Culture Of Clash: Zeno Clash Postmortem

By Kieron Gillen on October 9th, 2009 at 5:01 pm.

The Gamasutra postmortem on previous RPS-fave Zeno Clash caught my eye. They’re almost always a good read, but from a game coming from a very different place than most of the industry (both literally and figuratively), there’s much to learn. Choice details include how it emerged from a previous failed project – the Lithtech-2 based Zenozoik – and how the experience of that made them focus as tightly as they did: “Many years after this failed attempt we gathered around our original concept and re-thought the game in a manner that would focus on few but solid elements, those that we would be able to produce as a small team”. With a team of seven, you have to or risk disaster. Lots more in the full piece.

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30 Comments »

  1. Railick says:

    This still ranks up there as one of the strangest and most beautiful games I've ever played. I have to thank RPS for exposing me to it I would have never got it off steam other wise just by looking at its webpage (And I would have been worse off for missing the experience) I can't wait for the sequel I REALLY want to know what the Golem dude is up to.

    • Clovis says:

      Ya, I probably would never have looked at this game if not for RPS. I might have even managed to not buy it either, but RPS fixed that problem to. They game me copy. I <3 RPS.

  2. lumpi says:

    Very good read. What an interesting and positive project!

  3. Dzamir says:

    Really interesting postmortem.

  4. bookwormat says:

    I personally didn’t like Zeno Clash much. I should have known that after playing the demo, but stupid me bought the game for 7 Euros and played through the whole thing. Still don’t like this.

    I found the combat to be repetitive and tiresome. Beating the same opponents using the same movements, again and again and again quickly became tiresome. “Oh, it’s that bird man and that elephant guy again”.

    The dialogue is a cheap, unimaginative concatenation of senseless crazy talk. The artwork is beautiful, but most of the environments are static. If you watch a few screenshots and a trailer, you already consumed all the nice visuals and there is not much you gain from buying the game.

    The game was also much too long. The second half felt like recylced material from the first half of the game.

    The game was well priced, it came with a demo, it had great artwork and was technically good implemented. But I found it was also boring. Sorry.

    • Dracko says:

      The dialogue is a cheap, unimaginative concatenation of senseless crazy talk

      Explain.

      I don’t recall the trailers showing the End of the World. Did you try the challenges at all? I don’t know how you can consider the combat boring: It’s varied and challenging.

    • MrFake says:

      Agreed, bookwormat. I felt exactly the same way. Repetitive and unrewarding fights; a fantastic environment that was largely downplayed (though that’s a shitty thing to say. I’m sorry, it was probably due to budget constraints); the senseless crazy talk dialogue. Really, the dialogue. It made an inkling of sense by the end, especially in context, but it succumbed to the same flaws as the rest of the game: everything fits in perfectly with the twisted context, but the context is spread thin to a meager degree.

      I think it was finally ruined for me, though, by all of the talk of the End of the World. When I got there, it was just … flavorless. Man, reading that out loud makes me sound stupid, but nevertheless it just wasn’t the blockbuster moment I was thinking it could be. I have a hard time explaining. It’s like the Scream, but without the figures in the background: they wouldn’t be missed, but it still wouldn’t carry as much weight. For Zeno Clash, overall the sweetest fruit was there, but it wasn’t quite ripe, and the End of the World is a good example of this (the city and desert also).

      That and I’m not a brawler fan. That’s a genre I’ve never gotten into beyond Double Dragon (and that godawful-noisy Simpsons arcade game). But this is a game that lives or dies by personal taste, and that’s something I adore.

    • Simon Jones says:

      The gameplay didn’t work for me either, and I was hoping for a more fisty version of Dark Messiah’s great fun combat.

      Main issue for me was that, despite the beautiful visuals, they all seemed a bit irrelevant. Ultimately every level (that I played, I didn’t finish it) consisted of long corridors with nothing in them followed by larger arenas, which also didn’t really have anything in them.

      The visuals didn’t tally up with the gameplay for me – you might as well have just set it in a big grey arena with a corridor leading to the next grey arena.

      Still, awesome conceptual designs and I’m nevertheless really looking forward to whatever they do next, even though I didn’t actually enjoy ZC.

  5. Vinraith says:

    I picked this up in that D2D package with The Path (phht), Democracy 2 (great fun), and Cogs (infuriating, but oddly compelling). I’d avoided it to that point precisely because the demo hadn’t caught my interest. My experience with the full game was pretty similar to bookwormat’s.

