The Zemlya Conspiracy – Reader’s Guide

One of the more popular posts I wrote was my “Easter Egg” post about Katawa Shoujo. It was fun to reveal some of the things that I had put into KS, even though I’m not sure how the other writers felt about that.

So I thought that I would do a similar thing here. I’m sure that there are things that I have forgotten, so I’m making this a page, not a post, which will hopefully have a little more longevity to it.

And yes, of course, there are spoilers here.


I’ve also written earlier about some of the motivations behind Zemlya, and there is also the Musical version of the below (although that was more of an after-the-event thing).

Background -My Situation

When I started writing Zemlya, I was a freelance audio engineer, scraping a living together by doing any job I could get my hands on. Being a freelancer can be hard. There was one point where someone hadn’t paid me for some time. I had a few hundred dollars coming, but nothing in my bank account. I had to sell some of my tools to buy a train ticket to get to a job on one day.

At the time, I was watching a lot of anime and playing a lot of games. They were free; and they didn’t require me to interact with anyone. I had a crap schedule and most of my friends from uni were in other states. So it made sense to just enjoy things on my own.

I liked to write, and my hard drive from that time had a number of “scraps” on there. “Run” was one of these, and Zemlya was another. I think I liked the start of “Run” more, but Zemlya just stuck with me for some reason. The Barbecue was something that I wrote with a couple of friends, but one of them got crushed by a roadcase and was hospitalised for 6 months and the other moved interstate, so I left it on my hard drive for 5 years.

Anyway, in 2007 I started working on Katawa Shoujo and, as such, my projects were left to stagnate.

During that time I landed a full-time job at the Opera House, and over the course of the next 5 years I was promoted twice. All of a sudden I had a team an responsibilities, so I had to leave 4LS in 2009. I was initially pissed off at myself and at the 4LS team, so I left my creative world for a while, and started an MBA and a family.

Katawa Shoujo was released in 2012 and this really re-vamped my drive to be creative. I had already started re-writing Zemlya at that point but after the game came out, the attention spurred me on. About the same time I started a new job that started me travelling; initially across Australia but now across the world. This greatly expanded my experiences and locations, and you’ll see some of those below.

During the writing of Zemlya, both my brother and father died, and my wife and I had a daughter and a son. We also moved to Japan in 2015.


Noyava Zemlya 

The mushroom cloud from the Tsar Bomba

Novaya Zemlya is the test site for the Russian Military. In the Cold War, they detonated the world’s largest atom bomb, the three-stage thermonuclear Tsar Bomba, over the island. The fireball was 8 kilometers in diameter. It’s something that I’ve known about for a long time, and so when I was thinking of a incredibly remote location, it instantly came to mind.

One thing that bothered me about the location, that I honestly have never addressed, is that it is just inside the Arctic Circle. So really, the day/night thing needs attention. I thought about fixing it… but then I realised that I was thinking about it too much…


The State Theatre – Sydney

The entrance foyer at the State Theatre. It’s hard to see, but the fresco in the centre is the St George and the Dragon as described in the novel

The entrance foyer to the Deaprtment of City Affairs is a word-for-word description of the State Theatre, Sydney. It was built in 1929 as a cinema, but was re-purposed as a live event venue in the 1980s. It was also the first professional theatre that I worked in, and was a bit formative in my professional career.

It is also part of the art-deco opulence, and so I thought that it was fitting to have it as the entrance to Depoc.

There is also an art gallery on the Dress Circle floor, and the whole place is spooky as hell when you are there alone and the lights are off. Fun fact, there are about 10,000 light bulbs in that theatre, and one of my jobs was to replace the broken ones; about 150 bulbs a week…

In the initial version of the script, there was a fight scene in this foyer, straight after Kate meets Hugh for the first time. However, it painted the rebellion as an organised militia, which didn’t mesh with the image that I had for them, so I had to cut it.

There is a Virtual Tour/360 photo thing available here:

The “Grand Assembly” is the room you are looking for, and the ‘Dress Circle Foyer” is the art gallery entrance.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Building

Tocho in all its glory. It’s a little hard to see the microwave domes at the top, but maybe I’ll actually take a photo at some point.

Many years after I wrote the introduction to the Department’s building, I went to Tokyo and saw the Tokyo Metropolitan Building; Tocho. This massive building holds the city’s local government. As a country boy from Australia, where a city’s council chambers are little bigger than an apartment, this was just too impressive.

I guess that many people will think that I was thinking of the World Trade Centre, but I was really thinking about this monstrous structure.

