There were tons of games unveiled at E3 2010, but none tickled my cortex as much as Rock of Ages, a downloadable game that stars a rolling boulder, a narrow alley, and two opposing castles.
It seems simple, and for the most part, it is. But you have to look at the game from the perspective of the dudes doing it: ACE Team, the studio behind Zeno Clash, a brooding and visually compelling title that made no sacrifices to its artistic vision. I fell in love with it hopelessly and am more than excited for Rock of Ages as a result.
I recently got a chance to talk to ACE Team's Andres Bordeu about the game. He revealed a host of essential info left out by its announcement trailer, including how we'll defend our castle from the evils of the boulder (yeah, it has a personality), and spoke at great length about the art, strategy, and multiplayer.
== TEASER ==From Zeno Clash to Rock of Ages. Has it been a jarring switch?
Andres Bordeu: Not really, because despite Rock of Ages being a very different game both share several elements which we prioritize when we develop our concepts. To begin with, we wanted to once again deliver a game which is inspired by art that is not traditionally used in games. Second, we wanted to deliver fresh game mechanics in a genre that isn’t straying too much from the classic formulas.
I think it’s not a coincidence that the reaction we are getting from the unveiling of this game is being very similar to the one we got when we first showed Zeno Clash. Many people are genuinely surprised by the original presentation and the fresh new approach to the tower defense genre.
Do you still have a team working on Zeno Clash 2 while developing Rock of Ages?
Andres Bordeu: The majority of our efforts are being focused on Rock of Ages, though we are working on another project which we are keeping under cover for now.
How long has the ideas behind Rock of Ages been kicked around at the office? Were any of the concepts originally part of another game?
Andres Bordeu: During the development of ‘Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition’ we started brainstorming all sorts of concepts of what we could do for a completely new game. We want to continue bringing unique and exciting ideas to the gaming industry--not stay anchored in the same place where we started. We decided to create something for a broader audience that had an arcade feel and a strong multiplayer component while still keeping a fresh artistic approach. All these concepts were planned exclusively for this game.
I get the sense from the press materials that came along with the announcement for Rock of Ages that the title will have a much lighter, less…dreary vibe than Zeno Clash. Is this accurate? Will the game mechanics express this possible tone switch, or is it being left to the visual art and sound design?
Andres Bordeu: Yes, that is correct. As I mentioned we want this game to have a broader reach than Zeno Clash. The art style and presentation, while uncommon and atypical for a game, is still very recognizable by any player. Who hasn’t seen a classic painting from the Medieval or Renaissance periods? By also making it comical it has a much ‘lighter tone’ that can be enjoyed by anyone. Zeno Clash was developed for a more niche audience.
As for game mechanics, this is also a game that will be much simpler to play. Zeno Clash featured complex interactions in an already complex genre. Rock of Ages should be much easier to pick up because it is designed around game mechanics that are very familiar to many players. This does not mean that the game will be devoid of challenge. We anticipate that there will be a strong learning curve and players will develop all kinds of different strategies to beat their opponents.
Speaking of art, what brought about the idea of using different period styles in the Rock of Ages? Will there be more than what was mentioned in the teaser trailer?
Andres Bordeu: Many of us are fans of the Monty Python and their excellent short animations by Terry Gilliam. When we started elaborating the concept for Rock of Ages, which was initially named just ‘Boulder’, we thought that the visual style of those short animations would be an excellent match for our game idea. We’re obviously going to add a lot of our own ingredients to the mix so everyone can look forward to some really creative settings.
The game will feature art from the Ancient Greek, Medieval, Renaissance, Rococo & Romanticism periods. We could decide to add other styles as DLC, but that’s getting a little bit ahead of things.
How important will the visual style be to Rock of Ages? I ask this because I found Zeno Clash's to be so profound. The art almost defined the experience for me (even though I did quite enjoy the brawling and the narrative).
Andres Bordeu: The art will definitely be a very important part of the experience. We want all our games to highlight in that area. We are making sure that the artistic concept is reflected in all the audiovisual areas, so you can expect the same level of treatment to the music, the sounds, the menus, etc. There are still a lot of things we have not revealed and I’m sure people will be excited when they see the future materials we will be releasing. I think it’s going to definitely be one of those games that draws attention by how it looks.
I have to ask, too: will our castles have any sort of personality? What about the boulder? Or is it up to us to define these objects?
Andres Bordeu: Yes, both the castles and the boulders will have some sort personality. It’s not accidental that we rendered a face on our giant boulder. The castle gate, which features a giant lion’s head in the trailer, will also display some cool animations and interactions, but you’ll have to wait a little more before we show any of those features.
In concept, Rock of Ages sounds like a simple title: you just roll a boulder down a narrow passageway much like how one would roll a bowling ball in Wii Bowling. Is there more to this action? Will we flick the ball? Launch it? Fire it from a beast?
