Zenless Zone Zero Producer Reveals Surprising Inspirations (and It’s Not Persona 5)

Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail studio HoYoverse’s newest upcoming title, Zenless Zone Zero, is a fusion of what you’d expect from HoYoverse games with totally new ideas. The game studio’s development processes are largely a mystery, but in an interview with Zenless Zone Zero producer Zhenyu Li at a media event, IGN learned a little more about what goes into kicking off an entirely new game at HoYoverse, Zenless Zone Zero’s future, and at least this particular team’s position on generative AI.

Zenless Zone Zero (also known as ZZZ) is an action game with a heavy emphasis on its flashy urban landscape set in an apocalyptic world. Players take their team of three into monster-infested roguelike zones, then bounce back to the city landscape to complete side quests, get to know characters better, and maybe grab a cup of coffee or bowl of ramen.

Like the other HoYoverse games, its variety of stylish characters with combat specializations is arguably its biggest focal point. As the entertainment landscape has been in a tumult with the rush in the development of generative AI, we couldn’t help but ask: is the Zenless Zone Zero team using generative AI in development, or is it planning to?

“I think that the human touch is more meaningful right now and this is what our team is pursuing.

“Today, no,” Li said. “For the art part, we have not tried it, but we have tried a part of it to touch on the programming. As for the art aspect, I think that the human touch is more meaningful right now and this is what our team is pursuing.”

This approach seems to be in line with what the Honkai: Star Rail team explored in using AI for development as of last year.

Li also explained that when developing ZZZ’s characters, the aesthetics came first early on. However, that changed as development progressed. The planning team responsible for character mechanics and the art team now work closely together to create new characters.

Zenless Zone Zero releases on July 4.
Zenless Zone Zero releases on July 4.

The Zenless Zone Zero Team and Collaboration

The development team behind HoYoverse’s massive games has largely been a mystery, though Li offered some context on how the ZZZ team behind that handmade art came to be. Li said it began with only 12 people in its initial demo stages in 2020 before growing to around 60 people during its first closed beta. Now, it’s ballooned to more than 400 team members.

“Zenless Zone Zero’s development team is very young and a lot of us come from different backgrounds,” Li said. “We have veterans from the gaming industry but also young talents who share the same values and are all passionate about getting involved in the creation of an interesting product. Indeed, some team members including myself had experiences working on HoYoverse’s other projects before. Take me for instance: I used to take care of the CG, animation, and video for Honkai Impact 3rd.”

Li clarified that the ZZZ team only works on their project rather than swapping between other HoYoverse properties and that collaboration between the different game teams is “quite rare.”

“Not that it doesn’t exist,” Li said. “I’ll check with the teams for an advisor such as [for] the technical aspects.”

Zenless Zone Zero Inspirations

Li acknowledged that the ZZZ team received many comparisons to Persona 5 with both sharing a stylish city setting, though he said they’re hoping to create something unique. And though there may be some visual and musical similarities, the heart of the game doesn’t have its roots in Persona.

Aside from the urban setting, one element that reminds Persona players like myself of Atlus’ series is ZZZ’s time system. Similar to Persona 5, ZZZ has four points in the day with different activities available as time passes with mission completion and other triggers. Li explained his inspiration for ZZZ’s time mechanic was actually instead from a much older game important to his childhood: Digimon World. The 1999 game also features a clock with specific events that happen at particular times throughout the day.

The other major inspiration was, surprisingly, Street Fighter 6. Though ZZZ is an action game more akin to DMC and not a fighting game, you can see the inspirations in its fast combat, emphasis on stunning enemies, and chaining combos.

“Zenless Zone Zero’s development team is very young and a lot of us come from different backgrounds.

Li mentioned he’s spent thousands of hours in the Street Fighter series and learned a lot about the feedback of its action with “how [each] punch really feels that it’s on the flesh of only your own flesh.” Li said the ZZZ team is trying to draw inspiration from their own combat and make each animation frame matter.

Another major lesson Li took from Street Fighter 6 was how to pace tutorials for newcomers to action games. Pacing of all ZZZ’s mechanics has changed quite a lot between each of its closed betas, and Li said the planning team has tried to make sure all important tutorials are more spread out to not be overwhelming.

Zenless Zone Zero is the latest from Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail studio HoYoverse.
Zenless Zone Zero is the latest from Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail studio HoYoverse.

Potential Future of Zenless Zone Zero

When ZZZ launches on July 4, it’ll be available on PlayStation 5, mobile devices, and PC, but Li said they’re not stopping development there. They’re working to bring ZZZ to Nintendo Switch and Xbox too, though Li framed ZZZ’s arrival on these platforms as a hope and not something quite set in stone.

As a live service game, though, it is set in stone that ZZZ will get content updates. Li confirmed this will include things like expansions to the city with new neighborhoods, shops, and of course, characters.

“We have a basic framework for the story timeline, but we’re also a very flexible team,” Li said when asked about how far they’ve planned ZZZ’s story. “We constantly review what we’ve created in the past to see if we can continue to utilize it or if we have better ideas and solutions.”

“When designing these characters, we would always consider what players haven’t seen before.

One international HoYoverse fan request has been for better representation in characters, especially in the HoYoverse games that feature real-life inspirations of diverse cultures yet neglect to reflect the people who live there. Steps to reflect these international audiences have been taken to varying degrees, and ZZZ’s amalgamation city provides fresh opportunity to do more.

“In Zenless Zone Zero, we have created a wide range of characters. When designing these characters, we would always consider what players haven’t seen before. We want to ensure characters of various types are included, so players can look forward to more imaginative designs that will surprise them in the future.”

“I think our team has added almost everything we wanted for the launch and the game is ready for players,” Li said. “However, of course, we have plenty of interesting ideas and plans for the game in the future which we will share more at the right time. One thing that I particularly want to share is that the multiplayer battle mode is already under development. I hope players can look forward to this mode in future version updates.”

Miranda Sanchez is the Executive Editor of Guides at IGN. Her favorite Genshin Impact characters are Shenhe, Yae Miko, Albedo, and Kokomi. When she’s not playing Genshin, she’s probably journaling about it. Catch her on Twitter/X and Twitch.

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