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Designing in unconventional ways - an interview with ZEN Studios
This is an interview with people from Zen Studio - a company that has recently published great pinball games which revived this somewhat fallen videogame genre. If you want to find out how they created their great pinball tables and what are their plans for the future - read on:

Zen Studio

1.Zen Studio is responsible for such games as Zen Piball, Marvell Pinball and Pinball FX series. On the Internet, though, one struggles to find any information about your company. Maybe you could tell us something about your company and why it's called ZEN?

We try not to be that elusive, you can always go to or follow us on Facebook to get a good idea of who we are and what we are all about. The background on our name is pretty simple – we think the Zen life is a life worth living. It’s a creed we try to follow in our work and lives. We have a saying, “Less life, More Zen” – it’s trying to be relaxed, not overly stressed (which is hard to do in this industry!). It’s also about the way we treat others, specifically employees and fans.

2. Pinballs were very popular in the times of Amiga, which I remember dearly. I could spend hours playing Pinball Dreams, Illusions or Slam Tilt. Until recently I had thought that the genre will never be restored. Why did you decide to create pinballs? Are you fans of this genre or did you just try to fill a niche in the market?

We have guys in the studio who have spent countless hours and pockets full of money at arcades playing pinball. To say we adore the genre is a complete understatement – we are slightly obsessed. When you mix our love for the game with a niche in the market, you have a great opportunity for success. The development team has worked so hard perfecting the physics model, understanding table design, and taking the right risks with making the game fresh and fun. It really seems to be paying off and we could not be happier with the result.

Zen Studio inside

3. You said that your team learnt how to design tables. Could you tell us a bit more about how one designs a pinball table? How far is it from a concept to the real thing?

The actual process begins with a classic design approach: we design the layout and rules on paper first, then the 3D geometry is created to test the table layout properly. We then take all the additional graphical elements, such as characters with animations, effects etc. and add all the textures. At the end we spend week to properly lighting the table, so the tables becomes lifelike. At the same time, our designers are implementing the table rules, adding the lamps, dot-matrix display animations, sound effects, scoring, texts (in 7 languages), all the operators menu features.
Following production, there is a 2-3 month testing period before we can call the table final and ready to release. From start to finish, it takes about 6 months to get a pinball table to market.

4. Do you apply any golden rules or laws when you design a table, such as flap distances or the placement of the bumper between the flaps?

There is no definite ‘golden rule,’ it really depends on the theme of the table and the designers vision for the finished product. We always leave a certain amount of freedom available for the designer, which allows for new innovation and reduces the risk of design duplication. That said, bumpers and flaps are critical elements to a pinball table, so a lot of care is taken with designing these aspects. The Paranormal table is the craziest table in terms of flippers – there are 10 in that table!

Zen Studio inside

5. I'm happy you mentioned the "Paranormal" Table, which is one of the tables in Zen Pinball. I can honestly tell you that I have seen many pinballs, but this is by far the most wacky and epic tables I have played on. How did you come up with the idea and how did you manage to create something that fantastic :)? Do you think that you can invent something even more crazy when it comes to pinballs?

We agree! Paranormal is really a crazy concoction, but we were really impressed with the final product. The idea was really drawn up in an unconventional way – we were sitting around the table brainstorming ideas and we all agreed that we needed a table with ‘flipper madness.’ Someone then suggested something along the lines of the X-Files and then the table was born. We just matched 2 really good ideas and then went to work on it. There are other crazy ideas up on our white board, some waiting for implementation with the right kind of theme and others that we might just insert into an unsuspecting table. The key is to keep in line with the expectations of pinball traditionalists, and not allow the freedoms available to us in video game pinball to overtake the classic game elements.

6. While we are talking about Zen Pinball I'd like to ask you: will the fans of this Pinball series get any new tables and if yes, will they be made with such epic ideas as the last Paranormal table?

There are more ZEN Pinball tables in development, and we may get one out in the next month or so. We think every new table we design will be as epic if not more than Paranormal. Our goal is to keep the tables coming, support our games long term, and give fans a great selection to choose from.

Zen Studio inside

7. We already know that new tables for Marvel Pinball will be available, such as the Captain America table. Will you tell our readers about your plays for the future? WIll you be making other Pinballs or maybe try to do something completely different? If the latter, how long will you support your last product?

Our plans for the future include a rich roadmap of support for Marvel Pinball. We look at all of our games as long term investments, and will continue supporting them for a long time to come. Pinball FX2 is set up as a platform that is easy to update, so every new table released can be seamlessly updated and all tables are found in one place. We hope to do the same thing soon on PlayStation®Network. There will be some BIG, recognizable licenses that we announce this year, as well as a healthy dose of our own creations. Fans can rest assured that an investment in a ZEN Studios product is one they will reap the benefits from over a long period of time.

8. Will Zen Pinball be available for the Xbox and Pinball Fx 2 for Ps3?

Not likely. Microsoft and Sony like to have exclusive content for their platforms, and we like to keep them happy. While we will likely introduce a platform-like system on PS3 similar to Pinball FX2, it will be under a different brand. You will see some tables currently on ZEN Pinball released for Pinball FX2…hint hint…

9. Could you descrive in a few words the Hugarian game industry? How big it is? Which Hungarian games apart from Marvell Pinball and Zen Pinball can you recommend for Polish players? What are the perspectives of your home game industry?

The last few years have not been very kind to the local studios, as evidenced by some of the world's best strategy game developers, such as Stormregion, going out of business. We are always bummed when we hear that any studio, particularly a Hungarian team, are shutting their doors.
Still, the Hungarian game development scene is active and growing with some excellent local game studios in Hungary, and some major international developers have local studios as well, like Crytek, who is running a team of 100+ in Budapest.
We are seeing more and more smaller studios coming up with brilliant new concepts, I hope these games will find their way to the players soon. What game to check out? I really like Perpetuum, a new sci-fi MMORPG!

Zen Studio inside

10. What do you think the year 2011 will bring to the gamers?

2011 is going to be a mixed bag really. 2010 saw Microsoft and Sony enter the motion gaming category with Kinect and Move, we are interested to see what kind of innovation these devises will create for gamers. 3D is a big topic of discussion, it’s a matter of time before we see if consumers are ready to buy 3D TV’s and demand 3D games. The 3DS sure looks exciting, Nintendo has been on a serious roll for the past few years. Beyond that, I think 2011 will be another banner year for the digital games marketplace, with more people buying and playing games in the $10 - $15 price point. I think gamers are finding a nice balance between big retail releases and the smaller games you can just pick up and play.

11. Would you like to tell anything to our readers at the end of the interview?

We would like to give a big thanks to all of you who have supported ZEN Studios. We really enjoy what we do, and it is really exciting to see where we started and where we are now. Look for more pinball tables this year, as well as a few new projects completely outside the pinball realm (news soon!). Rock on 2011.

We talked with Zsolt Kigyossy - ZEN Studios Managing Director

Special thanks to mpiwo for the translation

czwartek, 03 lutego 2011, branza_gier

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