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EXCLUSIVE: Zander Cannon Brings Video Game Kaiju to Life in “Goliath”

by  in Comic News, Video Game Comment
EXCLUSIVE: Zander Cannon Brings Video Game Kaiju to Life in “Goliath”

In the upcoming action-packed role-playing game “Goliath,” players use giant robot suits crafted out of wood, stone, and metal to fight enormous beasts. But since just running around and smacking things will only keep you entertained for three, four years at the most, the folks at Octopus Tree Games decided that “Goliath” needed a story — and a good one, too.

Good thing Octopus Tree marketing manager Jeremy Zoss knew just the guy: Zander Cannon, the comic writer and artist behind “Smax,” “Heck,” and, most recently (and likely most relevant to the themes of”Goliath”), the giant monster-centric “Kaijumax.”

In an exclusive interview with CBR News, Cannon discussed how he got the gig on “Goliath” — on the way in May on PC, Mac and Linux — and what influenced the story, as well as potential future prospects for a “Goliath” comic and a “Kaijumax” game.

CBR News: To start, how did you get involved with the game “Goliath?” What was it about the game that made you want to write the story?

Zander Cannon: Aside from the obvious parallels to the monsters in “Kaijumax,” I liked what the folks at [developer] Whalebox Studio had begun about the overarching story, and how it was a new take on the role of a hero and the various obligations you make in this sort of action role-playing game. The game itself, too, is very much in line with the sort of games that I already play and love, involving a lot of unpredictable procedural stuff as well as scripted story.

I’ve known Jeremy Zoss at Octopus Tree for many years, from when he was an editor at “Game Informer” and I started doing the gag April Fool’s Day covers. He suggested that since I had just started making a comic about giant monsters, and he was working on a video game about giant monsters, that, y’know, perhaps our plans could coincide to some degree.

How much of the story did the people at Whalebox have figured out before you started working on it?

The broad strokes were in place, as well as the backstory and lore, so my primary task was to tighten and smooth out the “golden path” of the game that leads you through to the conclusion, which meant adding and subtracting subplots and characters as needed, and bending certain gameplay scenes so they foreshadow story events, and vice versa.

Also, I wanted to go in and make sure that the various factions had their own philosophies that affected gameplay, with little running jokes and similarities between members of the same faction.

What did they show you before you started writing? Did they show you the game in action, just some images…

They showed me the core of the game — its movement, the characters, the crafting interface, and the sound design. Essentially, trailer-type stuff. And then I got working builds as they went along so that I could go in and play sections to see how the dialogue was working.

Did anything you came up with for the story influence aspects of the game? Did your story make them rework a level, or create a new one?

I don’t know that they added a level, but I did do some tweaking of the lore related to the final battle so it became simpler and more direct. I wanted to make sure I worked within their structure, and the changes I pushed for were more about making existing dramatic moments hit harder, rather than creating new ones. Adding extra elements in comics is one thing; they don’t need me demanding that they add a whole new character that they’d then have to rig and animate.

How, if at all, did “Goliath” being a third-person action/adventure game influence your story, as opposed to if it had been a first-person shooter or a puzzle game?

The role-playing game elements, and the fact that the characters communicate in text, meant that the conversations could be a little more funny and enjoyable than if they were something where you have to just get to the next thing. Injecting a little humor, particularly little running jokes or personality quirks, I think, both helps to engage players and also remember which of the dozen characters this is.

The day before “Goliath” comes out, Oni Press is releasing the first issue of “Kaijumax: Season 2.” You kind of hinted at this already, but why do you think “Kaijumax” might appeal to fans of “Goliath,” and vice versa?

The obvious reasons, of course, are that anyone who likes kaiju monsters and robots will find much to love in both the comic and the game.

Beyond that, though, I think that what a lot of people like about “Kaijumax” is a certain level of sentimentality. I like to put a lot at stake, not just in terms of saving the universe, but personal goals and struggles. The folks at Whalebox really wanted an honest emotional core to “Goliath,” which really attracted me to the project when we first started talking. “Goliath” is very funny and adventure-y, but there’s a lot of heart that’s behind it all that drives Gromov, our protagonist, to the finale.

Has there been any talk of you doing a “Goliath” comic?

There are a lot of things that are being discussed, and I think the world Whalebox has created is richer than just this one narrative. We’ll have to see what the future holds.

How many times when you were meeting with Whalebox to talk about “Goliath” did you remind them that no one’s bought the rights to make a “Kaijumax” game?

At least twice per meeting, and three times per email. That’s another point of ongoing discussion, like making a “Kaijumax” game that’s similar to “Neko Atsume” [a cat collecting game]. Which sounds like a joke, but is totally not.

Lastly, if you could write the story for any game, what game would you want to write the story for?

I have a couple games I’ve created design documents for that are original creations, but I think it would be most fun to write for a “Dark Souls” game. The way that game fills in the gaps of its lore with just little snippets of dialogue and bare descriptions in menus is absolutely fascinating. Of course, I’m currently beating my head against a wall in that game, so I also hate it with the intensity of a thousand suns.

“Goliath” arrives May 12. Issue #1 of “Kaijumax: Season 2” will be out May 11; the collection edition of “Kaijumax: Season 1” is availabel now.

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