In the land of Zenozoik, the city of Halstedom is ruled by a powerful clan, one which Ghat has betrayed by committing a terrible sin. Now, Ghat's brothers and sisters are pursuing him and his companion Deadra through strange and twisted lands, beyond the boundaries of the sane to the ends of the world. What was Ghat's crime and why did he commit it? The bare-knuckled brawl to reach the truth has just begun. A fascinating world of grotesque beauty--Equal parts breathtakingly beautiful and utterly disturbing, prepare to be swallowed up in a surreal fantasy world powered by the Source engine. Explore lush environments and confront bizarre animal-humanoid foes on your mission of discovery and redemption. Visceral first person fighting--Combat is up close, personal, and entirely satisfying. Start with a series of punches, kicks, and grabs, follow up with a knee to the enemy's face, and hit him with a finishing move to send him flying yards away. Learn new moves to mix it up.

Post feature Report content RSS feed Zeno Clash Interview - Part 1

Andres Bordeu from ACE Team spills the beans about their first game.

Posted by stenchy on Jan 21st, 2009

Zeno Clash. It’s a game that few anticipate, yet thanks to its finalist placing in this year's IGF, it could be one that may have the internet singing its praises later this year. Here at ModDB, we are not ones to wait so consider this a sneak peek at a title that has the potential to become one of 2009's best independent releases.

Zeno Clash has an intriguing storyline. In a fantasy world where all creations are its own, Father-Mother only fears one—Ghat. The player controls Ghat in his quest to find Father-Mother and fight his way through the hermaphrodite's loyal minions. Even more impressive are the visuals—at first glance, these whimsical vistas will have you floored. Doubly so when one finds that the game is based on the Source platform, as the trailer is void of any hard angles or urban areas that has been the mainstay of environments traditionally found in Source titles. Attach to that a first-person melee combat system and you have all the elements that point to a bold and original game developed outside the circle of influence in which most current-generation games reside. ModDB contacted Andres Bordeu from ACE Team, developers of Zeno Clash, and asked a few questions about the team's first game.

Zeno Clash in-game shotsAll dolled up for a night on the town.

ModDB: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Andres and shedding some light on this wonderful project of yours. The world within Zeno Clash is certainly unique if nothing else. What were your motivations and inspirations for creating something outside of the realm of what most gamers are used to today?

Andres Bordeu: Here at ACE Team we’re all passionate gamers and we enjoy playing all types of games; from the triple AAA titles to the creative indie games. We enjoy playing Call of Duty or Halo as much as any other gamer, but we definitely feel that in the more conservative world of first-person shooters there is a big emptiness. Apparently very few studios are willing to go for unconventional ideas. Maybe this is because larger companies are reluctant to take risky choices and prefer a safer approach. This seems to be the standard in many of today's first-person games, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for those who are thinking outside of the box.

From a certain point of view going for the unconventional has been the safe thing to do for us. We’re a small dev studio working on our debut project. We knew it was impossible to compete with big companies that tend to put a lot of their muscle in technology graphics-wise. We had to present something that none of the other studios were doing. So we decided that our work had to capture the interest of the consumers for its artistic quality before its technical aspect, much like 2K did with Bioshock.

At ACE Team we’re very interested in other mediums that are not necessarily related with video games. Many studios seem to get inspiration from alike products, like other games or related films. Why not look further away and look into sixteen century painters like Hieronymus Bosch? There was a huge amount of inspiration to get from his fabulous and unsettling paintings. We also looked a lot at John Blanche’s illustrations. We love the surreal qualities of his fantasy work, where he presents characters and environments that aren’t the typical ones you tend to see in other fantasy worlds that are generally similar and seem to be inspired by JRR Tolkien’s books. Finally, The Dark Crystal movie, a very strange but beautiful film made with puppets, also comes to mind when thinking about the inspirations behind Zeno Clash.

Zeno Clash in-game shotsMan/Woman/Eagle?

ModDB: How large is the ACE Team and what previous experience do they have?

Bordeu: ACE Team is a relatively small independent studio. The core team is composed by 7 people and we’re working closely with some more people in the audio & music areas. We’ve also done a little outsourcing for some specific tasks.

ACE Team’s members have a good amount of experience in game development. Several of us were working previously at Wanako Games, another Chilean company that’s developed casual and arcade games for PC & XBLA. I personally worked as one of the leads in Assault Heroes (2006 XBLA GOTY according to IGN).

Before Wanako, my brothers and I were still making games as mod developers. We had the opportunity of working with several engines before looking into Source. We made a prototype demo using Touchdown Entertainment’s Jupiter System (that would be Zeno Clash’s ‘spiritual’ predecessor, which was never released). We also developed mods using Quake 3 Arena & DOOM2:

ModDB: Was the Source engine your first choice? What benefits ultimately influenced you to choose Source?