The Statement Bar – Sydney

Unfortunately, Statement was closed a few years ago. They usually had the lights off, so this isn’t really a representative photo…

Back to the State Theatre, Drew’s bar was modeled after the Statement bar. This was behind the theatre and owned by the same company, so it was naturally our drinking hole. I have many fond memories there, including getting roaringly drunk with a famous children’s TV group and being told to drink the beer that was beyond the due date…


The Christchurch Cathedral in 2013. I was lucky to have taken my camera.

Whilst a lot of people know about the March 11th, 2011 earthquake in Japan, not many people know that in February of the same year there was a large earthquake in the southern New Zealand town of Christchurch. Whilst Japan rallied around Touhoku and rebuilt, Christchurch was not so lucky. Two years after the event, there were a number of condemned buildings that still hadn’t been demolished. The city centre was lifeless, and it was almost impossible to find anywhere to eat.

It was also at this time that I needed to find a “safe house” for Kate and her friends. A lot of the descriptions of that area come from the rainy night I spent in the town’s centre. It was totally isolated; I think I only saw two other people walking around. The cathedral was supported by some trusswork, but the rest of the buildings had started to rot, and the smell of mud and damp wood was everywhere. I haven’t been back since, but I’m sure that it wouldn’t have come very far since. The earthquake really killed the city. Such an abandoned area seemed like the kind of place I would hide out if I were staging a rebellion, and thus the Country House was borne.


To quote The Wombats, if you love me let me go / back to that bar in Tokyo…

After moving to Tokyo and jamming myself into a crowded subway every other morning, I learnt about what it really means to live in a densely populated city. Sydney just doesn’t compare…

So whilst there isn’t anything specific to point towards Tokyo, a lot of the over-arching descriptions of Zemlya have been made with Tokyo in mind.



Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

When I first started writing Zemlya, I was thinking about a pretty “simple” conspiracy, fight-the-power kind of story, something along the lines of Equilibrium or Kiddy Grade.

But, after working on Katawa Shoujo, and listening to guys like Aura, I realised that my stories mostly had no themes.

Cue Joseph Schumpeter.

One of my MBA lecturers suggested that I read Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. It’s a 1950’s book on the evolution of capitalism, and a bit of a response to Marx’s Communist Manifesto. It is also really, really difficult to read. However, I read the whole thing and then started researching communist Russia, the Purge and the like (see also the Death Squads below).

The economics of a closed city started to intrigue me, and so a much deeper conspiracy was built. I wanted to think about the kinds of problems that you would have if you wanted to feed 10 million people, keep them warm and safe. The Wall started to make a lot more sense to me, as did the reasons for not wanting anyone to leave the city. It did mean that I had to adjust a lot of the initial parts of the story, but I think the overall result was worth it.


Death Squads

Rows of skulls at the Killing Fields, Phenom Pehn

I wrote about the Killing Fields a few years ago. As I was walking around the mass graves and listening to the audio guide, I started to think about what would drive someone to murder another person with a sharp leaf, or smash an infant against a tree.

Essentially, in these paranoid environments, you get into this kill-or-be-killed situation. If you don’t inform upon your neighbors (likely sentencing them to death) then they are likely to do it to you. If you’re not reporting enemies of the state, then you’re probably an enemy of the state yourself.

When I was thinking about this I realised that situations like 1984 are kind of impossible to maintain. If you have these power-hungry people in charge, and they start to fear losing their power, then you get the death squads of Cambodia or the Purge of Russia.

Like the Socialism book above, this trip helped me focus some of Wingett’s motivations, as well as understanding just how Zemlya works.

The Military

I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I went to the Australian Defence Force Academy; Australia’s military university. Thankfully, due to some odd circumstances I never actually entered the military proper, however I did finish my military training as an Air Force officer.

So there are a lot of things in Kate’s experience that I tried to copy and make a little more “realistic.” I guess now, looking back upon it, that a few of Kate’s motivations have mirrored my own throughout the years; initially very loyal to defending her city, but after she sees under the hood, it becomes much less glamorous.

There are a couple of incidents from my training though that did end up in the story, one way or the other. When they first move to the Country House, Kate recalls having to lie in the tundra, defending the gap in the Wall. This was lifted straight from a training exercise in south Victoria, where I was part of the “advance party” that had to secure a location for the main body of the troops.

It was freezing and raining. One of the guys in my unit (trying to be tough) decided that instead of wet and cold weather gear, he wanted to “Move Lightly.” The guy ended up being evacuated due to hypothermia.

There were also a couple of deaths during my training. There was one guy who got drunk, tried to hold onto the back of a car, and was thrown off and killed. There was a suicide and one person died suddenly of meningitis. I wasn’t close to any of those people, but the entire academy rallied around each incident.

