Zeno Clash 2 shows power of cultural diversity, Chilean government joins fight to support local devs
With a style resembling a Dr. Seuss world turned post-apocalyptic, Zeno Clash 2 is completely alien. Ordinarily you can look at a work closely and understand something about its influences, but the world of Zeno Clash feels entirely foreign and unique.
It's no shock to discover that Zeno Clash 2 comes from a place that is, for most gamers, completely foreign. The game's developer hails from Santiago, Chile and, while most are probably unfamiliar with this thin slice of the Andes mountains, that might all change in the next five years.
Much as Poland and Ukraine – with games like The Witcher 2 and Metro 2033 – heralded the arrival of Eastern Europe onto the international gaming scene, South America may be about to have its day with countries like Colombia and Chile leading the charge.
In the Andes
Gamers first started paying attention to Chile's gaming scene back in 2009 with the release of the original Zeno Clash, but that isn't where it began, and it wont end with Zeno Clash 2 in 2013. In recent years, Chile has seen a rise in indie developers and small companies thanks to hefty support from their government.
It's no small feat, either when considering their competition in the region. Despite its relatively small population and economy, Chile has managed to keep up with the juggernauts like Brazil, which boasts the world's seventh largest economy and a population ten times larger than Chile.
Regardless of its small stature, Chile has released some of the biggest games ever to come from South America including Zeno Clash, Rock of Ages, and Zeno Clash 2 which all came from Santiago's premier developer, ACE Team.
ACE Team isn't the only developer in Santiago though. Wanako Games came first in 2002 and was the company that pioneered the local scene with Xbox Live Arcade titles like Assault Heroes 1&2 and of course the unforgettable Doritos Crash Course.
“Wanako showed the Chileans that Chile could make that kind of video game too,” said Daniel Winkler, vice president of the Chilean Video Games Association. “Then, ACE Team came to prove that you don’t need a huge investment to start a video game company and make games that can win awards.”
The scene is still evolving though, and the Chileans are moving forward with the goal of becoming the preeminent place to create games in South America.
“The last important catalyst was in 2010: the formation of 'Video Games Chile',” said Winkler. “All the companies started to share experiences and, as a whole, we started to push the industry forward. Video Games Chile initiated conversations with the government offices, seeking their help. Now we have a growing industry in Chile that is full of hope and hungry for making games that can shine around the world.”
Wind in the sails
The pleas for assistance from the government were quite successful, and Chilean president Sebastián Piñera declared 2013 the “Year of Innovation” which ushered in 100 social initiatives with a budget of $1 billion designed to help small creative companies flourish.
For the video game industry this mostly manifested itself in the creation of ContactChile, an organization that gives advice and market research to small companies with the potential to distribute their games to a global audience (which is quite difficult unless you know how to navigate international law and business regulations.) They provide workshops and lectures as well as the ability to show local games at international trade shows and assistance in acquiring grant funding.
Developers in nearby countries like Brazil have told me that the government oppressively taxes even small game companies, and fails to understand the worth of video games as an economic export or artistic creation. Certainly there are plenty of Brazilian indie developers making great games but, while the Brazilians are rowing against the current, Chileans are sailing with the wind.
“In 2010, ProChile prioritized the game development industry as a new national export supply
based on market research that showed this industry had a high potential for internationalization,” said Francisco Correa, Trade Director of ProChile, a Chilean government agency tasked with positioning Chile as a worldwide distributor of creativity and talent.
The above quote is horribly dry and boring, but I used it to illustrate a point. Chilean creatives have some incredibly smart business people working on their behalf as industry advocates.
What he means in non-business-speak is that the government thinks that video games are a valuable export and that they'll be made all over the world in the future, not just in San Francisco, Tokyo, and London, along with a few other game industry hub cities.They're betting that Chile has a chance to get a slice of the pie.
Speaking my language
“Soon we’ll be releasing great AA games and also great family/party games,” said Winkler of the Chilean Video Games Association. “And I dare to say that, just behind that corner, Chilean games will be competing with renowned AAA games.”
Aside from all the business ramifications, the true benefit here is that a lot of great people are going to get a chance to create some great games. It's video gamers who benefit the most from this, not the Chilean government. With any luck, Zeno Clash 2 will be nothing more than a prelude to a wave of brave and unique games that expand the cultural boundaries of the video game community.
As video game development continues to expand around the world, we'll see more and more games with new themes, new gameplay, and new perspectives. The more games we get from distinct cultures the more we'll understand about how our own culture shapes our games. Different influences leads to different design and game play ideas.
“I think we might see some very original concepts born, because Latin American culture is very different from other cultures,” said Carlos Bordeu, co-founder of ACE Team. “Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages are both drastically different games that came from the same studio, and we don't intend on making 'more of the same'. Not even more of the same of what we've already done.
“We will continue to make completely new experiences. Instead of staying in a specific style, maybe we'll see a greater variety of titles [from South America] that aren't so easily pinpointed to an obvious origin.” That said, Bordeu seems to think there's something a little unique and special about his country.
“I do believe that here in Chile we have very talented and creative people and I think that is what makes the difference and also what makes us stand out in the rest of the region. We're very proud of our work on both Zeno Clash 1 and 2, and we don't believe that success has to come by following market trends or doing what 'sells'.
“I cannot really say that our country is financially more successful than others in the region…we're maybe just 'louder' because everyone turns their head when we show our weird stuff.”