GOG Interview: Ziggurat Interactive talks about Slave Zero X – their much anticipated 2.5D character action game!

A stylish 2.5D character action game set in the biopunk world of Slave Zero (1999) – Slave Zero X, as well as its Digital Deluxe Edition are currently available to pre-order on GOG!
Moreover, you can try out the game right now through its DEMO!
To ease our wait for the release, we’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Alex Lotz, Producer for Slave Zero X at Ziggurat Interactive. He told us about the project, how did it come to life, what the development process looked like, and more!
Hope you enjoy the read!
Could you tell us more about the origins of Ziggurat Interactive and Poppy Works as companies?
Ziggurat Interactive was launched in late 2019 to preserve and expand the legacy of video games. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Ziggurat creates and celebrates games — expanding the audience for both retro and new titles by making them accessible to all types of players across multiple platforms.
Poppy Works is a game developer focused on helping other studios ensure their games come out on time and run smoothly on new platforms. Recently, Poppy Works has grown to make new games.
How did the Slave Zero X collaboration first come to life?
After the successful release of Devil Engine, Tristan Chapman, Lead Game Designer, was using his free time to develop a prototype for a sprite-based 2D action game set in a Quake-style 3D world. He wanted the player to be able to express their own fighting style with the intricate mechanics and combos of characters in the 2D anime fighting games he loves but in a single-player campaign styled after arcade brawlers and character action games like Devil May Cry.
Tristan’s collaborator at Poppy Works, Wolfgang Wozniak, Producer, came to him one day with a list of IPs: the catalog of Ziggurat Interactive. Ziggurat had asked Wolf to propose ideas for creating new releases using titles from their catalog. One name on the list caught Tristan’s attention above all the others: Slave Zero. The towering bio-engineered monster bosses in the original game reminded Wolf of the art of Francine Bridge. Francine, Art Director, enthusiastically agreed to be the game’s art director. When Poppy Works reached back out to Ziggurat with their proposal to make a “spiritual prequel” to Slave Zero with the combination of Tristan’s gameplay and Francine’s art, it was a perfect fit with Ziggurat’s mission to bring new gaming experiences to players in a way that celebrates, honors, and expands upon the legacy of their original incarnations. The Slave Zero X project was born.
How much access did Poppy Works get to original development materials/staff to guide the spiritual prequel?
Ziggurat and Poppy Works team members scoured the Internet for any and all materials we could find on the original game, its development, and its world. We realized that much of the original game’s concept art takes heavy inspiration from Japanese-style animation and comics of the era, but that this direction was not translated into in-game assets or marketing materials for Slave Zero itself. Poppy Works expanded on that original vision with their own. Some of the original Slave Zero development team were also kind enough to communicate with the Slave Zero X development team on Twitter and LinkedIn to help ensure the new game connects as well as possible with the original.
How does the hack-n-slash nature of Slave Zero X fit into the world of Slave Zero?
It’s stated in the original Slave Zero’s story crawl that a spiritual brotherhood of resistance warriors known as The Guardians came into possession of the Slave Zero bio-mech unit just before the start of the original game's events. Up until then, The Guardians must have acted as a resistance faction without this powerful tool. The idea that other bioweaponry – at a more human scale and befitting melee combat (as in the hack-and-slash gameplay of Slave Zero X) – could have existed in this world and been used by the guardians before their capture of the Zero Unit came from the imagination of Francine Bridge and Miles Luna, Lead Writer, as they expanded on the fiction of the Slave Zero world.
What has the journey been like seeing Slave Zero X come to life during the development cycle?
As a producer on this game, I knew that when I played the prototype Tristan made, there was the potential for something extraordinary – an arcade beat 'em up that looked and played differently from any I had ever seen. Still, for months into development, we were playing with stick figures on unlit blocky gray box environments, so it wasn’t always easy for everyone who saw it to imagine what it would become from there. As more and more layers of polish came online – and especially the more fully rendered character sprites for Shou and enemies – the world and story felt much more tangible, and the combat mechanics felt even better than they did in the prototypes. It’s been a joy to see it come to life, and I’m so excited for more people to experience the full game when it releases.
What have been some of the challenges in creating a game that is visually reminiscent of the late 90s while also having more contemporary mechanics?
Some who may not know the process of creating the sprites, animations, or models in a game like this might think it’s easy or quick because of the relatively low fidelity. While it doesn’t require the same type of work as modeling and animating more modern AAA assets and models, I can assure you that it was still a painstaking (and sometimes painful) process to get the look and feel that was intended and envisioned by the development team. We think all that time and effort has certainly paid off in creating a visually appealing experience with mechanics that fighting game and character-action game veterans will find very familiar while also offering many new ideas of its own.
What has been your favorite part of this project thus far? And what are you excited for players to see/experience?
What has been most exciting for me as a producer on this project has been to see so many creative ideas come to life from the many members of the Poppy Works team and especially to see the story and world fully take shape. The team sometimes even surprised themselves with what came out of them. For instance, Poppy Works mostly brought Francine onto the project to give it a visual identity and flair, but she ended up going above and beyond that by building out the world and fiction to a much greater degree than was expected of her role. There was amazing chemistry and internal inspiration to the Poppy Works team as they inspired each other to keep improving on their vision for the gameplay and world, and even contributors not there from the beginning – or short-term collaborators like voice actors – seemed to pick up on the creative inspiration and momentum of the team. It was fun to be part of it and inspiring to see it all come together.
Do you have any advice for players new to the demo? Or tricks to elevate their play?
Check out this video, where I give some tips you might find useful in beating the demo’s (rather difficult) final boss! Also, keep an eye on your Fatal Sync meter. It is your friend.
We’d like to thank Alex and Ziggurat for this interview. It made us anticipate Slave Zero X even more! Now, we highly suggest checking out its DEMO and pre-ordering the game. Enjoy!