Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality
19Apr/147

On Legitimacy, Love And Exploitation

Hello everyone! Ben here. I'm sorry updates have been so sparse! We've been grinding and grinding and everyday Aztez becomes a better and better experience. I'll write up a more concise update write-up real soon, but I had to talk about something really important first. We recently received some coverage at PAX East, and I saw this comment on YouTube:

This Again

It's an unfortunate reaction, but I get it. At a glance, Aztez appears to be an exploitative brawler about the Aztecs. Having a yet-revealed strategy game that simulates the military and political machinery of the actual Aztec empire doesn't help. But I wish deeply to set the record straight, and can utilize (with gracious permission) an email conversation I had with someone at PAX Prime in September of 2013.

Just as a note for some important context, this individual's original tweets at us included an accusation of "cultural rape", and it is referenced once or twice in this exchange.

Matthew & Ben,

Hello there! My name is ****** and I was one of many PAX attendee's who played your game at the Indie Megabooth. I guess I'll just get straight to the point: A brief play through of your game made a little uncomfortable. Though at the time I didn't know why, I think I've had enough time to reflect on the experience and I believe I can pinpoint the reason behind my discomfort. But before I do that, I will tell you a little bit about me so that you can have an idea of where I am coming from.

I was born and raised in Mexico and immigrated to the US roughly halfway through grade school. I don't consider myself Mexican -or- American. I am Mexican; I am American. I embrace both nationalities equally in their full capacity. I'll spare you the soapbox and will let you know that games have been very important to me. Despite being Mexican and a proud gamer,  I've given up on the idea that maybe one day I can have a game with a protagonist that represents me.

Then I saw your game. A game that features the Aztec culture! Finally, at last!  Then I played it. I slayed a few fellow Mexicans before I started to lose interest. I couldn't shake a few words off my mind  "Meso-American Battle Royale...our temples make nice window dressing too." I put the controller down and I left.

Part of me feels like I should've gathered the courage to stay and talk to you guys. I don't know what I would have said then. I think I was a bit surprised. I enjoyed the combat system of your game, it is very fluid. I think that the enjoyment of your combat system was at conflict with my belief (back then) that you were only exploiting my culture for your personal benefit. My opinion about your game is now more reserved. However I do want to know: for a game that is called Aztez, what aspects of Aztec culture are represented in game other than temples and an abundance of feathered headdress?  Replace those two elements and what do you have?

What I said on twitter is still there and I mean it. Twitter also lead me to the website of your game. It is there where I found out about your game's "Conquest" mode. It appears that you are going for a more historical approach to game progression? Pseudo-historical? I would really like to know more about this mode. Actually I really would like to know more about your game overall. Once again, thanks for being open to dialogue.

Thanks!

P.S.  I don't feel like any character of any media that represents Mexican culture needs to represent or appeal to me personally, but I do feel like it needs to be true to its roots.

------

Hi ******! This is Ben Ruiz. I'm the artist and the combat designer on Aztez. While Aztez is most certainly the product of both mine and Matthew's brains, the artistic direction and concept is primarily mine so I'm gonna speak here.

First of all, I really appreciate you voicing your concerns, and articulating them to us further. I don't like that you leveled "rape" at us; I find that extreme and unfair, but you've already admitted you had a strong reaction so I won't hover on that. Regardless, I'm still glad you said anything at all.

All you need to know about me is that my father is Mexican, and I was born and raised in Phoenix around Mexican Americans. I'm not going to say much more here because I don't feel like I should have to justify my ethnicity to anyone in order to legitimize my art. But since I understand where you're coming from, I'm just making sure you understand that it's also my culture and heritage. Now, one could argue that the Mesoamerican lineage is more a Mexican's and less a Mexican-American's, but 500 years after the fall of the Aztec empire I don't feel like that's fair, so I hope that isn't a part of your thought process here because we will never end up seeing eye to eye.

