Claim a Key for the Slave Zero and Read Our Interview with Artist Francine Bridge and Writer Miles Luna

The future of the planet may lie with a fusion of technology and biology, and mechs may one day roam our mega-cities. If you want to explore themes like this and explore a third-person shooter from the late 90’s, you are in luck! You can embrace the past by grabbing a key for Slave Zero, which we are giving out as part of the IGN Plus promotion for the prequel; Slave Zero X.

IGN Plus Monthly Game: Slave Zero

The upcoming Slave Zero X is a prequel to the Sega Dreamcast and PC game, Slave Zero, which originally came out in 1999. While the original had the player flying through cities in full 3D, third-person action, the prequel occupies a 2D left-to-right plane with 3D backgrounds bending left and right. The original Slave Zero had the player occupying a massive mech roughly 10 stories tall.

Slave Zero X takes place decades before the events of the original, but developer Poppy Works opted to go for a completely different genre. Slave Zero X is a sidescrolling beat ’em up focused on combos that juggle enemies until they are just chunks. The brutal futuristic, trans-humanist biopunk game draws inspiration from Guilty Gear (Justice much?), Strider, and Devil May Cry, and if that doesn’t get you excited, perhaps my recommendation will. There is a free demo available now on Steam, and I had a blast playing through it, all the way up to S-ranking the boss fight that caps it off.

Slave Zero X Developer Interview – Francine Bridge (Art Director) & Miles Luna (Writer)

Francine Bridge is an excellent artist who draws very evocative pieces from all kinds of franchises, as well as original pieces (you can check out her fantastic art here on ArtStation). She did much of the worldbuilding for Slave Zero X in addition to creating art for it, pulling inspiration from a wide variety of sources (including Guilty Gear’s ‘Justice’ for the main character).

Miles Luna has a history in machinima and animation, working at Rooster Teeth on major shows like Red VS Blue, RWBY, and more. He co-created and played David in Camp Camp and now works in the games industry as a writer, creating at Bad Robot Games and writing the story and dialogue for Slave Zero X.

I hope you enjoy the games, and this excerpt from our interview. Cheers!

Francine Bridge: My name is Francine Bridge. I’m also known online as a WitnessTheAbsurd. That’s probably where most people might know me from, if anyone knows me. I didn’t have an enormous profile before the game happened. But right now people probably best know me as the art director of Slave Zero X. I work as a freelance illustrator, concept artist, character designer, etc. I’ve published a couple of art books. I’ve worked on a couple of odd little things. I generally do work for freelance clients, Slave Zero X was one of my first large, long term projects like this, where I was able to be in a senior role and oversee development from beginning to end. And that was really gratifying. I like to summarize my entire career as ‘satisfying my desire and my lifelong dream to paint monsters for money.’ So that’s kind of me.

Miles Luna: That’s amazing. That’s so hard to follow. My name is Miles Luna. Most people probably know me from my years working at RoosterTeeth. I worked on shows like Red VS Blue… was kind of where I got my start. And then worked with my friends Kerry and Monty on a show called Rwby, which is spelled in a very silly way… as well as other shows, like Camp Camp and things. I also do voice acting, directing, and then yeah, primarily writing. And then in 2020, I made the decision to leave that company. Really interesting time to make that choice, by the way. And I had always had a fascination and an adoration for video games. And I had a chance to work with RoosterTeeth’s game studio for a little bit and that really continued to pique that curiosity. This is too long of an answer. [laughs] Now I work in the games industry. I’ve done some indies such as Slave Zero X and Kill It With Fire 2.

Brian Barnett: Oh, the spider game!

Miles: Yeah, Casey Donnellan is a good friend of mine. I’ve also worked with Gearbox and I am currently a writer at BadRobot games.

Brian: What’s one thing about game development, publishing, or whatever, that you wish players knew?

Miles: Oh, wow, that’s such a good question. Because the answer is so so SO much. Man… There’s too much to say there, so I’ll try and just keep it confined to the narrative point of view. Narrative is so much more than dialogue. It’s so much more than the things characters say to one another. It is working with the design team and asking, ‘how can we tell stories or how can we convey emotions through gameplay… through feel?’ Working with level designers on ‘how can we create moments of claustrophobia or unease.’ Sometimes intensity is throwing a lot of enemies at a player at one time. Sometimes it’s getting rid of all the enemies and forcing the player to ask the question, ‘Wait, what’s going on here? This isn’t normal.’ I think, like Francine said, everybody touches everything in video games. It is constant, constant collaboration. Making sure that something that you’re working on isn’t going to break somebody else’s thing, that they’re working on. Because both of these things are equally important to the success of the game. So I guess that’d be one thing I wish people understood is… it’s not just [combat] barks, or dialogue, or characters. It’s everything. Everything touches everything.