Bordeu: After we developed the demo using the Jupiter System we were thinking which was our next pick for our next project. Our two candidates were Source and idTech 4 (DOOM 3’s engine). Half-Life & DOOM3 had been released recently, but we had more experience using id tools, since we’d worked closely with Quake 2 & Quake 3 engines (and previously DOOM).

We finally decided to go with Source, not necessarily for technical reasons. We realized that the community that was behind Half Life was much bigger. And Source games were being distributed through Steam. Steam was an ideal distribution option for us. We are a new studio developing a new IP, and quite a strange one. As an independent studio it meant everything to us to have the distribution secured while building the game. I’ve seen a lot of great looking games that are searching for a Publisher while they’re developing it. It must be scary, I think, to be working on something that you’re not 100% sure will reach the consumers.

We’re very happy with our choice to go with Source. Valve’s been very supportive. The engine is very versatile and it has enabled us to give life to our strange world. It has some fantastic features like a very robust facial animation system, which is very important when your opponent is close to the camera.

Zeno Clash in-game shotsYou'll be serving up a lot of knuckle sandwiches.

ModDB: Getting back to the game—Zeno Clash is described as a mainly first-person melee game. Both the PC and the Source engine haven't exactly been a haven for fighting games. How do you feel you've achieved success with the fighting mechanic and what roadblocks were there in developing it?

Bordeu: Our approach behind designing the fighting mechanics has been iteration. We knew that we were developing an unusual feature for a first-person game and we didn’t want to do it the same way that other developers have done it. We started thinking about the key elements that would define our combat system. The truth is that we had a bunch of ideas that sounded well in our brainstorming sessions, but only some of them translated well to actual gameplay.

With our first iteration the game made some choices for the player to reduce complexity. The locking mechanic was very restrictive, so instead of playing to your own rhythm, you ended up playing to the enemies’ rhythm. We eventually realized that it wasn’t fun and that giving more control to the player was the right choice. The same has happened in other areas and we’ve perfected the system by getting people who are unfamiliar with the game to play it so we can hear their feedback and watch where they are having trouble making use of a feature.

Another thing that has meant a great deal of work in both design and programming is the AI. Our biggest challenges with the AI have not been from a technical point of view; they have been from a design point of view. Relatively small changes can have a huge impact on a complex system and sometimes they’re hard to see. Our first enemies only attacked you one at a time. Getting two or more enemies to attack you simultaneously was easy to implement, but it had a huge load of consequences. It was frustrating if enemies attacked you from behind and the locking mechanics required some modifications. The balancing immediately got outdated because the levels were harder to play, so you can imagine all the changes that a little thing like this caused in the game.

I think that many well designed games are product of iterative design. There are no proven formulas for fun, so you have to be on the lookout for it.

Zeno Clash gameplay trailer.

That's all for Part 1. Part 2 delves deeper into Zeno Clash's gameplay mechanics and its world.

Post comment Comments  (0 - 50 of 60)
Otreum Jan 21 2009 says:

WOW! totally gobsmacked, this is fantastic! It looks so polished and....woooow, just excellent all round, I want more more more :D

+2 votes     reply to comment
Mastix Jan 21 2009 says:

I would defenitly buy it if it had Multiplayer...

+1 vote     reply to comment
onimotoko Feb 13 2009 replied:

multiplayer is a stupid reason to buy anything.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Alt` Feb 14 2009 replied:

Multiplayer is 1/2 of a reason to buy something. Depending what type the game is.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Otreum Jan 21 2009 says:

What's wrong with singleplayer :D

+3 votes     reply to comment
Mastix Jan 21 2009 replied:

The lasting appeal

+1 vote     reply to comment
Bluedrake42 Jan 23 2009 replied:

as long as its not subscription
I refuse to play subscription games

+1 vote     reply to comment
onimotoko Feb 13 2009 replied:

heard that!

+1 vote     reply to comment
NullSoldier Jan 21 2009 says:

Amazing, great job. I'll buy it once it's on steam you can be sure of that.

+3 votes     reply to comment
RogerRamjet Jan 21 2009 says:

Looks interesting.. could tell before I read the above it was a source based game, some of the sounds were from HL2 Ep1 and Ep2... looks like it has some original gameplay and a diverse selection of vistas to explore, that seemed to be filled with a mish mash of mostly original characters designs derived from many sources, including Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome... lol..

+2 votes     reply to comment
Raden Jan 21 2009 says:

Looks really interesting and special. Great job.

+3 votes     reply to comment
Torabi Jan 21 2009 says:

This looks amazing, I'm just scared by that Father-Mother thing... D:

Also, will this have some sort of multiplayer?