The big problem here is that a lot of games and movies utilize the Mesoamerican cultures in the way you are concerned about. And that sucks! It removes a lot of beauty and meaning when creators who obviously don't really care grab the Aztecs and Mayans from out of the prop closet instead of out of their hearts. So honestly, I don't blame you for being weary. But I assure you, that's not what Aztez is.

Aztez is a celebration of the Aztec's power and beauty. Take away the art and you've got a very technical action game / board game about entropy. But games need art and when I decided what I wanted the game to look and sound like I choose the Aztec civilization because I'm in love with it! I thought it would be amazing to look at and be exciting to work on. Not because I thought it would sell the game or make it more appealing. It is 100% a decision of very sincere love. If I made that decision based on callously selling the game, I would have made a game full of tedious anime characters or bald space marines.

What you saw on the show floor at PAX was a 5 minute combat demo built to get a lot of people (with a lot to look at) excited. What you didn't see was:

  • Dozens of environment based on actual 15th century cities in the Valley Of Mexico at the time of the empire.
  • A faithfully recreated Valley of Mexico map that is politically and geographically accurate.
  • An enemy structure based fully on the Mexica military warrior societies.
  • Email threads with military and cultural historians ensuring my own accuracy in these recreations.
  • A strategy metagame that very faithfully represents the way the Aztecs actually built and expanded their empire.
  • And thousands and thousands of hours of concept art, texture work, animation, research, object creation, and environment construction.

I understand you feel like we've made an exploitative bar fighting game starring indigenous people, but lets not kid ourselves into thinking the Mexica were not incredibly warlike! It's why there was an empire. But it doesn't mean they weren't brilliant, and beautiful, and magnificent, and glorious, and worth every shred of historical respect the world can muster. But I promise you if I was making a game about cunning marketplace policies, or merchant spies, or water agriculture, I'd probably use the Aztecs as the theme for those too! But those simply aren't games I want to make. I want to make a game that let's you wrap your own hands around their distinct political and military power.

For your own information; in the meta game, you will expand the borders of the empire from Tenochtitlan and attempt to survive for x turns. There are still details to work out, but the goal of the game is to have a large enough empire and accumulate enough skill to survive the Spanish invasion. I personally like the idea of experiencing a change in history. I find it cathartic given what happened to the Mexica and the rest of the tribes, and this is also an expression of love. I fantasize about a world in which the Aztecs survived the Spanish and what that would mean for Mexico and our lineage and culture.

Anyway, I didn't mean to go off for this long, but I'm very sincerely passionate about all of this and I hate the idea that anyone thinks my intentions aren't pure, or that I'm not operating from a position of utmost respect. I hope this all makes sense, and this dialogue can remain open as long as you'd like it to.

Thanks again for speaking up.

-Ben Ruiz

------

Hi Ben,

Thanks the speedy reply! I hope that you don't mind me opening this email with an apology to you and to Matt. First, regarding the "rape," tweet. You are right. What I said was wrong, especially with the amount of knowledge that I had back then. I cannot take back what I said at that point in time. But I do realize I was wrong. I'm very sorry about that.

Second, I only brought up my heritage as a way to illustrate why I feel so strongly about your game. I am in no way, shape or form some sort of heritage police. As a creator, you are free to create whatever you want- and you are right, you don't have to justify your ethnicity to legitimize your art. My issue stemmed from being true to the source of inspiration, which is Aztec culture. So my focus was being genuine to/about my heritage, regardless of who is being inspired by it. If I implied that there is some sort of "heritage gate/check" you must cross in order to utilize any aspect of Aztec culture,  -I am sorry-  That is not what I meant and that was certainly not my intention.

It is refreshing to see that you are so passionate about Aztez. I am blown away byy the amount of detail embedded into the design of the game itself. I'll try to keep this email brief and will say that I really wish I would have found out about these game elements during PAX. Had I know about the depth of your game, I probably would have written to you but out of praise, not concern. Anyway, needless to say all of my doubts/concerns have been resolved. Thank you for being so genuine and open to communication. I'm sure your time is limited when you have a game to ship so I truly appreciate you taking some time to respond to my email.

