The Walking Dead: Betrayal interview: “living out a comic book arc”

by on September 29, 2023

Out now, The Walking Dead: Betrayal is a Project Winter title, and if you’ve ever played that: you know what it means. It means social deduction, trust issues, and wondering which of your pals are about to stab you in the bad metaphorically, and, well, actually. In early access now, we had the chance to sit down and talk to Kate Olguin, Lead Designer at Other Ocean Interactive, the developer behind the game, and discuss potential cameos, translating the franchise to a new-ish genre, and a whole lot more.

Mick: Did you have any major influences besides the source material when making The Walking Dead: Betrayal?

Kate: One of our biggest influences was an all-time social deception classic: the tabletop game Mafia. We examined design principles that made the gameplay and roles in Mafia so compelling, and then worked to adapt those principles to a more active gameplay environment. The big difference between Mafia and Betrayal is that Betrayal is very complicated and chaotic in comparison: there’s food, health, and items to keep track of, there’s no structured period where everyone votes on the traitor, and you’ve got to contend with Walkers as well.

When dealing with a lot of complex, interlocking systems, it was really helpful to be able to reference Mafia and think about the simple structures that allow for good lying and skulduggery. Of course, lying is only one piece of the Betrayal puzzle. Our survival elements were influenced by Project Zomboid, which a lot of our fans have already picked up on. And, of course, Other Ocean’s flagship social deception game Project Winter was always on our mind, though we wanted Betrayal to feel like a new experience that could stand on its own.

The Walking Dead: Betrayal

What were the main challenges in translating such a huge franchise to a relatively new genre?

A major element of The Walking Dead that makes the franchise so iconic is a strong focus on compelling stories. Betrayal is an online multiplayer game with self-contained matches and no overarching story, so it’s a big departure from the usual expectations of a title based on The Walking Dead. The main challenge was making it still feel like a The Walking Dead game, even without that story element, so we went all in on giving players the tools to create their own stories within a match. We wanted players to feel like they were living out a comic book arc, so you could feel like you were Negan bashing someone’s head in, a whisperer ambushing someone in the middle of a Walker herd, or Rick Grimes saving the day and leading your team to victory. We’ve seen players make some really incredible stories with their Betrayal matches, and each one feels different.

There’s plenty of scope for players to grief one another, but how do you balance that to keep it fair and fun?

It’s a tough thing to balance. Our main focus is on giving people opportunities to make cool plays. It feels really good as a player to come up with a great scheme and carry it out, so we’ve found that people don’t mind losing a match if the traitor pulls off some impressive betrayal, and vice versa. Of course, you can’t just rely on good gamesmanship, so almost every trap or opportunity for sabotage can be countered with another item or ability, as long as you have the forethought to use it. A survivor traps an area you need to sabotage? Clear the traps by rolling a skateboard over them. You’re worried a traitor is going to steal parts that you need from the safe zone? Round up some friends and exile them so they stay out. Just been wrongfully exiled from the safe zone? Convince a buddy to open the gates and let you in. We try to establish a nice back and forth between the strategies, so you never truly feel like you’re out of options.

The Walking Dead: Betrayal

Will there be consequences to player actions or is each game a fresh start?

Each game is self-contained, which means you can explore different playstyles to your heart’s content! There are so many roles, items, and ways to play that we wanted to give people the freedom to explore without worrying about long-term consequences. If you try something new and it doesn’t quite work out, the match is 30 minutes at most, so you can try again next time or do something else. When I’m playing, I like to pick a trap or weapon I haven’t used much before and see what I can do with it. It makes each match different, and makes for some funny situations. One match, I decided to use a ton of destructible barricades that block Walkers. I barricaded myself inside of a house so I could stay safe from Walkers while I searched it. By the time I was done looting it, the house was completely surrounded, and there was no way I could make it out on my own. I had to beg for help from people passing by outside.

The art style is very bright and colourful, whereas The Walking Dead is often dark and drab. Is it still scary at all?

Any game that has a lot of player-to-player interaction and opportunities to screw over your friends is going to have a lot of humour and action-packed moments. While there are definitely horror elements in Betrayal, we tend to keep our atmosphere on the lighter side to encourage those humour opportunities. We’re definitely a social deception game first and foremost. The pulse-pounding moments mostly come from dangerous situations that make you fear for your life. Hearing footsteps and gunshots in an area where you think you’re the only one around, or returning to the safe zone to find out that a gate’s been propped open and walkers are pouring in… that’ll definitely put you on edge.

The Walking Dead: Betrayal

Do any of the characters from The Walking Dead feature as cameos?

We don’t have any NPCs in Betrayal, so we don’t really have any cameos. However, there are lots of references for eagle-eyed fans of the comics. For example, you can wear a walker skin suit in the style of the whisperers and use that to move through Walker herds undetected. Some players get titles at the end of the match for doing different things in the game, and you might get a title like “the saviour” or “the alpha”, both references to the comics. You can also craft a barbed wire bat in the same style as Negan’s iconic bat, Lucille.

Does The Walking Dead: Betrayal have a story, or is the narrative purely based on player actions?

The narrative of a match is determined by player actions. We’ve found that giving players their roles and an objective to do makes for really compelling story arcs within the match. You get a lot of cinematic moments that feel like they’re right out of the comics: trying to fight your way through a herd of Walkers to save a fallen friend, getting in a tense shootout with a traitor camping outside of the safe zone gates, or trying to convince someone to watch your back when you go into an area teeming with walkers.

Are there AI stand-ins or will you need a full complement of players each time?

We don’t have any AI stand-ins, but you don’t need a full group of players each time. 8 players is the way to go if you want maximum chaos, but you can play with as few as 5 players and still have a great match. The number of Walkers and difficulty of objectives scale based on how many players you have, and when you get down to 5 players, there’s only one traitor, so you should have fun no matter how many players you’ve got.

Are there plans for extra content later, such as different maps, or skins?

We definitely have plans for extra content. We’re planning on adding new map areas to give players more areas to explore. We’re looking to add more skins of iconic characters from The Walking Dead, and other cosmetics to flesh out your post-apocalyptic wardrobe. We’ve got even more cool stuff planned on our roadmap! At the same time, our main priority is our community. We want to listen to our fans and make changes that will tailor the game into something our players will be delighted with as we ramp up to our full launch, and beyond.

Will Betrayal feature any of the evolved Walkers as seen in The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon?

Our source material is The Walking Dead comics, which just had their 20th anniversary this year! We’re not affiliated with the AMC TV show or Daryl Dixon, so we stick to the rules and universe established in the comics.

Thanks to Kate and Other Ocean for their time.