The release of the bizarre, punk-fantasy, action-FPS-hybrid, hermaphrodite-battle, adventure game Zeno Clash is just around the corner, so we fired off some questions to Carlos Bordeu, one of the three brothers behind Chilean indie developer ACE Team to see what the future holds for the IGF nominated studio.
GD: Zeno Clash is set to be released soon. How are things going at ACE Team headquarters?
Carlos: Good. We’re all a bit anxious about a lot of stuff, but mainly the game’s release and the IGF. I think we’ve had a hard development cycle, but we’ve really enjoyed the whole process. We’re basically debugging the last things and finishing Survival Mode. We are very happy with how the game has turned out.
GD: For a game with such polish and style to be put together by such a small team must require an incredible amount of work and long hours. How has the development of such an ambitious game been for the team?
Carlos: It has been hard and with lots of extra hours, some financial burdens, but the team has gone through the whole process with complete devotion for the project. We are a very small team for such an undertaking but I believe that in a way it has been helpful because everyone has a very significant impact in the game and that helps bring the best from each one of us. As we close into release our efforts are paying off and we all have high expectations of how the game can do. I’m sure we will be surprised with many things to come.
GD: The wild, inspired style of Zeno Clash brings games like The Neverhood and Psychonauts to mind. What sources have influenced your artistic style, and are there any games you particularly admire on an artistic level?
Carlos: I personally admire American McGee’s Alice very much for the art and style and I’m thrilled to hear about a sequel.
Our sources of inspiration for the art of the game were not from other games, but from media you traditionally don’t see in games like paintings and illustrations. Two sources would be John Blanche’s punk fantasy drawings from the 80’s and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.
GD: ACE Team has been working on Zeno Clash for some time. How has the game evolved over the years?
Carlos: It has evolved very much; from story to style to gameplay. It all started with a prototype game we created many years ago using Lithtech’s Jupiter System (Engine used in Monolith’s No One Lives Forever 2). We created a 2 level demo of a game called ‘Zenozoik’. This is like the predecessor of Zeno Clash (which was never released). The demo, while neat, was not a solid execution of what we wished to accomplish and it was cancelled. Later we would elaborate on why Zenozoik wasn’t what we hoped for and this brainstorming (and prior experience) lead us to design Zeno Clash.
We basically took all the things we felt that were strengths of our team and our design and we focused on the key elements that would make our game good. We pinpointed the art style, melee combat mechanics and story. Those things make Zeno Clash unique.
GD: You’ve said in a previous interview that you expect the game to be similar in length to a Half-Life 2 episode. Once you’re finished with the initial release, does ACE Team plan on expanding the Zeno Clash universe episodically, or do you want to create something new?
Carlos: I think what we will do with the second project will greatly depend on how we do with Zeno Clash. Internally the team would love to make a bigger title with large areas to explore, but for an independent game developer our size that is quite a challenge. It’s not an issue of talent… it’s an issue of time and financing. So we really cannot plan doing larger projects unless we have the backup to do so.
The other question is whether we will do another Zeno Clash, and that obviously depends on the first game too. The public’s reception is always important and for such an unusual game as this there is always a level of uncertainty. But we are confident that many will enjoy Zeno Clash mainly because of how unique it is in the first person gaming genre.
GD: With the recent successes of independent PC developers making their games available via download on consoles, Zeno Clash seems ripe for a digitally distributed console release. Do you have any intention to move into that arena? Have you spoken with Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo about distributing the game on their systems?
Carlos: We have great interest in getting the game to appear as a digital download on the consoles, and a lot of people are asking about it too. We are having some early conversations about the subject, but I cannot give out any details yet.
GD: If you had the option to be picked up by a major publisher based on the success of Zeno Clash, would you, or do you prefer to remain independent?
Carlos: I think that question always depends on the terms and conditions of how you are picked up, but in ACE Team we greatly enjoy our independent status. We certainly aren’t waiting to be pickup up and we are doing things in a way that we continue being independent. I think establishing good relations with publishers for future projects is more important than trying to become a part of them.
I doubt any major publisher would have approved a project like ours and I think independent game developers will always have a certain edge when it comes to creating new content, so I believe the industry benefits more with small studios like ours that try leading gaming into new directions. Hopefully the public will continue to take notice and the indie game scene will grow and become more established and competitive.
GD: Huge congratulations on the IGF nomination by the way, and thanks again for answering our questions.
Carlos: Thanks to you guys.