Best of luck,

******

------

There you have it. For those of you who feel uncomfortable about Aztez, I hope this makes you feel more at ease. As always, I'm completely open to any conversation, and you are free to discuss this in the comments of the post or to email me directly for privacy reasons.

And just for good measure, here is an earlier post I wrote about pride and heritage and their use in the production of Aztez.

Filed under: Personal 7 Comments
17Mar/148

Aztez Officially Coming to (All!) Consoles

Ben and I are at the Game Developer's Conference this week (and PAX East is right around the corner).  When we show the game in public, we're frequently asked where we're releasing.  Up until now our answer has always been "PC, and hopefully as many consoles as we can".

We're happy to announce that Aztez is officially coming to PS4, Vita, Xbox One, and Wii U!

Our first release will still be on Steam (PC/Mac/Linux), with consoles releases as soon as possible afterwards.  If we could, we'd love to launch on everything at once, but really there are just the two of us and launching on a console is a ton of work.   We'll have more timeframe details as we get closer to release! In the meantime, enjoy this sweet new combat teaser:

The PlayStation Blog just posted about the new Aztez trailer, and our new combat demo build will be playable on Xbox One hardware at the Unity GDC expo booth. Swing by and say hi if you're in San Francisco!

6Jan/147

Anatomy Of A Successful Attack

This is an interactive demo I built a LONG TIME AGO to showcase the proper elements of a successful looking/sounding/feeling attack. It got eaten in a server snafu sometime back. Haha! But I so frequently reference these elements when providing other developers with feedback on their games that it made sense to dig up the unity content and reproduced the post. It's pretty old and outdated, but it's still communicates the important ideas.

Push Z to see the attack, and push 1 through 0 to fire individual effects. 

If you're having trouble getting the unity content to load, just go here to load an independent web page with the content. Appears to be a wordpress issue. Sorry!

Here is a production break down of the individual effects. The bold effects are Absolutely Always Necessary™:

  1. Attack Animation. A good attack animation has some anticipation for build up and some follow through for weight. Make the character load up their weapon and then swing it hard.
  2. Struck Animation. A good struck animation should be fast and over the top to really sell the pain at  distance. It helps to flash the struck character a distinctive color.
  3. Weapon Swing Effect.  The weapon swing should be big and flashy, fire fast, and follow a smooth line.
  4. Weapon Dust Effect. I've since just integrated this into the weapon swing effect, but it's ultimately just secondary animation for the weapon swing effect. Not at all necessary.
  5. Hit Effect. Most of this is obvious, but make sure a hit effect is big, flashy, and fires very quickly. I like having my hit effects spew out some particles to make them more interesting, but this is by no means neccessary. ANY HIT EFFECT IS BETTER THAN NO HIT EFFECT.
  6. Weapon Impact Effect. This effect has traditionally been limited to fighting games and beat 'em ups, but it helps ALL hit effects unless you have an absurd weapon which doesn't need one. They just help sell the pain and make the entire effect more interesting.
  7. Blood. Blood is often times the last thing a player sees in a successful impact! I like to make it as beautiful as possible so the player is left with a sweet taste in their mouth when the attack is over. Obviously this isn't always appropriate, but when it is it should be utilized.
  8. Blood On The Ground. Unnecessary detail. It's just for fun.
  9. Attacker Ground Dust. Helps to sell the weight the attacker threw into the attack. If this look weird it's because the attack animation is too lightweight!
  10. Screen Shake. Self-explanatory. Easy easy easy way to sell the impact. When it's not overdone it should look and feel awesome.
  11. Awesome Sound Effect. This only fires when you push Z to look at the completed effect. Also self-explanatory. This one is super important because not having a sound effect looks and feels incomplete (which hurts the entire game experience) and having a bad one hurts the rest of the effect. So make sure you stick something solid in here!

Quick Freeze. This isn't actually implemented in this piece of content (but implemented in the game now); when the hit connects, freeze the animations of the attacking and defending character for a few frames. This is incredibly subtle but contributes to the impact in a very real way.

3Dec/133

Combat Analysis: Ryse Son Of Rome

RYSE IS SOLID, I PROMISE!

I felt like that was really important to say up front. And I'm being sincere. Ryse has been a HUGE question mark (at best) since its unfortunate showing at E3 2013. Many (fairly) assumed based on the footage that the game was a sensational watch 'em up that favored quick time events over real combat gameplay. While I can't say for sure whether or not the game was originally designed that way or whether it just appeared that way as a result of a unrepresentative showing, it's been 6 months since E3 and I'm happy to report that Ryse is not only NOT a watch 'em up, but it's a pretty solid combat experience all around! Let's jump on in.

Ryse: Son Of Roe

26Nov/1310

Enemy Study: Castlevania Dawn Of Sorrow

The next major step in Aztez is taking our enemies to the next level. We've had enemies for a long time now, and while they currently have distinct mechanical identities, they're missing a couple crucial features. Some of them I'm going to save for a future post, but the major feature they're missing now is the ability to control YOU, the player. A good friend and design mentor says it best. "Good action games set the pace for the player." What he's referring to the is a game's abilities to raise meaningful hurdles for the player that they must get themselves over in a fun and challenging way. So before I got in there and shook up my enemies in a major way, I wanted to do some studies. The first one has been of Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS.

Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow

17Sep/1310

Behind the Scenes: Aztez Development Environment

Who The?!

Hey everyone!  I'm Matthew, the technical half of Team Colorblind.  Most of my posts on the blog will be technical things--behind the scenes work on the game, including implementation details on how we're accomplishing Aztez's beat-em-up gameplay in Unity.  To start things off, I thought I'd do an overview of our entire setup:

The Office

Ben and I worked together when I ran Flashbang Studios (most of our output is still online at Blurst.com, if you're curious).  There are a lot of virtual indie teams out there--and more power to them for making it work!--but Ben and I work best in person.  We've tried the coffee shop thing, the work-from-home thing, and co-working spaces.  For us, paying to have our own private space is absolutely worth it.  Rent is pretty cheap in Phoenix; we pay under $400 for a private office with power/Internet included, a shared conference room, and a shared break room with fridge.  Our office neighbors are mostly 1-to-2 person shops like accountants, lawyers, etc.

We're pretty well tucked away from the world in here!  Security is a nice side benefit, too:  The outer doors are passcoded, and we hold the keys to our inner door.

We're actually in the same building that Flashbang used to be in, which is awesome (shout outs to Solo Cafe)!

IMGP9847

23Aug/133

Combat Analysis: Aces Wild

We need to talk about Aces Wild. It's an indie beat 'em up made by this dude Tyler Doak. He lives in Wyoming and is a programmer, artist, and designer all rolled up into one magnificent man. He very recently released Aces Wild on his personal website (for an unbeatable $10 USD) and I snatched it right up. After thorough scrutiny I have determined it is a game of tremendous importance.  In order to understand why, check out this timeline I made of the 4 ages of beat 'em ups. It describes the age's distinctions and also contains most of the notable entries of each age. It'll help you understand what I'm getting at when I say that Aces Wild's purity, elegance, and carbon integrity make it the very champion of second age beat 'em up sensibilities, and I would go so far as to say it marks the age's glorious end. Please read on.

15Aug/136

Big News Time; August 2013 Edition!

First of all, the big bad news of the moment is that they have just announced the lineup for the PAX Prime 2013 Indie Megabooth. For those of you not familiar with the Indie Megabooth, it's a MASSIVE collaborative booth space used by indies to get together, share costs, and show off their collective games to the PAX event crowd, i.e. the single biggest gamer convention in the world. It takes place in Seattle at the Washington Convention Center, and anyone that has anything to do with games will be there, along with 70,000 fans.

30Jul/135

Why Is It Fun?! XCOM Edition!

I have a new article format I want to insert forcefully yet pleasurably into you brain array! It's called "Why Is It Fun?!", and it's similar to my combat analysis articles, except it's not limited to beat 'em ups and it's not just about combat mechanics. It's about the spectrum of interactions and the response of enjoyment/addiction you feel when you experience it. It's going to be very interesting seeing what themes emerge! Let's start this party off with XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

28May/133

Combat Analysis: Metal Gear Rising

I've been waiting to do this one for a while! I played the demo for Metal Gear Rising BEFORE it was on Xbox Live by buying a copy of Zone Of The Enders HD on the 360. That's how BONED UP I was about it. Haha! Sure enough, Platinum Games has once again constructed their own distinct combat experience and then wrapped it up in a typically bananas Metal Gear plotline. But let's talk about this combat already, because it's actually pretty fascinating...for better or for worse.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

7May/138

Combat Analysis: Guacamelee

It's time for another official combat analysis, and this time it's an independently developed beat 'em up! It's called Guacamelee and it's available now on the PS3 and Vita. It's a Metroidvania style game where you regularly switch between the world of the living and the world of the dead, each having slightly different configurations of floors and walls. It also happens to be a combat heavy game with a big emphasis on mob crushing, and what they have done here is worth evaluating. Guacamelee was developed by Drinkbox Studios, a 12-15 person team from Toronto. As of this writing, I've completed the game.

6May/132

The Pleasure Of Simulated Violence

Stepped Pyramid

A critical part of the human brain wants to overcome obstacles. We all know this to be true, because when we successfully overcome something we experience a distinct sense of pleasure. That is our brain sending a message to the body that "Hey yeah that was fucking awesome you should do that more because it make you even more fucking awesome and more likely to LIVE". Our highly evolved neurological systems have come to understand for themselves what is good for you, and this reward process is an iconic example of this. Recall now what it felt like when society graduated you after all that work, or when you experienced your first major professional success, or when you narrowly avoided that terrible thing because of a smart decision you made. So what does this have to do with beat 'em ups?

30Apr/135

Three Hours? Why?

At GDC I did an interview for Unwinnable.com. Unwinnable is a great site, by the way! You should like them and read them.

Anyway, I shared the interview on Twitter and my esteemed thought colleague Hamish Todd asked me if I really only ever play beat 'em ups for 3 hours before never touching them again. Then he said that he'd love to know why that is. It's a good question and I'm going to answer it!

14Mar/135

Walking And Running Implementation

Stepped Pyramid

When analog sticks were born, the way walking and running was implemented in games changed. But before I go into that, it's important to understand the key differences between the joystick on a traditional arcade machine and the little analog stick on your console controller. When you push on an arcade stick, it's pressing down on one or two of four different little buttons that lie underneath the stick. Each button only has two states: pushed and non-pushed. So when you push the stick upward it's going to press on the northern button and when you push the stick up and left it's pressing on both the northern button and the western button. Now when you push on an analog stick, it's cross-referencing two different axises (a "left to right" axis and a "up to down" axis) and the controller is finding the precise location the stick is resting at, which could be anywhere inside that plastic circle your analog stick is poking out of. With all this extra possibility space, you can alter the way the player tells the character on the screen to move. What I'm gonna talk about here is the three major ways this can be done based on the implementation across a handful of different games. The first variant of this is the most straightforward.

25Feb/135

Making GIFs Out Of Footage

Inspired by the amazing work that Team Hitbox likes to post on their Tumblr account in animated GIF form, I underwent the process of figuring out how to do the same thing. I've experimented with this before but with terrible terrible results. GIFs are such a fun and easy way to share exciting motion, and now that I've figured it out I'd love to share it so you can do the same thing with your awesome game. First things first, you need to capture some footage. I use Fraps. It's a super useful and cheap program that will capture a window and dump a near lossless video in the directory of your choice. There are many options for video capture and you should use whatever you're comfortable with. But Fraps is my preference and always has been. For me, I set up a scene right in Unity and tell Fraps to capture right out of the viewport.