Zen Studios on Developing Its First Dungeon-Crawler, Its Pursuit of Hungary's "Witcher" Moment

Zen Studios on Developing Its First Dungeon-Crawler, Its Pursuit of Hungary's "Witcher" Moment

Operencia: The Stolen Sun is steeped in Hungarian lore and designed for RPG fans worldwide.

Today Zen Studios announced Operencia The Stolen Sun, a new dungeon-crawler RPG set in the backdrop of Hungarian legend. Primarily known for their immersive pinball games Zen Studios the developers decided it was time to let the pinball drop and start working on something different, and we got a chance to speak with the team about their new passion project.

Headquartered in Budapest, Hungary Zen Studios came to prominence thanks to the Pinball FX and Zen Pinball series. The pinball sims proved so popular that Zen Studios released virtual pinball tables for franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, The Walking Dead, and more. Along the way Zen Studios worked as developers on various licensed digital games for companies like Marvel while experimenting with games developed for mobile, motion controls, and VR. While pinball might be Zen Studios' claim-to-fame, it's hardly the sole focus of this eclectic studio.

Enter Operencia, a game based on the legends of Zen Studios' native Hungary. Operencia is a first-person dungeon-crawler set in the eponymous land. The developers say Operencia is a modern take on an old-school experience where players must traverse and chart their way through winding dungeons, solve intricate puzzles, and engage in turn-based combat with over 50 different types of enemies.

There are between seven upgradable characters to switch from and a difficulty slider can enable things like permadeath and disable automatic map charting so you can grab a pen and paper and map the dungeons yourself. The trailer shows off a colorful 3D world developed in Unreal Engine 4, but cutscenes and character portraits will be hand drawn in 2D.

Before getting a glimpse of Operencia I admitted to Zen Studios that I unfortunately wasn't too familiar with Hungarian folklore. The team in Hungary wasn't surprised, but Zen Studios is a multinational team and for Operencia the studio tapped American writer Chris Baker as creative director on the project to write and develop Operencia's story and lore.

All images provided by Zen Studios

"We want to make sure [Operencia] is accessible to a wide audience and that they understand the story we want to tell," Zen Studios producer Akos Szabo tells me in a Skype call from Budapest. "You don't need any social-historical knowledge of Hungary, these are tales and legends."

We've seen with franchises like The Witcher and local traditions and local folklore can be used to tell epic and adventures understood universally. Chris Baker agrees. "You know I'm in the same boat. I didn't know a lot of this [Hungarian] mythology coming in and it was kind of one of the more interesting challenges," says Baker in the same Skype call.

The origins of Operencia are obscure for sure. Probably because there's no readily available English-language resources on the subject. The best I could find was a Hungarian Wikipedia page I translated using Google which told me that Operencia is literally an unknowable fairytale land.

"It wasn't like the Marvel Universe or Middle-Earth or something like that where there was one person thinking this one cohesive universe," says Baker. Instead, Operencia is a, perhaps library is a good word, of specific Hungarian legends that span hundreds of years and take place a long time ago in an unknown land. "Literally if you type [Operencia] into Google translate you get 'far far away'. So, I like to joke that we're making a Star Wars game," says Baker.

Baker is designing Operencia's overarching lore to feel original while incorporating real-life touchstones. Operencia includes real-world locations with legends attached to them, along with historical figures like Attila the Hun, or just King Attila in Operencia. Attila is a figure that's more myth than history and his reputation depends on your culture. For Operencia Attila is being depicted more as a hero, though not without complications.

Operencia began as a prototyping project about two years ago when Zen Studios decided it wanted to work on something other than the pinball series it became famous for. There were some VR games Zen Studios tried out, but ultimately the team decided to pursue something more traditional.

"Pinball has always been our stable horse and it's something we know how to do and we're experts and we're pros...but we have so much other talent in the office and in the studio and they've been developing over time and working on successful projects and we knew that we had something else to do," explains Mel Kirk, vice president of publishing at Zen Studios. Once the studio found Operencia it was a no-brainer. "We put everything behind it and we just say, 'hey yeah, we're know for pinball, we've made other things, but this is really where the passion lies within this team itself."

