Interview: Slave Zero X Devs Share Details On How The Project Came To Be
Slave Zero X
The original Slave Zero game was released in 1999 and was well-received by the fans. It was a third-person shooter featuring a biopunk dystopian future. Although Slave Zero X — the upcoming prequel — has retained the dystopian aspect, it has taken a completely new direction by being a side-scrolling hack-and-slash. Moreover, the game has seemingly attracted many fans thanks to the release of the official Quake mod, Episode Enyo.
It was a surprising crossover, as it gave the IP another direction with the FPS aspect, but Ironwood Software and Poppy Works made the whole transition almost seamless. As such, we spoke with Cole Law, Marketing Coordinator at Ziggurat Interactive, and Wolfgang Wozniak, Co-Founder of Poppy Works, to discuss more in-depth details about the game and Episode Enyo.
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your work on Slave Zero X.
WW: I’m Wolfgang Wozniak, Co-Founder of Poppy Works. We’ve been a porting and co-development studio for many years, and we’re happy to be able to share how all of this came to be!
CL: I’m Cole Law, the Marketing Coordinator at Ziggurat Interactive. I worked on our marketing efforts for Slave Zero X. From Steam blogs, social media, trailers, and any number of activities, but I feel like I’m one of the many historians and lore holders for the world of Slave Zero.
Could you tell us a bit about the inspirations behind Slave Zero X and Episode Enyo?
WW: Oh, sure! For Slave Zero X, we really wanted to push the bounds of what a side-scrolling action game could be. When we were helping out on Devil Engine, we saw that the main developer there had just started working on a kind of action game that I had always wanted to make. After receiving a call from Ziggurat to help on their BloodRayne series, we saw the list of what game IP Ziggurat got their hands on. Immediately, Slave Zero (1999) stood out to us, and we were able to put together a pitch and demo from there.
CL: While the Slave Zero IP stood out to the Poppy Works team, what really caught our eye was their creative direction and gameplay. The Poppy Works team was very much inspired by the original dev team at Accolade’s early concept art before their scope and project shifted to what we know now as Slave Zero. So, it ended up being a bit of an homage to what could’ve been.
Also, with the blend of 2D and 3D elements in Slave Zero X, it really felt like it visually also situated the title as a prequel to the 3D third-person shooter of Slave Zero. In combination with the texturing of 3D assets and the use of Trenchbroom, Slave Zero X really became evocative of the era we were trying to honor. And with Trenchbroom being a level editor for Quake-engine-based games and having a character so obsessed with guns … a Quake mod felt like a no-brainer to pursue. With our friends Larry Kuperman and Stephen Kick at Nightdive Studios supporting our efforts, we were able to get an even larger audience for this fun and perhaps unpredictable gaming experience.
Quake is a much different title from Slave Zero X, one an FPS with guns while the other is a run & slash side-scroller. How did the collaboration come about?
WW: Great question! So, when choosing our environmental tools for the side-scrolling Slave Zero X, we came across Trenchbroom. Trenchbroom is an open-source, cross-platform Level Editor for Quake-engine-based games. The file format used by Quake levels was very easy to read from the game, and we knew that it would be amazingly fast to iterate and build our levels for Slave Zero X using it.
Once we had started on Slave Zero X and the level designers were making headway; I noticed that a lot of our art pipeline had made it so our textures on the tool side had to be Quake compatible. This was a bit of a pain, but it was something that we were able to use to our advantage when deciding if we should make Episode Enyo.
Once we got the green light from Ziggurat, it was a matter of contacting our friend Stephen Kick at Nightdive to see how we could be a part of the official Quake Add-ons list. Nightdive had just released the Quake remaster with Bethesda when Slave Zero X development began.
Luckily, everyone kept saying yes to Episode Enyo!
CL: Honestly, as wild as it sounds, it really just made sense, even early on. Multiple people on the Slave Zero X development team had Quake modding experience, which undoubtedly inspired a bit of the visuals. With the use of Trenchbroom, level components were already there. Bringing Episode Enyo to life still took a ton of work from the team, but it really was their inspiration and experience that led us there.
What were some of the challenges you encountered while creating this mod?
WW: The main challenge was ensuring it worked with the specific quirks of the Quake remaster and that it passed ID Software’s requirements! Like most games, each console platform of the Quake Remaster has quirks that need to be considered when creating something like this. Shrinking down our details and making it all fit into the boundaries of what was reasonable was the biggest challenge.
