Chilean studio ACE Team has made a name for themselves with some downright surreal releases ever since Zeno Clash came out in 2009. Their latest game, Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder, is no exception, having you take on all sorts of historical figures as a giant rolling rock and wreaking havoc in the process. I met with Edmundo Bordeu, one of the studios founders, to talk about their new release and what lies ahead for ACE Team.
Let’s talk about Rock of Ages 2. Did the first game really do so well that you said to yourself “we need a sequel”?
Actually, yes. Of all the projects we’ve made, it’s the one that has performed best in sales and such. I really like to see the comment sections of videos. It’s one of those games where I see a lot of comments like “oh yeah, I used to play this with my roommate,” or “I used to play this at college”. At that time, there weren’t that many couch-play games.
So we definitely brought that back: split-screen, you can play on the same console. Also, we wanted [this multiplayer aspect] to be an important feature of the second game, so now you can play 2-vs-2, with more people in a single match.
We also didn’t want to make the second one right after the first one, but after these many years we saw the opportunity and thought, well, why not? Inbetween we made Zeno Clash 2 and we also had Abyss Odyssey and The Deadly Tower Of Monsters. That kind of gives enough time…
Weren’t you afraid of repeating yourself?
No. I mean, because the 4-player aspect of it already changes the mechanics quite a bit. Matches that seemed more predictable before… it’s fun to see last minute reversals and stuff like that.
The last months we have really been testing the game, like every lunch hour we do little matches, and it’s super competitive. You can see how people who have tested the game for months always win because they know the game better, but the matches are still super-close, so I’m happy with how it’s not predictable who’s going to win.
At its heart, is the game more a single player thing or multiplayer-focused?
Technically it’s both, but we have the most fun playing with other people, so at its heart, it’s multiplayer.
Did the first Rock of Ages start out with multiplayer in mind?
I remember the exact meeting when the idea for Rock of Ages came about. It was Carlos [Bordeu] who had this idea. It wasn’t about war and this giant boulder and all this, he just had this idea that, what if one player creates an obstacle course for the other player, and the other player traverses the course with a ball, like in Marble Madness.
And then it’s reversed so both compete equally. So that was the first idea. It started with two players. It’s always more fun if you know that it’s a person [you’re playing against].
These games are such wonderfully weird things. It’s unexpected to see stuff like that finding commercial success.
Well, our studio is kind of known for doing weird things. But you could say that, after Zeno Clash, Rock of Ages was maybe less weird. Or at least it’s just as weird, but it’s friendlier in tone. Like, it’s silly, it’s fun, so even people who don’t get the references will see it’s fun and playable.
All of your games are very much, you know, you. It’s a very distinct style, you can always tell that it’s an ACE Team game. What do you ascribe this to?
Maybe we feel that if just do a straightforward game that fits in this and this genre we feel, okay, it’s missing something and will always kind of add something, even if it was not designed at the very beginning. During the process we will have a cool idea that we kind of know will make the game better, and we just add it.
Say, for example, The Deadly Tower Of Monsters: at first, the game did not have this feature of narration that reacts to everything you do, but once we had that idea we knew we had to – even if it was more work and we had to change things around a bit – yeah, we had to add it.
…and in the end it always ends up like an ACE Team game?
Yes. I don’t remember exactly what the conversation was with one of my brothers, but we were discussing a game idea and he said, “oh, but maybe we will end up making something that’s too standard or not unique enough,” and I told him “don’t worry, that’s never going to happen.”
Has your core team changed in the last years?
The team has changed a bit, like there are some people we had from the very beginning. About 5 people are completely constant, and others who have come and gone. For Zeno Clash we were 6 or 7 people, and now we are 12 people. It’s not one of our goals to be a huge company. I think our size is pretty good, maybe it needs to expand a little for a slightly larger project.
The thing is, once your team size is too big, maybe publishers will kind of try to have a safer bet and not fund something that’s too weird. I feel there’s the danger that, okay, now that I have a big team, I need to worry more about funding this team than just the next project.
So, for the publisher, weird is good – as long as it’s not too expensive?
Not necessarily. There are some publishers that will take risks or see, okay, this is really good and doesn’t clash with whatever other things we do. That’s also very understandable if [their portfolio] doesn’t really go with what we do.
Rock of Ages 2 is published by ATLUS. That sounds like a good fit.
They have done really unusual things. Actually, we were pitching other things to ATLUS right before we were making Rock of Ages 2. And they were the ones who reminded us that we had pitched them Rock of Ages 2 earlier and they said “hey, maybe now is the time to do that”… and I think they were right.
In which direction will we see you go from here – more of the same, or something else entirely?
My brother Carlos started this project called The Endless Cylinder in his free time, which is in a surreal world where there’s a cylinder crushing the entire world. And you’re a small creature who needs to survive in this alien world. The studio took that thing and we have developed it further.
It’s one of those things that we have around and that will be developed in the future. I can’t tell if it’s going to be years in the future or if it’s our next project, but it’s definitely… it doesn’t shy away from being weird again.
You can purchase Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder from Steam for $14.99. Xbox One and PS4 versions are also available. For more information, visit the game’s website and follow ACE Team on Facebook and Twitter.