Wolfgang Wozniak Talks Slave Zero X, Fighting Games, Captain Crunch
Out of the absolute glut of games I saw at PAX West, amid the ambitious booths, there was a small area to look at a game called Slave Zero X. I wrote at length about how I felt about what I played, but I wanted to go deeper. I reached out to the folks at Ziggurat, who put me into contact with Poppy Works, the team behind Slave Zero X. They were nice enough to answer some questions.
Full Name, Title and Role at Poppy Works:
- Wolfgang Wozniak, CEO and Producer at Poppy Works
DXP: When you look at the original Slave Zero, it’s not aged well. When building SZX, how did the original game inform the art and design of the characters and settings?
WW: The original game struggled with time, technological, and budget restraints. The art style the original Devs wanted was closer to a bio-punk western, influenced by the waves of Anime that was just starting to circulate in America. We naturally were already pulling strongly from the same pool of influence when we picked Slave Zero as our IP. We wanted to keep the bio-mech anime feel and expand on the world through a prequel that would end right where the original Slave Zero started. We wanted to make a 2D spectacular fighting game while holding onto the 3D aspects of the sequel. You will notice our protagonist moves through a 3D world, we think very seamlessly, while holding onto the style of a 2D side-scroller. This preserves the style of the original Slave Zero, while also opening up our own expanded universe with Slave Zero X.
DXP: How many people are currently working on SZX?
WW: We currently have about 30 people. At the biggest point of production we had around 40. There’s a LOT of detailed and beautiful art in this title!
DXP: When it came time to consider how the game would play, why was the decision made to go with 2D beat-em-up over the original’s third person?
WW: I’m a big fan of the old Armored Core games, so of course, I can’t speak for the whole team, but I think it’s safe to say that we’d love to make a mech game at some point. I’d say better aspects of the original Slave Zero is the feeling of being able to do things like pick up and throw cars at other mechs in a big city, running and gunning. However, as you mentioned before, there are some aspects of that original game that are pretty chunky, and I think the things people remember the most are some of the more unique mechanics, the world building and the 90s feeling of it all. This is why we wanted to go with a drum-n-bass style soundtrack as well.
The core design of Slave Zero X was always a hack-and-slash, Devil May Cry style action game – even before we started speaking to Ziggurat. In short, Tristan was working on an action game for fun and after talking with Ziggurat for a while, we determined that it would be really, really cool to bring back Slave Zero, keep the spirit of things and introduce this new genre to the series. Mostly, I think it may have come down to Sinoc knowing about the artist, Francine, that really made it exciting and possible to put all of the elements together.
DXP: When I played the game, the combat was crisp and clean, like a dedicated fighting game. Most beat-em-ups go with generic one punch, one kick-style combat. When was the decision made that Slave Zero X would have a richer, deeper combat system?
WW: Firstly, I’d like to really say that I am extremely pleased with the way our combat design turned out. It’s one thing to write how all of these systems work into a design document, it’s another thing to hold the gamepad and play it.
Very early on we had fairly rich combat that Tristan developed in the prototype we had put together. It was captivating from the start and has only improved since then. Of course, when you get the chance to bring something into full production, you can fully realize the elements that you had in your head when you made your first sketch. I believe that the original prototype had a vast majority of the systems we have now. But in brief, the deep combat system we have was always the vision from day one of the design.
DXP: Increasingly, it seems that game companies are going back to their roots, and we’re seeing an influx of retro-style games. How does Slave Zero X set itself apart?
WW: I suppose that is true. We didn’t really intentionally set out to make a “retro” game, but in a lot of ways we sort of ended up there. The toolset we’re using is pretty exotic and some of our pipeline dates back to the Quake 1 days for purely practical reasons.
Our levels and environments are created in free, open source software called Trenchbroom. There are a lot of benefits there. Data, fast, bespoke environmental shapes – and most of all – an entire community of people who have been using that software or something similar for a long time. The Quake original mapping tools date back to 1996 and there are still beneficial paradigms with BSP tools that modern tools simply do not have or support.
How do we set ourselves apart? I really think that our combat and environment visuals will grab people’s attention and they’ll stay for the combo meter.
DXP: Was the team forced to play through the original Slave Zero?
WW: Forced? No! Since we were creating a completely new genre of game with the world, we focused on the world and vibe. Slave Zero itself is from 1999 and, as such, the story elements were limited to a few paragraphs in game but was mostly communicated in the manual and elsewhere. We researched the bits that were important for us to achieve our own design goals and didn’t really need to experience the original game’s encounters or combat design as ours were so different.
However, most people ended up playing it again because they are actually passionate about holding themselves up to a standard, a standard that wouldn’t allow them to make a prequel to a game they never played.
We did force everyone to play Metal Gear Rising though.
DXP: Was there ever any concern with how the title of the game would be received by those not familiar with the original?
WW: I think that once people see it or play it that they’ll understand the meaning of what reality is like for our characters. That being said, I don’t think anyone on the team minds if some people are turned off by the title of the game. Books and covers, you know?
This is a difficult question and I have an excessively long answer, but – not everything should always be made for everyone and that is more than ok. So long as your audience gets it, not much else matters.-
DXP: One for the whole team: When I’m settling into my couch in the early morning hours and booting up the game the first time…What is the best cereal pairing to go with SZX?
WW: You have to get yourself Cap’n Crunch. It cuts your mouth, it’s sweet and you can’t stop crunching.
I want to thank Wolfgang for answering my burning Slave Zero X questions. If any of this appeals to you, the game can be added to your wishlist HERE.