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Interview with Carlos Bordeu from ACE Team

Interview with Carlos Bordeu, lead designer and producer at the ACE Team, responsible for Rock of Ages, The Deadly Tower of Monsters, Zeno Clash and Abyss Odyssey. This interview serves as an appendix for "Game Development in Latin America"

The Ace Team winning a local Game of the Year Award. Carlos Bordeu can be seen wearing a shirt with the "C" of the logo next to the other founders. [Source]

 

Q: Would you please tell me a little about your position and ACE Team?

A: I’m one of the founders of ACE Team from when the company was only three brothers making mods (modifications of video games). As a matter of fact the name “ACE” comes from the initial of the names Andres, Carlos and Edmundo, the three brothers (I’m the C in the middle). I’m one of the founders of the company, but currently I work in what is principally production and design, though I also work a lot with the art part.

 

Q: So the three founders are brothers?

A: The company was founded with three brothers. Currently we are four partners, in charge company. But yeah, originally we were three brothers dedicated to making mods as a hobby.

 

Q: Very interesting. What inspired you and the other founders to pursue game development?

A: Making mods was what inspired us. Really, talking about what inspired me to make games is like going back to my childhood. We started playing when we were kids, but unlike other kids we had the curiosity of how games were made. I remember when we had a Mac Plus in its time[1] (a computer of 512×342 pixels [screen] and sound) and a program called ResEdit that allowed you to see the resources existing inside a program. With that we examined games. Some had their resources more exposed like the animations, certain files and icons, and we edited that. It was a hobby, we started experimenting until we reached a point where the work became more… complete. Many years later, we used the available tools to modify what would be the classical Doom and make our own game modifications.

The inspiration comes from there -- from those years in which we were fascinated with the industry. We dedicated ourselves to make our own game modifications, and the more we advanced, the more we came closer to almost making our own game that would feel less like a mod of an already existing game and more like a full game. Batman Doom was the first “game”/mod we published. It’s a total modification (a total conversion as they were known) of Doom 2 in which we [had] changed all the levels by parts of Gotham, [we had replaced] all the enemies by characters of the Batman comic, we had bosses, we had everything.

 

Q: What was your background before getting into game development?

A: Umm the thing is that [since] ACE Team started as a group of modders, we have been on development since we were kids; first non-professionally and later we took the jump to a more professional work with the first Zeno Clash. Going back from that doesn’t make much sense, since it [game development] has been always part of my life. Ever since I had the capacity to change something in a computer we started doing modifications. Maybe not officially as ACE Team, but even in the first mods we had our “ACE” brand.

 

Q: What are some of the obstacles that you and the team encountered (economic, cultural, etc.) when first starting ACE Team?

A: I think the main obstacle, the same first one many face when operating as a company, is financing. You go to a company to talk them into backing up a project (in this case Zeno Clash since everything before it was us working on it in our free time). When you move from hobby to “real life” you need an economic backrest, and that to us was hard in the sense that we didn’t count with any [economic backrest] beyond personal savings and family support; and with those [resources] we managed to extend the development of Zeno Clash to two years, looking for the best way to use the funds we had (since some people did not require it or were unsalaried and compensated in the future). Back then we were limited in budget.

Culturally, or better said strategically, the distance is also a relevant problem when the time comes to show your work to thirds [consumers]. Being in Chile we are very far away from what is the “center of game development”, which is why it became a relevant achievement being able to go there, to be in the Independent Game Festival. We don’t have the closeness that other independent studios have with the medium, which made it more difficult for us.

 

The Chilean booth at the GDC 2016 [Source]

 

Q: In my experience there is a lot of misconception in Latin America to how serious game development is as a job. Did you face any similar obstacles?

A: Well, we were pioneers so obviously no one quite believed in what we were doing, but on the other hand we didn’t need anyone to believe in us apart from ourselves. Maybe a little the support from family on a more personal level -- they see that one is jumping into a career with a complicated future with no evident background and that can be complicated on a personal level.

On a more professional level, in general, when you present your first project it’s you against the entire world, and I think a small new studio formed of unknown people in the United States [also] has everything in the way [for them] to prove they are good -- and that could happen in any part of the world. The situation is so competitive, that I think it is irrelevant where in the world you are. You have to demonstrate you are better than others -- that you have something new and innovative, and in that sense it’s a more globalized competition.

 

Q: How did you and your team overcome these obstacles?

A: I think some of these obstacles have real influence on one’s projects. Some have less of an impact, you cannot believe that you won’t overcome some of these obstacles, because [else] they will weigh on you forever.

