Carlos Bordeu from ACE Team is excited about being able to talk about his new game, Zeno Clash II. And that makes for good reading. We talked to him about open worlds, new technology, and how a game inspired by "the punk fantasy art of John Blanche" is going to play. Read on for elucidation.
RPS: I understand you've moved from Source to Unreal Engine for this new game? Is that the case? If so, what motivated the change?
Bordeu: Yes, we moved on to the Unreal Engine, but that was done quite a while ago when we started working on ‘Rock of Ages’. The main reason we moved on to Unreal is because we were looking for a more flexible engine that would allow us to work on many different types of games. Source was great for the original Zeno Clash, but if we were going to work on something dramatically different to a first person game (which was the case with Rock of Ages) Unreal Engine allowed us to do using the existing toolset. Additionally, with Zeno Clash 2 we were looking into creating much larger environments including night/day cycles and other visual enhancements, and that was something Unreal was much better prepared to do.
RPS: Let's talk about the open-world structure of the new game, why have you done that, rather than produce another linear story?
Bordeu: A very big part of this decision was due to fan requests, but mainly because the team agreed with them as we all felt that exploration would be an extremely cool addition to the title. In a world as surreal and unusual as Zenozoik, the experience of finding new locations can be a very rewarding experience in itself. For instance, in the original Zeno Clash, if you saw a massive tower in the distance up in the mountains you wouldn’t have been able to travel and check it out. In Zeno Clash 2, players will be able to do so and we think this is an addition that adds a higher level of immersion to our new world.
RPS: How large is the world you've created? Is it broken up into distinct sections? And what reasons does the player have to explore this area?
Bordeu: The game is broken up into several different areas, a bit like a Zelda game where you travel from one area to the other, and they are all connected in a natural, organic way.
In terms of scale people shouldn’t expect anything massive like a Stalker or Elder Scrolls game (we have to emphasize that we are still a small indie studio and that Zeno Clash 2 is a downloadable title) -- But as an example I would say that just combining a couple of areas in the game would cover an area as large as all the walkable sections of the original Zeno Clash combined.
Now, in terms of the reasons the player would have to visit new locations; that goes hand-to-hand with the story we’ve envisioned - which is linear. We are preserving the narrative structure from the first game, only that now instead of being teleported to specific areas from one level to the next, you have to reach them and experience getting from one place to another, choosing your own path. But you can always choose to stray from the main story branch and focus on other objectives.
RPS: Does the open world structure mean this is going to be a longer game than the original?
Bordeu: Definitely. I remember reading an article where Peter Molyneux (I think it was him) said something on the lines that you don’t know how long your game will be until you reach the last moments of development – and that is certainly true in our case. We’re still not sure how long it will be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is twice as long (or more) than the first game.
RPS: The melee combat stood out in the original Zeno Clash, is that something you've changed for this game?
Bordeu: It is constantly changing, evolving – both being improved and also expanded. We already have a functional preview in our pre-alpha E3 demo that feels a lot like the original game, but smoother. Because it’s an early build it’s still missing a lot of new stuff that is coming, but things like collision detection and other features have already been improved. For instance now you can aim your punches at the head while locked-onto an enemy. This makes the regular punching more interesting and less monotonous, since your punches can miss, graze or fully hit the face. Same with different parts of the body - they are all independent now. We still have eludes, counters, deflects, run-into attacks. We also have some new face deform-punches (a rather early implementation is in the E3 build) plus some new stuff we are currently working on. Some things are still under development and we will be showing them later on – probably with a gameplay trailer.
RPS: Can you explain a little about the story of Zeno Clash 2? What's going on in that trailer?
Bordeu: I can’t spoil things this early, but I would like to say that what is shown in the trailer is a very small part of the overall story. Breaking Father-Mother from captivity is not the central theme of Zeno Clash 2. Golem is a central character and he has a very important role in the story and he will reveal important things about the Zeno Clash universe. The story takes off after the events that occur in the first game and this time we won’t finish with a cliffhanger that will leave so many unresolved questions. That’s all I can offer for now.
