Following the launch of the zombie-filled Zfiles: Infection Kickstarter campaign to create a promising and already lovely-looking interactive graphic novel, I asked Ruber Eaglenest of Greyman Studios to shed some light on the game and the design choices behind it. Here's what he had to say and here's your chance to support the team and secure a copy of the game upon launch for as low as €6 (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS).

How would you describe ZFiles: Infection?

As a designer of interactive fiction what excites me most about the project is, exactly, what we repeat like a mantra in order to describe it: it's a mashup of gamebook, interactive fiction and comic. It's a bit redundant, but we want to display the most important keywords. However, I'm really excited about having found the right mix to make a real interactive comic, without it being a mere experiment or an enriched multimedia app. It is a complete narrative game within the pages of a comic book and the player controls the game via "Choose-your-own-adventure" choices.


What are its ties to traditional interactive fiction and CYOA genres, then?

That is a good question. It is a digital adaptation of a real paper gamebook. Therefore it is internally organized like a decision tree. The player's actions are similar to CYOA decisions. Thus, its formal structure is one of a conventional gamebook. However, I came from the Spanish IF community and therefore I could not afford to make a direct translation of the original text, using a virtual paper book. In that sense, I have come to the same conclusion as Jon Ingold from Inkle Studios: for digital adaptations it is necessary to cut, scatter and reorganize the text to give a feeling of world building and introduce all logical actions in context.

Here's an example:

If I walk into a room of the mall, the original gamebook has a page describing the place, the actions of my characters (that I enter cautiously, look around and if there is no possible decision, scavenge whatever could be useful for my survival).

This kind of description is not useful for our game. When you play a videogame you're not in the mood to read, much less if it's on a mobile screen in the palm of your hand. You need short texts between actions. So, what we do is tear off that text and put a branching decision on each logical step of that exploration. Do you want to directly enter the shop or wait to see if there's movement inside? Do you want to look around to get a complete description of the place? Do you want to search that stand or go to the other side of the room? When you get there, do you look about to see if you find something behind back room door or do you search the desk? You know the drill.

Jon Ingold and company go beyond that, introducing resources management, semi-random events that are not fixed inside the tree structure or even introducing "free roaming" transforming Sorcery! into a sandbox. And that's why 80 Days and Sorcery! are some of the best IF works available. We have not gotten that far, but it's the same philosophy. Transform the immediacy of the traditional parser based IF, their descriptions, their short answers and logical actions in the context of the world building of the game.

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Do you feel that timed choices improve on the game design of games like Zfiles?

In this case, yes. Because you have movement inside a vignette, you can't have a motorbike in perpetual motion advancing towards a wall of zombies and freeze the scene forever. The suspension of disbelief would be broken. However, I think this is something that could be switched on or off in the settings.


What were your sources of inspiration?

I've already told you about the inspiration behind the design. So better comment on the excellent art direction. We have a professional artist that works for the influential French editorial Dargaud, Francis Porcel. He has come with an art style similar to Mike Mignola's works, mainly Hellboy. It is a quick vectorized style that works great in black and white, but incidentally looks awesome with a monochrome palette of color for each vignette. The rest is a zombie celebration of the popular trope.


How will the game work? How about its combat system?

I think I have already described the main mechanics. The combat system is a direct uplifting of the systems of the original gamebook. In that sense it is a turn-based combat for each assailant. The roll of the dice must be added up to the ability of the hero at hand, Strength for hand to hand combat, Mind for fired weapons (and the other statistics is Valor), and against the difficulty of handling the weapon. And you have some tactical decisions on what items you bring to battle. That's it, apart from a digital version that handles all the numbers for you. There are test rolls as we can see in the video, testing against those statistics. The inventory management is very similar to the one in Resident Evil.


What will the differences between the gamebook and its digital counterpart be?

We are trying to use the comic style as an integral part of the design and experience. We don't want the illustrations to serve as a support of the narrative, instead we want that they add to the narrative. It is a really interesting design problem and challenge, because we face several problems like, for example, over exposition: The text and the vignette should not be showing off the same idea twice, but add different nuances to it. Also, in normal gamebooks and IF you are usually the hero, but in comics we have a different point of view, the hero is acting and talking in third person. So, we must be careful with that.


Will ZFiles: Infection be a horror game with bits of comedy or a horror comedy?

Fernando Lafuente, the mind behind the original trilogy, says that the game is a zombie book, but with bits of comedy that could go from "I can't feel my legs" jokes to black humor. That is, the book is built as a faithful tribute to the zombie tropes. We will power up each scene, we will try to give horror when the book is in a horror mood, and we will try to intensify jokes with the illustrations of the comic. And of course you will also be in slaughter mode when the time comes.