Bryant Dillon, Fanboy Comics President: Before we dive into Z., your upcoming game, can you discuss what led you to your career in the gaming industry? Is it true that it involves you, at one point, having one of the top Xbox 360 gamer scores in the world?
Sebastian Haley: Ha, those were the days! I accidentally became one of the top ranked Xbox 360 players in 2006. All that really meant was that I had one of the highest gamerscores in the world, and before all the hacking started, that actually meant something for a while. But, playing crappy Disney games for achievements seemed like a massive waste of time, so I used my F-list celeb status to get a guest column in a UK magazine. From there I busted my a-- and worked my way up through the game journalism world, but I always wanted to make games, not just write about them.
So, in 2009 I spent my entire life’s savings to make my first iOS game, and then through a series of events that I’ll spare you and your readers, I’m now living in San Francisco making my dream zombie card game.
BD: Your game, Z., belongs to the zombie genre, a genre close to the hearts of many geeks. What is the story regarding the zombies and events taking place in the world of Z.?
SH: In Z. it’s more about survival and the believable day-to-day struggles the characters find themselves in after the zombie outbreak, rather than trying to solve why or how it happened. These people are just trying to live and find supplies or get to safety, but they don’t live in a safe world anymore, and we’re going to demonstrate that early and often.
As the writer, my inspirations for the story and live-action cinematics are primarily Lost, The Walking Dead comic, and 24, so I think people will be surprised at how brutal and realistic we’re going with it. I love shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, where you just never know who’s going to do what and you’re always on edge, and so I want to bring that constant tension and terror to Z.
I’ve already outlined the first two major story arcs, both of which span five years, so I really want to create this deep and well-planned narrative that keeps players engaged and excited to see what happens next.
BD: The Kickstarter page for Z. says that the game is best described as “Magic: The Gathering meets The Walking Dead.” Were there any specific inspirations that influenced the game’s creation?
SH: Too many to name! We wear our inspiration and tributes to other comics, movies, and games on our sleeve, and Z. is a really unique project in that it lets us celebrate and integrate all these different aspects of things we love, then tie them all into zombies in a meaningful way, even if it’s just for fun or something all 10 people who watched some obscure French horror film will get. And then, we also go a step further and do direct homages that people have seemed to enjoy so far:
BD: Z. is a downloadable trading card game. How does this sort of digital game differ from the more traditional tabletop card games which have a physical deck?
SH: That’s the key to Z. and why it’s so important to us to make this game and make it right. It’s why our goal is $100,000. That’s a lot, but it’s not really when you look at everything we’re trying to achieve.
The monthly episodic story content and live-action cinematics are one part of that, and we’ll also have new themed cards and expansions to go along with wherever the story takes us.
But, beyond that we have a lot of features with the deliberate objective to make starting our game a less daunting task for newcomers. I hate getting a new board game or MMO and then sitting in a tutorial or reading a rulebook for five hours before I ever get to start playing. That sucks, and we want people to be able to pick up Z. and be playing immediately. The digital version will help seamlessly ease them into the mechanics without flashing neon signs saying, “Okay, now I’m going to tell you about how Killstreaks work!”
A feature I’m really excited about is our auto-deck creation, which allows you to instantly create a deck of your choosing by entering specific parameters and then pressing a button. The game will sort through your entire library and intelligently make the best deck based on what you asked for. Or, if you’re hardcore you can go through and choose each card yourself. We want the game to be as deep as you want it to be.
The digital version will also be turn-based, like Words with Friends, so you can take your turn whenever you want and play out as many simultaneous games as you want over hours or even days.
BD: As mentioned previously, there is a Kickstarter page currently running for Z. What are the goals of the Kickstarter campaign, and why should eager zombie slayers check it out?
SH: Our goal is $100,000 to fund a cross-platform version of Z. that can be played on iOS, PC, Android, Mac, Facebook, and Linux. You get the game once and your account will work on any device, no DRM.
For tabletop purists, there’s also a Kickstarter-exclusive boxed edition that people seem pretty excited about.
And, of course, we have a ton of guest cards, including a Zombie Tim Schafer! Those are all included in the digital version of the game for backers.
BD: There are also plans to release live-action story content that takes place in the world of Z. Is this simply bonus content for Z. fanatics, or is the “Z. infection” spreading to other creative mediums already?
SH: We’re not going to start launching a toy line and announcing that Nickelodeon is airing the cartoon version of Z., if that’s what you mean. The live-action cinematics are inextricably tied to the game itself, and we don’t want to separate those two experiences, ever. They are one-in-the-same.
I was thinking of adding a one-time motion comic using Z.’s live actors and effects as an extra reward for backers, but we need to hit our minimum goal first before that happens.
BD: Can you tell us a little about the rest of Z.’s creative team and their involvement in the game’s creation?
SH: There are a ton of very talented people working hard to make Z. a reality, and many of them are doing it for free or less. We have two programmers right now (though we’re always looking for more), a lot of makeup artists, photographers, and concept artists, as well as our awesome graphic design team that put all of our promos and cards together.
Then, there are all of the different friends, family, models, and cosplayers who let us splatter them with blood and guts. This game would be nowhere if they didn’t all believe in the idea and were as excited as I am to see it come to fruition.
BD: What would you say to someone who has never played a collectible card game in order to get them to give Z. a try?
SH: We made this game for you. Anyone can pick up Z. and “get it” within the first five minutes, but it’s also deep enough to play for months (as we have) and hopefully years while still discovering new tricks or strategies. Plus, zombies!
BD: Once our readers become Z. fanatics, which other games, movies, or comic books would you recommend? Any particular zombie-centric favorites?
SH: You can’t wrong with The Walking Dead comic. Kirkman’s been working hard to get Issue #100 out by Comic-Con, and as usual that comic does things that nobody else -- including the TV version -- has the balls to do. I love it!
BD: Where should we send our “walking dead” to find out more about Z.?
SH: All I ask is that people watch the first 30 seconds of the Kickstarter video and scroll down to look at some of the cards and promo images. If we haven’t at least gotten you interested by then, we don’t deserve your money!