Aztez: Team Colorblind / 25th of September 2014
Aztez was among the plethora of incredible looking, and highly stylised, titles that Microsoft used to highlight its ID@Xbox program, the company’s answer to the issue of self-publishing on its Xbox One platform. The results from it have finally started to emerge, with the like of The Digital Lounge’s updated version of Eric Chahi’s classic Another World, Compulsion Games’ Contrast and Born Ready Games’ Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut having already hit the Xbox Marketplace. But the future of the service is also beginning to look very bright indeed, and a small Arizona based team could very well prove to be an integral part of that…
And small, this studio most certainly is. Seemingly emerging from out of nowhere to show us a highly artistic, creative and exciting project, Team Colorblind, however, were once known as Flashbang Studios, creators of fifteen self-funded titles which were released on varying platforms from Window to iOS. Flashbang were founded by Matthew Wegner, and he was soon to be joined by the team’s now artist and designer, Ben Ruiz, who explained to us how these two gentlemen came around to the Aztez project, and how it came to be part of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program:
“Team Colorblind is just two guys from Arizona who have been working together a long time. We equipped ourselves for a big project of our own after doing contract work for a couple years, and Aztez is that big project. We got involved in ID@Xbox when Microsoft's indie liaison reached out to us after seeing the game.”
Aztez is a big project with notably lofty ambitions, aiming to be unique in both of the realms within which it will be pitched, seeing as it skilfully combines elements of both beat ‘em up and strategy genres into one thoroughly intriguing whole. Deriving inspiration from the hegemonic Aztec empire for both its setting and strategy elements, the team set out with a goal of reinvigorating the rather stale beat ‘em up genre, dragging it out of the doldrums that it now resides in. As Ben tells us:
“The goal from the start was to create an interesting vehicle for really good combat. For me personally, anything is better than the modern beat 'em up formula of having a combat encounter, bouncing into the next room, performing some rote platformer mechanics, and repeating endlessly. And since the Aztec's aggressive imperialism system was itself a game, we figured it made sense to emulate that and use it as our interesting vehicle.”
In Aztez, players are tasked with overseeing the Aztec empire, encouraging its expansion and putting down any modicum of rebellion, and to do so, the player will be required to enter into combat. Thankfully then, there are multiple weapons for players to master including clubs, knives, spears and more, all of which can be utilised to fend off the numerous enemy types, which are based on real Aztec archetypes, yielding a variety of warriors and priests who are all vying for the player’s blood. And with Platinum Games’ Bayonetta ranking as one of Team Colorblind’s biggest influences, players can expect to enjoy an expressive combat system with sufficient depth to reward the more hard-core gamers who can master Aztez’s mechanics.
There can simply be no denying that one of the key elements of Aztez’s rather strong allure is its bold and striking visual style, where high contrast black and white character models battle in front of soft focus backgrounds, carved in muted shades of grey to give subtle hints of rolling hills, temples, cities and even plumes of smoke that spiral skywards. The team have promised to feature more than thirty different, graphically stunning, Aztec inspired environments for the finished game, all of which are based on real cities, and primed to be drowned in the blood of fallen foes. In short, Aztez is a truly beautiful creation, and Ben explains where the inspirations for its design came from:
“There weren't any specific inspirations I suppose, not outside of the Aztecs themselves. I've always been a black and white, stark, inky kind of artist, so it was just another manifestation of what I already do.”
The proof can be seen in the artwork and screenshots adorning this very article, however, the process was not quite as simple as one might expect, and development on the project actually began almost six years ago:
“The very first prototypes (in late 2008) actually started out purely black and white, and when I realize that was too harsh on the eyes, I added greys and the rest fell into place. Not too long after that, Madworld happened, and it reinforced my decision.”
With the visual style and setting having been established, and surely made fascinating enough to get gamers in through the door, the team, like any other face the task of deciding upon what measures they can take to keep them there, and with it, ensure that they’re game is as good as it possibly can be. Longevity was an especially important issue that needed tackling given the relatively short amount of time that Aztez’s campaign can be tackled in, but the team are hopeful that they have managed to overcome this particular hurdle with the implementation of another key selling point for the title.
“The replay comes from our randomized empire generation system and our randomized combat encounter generator. Everytime you play, the empire's factors will be reshuffled all around (cities on the map, resources in cities, world events, etc.) and combat encounters will be intelligently created around a handful of goals; kill this boss, survive these waves, protect this entity, etc. We want the FTL style experience where you have a vague roadmap of success, but the factors constantly change and it stays exciting for a long time.”
Random level generation will not only ensure that each game is sufficiently different from the last, but on top of this, the team are also keen to add in more depth with hidden collectibles, but what are they? Ben, naturally, wasn’t too keen on giving anything away this early on:
“We'll have some things to unlock, yes. Saying too much more here would ruin the surprises so I'm gonna move along. Haha!”
Part of creating an inclusive gaming experience is derived from personalisation, where gamers can form a sort of rudimentary bond with their character by making him/her somewhat unique, and this is something that Team Colorblind are fully aware of, as Aztez is set to offer some limited means through which this too can be achieved:
“The character will be visually customizable as you beat the gear off of enemies. The helmet, the loincloth, the wrist and bicep jewellery; etc. These can all be taken from enemies and then worn in any combination the player would like. It won't change anything under the hood, though; it's just for fun.”
This element of the game has evidently been rather strongly inspired by the Aztec people themselves, whose clothing and decoration was to inspire generations after the fall of their empire, and rightly so, as the Aztec artisans ranked firmly amongst the world’s best, devoting their lives in the pursuit of their craft. In Aztec culture, of course, the jewellery and other decoration adorning its people was an indication of class, with nobility predominantly claiming such treasures, but in Aztez, anyone will have the ability to do so. Though its impact upon the proceedings is limited to say the least, there is a small possibility that this might not always be the case.
Character customisation would likely take on a whole new level of importance should the team be able to implement a co-operative feature into the game, allowing each player to customise their own warrior with items found upon the field of battle to create their own unique avatar. Sadly though, Team Colorblind have confirmed that at launch, no such multiplayer component will be present.
“There will be no multiplayer in the initial release. If the game comes out and does okay and we can continue to add content to it, we'd love to add co-op!”
Given that the entire development team for this ambitious title is composed entirely of just Ben Ruiz and Matthew Wegner, there are few that will be surprised that they will find themselves hard pressed to cram everything into the limited development schedule that Team Colorblind have in order to meet their current release date, which is, as Brian explains, this year.
“We should have it done before the end of the year! But like I said, the company is just two of us, and it's hard to see very far in advance. But that's what we're aiming for.”
With its unique visual style, a well realised combination of action and strategy, and its robust mechanics, Team Colorblind find themselves onto a winner with Aztez, a game that will most assuredly turn heads when it launches on the team’s target platforms of PC, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One and Wii U later this year.
Special thanks to everyone at Team Colorblind for taking the time out to chat with us