At PAX East one of the most popular and fantastic games on the show floor was Ghostrunner, the Doom and Mirror’s Edge hybrid all about lethal speed and finesse. The titular Ghostrunner goes on a revenge quest to murder the killer of his creator, the Keymaster. Based in a bleak cyberpunk world, the player has to navigate the tower-city at high speeds, dispatching opponents with ease as they ascend and take down the enemies hunting them.
Our initial impressions of Ghostrunner are already up, but The Outerhaven had the pleasure of sitting down with game designer Dariusz Kulak and discuss a bit more in-depth about the game and what to expect.
Was there an overall/general inspiration that Ghostrunner pointed to or wanted to expand upon?: That’s funny because we were experimenting with very many things when we were trying to do our next game after God’s Trigger. At first, I think we were trying to make a first-person-shooter in cyberpunk, but it wasn’t working very well for us because we are a very small team and making very good shooting mechanics is very expensive and needs a lot of work.
So… I don’t remember exactly who it was that said like, “maybe we should make like a Samurai Jack [inspired] game,” you know a guy with a sword wall-running all the time, dodging bullets. We were like “Hm, that sounds interesting, that’s a very cool idea,” and we just made a very small prototype for a few days, which was just a guy with a sword who could wall-run and nothing else. It was only the mechanics of movement that felt very fun to use, so it was a good direction to go.
And we started expanding it, adding more features and other mechanics, testing it. The game also started without the one-hit mechanic, there was like a hit-bar and a few hit points for the player, but it didn’t feel very right for us. When we cut it off and left the one-hit [health] mechanic, we were like “Oh my god, this is it.”
Right because it puts a lot of importance into what you are doing at the time, you know, you want to try and be as perfect as you can.: Right, and it also supports our main gameplay loop. All of the gameplay is about the movement when you give a player a chance to survive some hits, they’re going to get lazy for that. The player’s fantasy as a “Ghostrunner,” is a character that can never be hit because he’s so fast.
Who is the main character, Ghostrunner?: Ghostrunner is an augmented expanded soldier, like a bodyguard, for a person called The Architect who built the tower where we are playing. We are the last of the Ghostrunners, there were a few of them in the past. Now we’re in a revenge quest to kill the person who murdered the one who created us [The Ghostrunners].
When you start off the game, when you wake up essentially, there’s a voice speaking to you called The Whisper. Is that related to The Architect in some way? Or is it somebody else, another Ghostrunner perhaps?: I don’t know if we want to spoil that (laughs), but it’s quite early in the story that you’ll eventually learn who The Whisper is.
In terms of development-wise, when you’re focusing on the movement and how everything “feels,” what was the main focus? Was it trying to make it feel as fast as possible or momentum-based?: We wanted the most response from the player. We don’t want to make movement that’s animation-based, that you start doing something and then you must wait for the animation. No, we must have it be the most responsive as possible for us, as most smooth for the player. So the speed is like another part of it, not the main point of the movement.
So the main focus was generally to keep the player in control as often and as long as possible?: If there’s anything that’s not in control of the player, we must tweak it. We’ve seen some things in the PAX Demo that we feel have some problems with this, so we’re going to fix it right away when we get back to our office. But that was our main point to make the most responsive controls as possible.
You start off with the blade, the dash and movement abilities, and the grappling hook you can use situationally. Are there any other equipment the player will be able to use?: Not necessarily equipment. We’re going to be able to customize the [Ghostrunner’s] sword, but the player will stick with the sword for the whole game. There will also be special powers for the Ghostrunner that would be part of a character progress system. So you can customize your Ghostrunner for your playstyle, and you can experiment a lot. It won’t be a skill tree, it will be a quite unique system.
And there’s also, we called it “Rifts,” which are like rifts in the cyberspace that give you short-term power-ups. One of them is like cybernetic shurikens that you can use to control people. So we’ll give some possibilities other than main combat, but we want the player to focus on the melee combat.
Is there going to be some options if you wanted to play a little bit more stealthy, or perhaps you wanted to maybe not play as fast in certain situations, where you might be able to sneak up on someone?: There are some possibilities on our arenas that allows you to kill some guys when they don’t notice you, but it’s not quite often because it’s not like the Ghostrunner‘s style. This is not the character that is hiding in the shadows, he just goes straight away to everyone. Some routes/arenas give you that possibility, but you will not be able to play through the entire game in just stealth mode.
Right, and I think the game makes that very clear, to. It does try to remind you that you are this badass.: Yeah, you don’t want to hide it with him. Exactly.
In terms of the game’s scope, taking into account that you’re going to be playing this fast, very momentum-based game. Is it going to be for the most part linear, point A to point B?: Yeah, it’s a mostly linear game.
Are there any areas, other than some of the sandboxes that were in the demo, where you can pick and choose how you go about a route? And you can kind of explore a little bit?: Yeah, there’s a little exploration in our levels. There are some open areas where you’ve got many routes to get rid of enemies. There are also some collectibles hidden throughout areas, so we can explore for them, to look around.
We’re trying to set the right pace for the player that’s not only is able to fight all the time because it can be tiring for the player. So we try to mix it up with the cyberspace levels, which are totally different settings. And for most of the game, there’s no fighting in cyberspace. It’s like a more peaceful, more quiet setting where some weird psychological things happen. Those are places where the player can kind of calm down before the next arenas for you to fight.
Hard not to get excited for what’s to come with Ghostrunner, and for any player that’s into a challenging but rewarding game all about mastering movement mechanics, this game should be on their radar.
Ghostrunner is set to release later this year in 2020 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One