RPS: There was a lot of strangeness and mystery left over at the end of the original game, is that being explained at all here?
Bordeu: Yes. You will understand who Golem is, who the dark figure with the telescope is (the character that showed up in the end of the previous game during the credits roll), and we will also elaborate upon many other things that were left unresolved. But again, it’s a little too early to give any details.
RPS: Can you talk at all about new enemies and monsters? What sort of work have you been doing on those?
Bordeu: For regular enemies we now have three different “classes” or types if you will: ‘regular’, ‘tall’ and ‘shorts’. In the original Zeno Clash all punch-able enemies were basically humanoid creatures of your same height (except for the heavies). Now we have much more variety which makes enemies more diverse and interesting both visually and mechanically, as they look and fight differently from one another. For instance, tall enemies are a bit like the ‘Andore’ from Final Fight (slower but a harder hitter).
Additionally we are planning on having boss creatures that have very specific mechanics, rather different from the regular enemies, but I’m sure we’ll be talking about them later on in the development, since today they are yet to be implemented.
RPS: There's going to be co-op multiplayer this time, can you talk a little about how that will work? It must change the dynamic of the game considerably to have two players in there, rather than one?
Bordeu: In Zeno Clash 1 we had Deadra following Ghat for most of the game, and we eventually made a coop mode for the Ultimate Edition on XBLA (the tower challenges), which ended up being quite fun to play. Considering that now Rimat is Ghat’s partner in this adventure, it felt like a logical step to make the campaign cooperative as well. We’ve still got many things to refine and test out in terms of how the game works in multiplayer – but much of that experience comes from what we did for the tower challenges on the Xbox. The multiplayer is still a bit early in development, and we have been planning on having an “ally system” where you can call up NPCs to fight alongside your character during specific fights, so putting it another way, having a second player means that basically you have a human ally throughout the game.
Anyways, for those who prefer to play the game solo: that will also work perfectly fine. I know a lot of people enjoyed the original for the world and story, and if they don’t want to be distracted by a second player and be fully immersed in the game – they can choose to play the game by themselves just as well. I think many people will want to play it by themselves first and then go at it again with a friend for replay value.
RPS: Presumably the original Zeno Clash was pretty successful for you guys, because you are making a sequel, but did you make any mistakes? What have you learned that you could share with other small teams?
Bordeu: Haha! sure... some mechanics of the first game weren’t tested nearly as much as we would have liked, before we released and some other smaller features (like being able to throw your guns) were patched in the game a couple of days after launch because so many people complained about it. I think there were two or three features that we should have improved before going live which were addressed on the fly rather quickly – mainly because of how efficiently you can patch games with Steam. But we were patching in features rather than fixing bugs.
I think we’re looking into a much more difficult scenario now with the addition of multiplayer, however we have learned many lessons about the design (failures included) of developing the online components of Rock of Ages. Admittedly matchmaking was not properly designed in that game and we should have handled it so much better than we did. This is one of the things we’re working on improving with Zeno Clash 2 with the drop-in drop-out feature for cooperative multiplayer.
RPS: The stand out aspect of the Zeno Clash games is just how beautiful and strange they are. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired and influenced you to make that, rather than something more familiar?
Bordeu: Our sources of inspiration continue to be rather unconventional: Mainly the punk fantasy art of John Blanche and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (among many other things). Out of the three screenshots we’ve released to the public, if you look closely at the green fields with the bubble trees, you will find that a lot of inspiration for that environment came from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights triptych. Many other references to surreal art are being incorporated, so I think some fans will be able to identify other masterpieces from which we’re taking some cues.
All these aesthetic choices have been intentionally made to make our game stand out from the mass of traditional fantasy games that continue to mimic each other. We want something unlike any other thing that is being made in this industry, and just like with the first game I think we’re going to achieve it again.
RPS: Thanks for your time!