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Ziggurat no slave to tradition

In 1999, Infogrames published Slave Zero on PC and Dreamcast. A third-person shooter in which players controlled a giant robot blasting enemies in a futuristic cityscape, the game received lukewarm reviews, with much of the praise reserved for the simple joy of picking up and throwing cars at enemies.

Slave Zero had its fans, but there wasn’t exactly a vocal contingent of gamers crying out for more, which made it surprising to say the least when, in June of 2022, Ziggurat Interactive announced it was working on Slave Zero X, a new game in the franchise developed by Poppy Works, the studio behind games like Devil Engine and Halloween Forever.

Compounding the surprise, the project was not a third-person shooter. Instead, it was a 2.5D action game in which players control not a massive mech but a distinctly person-sized character wielding a sword. The futuristic setting was similar, but the game itself looked like it may as well have been entirely unrelated to the 1999 original.

With the game launching on consoles and PC next week, Ziggurat’s publishing producer Alex Lotz and marketing coordinator Cole Law explain to that’s because at one point, it wasn’t related.

“Someone at Poppyworks had this prototype going for a Shinobi-inspired game that integrated a lot of fighting game mechanics, so we sent them a list of a bunch of IPs we owned and they said, ‘Oh, this would make sense in the Slave Zero world’ because they were already looking at it being a sci-fi, futuristic anime setting,” Lotz says.

“It did end up being much more of a hack-and-slash where the original Slave Zero was much more of a shooter, but they were very faithful to the art direction, the concept art, the themes the original was trying to tackle, the story and building out the fiction.”

Lotz used to work at Tommo, which held the rights to Slave Zero before Ziggurat and released the game on Steam about a decade ago. Even then, there was a sense that more could be done with the franchise.

“For the people who owned the IP, there was always this feeling that people liked the game, but we weren’t exactly sure what to do with it,” he adds.

While applying the franchise to a game that wasn’t being created with it in mind might sound like an inversion of the ideal way to revive a franchise, Lotz says the addition of the Slave Zero universe wasn’t so much a case of retro-fitting an IP into an existing game as it was giving a project in the works a specific direction.

“Once they understood the Slave Zero IP was available and we were trying to attach a project to it, I think that kind of inspired them and they were like, ‘There are so many other directions we could take this as far as the theme and aesthetics, and it’ll make more sense for it to be retro,'” Lotz says.

Interestingly, in the marketing materials and Steam description, Ziggurat notes that the game is set in the world of Slave Zero, but adds that the gameplay “will resonate with fans of Devil May Cry, Strider, and Guilty Gear.”

“With us evoking Guilty Gear and Strider, it is intended to resituate the game in the brain of the potential player, to where it is not a third-person shooter,” Law explains. “It re-establishes what Slave Zero could be with Slave Zero X.”

They add, “I generally wouldn’t want to market something by saying, ‘Hey it’s like this thing.’ But with the fairly significant shift between Slave Zero and Slave Zero X, it just made sense to use those.”

Lotz notes that Ziggurat actually has another title in its library that has undergone a similar process once before. It has the rights to the BloodRayne franchise, which started with a pair of third-person action games in the early ’00s, but lay dormant for a number of years before being brought back with the 2D action game BloodRayne: Betrayal in 2011. (There were, however, three Uwe Boll-directed BloodRayne movies in the interim.)

In both cases, Lotz says the change-in-approach was about expanding on the original work instead of replacing it.

“As much as I would personally love to see another third-person shooter – and I think if Slave Zero X does well, there’s a real possibility of that – it was in the same vein as if BloodRayne could make sense in a beat-’em-up, is there a beat-’em-up that makes sense for Slave Zero,” Lotz says.

As for fans of the original who wanted another third-person shooter, Lotz says there have been a few, but they’re largely outnumbered by those interested in what Slave Zero X is doing, which lines up with Law’s experience as well.

“I don’t foresee a space where people would be upset that we brought this title back, or with our handling of it,” they say. “The development team was really passionate about the project. They were inspired by the concept art of the original team, and they were in contact with them.”

They note that original Slave Zero developers Ken Capelli and Lee Petty have met with the Poppy Works team and seemed to enjoy seeing another creative team explore their world.

“Just to see them nerd out on each other’s inspirations and how they iterated on those similar inspirations over time, 25 years apart, it was incredible to see,” Law says. “But I’m also very excited to see how that hopefully translates to the player experience and how they take in the world, because there was such a reverence for the source material and the team building forward and making something uniquely theirs while being inspired by the past.”

Even if the Slave Zero IP isn’t a household name even among gamers, Lotz says that’s no reason to leave it on the shelf.

“That speaks to a lot of Ziggurat’s mission of preserving games, not just games that happen to be recognizable and are already renowned, but games we feel deserve to be preserved or brought back to life or extended because of the merits they have in them,” he says.

“Ziggurat doesn’t just want to preserve the stuff we know is going to resonate with a certain market, but also the things we think didn’t find the audience they deserved in the first place.”

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