    The environments were beautiful and the setting was interesting. The plot was peculiar, but it at least kept me playing to find out what the hell was going on. The combat, however, was just plain dull after awhile. The temple of darkness and boat sequences livened things back up considerably, but then the game seemed to totally run out of ideas and just start throwing the same two or three fights at you over and over, making them more unreasonably difficult and longer each time. I plugged through to the end, but can’t say as I particularly enjoyed the experience.

    I’d love to see a different kind of game done in this setting, something more akin to the RPG they were originally planning. There’s just not enough game play in Zeno Clash to sustain the length of game they had, I’d like to have seen more variety in gameplay mechanics. Then again, I’m just not a big “beat ‘em up” fan.

    • Vandelay says:

      Did you not also get the rather excellent Defence Grid in that pack? Probably my favourite game in that collection (although, I’ve only played a little bit of Democracy, which did seem really good too.)

      I have to agree with your summary. The fights, although novel at first, became quite tedious fairly quickly. The level design was very bland and there was attempts at hiding the fact that you are just following a corridor. I’m all for linear games, but this never even attempted to make the impression that there was much of a world outside of the path you followed.

      Having said that, I did really like the art style. The bits of the world you did see were wonderfully realised and fantastically twisted. Those strange crazy people, that each had there own quirk, was a really nice touch and I would have liked to see more of these. But in the end, I was playing to see what craziness was around the next corner. The gameplay itself was really not that interesting.

      Still, for me, it was worth a purchase.

    • Vinraith says:

      Ah yes, Defense Grid was in that pack too, but I already owned it (and had already played through it) so I frankly forgot about it. Great little game, though.

  6. Railick says:

    I think being a big beat 'em up' fan certainly helps. I loved every second of the game, the insane weirdness of all the characters (I really liked the corwids they were nuts and I totally got where they were going with them being truely free to the point they could do what they wanted to do without fear of death even if that was just walking forever in one direction or peeing on yourself and dieing lol) But yah if you don't like beating people up I could see the game getting really tedious for you. I on the other hand loved beatting the crap out of people again and again so I enjoyed it the entire way through. The last series of fights I also really enjoyed and the twist with Golem was awesome for me , can't wait to see where it goes if they ever get another one made.

    That being said I wouldn't mind seeing an RPG in this setting either that would certainly be interesting, or maybe an action RPG

    • Vinraith says:

      Yeah, I think it’s just not my genre. The uniqueness of the setting, presentation, and characters isn’t sufficient to make it a game that remains interesting for someone who’s not a fan of the core gameplay, which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising.

      Which is fine, because as far as I’m concerned it was free with a game I wanted more (Democracy 2).

  7. Grey Cap says:

    Huh- I really liked it. Lovely world, fun characters, liked the combat (of course, it ended just before I got bored, and four hours is really short). Surprised not to see more people gushing, though. . .

  8. skalpadda says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed it as well. It’s interesting to read that they had the intention to make the world seem a lot bigger than it really was from the start, that’s exactly the feeling I got and it made me want to see more content done in the same world.

    I must admit I’m really not a fan of brawlers in general, but the combat in Zeno Clash was well made and had enough impact and feeling to last throughout the game. The only major problem I had with it was the retracing and repetition towards the end, but the marvellous sights and oddities along the way made up for it nicely for me.

    Also, parachuting squirrel bombs. Those alone are worth the price of the game.

    I’m really hoping we’ll see more from these guys soon :)

  9. Serph says:

    The combat in Zeno Clash is in no way repetitive compared to your average FPS. Actually, it never had time to become repetitive, because it was really short (finished it in one sitting, but that sitting was awesome). For $200, they managed to make a game with a better art style than most Source games. It’s just too short to flesh out this world at all and makes you a bit confused as to what’s going on.

    • Mil says:

      Er, they certainly didn’t make the game on a $200 budget. It looks like the article author, Carlos Bordeu, is using a dot as the thousands separator; this is the convention in many countries.

  10. Railick says:

    Much to my suprise I was actaully able to read that article from my work computer! Very interesting indeed. I really look forward to more from these guys and I hope they continue to release good games that meet success. I mean after all Valve started off as a mod team for Quake , these guys could end up being huge one day :) (Also I REALLY want to see why Golem has the abilities he does! HEHE)

    • The Dark One says:

      Valve didn’t start out as a mod team. Its founders were a pair of Microsoft Millionaires who were tired of working on stuff like Windows or Office.

