Beyond Cyberpunk 2077, there’s another first-person cyberpunk game coming soon from a Polish developer, and it’s called Ghostrunner. Scheduled to launch on October 27th for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, the game just got an updated demo available through Steam, so you can grab it right now for free.
While the download goes on, you can read our full chat with three key members of One More Level (Game Director Radosław Ratusznik, Narrative Designer Jan Gasior, and Gameplay Designer Marcin Kluzek) from a few days ago.
Can you tell me about your studio before talking about Ghostrunner?
Radosław: Sure, we are a studio based in Krakow in Poland. We are over 30 developers right now who are working only on Ghostrunner, basically, right now. The studio was founded in 2014 and we published several titles, we released one platforming game, one visual novel game, and later we decided to move forward with something more hardcore. Last year, we released the game called God’s Trigger, which is a top-down action game with cooperative mode. It featured that one hit, one kill mechanic which was inspired by Hotline Miami, it was kind of similar to Miami.
How long have you been working on Ghostrunner? Is it a couple of years yet?
Radosław: No, it’s not that much. As I mentioned before, we released our previous title in April last year. We basically were first working on Ghostrunner somewhere at the beginning of 2019, so it will be less than two years of development to the release of the game.
You are working on Unreal Engine for Ghostrunner, right?
Radosław: Yeah, this is Unreal Engine 4. Our previous game God’s trigger was made in Unity. So we changed the engine, which was quite a big step for us. But our artists were quite familiar and experienced in Unreal Engine, so the transition went smoothly, to be honest. It cost us time to get some knowledge for designers, programmers, but it wasn’t such a big deal as we felt, maybe. It’s a very good engine to work on.
I know that you’re also supporting ray tracing on PC, right?
Radosław: Yeah. We have a strong cooperation with Nvidia and we are using ray tracing. We are also working on DLSS technology, though it will be implemented for the release of the game. The cooperation with Nvidia is pretty close. We have access to the latest exclusive versions for Unreal Engine 4 and it’s a good thing for us because we can work on the latest stuff.
What kind of raytracing effects are you specifically going to support in Ghostrunner? Reflections and shadows, perhaps?
Radosław: Shadows, reflections, and ambient occlusion. Though the implementation of fake reflections in Unreal Engine 4 is pretty cool too. Of course, it’s not as good as true reflections from raytracing, which are looking really spectacular.
As Ghostrunner is also coming out on consoles, are you planning to support the next-gen hardware as well with ray tracing since there is hardware support for that?
Radosław: To be honest, right now, we are not announcing the next-gen version of Ghostrunner. This is something that we would love to bring, of course. But right now, we are focusing on the platforms that we announced, so it will be last-gen, or current-gen for two months. But yeah, for the release of the game, there will be no next-gen yet. But as I said, we would love to bring Ghostrunner to as many platforms as we can. I think it will be a no brainer to also port it someday to the next-gen.
Back to the game itself. How did you come out with the idea for it? Because it looks quite unique. I mean, it’s kind of a platformer slash action game.
Radosław: That’s true. In terms of inspiration, when we are talking about the gameplay itself, the main inspiration was from our previous game God’s Trigger. We were inspired by that one hit, one kill mechanic, but we wanted to bring it to another perspective to the first person. Also, Titanfall 2 and Mirror’s Edge, those were huge inspirations in terms of wall running and the whole parkour system where you’re sliding, dashing, dodging bullets. This is something also which we bring from, for example, Superhot. Some players have compared it to that feature where you can dodge a bullet in first person and each shot you get is fatal. That’s about it for the main inspirations in terms of gameplay. I think that Jan and Martin could add something more to this.
