Which game has elephants, a mini-art history lesson, and a boulder ready to crush anything in its path? Rock of Ages, of course, and it’s one of Atlus’ quirky digital download games. Ace Team, the studio that made Zeno Clash, have been working on Rock of Ages after they finished Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition.
This game is a wildly different from their first person… puncher. Rock of Ages is part real time strategy and part Marble Madness or Odama. In this interview Carlos Bordeu, Studio Founder and Designer, explains the game’s concept and its unique style.
While the trailer grabbed my attention it didn’t tell us much about how Rock of Ages plays. Maybe you can start by telling us about the game’s concept and how you came up with it?
Carlos Bordeu, Studio Founder and Designer: The game basically works like a competitive obstacle course. Both players assume the role of both the attacker and defender at the same time (Attacker being the boulder and defender being the role of placing defensive units in the level). While the boulder is being ‘built’, both players (or the AI in single-player) have time to spend their resources on placing strategic defensive units in the level so that the opponent has a harder time reaching the end. The player who is capable of reaching the bottom and ramming the enemy’s gate the most times will win the match. The game is a lot more fast paced than many people think.
At ACE it has always been important to be able to create fresh new intellectual property. We wanted to make sure we could continue to bring unique and exciting ideas to the gaming industry. Shortly after we finished Zeno Clash for the PC, the studio gathered to brainstorm all sorts of concepts of what we could do for a completely new game. We wanted to create something that had an arcade feel and a strong multiplayer component while still keeping a fresh artistic approach.
The soldiers have this neat paper cutout look. Why did you choose this style for a 3D game?
The paper cutout look is because of two reasons:
1) It meshes perfectly with the visual inspiration of the game which is Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python cartoons. The game has a lot of humor in it and the characters work much better as 2D paper cutouts.
2) From a gameplay perspective the 2D cutout people offer no real resistance to the boulder. You can run over them like leaves. The 3D obstacles are the ones that really impact the boulder and by having this convention it is easy for the player to understand this concept.
Were there any art styles you wanted to include, but couldn’t squeeze in?
We often joke about the possibility of adding a more modern art period to the game as an expansion. I can really imagine some crazy levels in the style of Picasso… so yes, we would have liked to put more unique art styles.
I noticed the boulder is smiling as its rolling over people. Were you trying to give the boulder character?
The main characters of the single player adventure (and story mode) are Sisyphus and his boulder. Sisyphus is the man from Greek mythology who has to push a boulder up a hill and then it rolls down and he has to do this eternally. I won’t get into much detail yet as we still haven’t showed a lot of the story mode, but the boulder is a big character of the game and it has a personality of its own.
The idea of moving through different periods of art history is clever. What inspired this?
When we decided to use the comic style of Monty Python we realized that putting the game into several periods of art history would be a great way of progressing the story, of giving the game visual variety and of exploring really interesting visuals.
So, how do you play Rock of Ages? What are the boulder controls like?
When you control the boulder it is rather simple. The controls are like most marble games where you simply move around with one stick, move the camera with the other stick + a jump button. The boulder can purchase some powerups that can give it extra features like an air double jump, but in general, the boulder gameplay controls are pretty straightforward (pick-up and play).
During the defensive mode the game works a bit like an RTS on a checkers board where you can place buildings and units on specific parts of the terrain and rotate them accordingly. The controls are very simple as well, but the main challenge here is to set up good defensive combinations of units.
And if you’re defending you use… elephants?
Cows, elephants, towers, windmills, explosives, flying ships, catapults and more. There are specific categories with different units (that have different costs but basically serve the same general strategic purpose). There are also super units that you can place in specific parts of levels if you collect the super unit “medal” pieces that are scattered through the level. The ‘bull of heaven’ seen in the teaser is one such super unit.
Can you discuss some of the different strategies from both the boulder and defender side?
All levels differ a lot in shape and size so your strategy is really going to depend on the level you’re playing. This is true for the strategies on both offense and defense. When you play as the boulder, you can try to take level shortcuts to reach the bottom as fast as possible (ramps and jumps across gaps in the level are some examples). Shortcuts are not really very hidden, but they’re the first places that any smart defender will want to barricade at first. This means that when trying these hard jumps the boulder player can risk falling of the level and losing valuable time or getting past and avoiding a lot of enemy defenses.
In terms of defending your gate, players can use combinations of units to get better defensive strategies. An example might be using towers to create more narrow paths and building catapults or blowing units to divert a boulder that has passed through the choke points you funneled them through. By using them as part of a combined strategy, they can account for the units’ individual weaknesses.
How are you developing Rock of Ages for multiple platforms?
We’re working with Unreal Engine 3 which is great for multiplatform development. We’ve already worked on PC and Xbox 360 for Zeno Clash and now we have a chance to work with the PS3 which is great because we can deliver our game to a broader audience.
Why did you want to work with Atlus a second time and what did they, as a publisher, add to this game’s development?
We showed them a small teaser of Rock of Ages and they were immediately interested in the game. We had a very good experience working with them on the port of Zeno Clash for XBLA, so it was a natural choice to go with them for our next game.