Who are the members of Team Colorblind and what are you specifically responsible for with Aztez?

Ben Ruiz (BR going forward): Myself and Matthew Wegner are Team Colorblind official. I am responsible for the art and combat. That means I conceptualized all the characters, built all the environments, designed all of the combat mechanics, animated all the characters, produced all the effects, and I do all of our marketing. Matthew has an equally absurd pile of responsibilities that involve massive amounts of code I don't understand, and he's also our business guy. It sounds like I do a lot, but I wouldn't be able to do most of it without Matthew. Team Colorblind's satellites include two musicians writing an amazing soundtrack (both are surprises, so my lips are sealed for now), and a great art student named Andrew Murphy who has modeled and textured most of my character concepts.


What type of game is Aztez, and when does it take place?

BR: It's a hybrid action-strategy game that takes place in the Aztec empire 100 years before the Spanish arrive in the Valley Of Mexico.


What inspired you guys to use the Aztec empire?

BR: I've just always been in love with the Mesoamerican civilizations; I'm half-Mexican and I grew up with the imagery. When it came time to build my first beat 'em up, the Aztecs made the most sense out of all the amazing civilizations from that part of the world.


Where did the idea to marry turn-based combat with beat ‘em up action come from?

BR: It came from me being very tired of the traditional beat 'em up game structure. I just find the gameplay between combat segments (pushing blocks, grabbing ledges) very tedious, so we're attempting to make something more engaging.


How do the turn-based mechanics actually work in Aztez? In an interview, I actually heard Ben compare it to a board game like Risk.

BR: Imagine a large map of independent cities, and you're trying to subjugate them all and integrate them into the empire. But your primary method of interacting with this map is with combat, except you have a real-time combat sequence instead of rolling dice.


Could you give us an example of the different political events that might occur during a turn in Aztez? How do all these potential random factors effect a single play through of Aztez?

BR: Let's say you've got a city at the edge of your empire whose leader has openly condemned the emperor. If you choose to address it, you will send a warrior into the city to kill him. But since we're talking about the Aztecs here, this won't be a shadowy assassination, this will be a brutal one on one fight with a political leader who is a brave and experienced warrior. If you don't address this boss fight type event, you will eventually lose control of adjacent cities.


What is the design philosophy behind the combat engine in Aztez? Is it working on a traditional base with the rest of the genre, or did you attempt to do something more unique?

BR: The primary design philosophy has always been to create something sensational and fun to look at that is enjoyable for both casual button mashers and exploitative high level types.


What are the different types of weapons in Aztez, and are there secret or unlockable weapons?

BR: The primary weapons are the legendary macuahuitl (obsidian sword type), the stone club, the sacrificial knife, and the spear. All of these weapon types were utilized by the Aztec warrior societies. And yes, there absolutely are secret weapons you'll get the chance to unlock. They're not shallow, gimmicky weapons, either. They are their own fully fleshed out mechanic sets.


Ben, you’ve written a ton of blog posts on the game’s website detailing the ins and outs of the beat ‘em up genre and where you guys are in the development process. Has all that writing translated into design decisions in Aztez or is it simply a way for you to unwind?

BR: Both! As much as I enjoy articulating and sharing my internal analyses, oftentimes writing them out provides very useful insight. The writings have lead to many valuable design decisions.


In one of the blog posts, you went into detail in how casual players look at this type of games versus more seasoned gamers, and why it’s so important to deliver for both type of players. How difficult is to balance a beat ‘em up to both be accessible, but also have the nuanced expected by the type of players you dubbed “warriors and masters?”

BR: Turns out it's not that difficult. You simply need to make sure the game feels good and that it isn't highly obfuscated at the low level. Casual players won't enjoy action games that crush them in ways they don't understand.


Did you put any elements in the game specifically with the “master” players in mind?

BR: Most of them, yeah. The biggest one was the real-time weapon switching. At any given point, you can have up to 4 weapons equipped, and you're allowed to switch between them whenever you'd like, even right in the middle of an attack. When you do this you have instant access to all of the newly equipped weapons' mechanics, and it blows the game wide open expression wise. Obviously, casual players have access to this, but since every individual weapon is already it's own complex beast, it doesn't happen a lot.


You've been critical of beat ‘em up games that don’t make the more nuanced aspects of their games available to the player in game or on a free wiki. For Bayonetta, for instance, you said you needed to pick up a special guide for the more advanced aspects of the combat engine. Let’s say expert players find some hidden elements of your games combat engine; is there a plan on place to provide that information in your game or on your blog?

BR: I plan on having every piece of nitty gritty technical combat information available online at release.


Ben, in one of the interviews you’ve had about the game, you said that the design decision behind the boxer enemy was actually unintentional. Has there been another design decision that stuck by accident, and why did you feel so compelled to keep that as well the decision with the boxer enemy?

BR: So many I can't even count. I always start with vague ideas that I refine over time as I develop everything else, and sometimes things take weird swings in different directions. For example, the way I design entire weapons systems is to design a couple mechanics at a time, play with them, and then observe my own impulses to determine what to build next. So when I designed the power kick, a sword mechanic that blasts the enemy backwards, I realized when playing with it I wanted a follow up attack I could hit them with before the enemy hit the ground. This concept didn't exist in my original vague idea, but it ended up there and it worked so it stayed.


Let’s say Aztez does extremely well; are there any plans for any post-release content? I know Ben has said co-op was a potential option for the game.

BR: I would love to release a legitimate expansion that includes a larger (or even new and separate) map of cities to subjugate, with new weapons, enemies, events, and etc.


You teach game production in Phoenix Technical Schools and Universities. What’s that experience like while working on a game?

BR: I actually haven't taught since the end of 2012, because it took too much attention away from Aztez. Haha!


Are there ever days where you’re off doing one of your other jobs and instantly some design aspect hits you where you think of something that absolutely needs to be in the game?

BR: Absolutely! When that happens I just my phone's audio recorder to get the thought out of my head. Sometimes I take videos and do animations with my hands in it so I don't forget a movement concept.


Has the rise of the indie scene on PC and consoles made indie development more challenging given the quality of some of the great indie games of the last few years?

BR: It's always been in the nature of both Matthew and I to create the best possible thing we can create. And besides, we're more likely to benchmark our work with the work of AAA productions anyway.


What advice would you give people trying to get into the indie scene?

BR: Just make a simple thing and finish it! This is the single most important thing you can do. And also, don't bank on a game so hard you've lost everything when it doesn't succeed. Please.


Final question: If everything broke right, and you got handed the rights to make a new Alien vs. Predator beat-em up game, what would be your ideal design direction of that game?

BR: Congratulations, that is the greatest question I've ever been asked. I would make keep the 4 characters but move it into 3d (art and gameplay) but with one important caveat; every play space would have a fixed camera where you can see the entire space for the duration of the fight. AvP was remarkable because you were attempting to navigate distinct sequences of large groups of enemies in a small space but with a huge amount of mobility and control, and you never ever ever fought the camera. This was huge. I would expand on each character, making them even more unique and expressive, and also integrate the overheating super weapons into the melee mechanics so they're not just emergency mechanics. The most important idea is to maintain the same incredible pacing and preserve the joy of wrecking huge groups of weak but tricky enemies.


For anyone interested in finding out more about Aztez, you should check out the developer's website: Aztez.com. There are fantastic write ups about beat-em game design ranging from dead zones, to enemy designs, to things like combat breakdowns of other beat-em up games like Bayonetta. 

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