An AbsoluteXbox Exclusive Interview with Zen Studios

Zen Studios LOGOWhen Zen Studios founded in 2003 little did they know that they would be the go to developer for pinball fans the world over. With the announcement of Universal Classics Pinball which features pinball tables built around E.T., Back to the Future and JAWS Zen Studios have shown once again that they are not afraid to to take on some of the biggest licenses around.

With many questions burning in my mind about how Zen Studios obtain these licences, what future projects the studio are working and what are the teams personnel favourite tabes on I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with them.


AbsoluteXbox: You’re currently riding high with several big name licences in the bag from Star Wars, Aliens, Marvel and the recently announced Universal Classics Pinball. What process do you have to go through to get these licences?

Partnering with big name licenses is not a small task! There are a lot of things that need to go right in order to create a successful working partnership, so there is a lot of back and forth and collaboration between Zen Studios and the licensor. It’s an awesome process to be involved with, and we have been really fortunate to work with the best teams and creative minds in entertainment.

AbsoluteXbox: Licensed music is a tricky issue and the same applies to dialogue clips from the movies. It’s been confirmed that all three Universal Classics tables will have new music with dialogue clips being performed by soundalike voice actors due to these issues. How do you go about replacing such iconic music and dialogue and how difficult is that process?

Yes, this process is very challenging each and every time. Zen has established relationships with music composers and voice actors over time to make this process easier. Each voice used and every composed track goes through a rigorous approval process and are in line with the quality bar set by the licensor.

AbsoluteXbox: Of all the tables ZEN Studios have created which is your personal favourite? 

David Szucs: DOOM.

Peter Grafl:It is incredibly difficult to name just one out of our collection. My designs are and will be always exceptional for different reasons but I have 2 equally favorites. The first is Skyrim, simply because it was an insane challenge to transform the enormous world of the original into a pinball game. The second would be Back to the Future. The original trilogy is one of my all time favorite and it was great to work with the IP.

Peter Horvath: Although I don’t really know its source material, my personal favorite is the Star Wars: Rebels table. It has great layout and flow, it is easy to understand, and is a really colorful table.

Thomas Crofts: My favourite is probably Aliens pinball. I think it does an awesome job of recreating an excellent movie, it’s relatively easy to start exciting game modes, the graphics and lighting are all spectacular, and with the original sound effects and voice overs taken directly from the film, it’s a great overall table.

Zoltan Vari: We put much effort in the unique layout and the variety of the game modes/mechanics of Fear Itself table – not to mention its soundtrack, which fits very well to the Marvel story arch.

AbsoluteXbox: You’ve based tables around some of my favourite movies of all time and the upcoming Universal Classics Pinball collection is a dream come for me. But what would be your dream license to build a themed table around?

David Szucs: Half-Life and Adventure Time.

Tough question either since there are so many great IPs out there. I greatly would like to make a table based on one of the old school fighting games: the original Killer Instinct (which is still my favorite fighting game) or Mortal Kombat based on the first two legendary iterations. On movies side I would very like to make Indiana Jones since I love it for decades now and Tron is the other movie what could be awesome as a pinball table and I am a fan of it since I was a kid. (Peter Grafl)

If I had to choose between all the movies I saw, I’d go for a Starship Troopers table. It is a long time favorite and I think it has all the aspects to create something great out of it. But if I have the option to go beyond the realms of movies, than it is a no brainer: I’d go for a Bioshock table in a heartbeat. That game has tons of fun features, a powerful story and a wicked art style. it would be awesome to build a table out of it. (Peter Horvath)

I’ve always been a huge fan of the 80’s cartoon Thundercats, and more recently, Game of Thrones is also a massive favourite of mine. They both have a rich depth to their own respective Universe, offering lots of different possibilities – it wouldn’t be difficult to create many impressive tables for both of these licenses. (Thomas Crofts)

A table based on The Big Lebowski or Indiana Jones would be great. (Zoltan Vari)

AbsoluteXbox: I remember you guys releasing Pinball FX via Xbox Live Arcade back in the day when it was still in its infancy. It’s been ten years since your first digital Xbox release. How has that process changed for you over the years?

Those were exciting times! Zen was early to digital distribution with the release of Pinball FX, and it represented a huge step forward for the studio. We really started to take control of our own destiny, whereas before we were focused on work for hire projects. Ever evolving technology really drives us forward and you can never stay complacent or comfortable. Graphics have improved, consoles have evolved, and the user experience is completely different from 10 years ago. The publishing process itself has also changed quite dramatically, going from very manual to very automated. It was awesome to be involved in the early stages of Xbox and it is just as exciting now!

AbsoluteXbox: Cross platform multiplayer games are the hot topic of the moment and you’re including cross platform play between PlayStation Network + Steam and Xbox One + Windows 10 + Steam in Pinball FX3. Do you ever see a time when Xbox and PlayStation players can compete against each other in Pinball FX3?

Well, we can’t answer for first parties and what they will decided to do in the future, however, it would be exciting to see Xbox and PlayStation players having the ability to compete against each other in Pinball FX3! We think a bigger, connected community is better! In the meantime, Zen Studios will continue to create cross platform gameplay for as many participating consoles / platforms as we can.

AbsoluteXbox: Xbox Play Anywhere is an increasingly popular feature which more and more titles are adopting. Do you have any plans for Pinball FX3 to include Xbox Play Anywhere?

We are working on this feature for Pinball FX3, however cannot confirm at this time. We would prefer NOT TO ANSWER this question at the moment, but will confirm at a later date.

AbsoluteXbox: You originally released Pinball FX on the Xbox 360 and more recently Infinite Minigolf on the Xbox One and now we have the Xbox One X just around the corner. How does the extra power each generation of consoles give you influence the way you approach game development?

For developers, it always takes some time to make adjustments to games currently in production if you wish to have them ready for new platforms. The extra power each generation provides allows room for our dev teams to make better looking games, improved quality and better user experiences.

AbsoluteXbox: It may surprise some people to know that you don’t just create Pinball games. Planet Minigolf, Ghostbusters: The Video Game, KickBeat and CastleStorm are just a few titles that you have developed. Do you have any unannounced games for the Xbox One in production that you can share with us today?

There are not any titles we can reveal to you at this time, but we do have unannounced games for Xbox One!

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