Robots! Aliens! King Kong! The monsters never stop coming in…“THE DEADLY TOWER OF MONSTERS”!
ACE Team talks about how the studio got started ten years ago, how The Deadly Tower of Monsters came to life and what it’s like working with your siblings. Staring Andres and Carlos Bordeu!
How did ACE Team get started?
Carlos: In 2007, we started working on our first video game, Zeno Clash, which is probably the game we're most well known for. We used the initial of our names: Andres, Carlos and Edmundo- that's where ACE comes from, and we made mods of games. We were basically brothers just making games for fun.
We had been working on this Quake III: Arena mod called The Dark Conjunction at the time, and I think historically, it was the only ever single player total conversion for this game which was exclusively multi-player.
We got contacted by a scouting agency who was interested in the project but, we didn't feel that working further on that project was the way to go. We sort of promised the agent that in the lapse of a year, we would have a completely new project. Thinking back, that was a crazy decision.
During that year, we worked on what was the predecessor to Zeno Clash which was a prototype we called Zenozoik and it never took off. It was sort of a failed project that for several reasons, wasn't really all that polished. It didn't seem to have a selling point. It had a lot of different elements combined, but it wasn't a focused game. So, from that failure we sort of restructured what our objectives were moving forward and that's how Zeno Clash was born. We saw what we had done incorrectly for this prototype and we decided to move on to develop a game using Source engine and, well, the rest is history.
During the development of Zeno Clash, were you guys working on it full time?
Carlos: The thing is we had to work on a prototype to get Valve's attention, so that they would be interested in publishing it on Steam. In 2007, Steam was nowhere near to what it is today. There was no Steam Green Light. You had to be exclusively picked by a committee or Valve. So, our first objective was getting a two-level prototype that was really polished and then send it to Valve to convince them to give us publishing rights on Steam. At this part of the process, we were working at our regular jobs. But, as soon as we got Valve's approval for a publishing deal at Steam, we quit our other jobs. We gathered all our savings and decided to work on this exclusively. We said we were going to take a year, but it ended up taking us two years to develop.
What was it like being able to quit your jobs and work on your own game?
Carlos: I was with Andres in our apartment. We obviously didn't have an office and we had some people fixing some pipes because there was a water issue in the apartment. At the same moment that we got the email from Valve saying that we were approved for publishing at Steam, there was an accident in the piping and the apartment started filling with water and everything got flooded. It was a huge mess and Andres and I were jumping in happiness and joy. The people fixing the apartment couldn't understand what was going on because they totally ruined the kitchen floor and it was like we didn't care at all. It was a big moment for us. We really wanted to have this opportunity to form our own studio and work on our own ideas. It was this level of freedom we would of never had working for a company.
So, tell us about a The Deadly Tower of Monsters.
Carlos: Deadly Tower of Monsters is a top-down adventure game with RPG elements. The closest thing I could say in terms of comparing it with another game, it's like Bastion but in this world, we've paid homage to all these cheesy sci-fi movies from that time. The game isn't actually a game; it's supposed to be a movie. So you have a director who's doing the commentary of the director's cut edition. So all through the game, you get the director making comments about the production of the film and he's this funny guy who makes comments about certain props or special effects that look terrible. The humor really comes to life thanks to him. I think this was one of the critical aspects of the development of The Deadly Tower.
How did you get the idea for this game?
Carlos: It's funny how the project evolved. We knew we wanted to make a game that was an action/adventure RPG, using verticality for game design. We had the concept of this huge tower that spirals to infinity. We really wanted to nail that sense of climbing and going up and up until you get vertigo from climbing it.
It felt like the design was novel but we didn't have anything from the artistic point of view that would make the game feel unique. So, at some point, we started thinking about what we could do and all those cheesy sci-fi films came as a suggestion and we were lucky that Atlus, our publishers, were really receptive to this idea. The Vice President was a fan of Flash Gordon, so it was an instant win.
So, then we had the tower, the climbing aspect of the game, and the visual style. The director, which would probably be one of the best aspects of the game, came later on in development. Edmundo had the idea that maybe we could do a director's commentary. We weren't all that convinced at the beginning but as we started implementing it with a proper voice actor, everyone saw it as a tremendous aspect of the game, and we developed it much more than originally intended.
What products are in your pipeline?
Carlos: We used 3ds Max for modeling, animating, environments- everything! Character Studio has been essential for animating and doing pretty much everything. If it's art, it's produced in 3ds Max. We also use Photoshop for textures.
What's it like working with your brothers?
Carlos: It actually makes things easier because the three of us are basically the creative directors. It's not unusual for studios to have several people that are in charge of the direction of a project. When you have people from very different backgrounds, you might have a lot of disagreements on where to take the project or how to coordinate, or one person's vision might not match the other person's vision. I feel we have synergy and a good understanding of where we want to take our projects and what we want to do with them. We tend to have very good cooperation between the three of us.
The other good part is that, at least, if we don't agree, we can insult each other without the fear of breaking the relationship since we're already family. We can be pretty open with each other.
Andres is also my twin brother so I've had multiple incidents of being called by his name and, at this point, I just continue listening. I don’t even correct the person. If someone was very happy at something the other twin did, I would just get the credit for it.
A lot of developers are moving into VR and AR. Are you guys thinking of dabbling at all?
Carlos: I would say that we're the opposite. We do not necessarily think that it's a winning strategy at the moment (but we could be wrong) because I think the pool of people who are going to purchase VR or AR devices is a much smaller segment of the market. So, with the number of quality developers making games for VR or AR, we think that it might be even worse than the current competitiveness that we see.
Andres: Yeah, there are so many people investing in VR at the moment that it's kind of crowded. The people who own the devices are a relatively small fragment of the industry. So, if your company is willing to take risks, I think it makes sense to get into VR because it can potentially explode in the future and, if you're there from the start, it makes sense. But for such a small studio like ours, where we have to have a certain aversion to the risk, especially from a business point of view, we can't really get into that.
Carlos: Yeah, and Andres just used the term "risk averse." We are risk averse in terms of maybe the business strategy for the studio, but we don't feel that it translates at all in the games that we do. Like I said in the beginning, our games are super risky in terms of game design and have their own visual presentation and everything. So from that point of view, we also say, "I don't need VR to make my games super original or unique." I can still make really original games that are played on the most traditional setup - with a gamepad on consoles or mouse + keyboard on a PC. We don't claim to be doing what's right at all. Maybe we're completely lost and the future of gaming is in VR and we're late to the party. But maybe not, we don't know.