+2 votes     reply to comment
sutsko Jan 21 2009 says:


This looks ******* amazing.. Like a Condemened 2 combat system..

Any info on release date? I gotta buy it!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Greatdictator Jan 21 2009 says:

i like the unarmed combat in this game...although i cant shake the feeling that the enviroments remind me of spore hmm

+2 votes     reply to comment
Metalspy Jan 21 2009 replied:

Yeah it reminded me of Spore as well. But (of course) that does not mean it doesn't look very cool! I just love everything I've seen/read!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Toblerone Jan 21 2009 says:

Oh my... wow

I am completely sold on the art style. I just love it when games venture into the weird and wonderful. The game play looks interesting, taking a leaf from Dark Messiahs combat. But really I wouldn't care that much... this game looks to be a Psychonauts, where regardless of the gameplay (which was great anyway) the quirky situations, mystery and oddness absorbed me completely.

I am very much looking forward to this!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Robok Jan 21 2009 says:

Sheogorath would be proud :D

+1 vote     reply to comment
soniiic123 Jan 22 2009 replied:

Lol, I thought Shivering Isles as well

+1 vote     reply to comment
Blood_Wraith Jan 21 2009 says:

Wow looks amazing.

+1 vote     reply to comment
PlanterPeanut Creator
PlanterPeanut Jan 21 2009 says:

Hi guys. I'm a developer of the game and here are some answers to some questions:

-No multiplayer. :( ...but... this is an indie game so it'll sell for 20 bucks via Steam and Direct2Drive. ;)

-Single player should last around 4-5 hours.

-We are planning on finishing it by late Feb, so March is a more reasonable expected release date... we still don't have an exact date.

-The game will include achievements and unlockable content.

+6 votes   reply to comment
m82sniper Jan 21 2009 replied:

I'm sorry, $20 for a 4-5 hour experience? I can see that you and your team have put an enormous amount of effort into this, and I couldn't ever do anything better, but don't you think you could have made it a little longer? I might eventually get this, but only if the price drops or it is a truly amazing game..

+1 vote     reply to comment
INtense! Staff
INtense! Jan 21 2009 replied:

In australia it costs 16$ to goto the movies for an hour and a half, and once that is over it is over. This game lasts more than twice this and you own it forever - I cannot understand why gamers always bring this argument up?

+2 votes   reply to comment
Otreum Jan 21 2009 replied:

Gosh, are you kidding, $20 for something like this is fine. I mean look at the half life episodes, you pay more for less time, on a pretty ordinary game, so can't complain about this really.

+2 votes     reply to comment
PlanterPeanut Creator
PlanterPeanut Jan 22 2009 replied:

We will have some unlockable content and goodies to make the package more worthy, but I do recognize that the game is shorter / smaller than what we would have wanted. For a small team like ours, our choices from the beginning were:

(1) make a bigger / longer game with half the visual quality & production values.

(2) make the game with the current graphics and the current length.

We opted for (2) because if a game has great artistic design, but little eye candy (raw graphics quality) unfortunately it won't have the same level of attention... which means we still had to dedicate an enormous amount of work on creating high polygon models, normal mapping, high-res textures, etc.

The scope of the project is also a big reason we're only charging $20 for it. I mean... if people pay $50-$60 for 8 hour games then $20 is more than fair for what we will deliver.

And last but not least... we definitely want to build on this franchise and create a larger world for Zeno Clash... but we've gotta start somewhere. If this one goes well we will be very well positioned to do a longer game more in the lines of regular AAA titles (in terms of scope).

+3 votes   reply to comment
Wiweeyum Jan 23 2009 replied:

I'm totally fine with the scope of the project. Most indie groups make small arcade games to start out with, not full epic stuff.

I'm thoroughly impressed... I'm actually surprised you're not charging more...

+2 votes     reply to comment
Toblerone Jan 23 2009 replied:

Back before all this economic bollocks it was about 2 dollars to the pound which would make this very attractive.. its more like 1.4 to the pound now, and yet it would still be very much worth it.

Like Intense says, game entertainment in a cost to experience/length of time ratio are even now woefully undervalued in comparison to other media. When you consider what goes in to making a game like this, and the interactive experience you get from it.