Francine: I think if there was any one thing that I would want people to know, especially since this was my first time being in development from beginning to end… I think it’s easy for someone to say, ‘I wish people understood just how much work is involved in even the simplest stuff.’ That feels like the obvious one. Implementing something that seems incredibly intuitive and basic, like a lift/elevator goes up and down, or whatever… depending on what the engine you’re using, and how we’re building this, it can actually prove to be immensely difficult. And then you have to answer all these other questions, and so forth.

Imagine a stage with a beautiful colored painting, and characters that mechanically move in front of it. Then behind the stage, there isn’t just like an engine that’s moving the characters, there’s an engine that’s like several miles long in that direction, and a million other engines are working on that one. And it’s the most incredibly complicated machinery to show something that seems like it should be very simple and intuitive. I think the more people are capable of appreciating that… that doesn’t mean that people should excuse any given flaw that they find in a game, or something that they find dissatisfying… the audience has to be capable of critiquing and examining something, but I think it would do the current dialogue around game critique a great deal of service, if people were capable of understanding or made a greater attempt to understand the enormous effort that’s involved in stuff that seems really simple and intuitive.

That’s the obvious one. The slightly less obvious one is… people often find cut content and stuff like that after the fact. They come across something like ‘oh, there’s this whole other boss that we found in the files!’ FromSoftware often has this, where there’s this dissection of stuff. People don’t often understand how much of a game exists beforehand, and then gets whittled down to this really pure, essential core. You have to cut away so much chaff. You have to get something that’s efficient, you have to get something that satisfies your technical goals, your creative goals, your narrative goals… losing something is not always bad. Sometimes you lose whole chunks of stuff that you would have loved to have in there. But it serves the game and it makes it better. I think a shorter, more efficient, higher quality game really trumps something that is overflowing to the seams with every single idea, not implemented as well. I don’t know… these both seem like very obvious things to say that I wish people knew about game development. But I loved working on the game. I loved working with the team. I loved the camaraderie that we had. I love the common jokes and memories and working in games is something that’s really special. And I don’t think there’s anything that’s quite like it.

Miles: If there are any readers out there that want a peek at what the machinery behind that ‘beautiful painting’ Francine described is like, just from a graphical level; there’s a wonderful 16-minute video on YouTube called ‘The Strange Graphics Of Lethal Company’ by Acerola. Watch it on a lunch break, and it will break down just how complex just making the pictures on the screen is, for games. I also think it’s a genuinely fascinating video, and he’s a great YouTuber.

Brian: You two occupied two major roles in development. Why make Slave Zero X? And not only ‘what inspired the team to make this game’ but why make it a prequel to a game that came out on PC in 1999?

Francine: The main answer to ‘why Slave Zero X’ is because we were able to pitch it and it was actually picked up by Ziggurat, but I’d say the reason that Slave Zero attracted us, and I talked about this before in another interview, so I’m sorry if I’m running over familiar territory here, but Slave Zero was part of this first wave of response in the West to the first huge influx of Japanese pop culture, stuff like anime OVA’s by Kawajiri Yoshiaki, and the arrival of Akira and Eva and all these other things that came over and were suddenly like… I kind of think of it as an algal bloom, when you dump enormous amount of nutrients and stuff into the ocean, and suddenly, organisms proliferate at a massive rate. Everyone wanted to respond. And there was this huge outpouring of creative fervor designed to echo and build on and represent the influence that they were feeling from Japanese pop culture at the time… the first anime boom and stuff like that.

I think for a lot of us in development, we grew up either seeing the very tail end of that first explosion, or we grew up watching anime and stuff ourselves. So it’s been 20 years of time between those two things. And working on Slave Zero X was an opportunity to echo that same sort of response, to share what has been special to us about growing up being able to see all these weird old super bloody 90s OVAs, and this particular flavor of really grimy, fascinating, weird, sometimes surreal cyberpunk that you get out of Japanese media, tokusatsu, all that stuff.

It was an opportunity for us to extend that conversation. To say ‘hey, 20 years on, here’s another part of that ongoing conversation between Western creators and Japanese creators.’ We’re doing the same kind of things, we’re drawing from the same influences, but we’re adding more stuff that has come over, even more niche influences. I had an opportunity to talk recently with Ken Capelli, who was the art director on the original Slave Zero. And I was really fascinated to learn that both of us were directly inspired by a garage kit, a specific garage kit, a model they made by a designer from Japan named Yasushi Nirasawa. There’s a particular kit he made, ‘Phancure’ (short for Phantom Core)… this huge, hulking, bio-mutant type of whatever with this massive upper torso and long arms with talons on the end. And you can see the ghost of Slave Zero (the original design) in there. And I spent ages thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if that inspired this.’

Then I had the opportunity to talk to Ken, and he started independently saying, ‘and you know, we were really inspired by this one kit called Phancure made by the designer…’ and both of us said at the same time; ‘Yasushi Nirasawa!’ And we were laughing and talking, and I was thinking, ‘This is a big part of what it’s about.’ It feels like we’re almost able to connect with that original moment. Because so much of what is special about that moment that raw, sudden interaction that ‘we’ve never seen something like this before…’ being able to respond to it and carry that enthusiasm forth. This is a very long, rambling, kind of abstract answer, I guess. But I think Slave Zero X is an outpouring of enthusiasm for the same kind of things that created Slave Zero. And it makes a great point for us to jump off and explore that particular kind of childlike wonder, seeing stuff like Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust…

Brian: I literally almost mentioned Vampire Hunter D, or Hellsing, or something like that, yeah.