Jan: There’s plenty of inspirations because as you can see, there’s many elements that are specific to the cyberpunk genre, but every and each one of us understands cyberpunk differently and loves it for different reasons. So basically, we tried to be inspired as much as we could, and everybody brought something else to the table. And of course, I’m speaking from my perspective, so more from the worldbuilding and design perspective, less from the gameplay perspective. You can pretty much find something from most of the biggest cyberpunk works. We try to always incorporate those inspirations as something fresh and new, not just reuse things from other places, because that wouldn’t be very nice. And basically, all in all, we went for this kind of rugged, janky, rusty cyberpunk, that’s not as polished and shiny and nice. It’s got some postapocalyptic elements in it, you can see that the city is very dark. And many of the machinery that you see is quite literally rusty and used. It’s reflected in the story and it’s reflected in the atmosphere and individual design. You can tell that it’s this very rundown world, and it’s probably not very pleasant to live in. For my inspirations, I would say that, well, obviously you can’t really not see inspiration from Blade Runner. This city is very Blade Runner like, and we’re not trying to hide that. For me personally, when it comes to the story, one of the most inspirational works of cyberpunk was Battle Angel Alita, the manga from the 90s, which also had this very gritty, very brutal, kind of cyberpunk in it. About gameplay inspirations, I think marching will be able to tell you more.
Marcin: Keep in mind that everybody in the team has different inspirations and plays different games, so everybody contributed. My inspiration for example would be Dredd from 2012, the movie that takes place in one big tower. It’s also like in this game, as Jan said, this is a postapocalyptic world where the whole of humanity basically lives in this one tower because the Earth is very deadly to live in and people have hidden in this big structure. The other thing is that we avoid the tropes of the corporation cast and the working class, everybody is affected by the cataclysm, everybody’s poor and everything is broken, or in some way changed by the cataclysm. I would say that there’s a touch of Matrix as well in the dodging bullets and the slow-mo.
About the gameplay, for me personally it’s Titanfall 2 and of course our previous project, God’s Trigger as Radek said. The main inspiration adding to that would be Apex Legends actually, because I think Apex Legends gets the parkour stuff a bit further. Those zip lines, for example, they were not really present in Titanfall 2 in that manner. Also Doom, because in Doom you have enemies that are quite defined, the enemy has its own pattern and weaknesses and strengths. Like in our game, each enemy requires the player to do a different motion. There’s a guy with a shield and you have to get him from behind, for instance.
Do you have an estimate for how long it will take to finish Ghostrunner?
Radosław: When we are looking at the current playtests, I think we can tell that 10 hours and maybe over ten hours is the gameplay time. It of course depends on the player skill, because our game won’t feature any type of difficulty settings. You will have to play the game as we designed it.
Is there going to be any sort of side content in the game?
Radosław: Not for the release. For the release, we’ll just have that ‘story mode’. But of course, you will be able to repeat the levels after beating them. You will be able to bring your character which can be more advanced, with unlocked new abilities and some upgrades. And you can try beating your time on past levels, beating your scores, because the game will feature online leaderboards. As we saw when the original demo was up on Steam, we’ve got a lot of potential in terms of speedrunning with Ghostrunner. The speedrunning community was very excited about the game, I think that there is a place to go and to extend it even more for the speedrunners, and we will also have post-launch support for the game. There, you can expect some new game modes, some bigger DLCs also.
Jan: I’d also add that there’s gonna be an additional replayability factor due to the things you can find in-game, there’s quite a lot of collectibles that you can find. And some of them are related to the story, and some of them are not, but you can always go back to the level that you’ve beaten before and look for them. So there’s this extra factor of exploration going on.
Interesting. On the story aspect of the game, you’ve said earlier that this is basically a post-apocalyptic world. Judging from the released footage, the action essentially takes place on skyscrapers. Does that mean that the ground level is essentially uninhabitable due to some reason?
Jan: No, basically, the entirety of the game takes place inside one giant megastructure, and this whole city is inside it. And this is the middle section of this tower. So basically, the Ghostrunner starts at the very bottom and make his makes his way to the top throughout the game. The difference between the levels as you progress up shows in the level design, it shows in the way they look and in the way they play. You start in the quite cramped industrial underbelly of the tower, probably below the ground level, where there’s plenty of heavy machinery and it’s dangerous to even move around. And then you move up to the city, and this is how the city looks. Then you climb up even further to the more let’s say elaborate part of the tower that was only accessible to the most to the elites, so to speak. As you move up, the environment changes and so does the gameplay. What we’re showing right now is around the middle section of the tower called Dharma City. This is the commercial and residential district so it’s akin to a normal city although this is all inside this giant structure.