+2 votes     reply to comment
RooftopVoter Jan 22 2009 replied:

First off congratulations on creating such a amazing looking, different, highly polished game. I am very anxious to play it. In response to your answers I have to say that 20$ is a very attractive price point. 4-5 hours I would like more but would rather have 4-5 great hours than 20 mediocre ones. I noticed that you only mentioned Steam and Direct2Drive for distribution, Steam is a great channel especially for an indie developer but will there be a retail version available for those of us that like to have a cd/dvd and some documentation? I thought I read somewhere that multiplayer was a possibility for a future patch has that been canceled? Not everything needs multiplayer btw I'd rather have it not done than done poorly. One last thing any chance of more content being added after the game becomes a huge success? ;->

+1 vote     reply to comment
Otreum Jan 22 2009 replied:

Selling the game for retail would mean mass production for them, that's why independent developers go with digital distribution, it doesn't cost them a cent, however it means that the end user has to download the game which can mean a reduction in sales.
I personally think that for an indie developer, digital distribution comes first, and if the game is that much of a success, they can use the profits made from the digital distribution sales to sell retail for those who don't like to download their games.

As for the choice to do a visually appealing game over a game that lasts a long time, I wouldn't agree in the slightest bit. Some of the most popular games now are the crappiest looking ones. If you make a game that people still play 5 years on, because it's one of the best games they've ever played regardless of graphics, then it's a success.
You could have at least spent another 6 or more months on it making it into a longer game once visuals were down pat, and it could be much much better experience.

+1 vote     reply to comment
SAHChandler Jan 24 2009 replied:

I would gladly pay twice what you guys are selling it for, because of the art style.

+2 votes     reply to comment
BadgerDeluxe Jan 21 2009 says:

Wow, this game looks so twisted and weird and flat out AWESOME! :D

+2 votes     reply to comment
Dremth Jan 21 2009 says:

i love the look of the environment that is achieved in this game

+2 votes     reply to comment
vfn4i83 Jan 21 2009 says:

MP should work well with this game, you guys really should give a look on it.

I into the game concept, nothing look alike so far.

+2 votes     reply to comment
DuckSauce Jan 22 2009 says:

That trailer is awesome, the game looks awesome, I've never been one to buy stuff online tough so it's unlikely I'll buy this, good luck to the dev team though you done a amazing job so far!

+1 vote     reply to comment
Wiweeyum Jan 25 2009 replied:

Hey, why not make this the first? If you don't like the idea of Steam, get it on Direct2Drive, then back up the setup file on a DVD or something.

It's painless... I promise.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Halloween4 Jan 22 2009 says:

Due to the recession this title might be better off being called ZERO CASH when it's released, Not ZENO

-2 votes     reply to comment
Henley Staff
Henley Jan 24 2009 replied:

wow Im sorry to say but that was extremely douchey...

+2 votes   reply to comment
Wiweeyum Jan 25 2009 replied:


0 votes     reply to comment
notoorjus Jan 22 2009 says:

I like how they have a clear art style, not many games think of that.

+2 votes     reply to comment
salaminizer Jan 22 2009 says:

1st day buy confirmed.

+2 votes     reply to comment
sauerfreak Jan 22 2009 says:

Go ACE team!!1!1!! This is one of the most ambitious projects I've ever seen. I cannot wait to see how the critics receive this one. :D

+2 votes     reply to comment
Bernardrego Jan 22 2009 says:

Looks amazing,even that I don't like that kinda of fantasy world,I still gonna have that game

+2 votes     reply to comment
DJ-Ready Jan 22 2009 says:

Looks nice but I really don't like the visual style of the game. Personal taste though.
Pretty cool what you did with the engine though.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Ben_E Jan 22 2009 says:

The work on this game is inspiring! I'm looking forward to your release!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Germanfragger Jan 22 2009 says:

is Zeno Clash a mod or a game that i can buy at Steam? i don´t really understand it!

+2 votes     reply to comment
DuckSauce Jan 22 2009 replied:

it's a game made on the Source engine that you can buy on Steam when it's released.(think Dark Messiah, that was a game you could buy and it was on the Source Engine as well)

+2 votes     reply to comment
Germanfragger Jan 22 2009 replied:


+3 votes     reply to comment
Bird_of_Prey Jan 22 2009 says:

On of the most unequal looking games around. I'm still amazed at the level of quality this has for an small, independent title. I can't wait to see more!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Tom@engineaudio Jan 22 2009 says:

Looks really unique, and very well done.

Great work!!

+2 votes     reply to comment
killerloro Jan 22 2009 says:


0 votes     reply to comment
formerlyknownasMrCP Jan 22 2009 says:

Wow the Visual Style of this game is amazing- Reminds me somewhat of Dreamwork's The Neverhood in a way :D Excelent stuff.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Post a comment

You are not logged in, your comment will be anonymous unless you join the community. Or sign in with your social account:

Zeno Clash
ACE Team
Send Message
Release date
Released 2009
Game watch
Start tracking
Related Games
Zeno Clash
Zeno Clash First Person Shooter
Related Engines
Source Commercial Released 2004
Related Groups
ACE Team
ACE Team Developer & Publisher with 2 members
Editor's Notes
Editor's Notes Official with 233 members