I was also thinking about the initial weapons training that we did when I wrote the “assembly” scene towards the end. I was able to pick up the weapons training quickly, as were a lot of others in my class, but there were a few people that just didn’t seem to get it. I remember one girl had her finger in the ejection port of her rifle and then released the bolt. It flew forward and nearly cut her finger off. I don’t think that it is unrealistic for a group of people to have at least some kind of proficiency with military weapons with only minimal training…

Nelson Mandela/Civil Disobedience

I’m not really into Biographies, however I did read The Long Walk to Freedom during the writing of Zemlya. I will admit that I learnt a lot about South African history from the book, and I was really intrigued to read about the violence that MK committed on behalf of the ANC. I didn’t realise until recently that this impacted upon my portrail of the rebellion. Originally they were going to be the enemy, but I didn’t really have any inspiration for who they where or what they were fighting for. But somewhere, buried in my brain, the stories of MK and South Africa have influenced me, and it was only when I was proof reading that I realised the connection.


During the writing of Zemlya, my brother died in a car accident, causing my dad to spiral into depression and die in an alcohol-related accident. It really threw me into a spin, and for a while I was really hesitant to even watch movies like Bond or Marvel because of the killing. So for a while I avoided killing in the novel, including removing a pointless fight scene.

However I hope that I was able to bring this back a little toward the end, maybe capturing some of that feeling of loss…

Jumping the shark

I’m not sure if you’ve seen Black Lagoon, but it’s a modern pirate manga/anime. In the first story arc, they destroy a helicopter by jumping a speed boat into the air and firing a torpedo into it. It looked insane but somehow it just fit to the story. In the helicopter battle in Zemlya, I wanted to do something a little more realistic, but still have something that shouldn’t challenge a helicopter actually win. Hence that crash…

What’s in a name…

I’m pretty crap at naming things, but I thought I’d give you some insights here too.

Kate/Arctic Gale.

If you’ve read Katawa Shoujo, you’ll have noticed the oddly named “Iwanako” in the early scenes. It’s not a Japanese name, it’s a bastardisation of a name of a girl that I had a crush on post uni.

Initially, Kate had a different name; “Kaze.” It’s Japanese for “Wind” and was also similar to the nickname for “Iwanako.” Of course, the character is completely fictional.

The title of Zemlya was also originally “Tsumetai Kaze” – which was also Kate’s name – which translates to “Cold Wind”. This became Arctic Gale because I realised that the all Japanese names that I had started with were truly terrible.

The name Arctic Gale stuck he time I started posting it here until my editor suggested that it was a terrible name and came up with The Zemlya Conspiracy. I never really liked “Arctic Gale” and I actually felt really embarrassed when I had to send the file to the editor.



Hugh was also saved the of a weaboo name. Originally Hoshi (Japanese for Star), I originally considered keeping it after changing Kaze to Kate. But I guess I got swept up in the mood and changed his name.

Things I had to cut

The Sun

Initially, I had thoughts that Zemlya would be warmed by a large space mirror that would focus the sun onto the city below. I’m not sure where I got the idea but I guess it was some kind of alternative energy site or something. So that was going to be the source of the light and heat – including why the city seemed to have a normal diurnal cycle instead of an Arctic schedule…

But, as the “This city was abandoned and forgotten by the world” story developed, I realised that it is hard to forget something when there is a giant freaking satellite orbiting the world, pointing it out to you. So I switched to a geo-thermal heating system, which makes more sense.


A couple of fight scenes

When I started writing I was more enamored with the massive fight scenes that you get in anime, and also some of the stuff  that you get in video games, like the Mechwarrior 2″outline view” (which was based in the Battletech game’s technology… but I digress.

So I had a couple of extra fight scenes, including the one that I had noted above in the Depoc HQ. Initially I thought it was cool; Kate taking on a dozen armed and trained people, using the cameras in the lobby to assemble some kind of 3D recreation of the battle after being blinded. It was really unbelievable in the story line, let alone to a reader.

And, as it didn’t make sense with the re-created rebellion, it had to go.

The ability to restrain Kate via Wi-Fi

I think that, somewhere along the way, I’ve mentioned that one of the inspirations for TZC was Kiddy Grade. In that series, there are nano-bot enhanced girls kicking arse, but at some point their commanders try to kill them by making the nanobots multiply out of control.

Originally, the interrogation scene with Kate had her being restrained by her own enhancements. They would “lock” her in place. This led to a whole thread of Kate not wanting to betray Depoc for fear that she would be frozen or killed remotely. So Drew had to build a whole bunch of jammers in order to keep her safe. I cut it out because it started getting silly. It was like spending half the novel inventing bullet-proof armor for a Checkov’s gun that was never going to be fired in the first place….