After they released their latest trailer depicting how Zeno Clash plays, we were so intruiged by the utterly bonkers presentation and wonderfully different fantasy setting of the game, and what looks to be a smooth implementation of melee in a first person game, we decided to see if ACE would be interested in telling us a bit more about the game, and, lo and behold, they were! Below the cut you’ll find information on why there are suicidal foxes, why they’re being so ambitious with their first project, and how to get your hands on a copy when it becomes available.
TR: Zeno Clash is your first game, yet it seems extremely ambitious and starkly different from the norm, both in art style and gameplay. What made you decide to go with such an outlandish concept?
ACE: I think the biggest risk we’ve taken is making something as complex as Zeno Clash for our debut title, but in my opinion doing something different (in terms of art and design) has been the best choice for us. We are a new independent studio and quite a small one compared to most other studios, and we believe that if we would have tried to create a more generic title with a ‘safer’ design, we would have easily been lost in a sea of similar titles. These days the first person games seem to be competing mostly on the technical graphics department and I think that someone who doesn’t play games could easily have trouble differentiating some top AAA titles from others. There is a huge amount of new things that can be done, and I think for a new independent studio like us it’s best to go for something new.
TR: The backstory for Zeno Clash seems very distinct and original, particularly figures such as Father-Mother, which is fitting as the art style is equally so. Where did the ideas come from?
ACE: The author of the story is Edmundo Bordeu, our art director. The story went through many phases and it’s kind of hard to pinpoint the final result to a specific source. You’d have to dissect Edmundo’s brain for that, . The art has inspiration from a lot of sources like the art of John Blanche and Hieronymus Bosch. We’ve really tried to look at truly unique fantasy sources like “The Dark Crystal” movie.
TR: There are scant details on the story of Zeno Clash available, and obviously you want to save any major plot points for when people play the game, but how exactly will the story telling in the game work? Will they be focused around set pieces, or will there be RPG elements within the game such as conversation trees and multiple paths?
The story progresses through both in-game cinematic cut scenes, and gameplay dialogue and events. Though there are some in-game conversations and interactions with characters, the game does not feature dialogue trees, which are more appropriate for an RPG. The story is of a much more personal nature than most fantasy titles where you always have to save the world. Despite the unusual and exotic appearance of the characters, we’ve tried to make them as believable as possible and the ‘bad guys’ are not intrinsically evil.
TR: To be frank, some of the concepts in the game (and this is meant in the best possible way), seem entirely insane. Just looking through some of the art, there are fish pistols and bone clubs, and in one of the trailers something that looks like a suicidal fox with a bomb strapped to his back. Do you think there’s a danger of alienating the gamer by making everything so utterly crazy? Or are you relying on the strength of the game world to make such feelings irrelevant?
ACE: At ACE Team we all know we are making a weird looking game under any standard, but sometimes you have to wonder: When did it become weird for games to be weird? I mean; isn’t our industry supposed to be an icon of creativity? Video games used to be weird all the time! Look back at the games of the 80’s and early 90’s and I’m sure you could easily find a lot of very imaginative and unique titles on any platform. I think that in a great part the fact that our title looks so different is highlighted by the fact that today so many titles take the safer approach.
For Zeno Clash we wanted to create a truly unique fantasy game. Fantasy can be so much more than orcs, dragons and unicorns. In Zeno Clash we wanted everything too feel surreal and from another world. The trees, the architecture, the animals… everything.
I’m sure not everyone will love our approach to fantasy, but I think a lot of people will. We’ve had a very possitive reaction to the media we’ve released. I also think that many people who don’t like the art direction will still be intrigued by the variety of environments & characters we’re offering.
TR: As we’ve seen in the constant stream of excellent games being built upon it, the Source engine is still looking fresh and interesting years after it first arrived. What was it like to work with?
ACE: Source has been great to work with because it’s a very complete engine with excellent tools and it excels in things such as facial animations (something that was important for us to create expressive characters). It is a very scalable engine where you can produce high quality graphics, but maintain the title playable for people with older PC’s. Zeno Clash will run on a broad range of hardware and I think we’ve reached a very good balance of producing great visuals without the cost of isolating a lot people. You don’t need a ‘magic PC’ to play the game.
TR: Utilising melee in an FPS has been met with varied success in the past, with Dark Messiah coming closest to pulling it off using the Source engine. Were there a specific set of challenges and complications as you altered the engine to your needs? Were these problems engine specific, or problems with creating a melee FPS in general?
ACE: I can’t say for sure how the process would have been if we would have used another engine. Most issues are probably related to creating melee on a FPS, which is a complicated thing to do. One of the biggest challenges is body awareness since in most shooters you simply have some arms sticking out of the screen so they can hold the gun you are shooting, and that’s fine for most cases, since that’s all you need. But if you plan on doing melee with more sophisticated stuff such as kicks and grabs you need to have body awareness and animating attacks from a first person perspective can be very complicated.
The truth is that we’ve iterated a lot over the design to get something we’re happy with. It’s been a lot of trial and error, but we’re very happy with what we’re accomplishing. The game is fun to play, and that has to be most important thing when making a game. The combat system is very different from Dark Messiah. We hope other people enjoy our system as much as we do.
TR: As far as distribution goes, will the game be available for digital download on such services as Steam? Will there be a worldwide retail release?
ACE: The game will be digitally available worldwide via Steam. We have a retail distribution agreement with Noviy Disk for Russia, Ukraine and several other Eastern European countries, but we are still looking for retail partners for the rest of the world.
On a side note I would like to highlight that Zeno Clash will sell for quite less than the average retail title (we haven’t defined the exact price yet). The game is our first release and it’s not a huge game, but I think we will deliver a very high quality product with a great price for the content. Hopefully more people will be giving weirdness a try if it doesn’t cost them too much ;)
Thanks for the interview.
TR: Thanks for the time.