video game figure.
The target audience includes avid Stephen King readers, Telltale Games enthusiasts, and those who love narrative-focused games.
We will have two groups of players that will play our game. Players that have experience with previous Telltale Games titles, and new players to our formula. We want to appeal to the masses on both ends of the spectrum. Let’s break down the ideas:
In regard to existing Telltale Players
- Emphasis will be placed on new decision choices and the fact that the protagonist will not have a silent option to choose from.
- We will focus on recreating a novel instead of bringing too many new ideas to the story.
- Gameplay will be polished with new mechanics not seen in previous titles, like the psychological changes based on decisions towards the protagonist and other NPCs.
- Art style will be similar to past Telltale Games, but with more gore and jump scares than previous titles.
In regard to New Players
- Convey that this is a Stephen King adaption from the novel, nearly word-for-word.
- Introduce the mechanics of Telltale Games in a way that leaves a good impression; could create possible sale increase for previous titles.
- Feature deals upon first episode’s release date.
- Show how a narrative-driven game can succeed when based solely on the book.
- Introduce difficulty settings for people who want to experience the story more so than play the game; this will include less QTEs and combat choices for the player to make.
- Possibly include a previous episode from past Telltale Games so they can experience our creative storytelling as well.
How will Cell differ from previous Telltale Games?
As mentioned before, we will have one psychological choice for each interaction of dialogue. That choice will affect both the protagonist and his cohorts. More impactful choices will be reflected via an icon that will show Clayton’s stress levels. If the protagonist hits a specific stress point, two choices will be taken away to limit dialogue options. This will simulate the detrimental effect of stress on Clayton’s judgment. We want the player to also feel stress, so we will subtly alter the time a player has to select dialogue options, make game choices difficult to read, and flicker the gameplay when the player is not making choices.
Gore, horror elements, and jump scares will need to surpass all previous Telltale Game titles. For instance, when the Pulse activates, the player will see “phoners” lash out at unaffected people by tearing their insides out, gashing out eyes, using shattered glass to stab, and many other grotesque elements. There will even be formal executions where blood, organs, and severed heads will be seen. Hangings will be placed throughout particular settings, and the player can observe suicides from afar. Flashbacks will need to be gritty as well as eye opening.
Cell will need to have Stephen King’s approval on devices, settings, character development, some level design, and the narrative. Telltale Games will work closely with King to ensure that this game stays true to the novel and we do not overstep our boundaries.
Difficulty settings will change the way people play our game. The harder the difficulty, the easier stress will accumulate for Clayton and the player, QTEs will be need to be input faster, and the hardest difficulty will have a set number of retries until the save is reset.
Data will also be revealed for every choice made at the end of each episode, but it will include more than percentages. This data will be merged from all platforms and will try to include gender, age, and continents. Telltale Games want to share everyone’s experience with the player’s choices so they can understand how many other players chose differently. Also, we will make sure that the data will only be collected during a player’s first playthrough.
Areas to look into
- Research the setting related to the novel; specific scenes progress from Boston to Northern Maine. Trips to Boston and Northern Maine will be beneficial when recreating cities, streets, and historic buildings.
- Proving how the “phoners” are psychopaths will be important so players do not misinterpret them as zombies. They move in flocks and act on an individual basis when focusing on their prey.
- Older cellular devices will need to be researched as well as cell towers. Cell takes place during the flip phone era. There will be no smart phones in this game, period.
Cell will offer many easter eggs hidden throughout the game relating to other novels written by Stephen King. With his approval, Telltale Games would like to incorporate connections to “The Dark Tower” series as well as throwbacks to impactful scenes from novels. For example, there will be a door with a hole and axe sticking out of it to resemble the iconic scene from “The Shining.” We could include the poster from “The Shawshank Redemption” that Andy Dufresne hid from the prison guards. Also, we will include buicks crashed in specific areas or in mint condition with subtle amounts of blood.
Previous characters created by Stephen King will be unlocked based on beating the game multiple times, accomplishing certain tasks, meeting hidden characters, etc. These characters will not alter the narrative, but will change the appearance of the protagonists. Characters that Telltale Games would like to see, based on King’s approval, would be the clown from “IT,” Roland from “The Dark Tower” series, Jack Torrance from “The Shining,” the antagonist from “Mr. Mercedes,” and many others. While these will be mostly cosmetic, they will be able to use some weapons mechanically as well. For example, Jack Torrance will use an axe in some scenes where QTEs are viable.
We would also like to include a Stephen King character that he voices. He would be a very minor character, and it would be nice to include him in the game. Telltale Games would give him little dialogue and a small scene in either episode one or two.
Lastly, the credits will have psychological stress tendencies where the screen flickers and will show horrific scenes from the episode as well as cell phones ringing in the background while a song plays. The cell phone tone will get darker and slower the further the credits roll. At the end of the credits, the player will see and hear the Pulse.
Proposed Staff from Telltale Games and Remedy Entertainment
Planning, Creative Lead – Nick Herman
Director – Martin Montgomery
Assistant Director and Script Director – Stephen King
Producers – Chris Schroyer, Jyri Ranki
Designers – Ryan Kaufman, Mikael Kasurinen
Arists – Saku Lehtinen, Joe Pinney
Writers – Sam Lake, Pierre Shorette, Dave Grossman
Music – Petri Alanko