Is the ultimate goal for players to climb up to the top and go kill Mara the Keymaster?
Jan: That’s right. That’s what the Ghostrunner finds out pretty soon. He’s got his reasons to want to do that, they’re going to be explored in the story and they have a bit of a backstory as you will find out and yeah, his main quest from the get-go is basically to climb the tower and confront the Keymaster. There is some nuance, there are some caveats to that but that’s the gist of it.
Are there any other bosses throughout the game?
Radosław: Yeah, sure. There will be a couple of boss fights during the game. We don’t want to spoil it for you but it will be quite a different experience. As you know, each enemy in our game dies in one hit, you can just slice it with your sword, but on the boss fights it will be kind of a different approach. This is something that you will have to check out by yourself. We put a lot of effort into these boss fights, so we hope that players will enjoy it. And sometimes they are really spectacular.
I think you mentioned that there are some upgrades and new techniques to unlock in Ghostrunner, correct?
Radosław: Yes, yes. We will have special abilities that you can see on the left bottom corner, there is this yellow bar that’s filling up over time but also the big chunks of the bar are restoring when you are killing enemies. Each kill gives you like a big chunk of this ability bar and you can switch between your abilities during the gameplay. With your progression through the game and through the story of Ghostrunner, you will unlock new abilities, you will unlock new upgrades for your basic abilities. You can for example have more dashes on the ground than just one. So you will be able to enhance, extend it. Also, you will be able to tweak the special abilities a little bit to fit your gameplay style. You will be able to prepare some kind of builds for your character. There will be many ways to find out your favorite build, and after you’ve finished the whole game you will be able to play it again in the same levels with your fully unlocked character.
Like a New Game Plus mode of sorts.
Radosław: Something like that.
I’m assuming the only available weapon in Ghostrunner is the katana, right?
Radosław: Yes, this is the main weapon. Being completely honest, this is the only weapon. We will have several collectibles that are related to the katana but it will be just more like a visual representation rather than some changes in the gameplay for this katana. But yeah, that was our goal, the main challenge in Ghostrunner is to reach the enemy in one piece. We want to make the character quick and very agile, at the same time the players need to be very careful, but when they finally reach the enemy it’s not that hard to attack. We have kind of assistance for the players when they are attacking…
Something like aim assist?
Radosław: Yes, something like aim assist, but it’s not the same as in shooters. This is more like in fighting games, for example, or some slasher games where you are magnetized to the enemy, something like that.
Did you consider doing a VR version of Ghostrunner? Because it could have serious potential.
Radosław: To be honest with you, we haven’t thought about it yet. Who knows what the future brings, but it couldn’t be the same game. From my point of view, it should be something totally different if we ever decided to make some kind of VR take on Ghostrunner.
You are launching Ghostrunner less than a month before another cyberpunk game, which is a little more famous than yours but it’s also made in Poland. I’m wondering if you think this hugely anticipated release will kind of benefit you indirectly in that, you know, players are now kind eager to go into the cyberpunk setting. And since you’re launching first, they might as well go ‘Let’s try this as an appetizer of sorts’.
Radosław: Yeah, you can treat it as an appetizer before Cyberpunk 2077. I think it will be a very tasteful appetizer! But yeah, we talked about that. People who are hyped over Cyberpunk 2077 (we are also hyped for it as players, as gamers) will probably like to try this kind of game, even before Cyberpunk 2077 releases or after they beat this game. They could also play it after they beat cyberpunk. So yeah, of course, we think that Cyberpunk 2077 is the most anticipated game during this year, that’s for sure. But you know, Ghostrunner, it’s like a totally different game. We are not trying to copy the RED’s game. This is not an RPG, it’s an action game. It’s a way more intense experience than Cyberpunk 2077.
Indeed. Looking forward to it; thank you for your time!