  11. JimmyJames says:

    I enjoyed Zeno Clash, though I never bothered to try and finish the last fight. For me, it was moments during hand to hand combat where I’d dodge a series of attacks or land a nice combination of punches and everything just seemed to click. It looked fluid enough so as to look almost scripted, without having it feel that way.

    I didn’t care for the bizarre weapons or environment, particularly fighting the wildlife, but it was interesting. If it had been a first person streets of rage ripoff or something with the same fantastic combat mechanics I’d probably still be playing it.

    A sandbox fight creator would’ve been cool also.

  12. solipsistnation says:

    Okay, so Zeno Clash was one of my favorite games of the last year or so. I enjoyed it intensely, even acknowledging its weaknesses– the repetitive fights against the same characters in particular, although they did mix it up enough to keep it interesting, especially considering the part where you fight shadows with a torch thing, the boat ride, the parachuting squirrels, and so on. The boss battle was not so fun, but I dislike boss battles overall. That said, it’s a fantastic game, and it sounds like ACE have a good idea why. I’m glad to see that they intentionally made as weird and unique a game as possible.

    I hadn’t heard about their response to piracy. That sounds like it was a better response than either big forum freakouts, some kind of massive anti-piracy campaign, or most of what other developers do when they find their games pirated.

    I’m glad they made such a big splash, and I hope their next game follows the same trajectory toward greatness.

  13. Heliocentric says:

    Zeno Clash? More like zero cash, amirite?

  14. Cedge says:

    Loved this game to death. Great read. I really am fond of this little studio, and hope they’re around for a good long time.

    I can see why a lot of people didn’t like fighting the same enemies several times throughout the game, but I actually thought that it was interesting, in that it really felt like I was being pursued, rather than obstructed.

  15. Hoernchen says:

    I didn’t like it. Probably because I like to play games, not art…. It just felt completely wrong, like a playable version of of DalĂ­s paintings, without any discernable rules, strange shit everywhere, loosely held together by some other strange shit.

    • Dominic White says:

      Dude. There’s nothing weird or abstract about the gameplay. It’s pretty Final Fight in first-person. Alternatively, Breakdown for the original Xbox, which as Half-Life retold as a brawler.

      The setting had more in common with 80s punk fantasy like The Dark Crystal than anything.

  16. Angel Dust says:

    I liked Zeno Clash a lot and thought the core gameplay was very solid and had a lot more going for it than your standard FPS game. I would say the fights against ‘tank’ enemies were rather dull and overused. I’m always a little perplexed at the accusations of repetiveness in regards to the enemies; Zeno Clash packed more enemies in it’s short running time than countless other full length games. Perhaps the uniqueness of each enemy meant it was much more noticable you were fighting the same guy again compared to the armies of generic clones you fight in other games?

  17. Grey Cap says:

    "Perhaps the uniqueness of each enemy meant it was much more noticeable you were fighting the same guy again compared to the armies of generic clones"

    Good point. But for me, it went the other way: I never felt shortchanged fighting the same character several times, because I never got tired of seeing them (brilliant art design!).

    The main problem with Zeno Clash is there's nothing like it. I want to play a few clones, dammit!

  18. The Fanciest of Pants says:

    Really great read, I heartily enjoyed Zeno Clash. And holy smokes;

    Hardware used – Typical workstation: Athlon 2 ghz, 2 GB RAM, 80 GB HDD, 128MB Shader Model 2.0 video card

    That’s blooming incredible, those specs are lower then my current(5 and half year old) machine. All the more Kudos are due to ACE team for having to work with such dogs of pc’s.

  19. Crispy says:

    People are complaining about having to fight the same enemies all the time and pointing the finger at that for it being repetitive, The real truth is that first-person combat just doesn’t hold up as well as 3rd-person combat. Arhkam Asylum has less enemy types than Zeno Clash but the combat almost never gets boring because the system itself has far more depth and finesse.

    I liked the game and thought, as others have said, it ended just before it could have gotten boring. I hope to see more interesting ideas from ACE Team.

  20. mejobloggs says:

    I got a bit lost with the underworld thing. I can’t actually remember how I got there

    I totally loved those giant camel/girrafe thingys. Especially sailing down that river with the whatsits looming overhead, the moon shining, and using the desert people as target practise

    It was a good game.

    The fighting was good, but I ended up doing elbow jab 90% of the time as it was easy to pull of, and held them back. I found blocking really hard (the blocking you have to do just at the right time so it stuns them) so I didn’t bother with it. But I guess it would be extremely hard to do anyway, so yeah… realistic

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