Ziggurat is one of those games that can easily go unnoticed on your radar, but I assure you, if you are a fan of Roguelikes and frantic action, you need this game. It’s one of those games that keeps throwing content at you each time you play.
I had no idea the game was coming to PS4, I had already played it on Steam for around 60 hours, I was browsing the PSN store and suddenly there it was, one of the biggest surprises of 2014 for me, I immediately when to contact them. Milkestone Studios, is the creator’s of such a marvelous game, I had the opportunity to ask them some questions, here’s how it went:
How did you guys came to be as a studio? I know you have made several games for xbox live game in the past, how did that came to happen?
Alex and I started collaborating on small game projects during college, but we never took it too seriously. After finishing our studies we began working at the same company. The job was related to videogame technology but they weren’t games themselves.
When Microsoft announced the “Xbox LIVE Indie Games” platform, where it was really easy to publish a game by yourself, we decided to start making games on our spare time. After the release of some tiny games, we had enough cash to start a new company, and so we did!
I get a hexxen vibe everytime I play ZIggurat, did you draw some inspiration from it, or was it from something else?
I’m more of a Heretic fan, but Hexen is great also (although a bit confusing when I played as a kid). The point was to use the fantasy setting again on a first person shooter, given that nowadays mostly modern or sci-fi settings are used. We’re also big fans of the twin-stick shooter Crimsonland, and Ziggurat levelling up system works in a similar way, although with many more possible choices.
After laying out the core gameplay we released the game on Steam Early Access. There we gathered a lot of player feedback that helped us make the game much more enjoyable and varied. We were kind of scared because most Early Access games are known for never being finished, but we had clear that that was not our case. I’m glad it turned out fine and all those early adopters helped us improve Ziggurat drastically, really nice people!
First and foremost: having an idea is important, but actually developing and polishing it is just as important. Making very small games with different genres helped us measure how much work we could handle, and what were our strong points.
If you want to be able to plan the development of a game, you need some data beforehand, and developing smaller projects was the better choice for that. It’s just a matter of taking small steps, learning from your mistakes and working hard to make the next project as good as you can.
Roguelike/roguelite games have two crucial points: the core gameplay and the game content. The core gameplay needs to be fun right away, even with very little content to support it. So the first task is to build a solid foundation, and fine tune it.
The other thing is something we didn’t expect to be so important: you usually think that by using randomized elements you won’t need to create that many art assets, but that’s not the case at all.
Actually, most players expect roguelike games to be extremely random and surprising on each run, and the only way to achieve that is to add a lot of content and little details here and there. Juan, our environment artist, did an incredible job by creating an enormous amount of decorations and structures in a very small amount of time.
It’s somehow sad that most people won’t see every piece of content, but for the most part, every player always finds something that makes him smile. I love to add those little touches and I always spent my spare time adding more. Things like being able to blow off the candles, the destructible elements in some areas or the more obscure easter eggs.
When Santi, our character artist and animator, started working on the design of the monsters, he drew an evil mandrake. I looked at his sketch and asked him if it was carrot. He usually likes to draw characters in a bright and colorful style, so he painted the monster just like a carrot.
They were supposed to be placeholders but we ended up liking them a lot so they stayed in the final game. People seem to like them pretty much (they are kind of cute, aren’t they?) so it proved a good choice in the end.
How viable was to develop your game using Unity for PS4, were there any obstacles in bringing the game you had in mind to fruition?
Publishing games on the Xbox LIVE Indie Games store actually gave us a lot of experience on handling console releases, so the technical part or porting the game was not that hard. We already had gamepad support on the original Steam release and the game was ready to be played on a big TV.
We had a lot more trouble with the paperwork: getting approved by the age rating boards, handling the release of the game in multiple regions, and so on. Of course we suffered some technical issues with Unity and the PS4, but they weren’t that bad and the game ran fine since the first week of porting.
My personal favourites are the Vampire, because it forces you to play extremely quicly), and the Bard, which requires you to evade the monsters and cast your magic from afar. But Ziggurat is a game about changing your play style and dealing with impossible odds the best way you can handle, so we try to pick a different character on every playthrough.