Eurogamer: How did Zeno Clash originally come about?
Carlos Bordeu: Well, the story for Zeno Clash is very unusual, because many years ago when we were still a mod team and finished our single-player total conversion of Quake 3 - The Dark Conjunction - we started working with Lithtech's Jupiter system (the game engine of No One Lives Forever 2) and we built like a two-level demo of a game called Zenozoik. That's the same name as the world of Zeno Clash. That's the first time we got into the whole punk-fantasy world. The art style maybe wasn't as crazy as it is in Zeno Clash, but the game was sort of our first attempt at making a first-person game with fantasy elements. But the project was too ambitious and we were too small a team that the project never took off. It was a bigger game even than Zeno Clash. That's one of the biggest mistakes you do when you're starting out.
A couple of years later, as we were making this game and realising it wouldn't work, we said, "OK, we really want to make this game but how do we do it so we can get it out?" So we decided to focus on key elements of game design: the close-combat system, the art style. Focus on some elements but not this huge game we're not going to be able to finish.
Eurogamer: You mentioned being over-ambitious a long time ago. Were there any really wild ideas you had back then that now seem ridiculous?
Carlos Bordeu: The game was much larger in scale and we had some features to make it more like an RPG. You could solve quests by violent and non-violent approaches and that proved to be extremely hard, because everything had to have alternate solutions. For instance, you had this city with this big wall that you had to get into and you could either kill the guard and steal the key and get inside, or you could go and kill chickens or something and give them to him and he would let you inside. And doing all these alternate solutions meant doing twice the work for every objective, so that went completely off-scale and was very hard to implement.
And, yeah, the game had a lot of different ideas. It also had co-op; we were building Zeno Clash to work in co-op, which was also very, very, very difficult. You could die in the middle of the game and you went to a sort of Limbo and your friends could revive you - it was crazy but very, very large in scale.
Eurogamer: Are those RPG elements being reinstated in Zeno Clash 2, then?
Carlos Bordeu: The main feature we're bringing back is making the game more open-ended and making the progression of the game non-linear. Zeno Clash was relatively small, which was fine; we were a small developer and we had to focus on doing a really big amount of art and assets and lots of characters and fighting.
But the art style and the universe are very interesting if you put them in an explorable environment, because we see exploration as almost a gameplay feature in itself. It's really interesting when you can visit different places and you don't know what's going to be there. But it's especially interesting in the world of Zeno Clash. Let's say you're playing a fantasy RPG and you're going to go visit a forest or a village, you pretty much know and expect how it's going to look: forests have green trees, villages have these little houses - medieval fantasy is relatively, um...
Carlos Bordeu: No, ha ha! I wasn't going to say boring, I was going to say standard. You know what to expect. We've all seen Lord of the Rings and lots of Dungeons & Dragons. But in Zeno Clash you have forests with colourful trees that aren't from the real world. The plants don't look like plants and the cities are like nothing you've seen. Exploration becomes even more interesting when you're in a world you don't expect.
That's one of the really strong things we want to do with Zeno Clash 2. We're not going to do a game the size of Oblivion or anything like that because we obviously can't. We're going to grow a bit, the studio, and hopefully be able to do more stuff.
Eurogamer: Is there a danger that by trying to make the game too open and expansive that you begin duplicating content to pad it out?
Carlos Bordeu: One of the challenges in designing Zeno Clash 2 will be mixing the nature of the first game with new elements. A lot of people appreciated Zeno Clash for its combat mechanics and we don't want to lose those fans. But by adding large, explorable areas and making the game bigger and spreading out the combat, I think we can get to a point where the game will become more interesting rather than less interesting.
Eurogamer: Smashing! And how many times was Zeno Clash bought? Do you have sales figures?
Carlos Bordeu: Ha! Oh by contract I can't say the sales figures. What I can say is that the curve has been constant for us with less drop-off than big-budget games. But we still feel we have much more to do in terms of getting out Zeno Clash to people.