To this day we feel that to take our games to international fairs is hard. We have talked a lot about going to PAX but simply because of a strategic matter or distance we haven't been able to assist. Obviously if I was in the US I think we would have taken the whole team.

Being close to people from the industry [is another obstacle]… because I believe the indie industry, at least when we started, I don’t know nowadays since they are so many developers, was more of a club of known people: Jonathan Blow knows this guy and this other guy and between them they are friends, etc. All of these things generate a number of benefits when it comes to publicly showing up and talking about your game. We never had influences apart from getting there and talking to people. Our products have become known because people hear about them or they have made themselves worth it, not because we have a personal relationship with people from the medium. Truth be told we have a very distant relationship with people.

Some obstacles one simply can’t overcome, and to get over others it means more to make your product/game/however-you-want-to-call-it pass over these “fences” by itself. Because it has to make itself worthy and get people’s attention and make people say “This studio is good because of what they produce”.

 

Q: What do you think is the major factor behind your breakthrough into the international game market?

A: Definitely the central focus of our Studio, for what it’s known the most, is the originality of the projects we have made. I believe we have dared to make games that are very distinctive in the genres we have worked on and I think that’s very valuable.

We have the capacity to make art that is very original. In art and design we have always searched for sources of inspiration distant from the industry, and that made us have a lot of success with our first two games (Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages), but that’s something that we have also reflected in other projects like in Abyss Odyssey. Even Deadly Tower Of Monsters which is perhaps the most “normal” game we have made has been received by the press as a game that is very unconventional.

 


Screenshot of Zeno Clash [Source]

 

Q: What do you think is the near future of the industry in Latin America?

A: The industry in Latin America...at least I can tell you what happens here in Chile and something I have heard too. Honestly, concerning game companies in Chile, [and] from what I’ve heard, the most successful companies in Latin America are in the mobile industry.

Now, I have my… opinions that maybe that industry is not that easy. It’s an industry that emerged very fast and that offers a lot of market opportunities for a lot of companies, but at least here in ACE we have never wanted or tried to get into it. It’s hard to know if maybe that’s a sustainable future in the long-term for all the many companies that are emerging in the region or if it is something interim, because the mobile industry has become increasingly difficult and it has shown that there is increasingly less space for it to work out well. Instead the success has been left in the hands of very few. In that sense I don’t know if the mobile industry is a good future for the industry in Latin America.

On the other hand the more traditional industry has also been very competitive so I think instead of betting it all on markets, platforms or devices (maybe the VR is the future, that I don’t know), one should focus the effort into something that is unique even if it is for a niche. Know to focus on saying “We are going to make something new in this market and it needs to stand out”.

I don’t think there is a clear future in the industry, actually I think we are going through a period full of unknowns.

 

Q: What do the ACE Team have planned for the future?

A: We are very stubborn in that sense -- as stubborn as a mule. The mobile industry showed up, we didn’t want to [get into it]; sites about getting into the industry have been writing and writing about the Oculus Rift, the VR, this and that and we have no interest in it.

It’s not like we can’t find any value in those innovative platforms but I believe we are a very traditional company in the way of what interests us. We are mostly interested in the traditional gaming industry in the sense of games that one plays in a PC or in a console with a controller. We want to innovate more in the content and don’t see the future of the company necessarily being a new platform or new sectors.

I can’t say that it will always be that way, but at least for the moment we are trying to “paddle” in that direction, and we will probably try to keep making games for the “Core” market, which is PC (and games for consoles too), where we have had more success. [We will keep] focusing on that and making the content innovative and not thinking to maybe jump on a platform, that is perhaps new and innovative and may not be the way to go. We are much more conservative in that aspect.

 

Q: Are you working on a game right now?

A: Well we are finishing the final stretch for the development of Rock of Ages 2 but there are other projects that we haven’t announced, are in development or in initial stages of evaluation, so yeah we have been working on other projects.

 

Q: Just to confirm before I write this, are there only 4 people in the studio?

A: No, no, there’s a lot more. We are four main associates but the studio has approximately twelve people.

 

Q: That’s everything I got. Thank you very much for your time sir.

A: Don’t worry. I’m always happy to help who I can. We always receive a lot of people who try to initiate themselves in the industry, for us it’s always a pleasure to help those people. Good luck on your education and I hope this helps you with your research.

 

Q: Definitely. I will send you a copy of the paper once it’s complete if you want.

A: Sure! Good luck with everything!

 

 

This interview was translated from Spanish as directly as possible to reflect the idiosyncrasy of the country where the interviewee is from.


[1] “its time” is an Spanish expression. It means something like “back when it was still around”.

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