Francine: Yeah! Later stuff that they wouldn’t have seen, but which I grew up with that’s from the same stable, like Takeshi Koyike made the movie Red Line.

Miles: One of the best, one of the BEST!

Brian: I’ve gotta get a running list of all this stuff I gotta check out.

Francine: That and so many other different things… manga and anime… Japanese artists have had a colossal influence on me. They weren’t the only ones who went into it. There was stuff there from other artists like Wayne Barlow, and even like a little bit of Mike Mignola, and stuff like that. But I think for us, it was, ‘hey, remember how cool it was when you saw EVA for the first time when you were a kid? And how brain-melting this experience was?’ It was about recapturing that moment, in part.

Miles: By the time I came on board, Francine and the team… they’d already had a lot of these conversations. And it was very apparent in the pitch that was made to me… I was given kind of a briefing of what the story was kind of going to be like, what the gameplay was going to be like, as well as some in-progress clips of the game in action, as well as a bunch of stills and concept art. Selfishly, I came on board this game because it looked tasty, man. It was this hyper-violent, melodramatic revenge tale in a biopunk setting. These are just words that got me so excited as someone who’s done a lot of comedy and young adult action/comedy, but who has like a love for things like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. And when I was told, ‘Hey, that’s a huge influence for this game,’ as well as Vampire Hunter D, Kamen Rider, all of this stuff… Things that I really, really enjoy and admire, and the opportunity to be a part of something like that was… I couldn’t say no. I saw what this game looked like, and it was like nothing I’d ever really seen before. And I was hooked. I just I couldn’t refuse after I saw it and heard about it. I was just excited to get in there and play.

Brian: Konami is not doing anything with Raiden right now. So Slave Zero X looks like ‘we have Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance at home,’ but in a good way. It looks I could go into a mall and find an old Alladin’s Castle that hadn’t closed yet and there was an arcade cabinet in the back corner that had this running on it or something.

Miles: Yeah, if Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is your ‘modern day, mass media Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ which is great… Slave Zero X is ‘the original two dudes, inking TMNT comics in their spare room’ version of it. It’s like the grunge, zine version of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

Brian: And they’re murdering everyone.

Francine: They all have the angry scowl on their face, and the same red bandana, and everyone’s getting murdered and there’s a lot more Casey Jones doing weird sh** and stuff like that.

Brian Barnett: I have a bonus question that I ask people that I talk to. What’s one game you have played lately that really captured you?

Miles Luna: Knuckle Sandwich. I don’t know if any of you guys heard of Knuckle Sandwich. It came out last year, a year of so many great games, so I kind of understand why it flew under the radar. But oh my god, that game has a free demo. It’s like two hours long. That kind of sets up the story. That is so laugh out loud funny. I would describe it as Earthbound and Undertale. But the turn-based combat is settled through WarioWare minigames. The writing is phenomenal. The animation is fantastic. The music slaps. Please, please, please go play Knuckle Sandwich. I can’t shout it out enough.

Francine Bridge: I am very glad that I have an answer for this because I’ve actually had very little time to play video games over the last year. As it turns out, when you’re making video games, you suddenly get the play way less video games. But I want to shout out Angel At Dusk, which is available on Steam. It’s published by Henteko Doujin. And it’s by a developer… a single guy named Akiragoya, who’s done a lot of shmups, like bullet-hell style games, like Tohou. But this game was sent to me a bunch by friends who were all collectively saying ‘this looks like something you designed! Did you work on this? Did this guy steal your brain?’ Etc., although he’s been doing this a lot longer than I have.

And it is a shmup game in which you play as an angel, millions of years in the future, murdering millions of other angels, and all the angels look like they are made out of like a million human body parts, taken apart and put back together in weird ways. And the storyline is about the value of sentience versus non-sentience and the nature of time as an observable concept, and whether an observation of time makes the universe exist, and two factions of angels fighting it out to decide whether everyone should just let the sun consume them or whether they should leave the planet. It’s a real mess, but I’ve been kind of obsessed with it. And I’ve never played shmups before, they’re normally very brutally difficult. And this one is much more parseable and has a huge number of weird bio-ships and stuff to play as, so I highly recommend Angel at Dusk.

Miles: Listening to that description was like listening to the tastiest jazz solo. That was just like ‘Yes, say more, say more!’

Brian: This is like the Evangelion movie, but a conversation.

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Brian Barnett writes reviews, guides, features, & more for IGN & GameSpot. You can get your fix of his antics on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Bluesky, & Backloggd, & check out his fantastic video game talk show, The Platformers, on Backloggd & Apple Podcasts.

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