One thing that's cool about Operencia, at least for gamers on the go like me, is how Zen is taking a "level-based" approach to the game. Players can choose to explore a single-dungeon level, leave, and return to tackle the next level. Olivér Sándor a game designer at Zen Studios says that one of the goals of Operencia is to find a balance that will appeal to the hardcore but let a new generation of dungeon-crawlers to enjoy the genre.

A look inside Zen Studios.

Zen Studios admits that it has had some trouble getting players to pay attention to its non-pinball works in the past but sees Operencia as a unique opportunity. "I think there's things original and special about this game and it's also going to be a moment for the Hungarian gaming scene," says Kirk.

"There's a sense of the culture that is going to be highlighted here which is going to stand out. I look back with CD Project Red with Witcher that put Poland on the map, I look at other parts of the world where game development hasn't really been felt yet from the cultural sense and this is a really special moment I think in that regards."

Operencia: The Stolen Sun is available on Steam wishlist now.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Matt Kim

News Editor

Matt Kim is a former freelance writer who's covered video games and digital media. He likes video games as spectacle and is easily distracted by bright lights or clever bits of dialogue. He also once wrote about personal finance, but that's neither here nor there.

Read this next

Phantom Brigade Is a Fantastic New Spin on the Front Mission Formula

Brace Yourself Games is bringing the mech strategy genre back in a big way.

Open-World Detective RPG Disco Elysium Launches Next Month

Become the next Sherlock. Or maybe Moriarty.

Zombies May Be Appearing in Red Dead Online, If It's Not a Glitch

Undead nightmare part two, or just another quirky bug?

Reggie Fils-Aimé's Been Up To a Lot Since His Retirement From Nintendo

The former Nintendo of America president has been pretty active.

The 25 Best Nintendo Switch Games

Our rotating list of the best games on Switch, now updated for the Nintendo Switch Lite release!

Former Dragon Age Writer David Gaider Co-Founds Summerfall Studios in Australia

Gaider and fellow co-founder Liam Esler previously worked together at Beamdog.

More

Phantom Brigade Is a Fantastic New Spin on the Front Mission Formula

Brace Yourself Games is bringing the mech strategy genre back in a big way.

Raids, Loot, and Balance: Ubisoft Massive on The Division 2's Challenges Six Months Later

Ubisoft Massive is beginning to firm up the ongoing foundation of The Division 2.

Thinbloods and the Politics of Living Forever: An Interview with Bloodlines 2 Writer Cara Ellison

We talked love, loss, and lots of blood with one of Bloodlines 2's writers.

Borderlands 3's Endgame Fights for Position Against Destiny 2 and The Division 2

Gearbox is not letting Borderlands 3 get lost in the MMO shuffle.

More on PC

Phantom Brigade Is a Fantastic New Spin on the Front Mission Formula

Brace Yourself Games is bringing the mech strategy genre back in a big way.

Open-World Detective RPG Disco Elysium Launches Next Month

Become the next Sherlock. Or maybe Moriarty.

The Next Total War Saga Heads to Mythological Troy

The land of gods and monsters seems to be the next saga locale.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Story Previews Tease What Eris Morn’s Been up to All This Time

She may have met the expansion's true Hive villain already.

FIFA 20 Best Defenders: Best Players For CB, LB, and RB

Defenders are the core of any team in FIFA 20. Here are the best defenders that you should absolutely be keeping an eye on.

Man of Medan Endings - All the Endings Explained, How to Save Everyone

In this complete Man of Medan endings guide, we'll be going over the best and worst endings, endings explained, and how to save everyone.

More Role Playing Games Games

The 25 Best Nintendo Switch Games

Our rotating list of the best games on Switch, now updated for the Nintendo Switch Lite release!

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening's Most Famous Song Now Has Soul-Shredding Lyrics

Let's be honest, you knew it wasn't going to be an uplifting ditty.

GreedFall Review

And I'm greed, greedfallin'.

Borderlands 3 SHiFT Codes and VIP Codes (September 2019): How to Get Golden Keys and VIP Points

SHiFT Codes are back for Borderlands 3. Here’s an up to date list.