Andres Bordeu: The player will have full control of the boulder during the offensive portions of the game. The offensive part plays somewhat like a ‘Marble Blast’ game only that you are rolling down an obstacle course designed by your adversary. The most important difference from this game to other tower defense games is that you are protecting yourself from a single very powerful opponent instead of defending yourself from hordes of enemies. Players will have to rely on both strategy (placing defensive units) and skills (rolling the boulder) to defeat their opponents.
Let's talk about defenses. You can construct objects to block your opponent from smashing your castle in one go. What kind of objects will we be using?
Andres Bordeu: We have eight “categories” each with 3 different units or structures. One category is for defensive towers; siege towers, tall towers... these are static obstacles which slow down the enemy. Another category is for moving obstacles; you can place small herds of cows on the boulders path, or you can place elephants which will run towards the boulder. There are also blowing structures which will try to blow the boulder out of the path. Projectile shooting units like catapults, trebuchets and ballistae shoot and damage the boulder. There are flying units, explosive units, etc. I don’t want to mention all of them yet, but there will be a diverse set of obstacles for the defending player to design creative combinations and traps, we want to make sure all units are different and are useful in different situations.
There will also be “super-units” which you earn by finding special items on the hill (you cannot simply build them using your resources as you do with other units). One of these super units is ‘The Bull of Heaven’, a gigantic bull, twice as high than the tallest tower unit, and this bull is obviously very dangerous for the attacking boulder.
What kind of strategies will we use? Can we redirect the ball? Erect defenses wherever on the pathway to our castles?
Andres Bordeu: All your units, your defense towers, soldiers, catapults and war-elephants are expendable; their only goal is to stop the enemy ball from hitting your castle gate. Many of them might be crushed, but every bit of rock the enemy boulder looses when it collides your defenses is good for you, because it means a smaller boulder is going to crash your gate.
There are also some units which are trickier; a blowing unit, a slippery floor or an explosive, these could drop the ball out of the path and make it fall into an abyss.
Once the castle gate is destroyed, there is nothing stopping the giant boulder from crushing the opposing team’s king. I think it is very satisfactory that after all the major destruction during the round, you get to squish the hopeless little king.
As I previously mentioned, the control over the ball is complete. You can roll it in any direction and jump to attempt to avoid enemy defenses or even reach some hard to reach shortcuts. You lose control of the boulder if you land a blow against the opponent’s castle gate or you fall off the path. During these moments the player has to spend time reinforcing his side of the hill.
The essence of the game is reaching the castle gate as intact as possible and in the less possible time. The boulder will suffer damage on its way down the circuit and a cracked rock doesn’t hit as hard as a solid one.
I've read that Rock of Ages will have multiplayer support. How important is multi to the overall experience? Will the game make us hate our opponents or will it be a nice-and-easy, non-back-stabbing affair?
Andres Bordeu: We want this game to have a strong multiplayer component. We think people will really enjoy elaborating their own strategies and since the obstacle courses are designed by your adversary every run through a level will feel different depending on whom you are playing against. We expect the game to develop a lot of competitiveness. We don’t know if it’s going to be a ‘healthy good sport’ competitiveness or ‘anything counts’ kind of competitiveness, but we’d definitely feel we’ve accomplished our goal if we see people enjoying some intense matches in the future.
Can we expect lobbies, tournaments, or quarter-style play?
Andres Bordeu: We’re going to release more information about the multiplayer features and additional game modes in the future. We’re not ready to share them yet.
How long do you reckon a single game of Rock of Ages will last? Will the game have a campaign component? If so, what will it be like?
Andres Bordeu: We anticipate that a match may vary between 5 and 10 minutes, but it’s really early to say because we’re still in mid development and not everything is functional at this point. It may end up straying from those values.
The game will feature a single player campaign against computer controlled adversaries, but the highlight of the single player portion will be some awesome boss battles where you will get to battle some colossal creatures that are distinctive from each art period. Each period will be composed by a set of levels where the boss is located in the last level.
What platforms will Rock of Ages be coming to?
Andres Bordeu: Not all the platforms are confirmed, but we’re aiming for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
And finally, what sort of response do you expect to get from people? What do you hope they'll get out of Rock of Ages?
Andres Bordeu: Hopefully the people that dig it will have a blast playing against their friends. The initial media and fan response has been very positive and we want to continue to surprise everyone. The fans and the press really contributed to make Zeno Clash a recognizable title and we hope the same will happen with Rock of Ages. If we can continue to amaze people with our new proposals we’ll feel we’ve done our job right. We really believe we will be able to deliver something special, so we hope the players will think the same.
We'd like to thank Andres Bordeu for his time.