As the co-creator of the comic book iZombie, which inspired the TV series of the same name, Chris Roberson knows from undead. Who better then to write Zombie Army: Fortress Of The Dead (paperback, Kindle), a new novel based on the World War II shooter games Zombie Army Trilogy and the just-released Zombie Army 4: Dead War [my review of which you can read here]. In the following email interview, Roberson explains how this novel connects the two shooters, as well as what inspired and influenced this story of Nazi zombies…and the women who love them.
First off, what is Zombie Army: Fortress Of The Dead about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the Zombie Army games?
Zombie Army: Fortress of the Dead takes place a few months prior to the beginning of the new Zombie Army game, Zombie Army 4: Dead War, and incorporates a mix of characters from that game, the original Zombie Army Trilogy, and new characters. We follow a group of Deadhunters who think that they are making a final sweep through Northern Italy, clearing up the last lingering zombies, but who discover that the danger is far from over.
Where did the idea for this story come from?
Initially we discussed the possibility of telling a new story that ran alongside the plot of the original Zombie Army Trilogy, with another group of characters having a separate adventure that would weave in and out of that established story. But early on we all gravitated to the idea of doing a story set between the end of the original trilogy and the beginning of the new game, that could pull characters and concepts from both in a way that hopefully could serve as an introduction to the world for readers who are not familiar with the games but also be enjoyable to longtime fans who know the world and those characters extremely well.
[As for the plot] the initial germ of the idea came from real history. There were rumors in the immediate aftermath of World War II that there was a secret Nazi redoubt somewhere in the Alps, a strategic retreat where a huge army of Nazi soldiers was hiding out and biding their time to retake Berlin from the Allies. And while there had been some discussion about plans of the sort in the latter days of the war, they were never put into effect. But it struck me as an interesting notion to explore: what if in the world of Zombie Army, the Nazis had carried out that kind of retreat? And what would that mean for the survivors dealing with the aftermath of the Dead War?
How collaborative was Rebellion [who published both the game and this book] when it came to the story? Like, what was their biggest or best contribution to it?
The team at Rebellion was very involved in the development of the story, both on the editorial side and on the game’s development side. I was sent a huge amount of background material both on the original trilogy and on the new game, with loads of reference for all of the playable characters from all four games, from which I was able to build a team that would work well together. And as the plot developed, they were instrumental in helping me explore the lore of that world in interesting ways.
And did they ever say you to, “You need to change ___________ …and we can’t tell you why”?
Actually, it was more the reverse, where they asked me to tweak descriptions of various locations here and there in such a way that they could potentially be used as playable maps that could be introduced into the game at some point in the future.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Zombie Army: Fortress Of The Dead but not on anything else you’ve written?
This isn’t the first time that I’ve drawn inspiration from the nonfiction work of historian Stephen Ambrose, but his writings about the soldiers of WWII were a big inspiration is working out the backstories of some of the characters in this novel.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big influence on Zombie Army: Fortress Of The Dead? Besides the Zombie Army games, of course.
I’ve played a lot of historical shooter games over the years that are set in this time period (both those including zombies and those without), and there were echoes of moments from all of them bouncing around at the back of my head as I wrote this novel. It was less that they inspired specific plot points or actions, and more that I was trying to capture the feeling that I got playing those games.
Speaking of which, Zombie Army: Fortress Of The Dead is not the first novel you’ve written based on a movie, TV show, or game. You previously wrote the story “Brave New World” in the Star Trek collection Myriad Universes 2, as well as the comic book-inspired novel X-Men: The Return. How, if at all, did writing these novels influence what you wrote in ZombieArmy: Fortress Of The Dead and how you wrote it?
Whenever I’m working in an established world, I first try to home in on what I find most appealing about them to me as a fan. What is it that I’m responding to when I’m reading, or watching, or playing this thing? What makes me want to keep coming back? And I try to keep that in mind when creating a new story set in that world, that first and foremost I’m writing the kind of thing that I as a fan want to see more of, and hopefully other fans of those worlds will enjoy it, too.
So do you think the plot of Zombie Army: Fortress Of The Dead would work as a Zombie Army game?
Oh, absolutely I think that it could. I spent a lot of time studying the level design of the Zombie Army games while coming up with the plot, and I think that we built something that could easily fit in alongside the levels in the games to date.
Finally, if someone enjoys Zombie Army: Fortress Of The Dead, which of your original novels would you suggest they read and why that one?
Probably the closest thing in terms of tone and subject matter are comics that I have worked on set in the world of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, like Rasputin: Voice Of The Dragon or Rise Of The Black Flame. Or the Zombie Army comic, “Last Rites,” that’s currently running in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine.