Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality
19Apr/142

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.

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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

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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,

******

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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 2 Comments
7Sep/12Off

On Steam Greenlight

Steam Greenlight recently launched! What a great idea from a great company who made a great service! But it hit a strange snag in its first couple days and the response made the independent game developer community blow up. The fact that they're freaking out about this right now is making me a little bit sick so I had to puke up my two cents before I could get back to work making games. But first, some context:

Read Me, Game Industry Layman!

Steam is an online store for PC games. It was created and is run by a company in Bellevue, Washington called Valve, who created the service years ago to digitally distribute their own games. When that was massively successful, they opened it up to the rest of the AAA industry. When that was massively successful, they opened it up to the indies. When that was massively successful, they decided it was too difficult (even for their highly competent and dedicated staff) to filter through all of the games that were submitted every day for placement on the service. Greenlight was their solution.

Filed under: Personal Continue reading
22Feb/126

On Pride And Heritage

Stepped Pyramid

As it turns out, I am 50% Mexican and 50%...random European smattering. I don't feel at all connected to my European ancestry and you will never hear me talking about it. In general, I find everything European pretty boring and thinking about that half of my genetic code is just not exciting. Sorry, Mom! I do feel a strange connection to the Mexican side of me, though. It's strange because the Ruiz family (very large extended family of Mexican American Catholics) don't exactly carry around their Mexican ancestry on their sleeve. Despite being fluent Spanish speakers, I never even hear the previous generation speak Spanish unless talking with THEIR elders, and apart from the culinary and holiday traditions, the Ruiz family I am familiar with doesn't really have their heritage on display. 

Filed under: Personal Continue reading
3Feb/124

Why I’m Doing This

Stepped Pyramid

I recently got into a super interesting conversation with the guy that wrote this article on the game God Hand (an entirely remarkable game experience; his write-up is fascinating and worthy of your attention). He's a brazen and intelligent mandude (we need more of these) who at some point in our very engaging conversation asked me an important question. "Why do you do this? Why design and criticize beat 'em ups?"  I realized that before I could answer him I had to do a little digging and this is what I brought back up with me from the hot, wet mind-earth.