CL: There are always quirks and challenges, even with a rock-solid build of a game moving between platforms. Each platform is different, and while Quake is across platforms, the team just built a mod, not the full launching software, which is also a little tricky. But the team worked quickly, and with Quake Remastered having been released fairly recently, some of those funny hiccups between platforms were already tackled. And that doesn’t even cover the usual development cycle of making something and finding what fun hiccups or weird events manifest that you have to resolve, too.
Were there any other titles that you considered aside from Quake? And can we expect to see more such crossovers in the future?
WW: Well, I can say this – we recently released Hime’s Quest with Crunchyroll, which was a completely original game playable on Gameboy Color-compatible systems. I had the honor of overseeing and doing level design on Hime’s Quest. You can play that for free on Crunchyroll’s website.
Besides this, Poppy Works is always open to building unique experiences that break the mold for what you’d expect from a typical development studio. We’ve always tried to be a little different and do things our own way. Speaking for myself, we want to help bring older games and IP back from the brink.
How long has the crossover been in the works? And did you get to work alongside Quake’s team?
WW: id Software was immediately very supportive of the idea when we contacted them. They were very easy to work with and provided feedback and testing to make sure what we created was compliant with their requirements.
It’s not very common for mods to be able to be loaded onto console games, so participating in this was a rare treat.
CL: The team at id Software was super helpful with feedback and helping us with integration so console players could experience this prequel story of Slave Zero X. Which was incredibly exciting and cool because with Slave Zero X coming out across platforms, we didn’t want anyone to miss out on the experience of seeing the world from literally a different perspective, visually and narratively.
Do you have any plans to create such unique mods specifically for Slave Zero X?
CL: Mods for Slave Zero X? Who is to say! What I can say is we love working with Poppy Works and how they have fleshed out the world of Slave Zero. It is full of history and has ample space for us to play in. So play Slave Zero X and Episode Enyo! And tell your friends! The more people who play and enjoy the megacity, the more likely even more Slave Zero can happen in the future.
WW: I can safely say that while mods are not officially supported in Slave Zero X, we’re looking forward to new projects with modding capabilities that we can give to our Poppy Works community!
How many developers have actively worked on the title? And how long has the game been in development?
CL: Slave Zero X had approximately … 40ish devs, from Writers to Concept Artists to Producers and Programmers. And while Slave Zero X started development in June of 2021, the prototype Tristan Sinoc Chapman [Lead Game Designer] had been working on dates even earlier than that.
WW: Cole is right! Around 40-45 people contributed in one way or another to Slave Zero X. For Episode Enyo, the credits are listed within the mod – however, it would be safe to say that anyone who worked on Slave Zero X also had a hand in Episode Enyo. Our world, environments, character designs, sound effects, and so much more went into Episode Enyo from Slave Zero X. The team that put together Episode Enyo is largely made up of Slave Zero X folks and was roughly 5 people.
What are some of the major changes fans should expect in the full release compared to its demo?
CL: Oh geez! Besides being able to play it on every platform and not giving too much away. There is more story, more characters, way more enemies than we revealed in the demo, and the rest of the Calamities (five generals who are the innermost circle to Slave Zero X’s tyrannical leader, SovKhan) to fight. The shop will be active so you can upgrade your gear, acquire color palettes for Shou, and even visual effects for the screen. Oh! And there is a leaderboard! And lore that you can collect to tell the history of the world further. And some surprising shifts in gameplay to keep you on your toes while you’re stacking combos.
Anything else you would like to share with the readers?
WW: Yea! While we prepare to release Slave Zero X with Ziggurat, I want to plug our website, where you can download Episode Enyo but also check out our other games! We’ll have a lot to share this year, and we’re really excited to have both Episode Enyo and Slave Zero X in people’s hands. You can check us out at www.poppy.works
CL: Yes! What Wolf said! Download and play Episode Enyo! The original Slave Zero is also available on PC if you can’t wait to get into the fray. But we are so excited for everyone to play Slave Zero X; we hope you enjoy this dynamic and brutal hack-slash with a lot of heart and badass art.
Slave Zero X is a 2.5D hack-and-slash set in a biopunk dystopian world. It is being developed by Poppy Works and will be published by Ziggurat Interactive. The game will be released on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch on February 21, 2024. In addition to the main game, Poppy Works and Ironwood Software have also released Episode Enyo, a Quake Mod featuring a six-level campaign that takes place before the events of Slave Zero X.
Nauman Shah is a VeryAli’s Guide Writer. With a background in Software Engineering along with immense love for video games and three years in Unity 3D games development, Nauman joined the writing media to share his thoughts around the world. Moreover, he likes to smash people with difficult questions on social media and watch shows with a cat named ‘Blep’.
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