“We want them to feel the rush” – Creating the intense world of Ghostrunner

Posted on June 26, 2020

Enter a hardcore cyberpunk world, from the ashes of a broken society where a new kind of threat looms – You. Ghostrunner is One More Level’s spiritual-successor to God’s Trigger, where one-shot kills and fast reflexes reign supreme.

Following an incredibly fun and well-received demo, development for Ghostrunner is speeding along swiftly. It almost feels as if it flanked us out of nowhere, darting in and proving itself to be a game to watch.

As an FPS fanatic who lives for an adrenaline rush, I got the inside scoop from One More Level’s Head of Studio Szymon Bryła. We spoke about the inspiration behind the game’s direction, challenges in development, the unmatchable minds behind the visual and music composition, and the immense speed players can expect.

Using the team’s learnings from God’s Trigger, Ghostrunner started as an improvement with a new twist. One More Level wanted to make an FPS.

Bringing design principles of such an unforgiving gameplay model to a first-person perspective was a challenge, but also an opportunity to create something unique. We created the first prototypes of Ghostrunner towards the end of the previous game’s production, so around the beginning of 2019. By May that year, most of the staff switched to working on the new project.

As for the setting, cyberpunk is a beloved genre for many of the team members. Stylish, fast-paced and full of action. Radek, our game director, always says that it’s great to be a part of cyberpunk’s renaissance, and I can’t help but agree.

Many people will find this game through word-of-mouth and followed up by watching the fascinating trailer. It introduces the Ghostrunners, an omnipresent floating AI head, and a mind-tinkering story. But, what really is the ‘Ghostrunner‘?

Their name is derived from some of their functions and capabilities. I’m not going to spoil the story just yet, but I can promise that ‘the head’ is going to introduce itself at the very least. Perhaps it will even go into some more detail about what exactly is going on in Dharma Tower.

As for the narrative, we’re not trying to reinvent the genre, but rather find a niche for ourselves among its established works. This means we take plenty of inspiration from classic cyberpunk titles, both in art direction and tropes. That being said, we never limit ourselves to mere imitation, but rather aspire to build new and interesting scenarios.”

Between story-heavy FPS like Metro: Exodus and the blood-boiling DOOM: Eternal, everyone is understandably curious. Where does Ghostrunner sit on the spectrum of first-person action?

“We want them to feel the rush, experience the Ghostrunner’s insane speed not only through gameplay but the entire design.”

I’d say it’s somewhere in between. The gameplay itself is undoubtedly arcade but we wanted the story to stand on its own merit. There’s no real reason why a game can’t have both: engaging, fun, challenging mechanics and a narrative layer that’s more than a cardboard cutaway. For me, in a perfectly balanced game, both aspects should be complementary, without one being a second thought slapped on top of the other.

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With cyberpunk becoming ever so popular, One More Level aims to recreate a familiar setting with their own personal touch.

More run-down, rugged than other cyberpunk settings. In a sense, we’re going for a mix of cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic. You won’t find a corporate CEO in a fancy suit living at the penthouse levels of Dharma Tower. Those times are long gone, succeeded by the age of creeping decay and desolation.

I guess I could put it this way: in a generic cyberpunk setting the protagonist fights ‘the system’. In Ghostrunner’s world ‘the system’ has been destroyed a long time ago, but it didn’t help anyone.”

The futuristic world, while being similar, is still specifically distinct. There’s a sort of trash-neon style that hasn’t been matched before. Art director Wojciech Wilk and One More Level’s art team are creating something truly unique.

The game’s art is also another aspect in which we try to combine readability and streamlined visual design with an immersive atmosphere and detailed environments. In other words, the goal here is for Dharma Tower’s levels to look and feel real, but to play as smoothly as possible.

With extraordinary music of the demo, the gameplay beats are almost hardwired into your brain as you play. Electronic music icon Daniel Deluxe is behind the synth-junkie tracks to slice ‘n’ dice to.

“His retrowave and dark synth vibes are a perfect match for Ghostrunner’s grim, futuristic atmosphere. The game’s core mechanics feel very rhythmic, so a strong, expressive beat not only serves as an audio background but actively amplifies the whole experience. Daniel is in charge of creating all the music for our game, and I can already tell you that the soundtrack is going to be epic.

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Gameplay is the centre of development for this project. Speedrunning is encouraged throughout the demo, with a clock recording each play attempt. Several runners shared unimaginable times and became experts on a simple, short preview of what is to come. What is OML doing for the speedrunning community?

The game’s frantic tempo, level design and overall flow naturally work well with speedrunning, so we were delighted, but not entirely surprised by the speedrunning scene’s positive reaction to our demo.

It turned out that some parts of the movement system could be used in ways unforeseen by our designers to achieve spectacular effects (and spectacular speedrunning times!). Before the final release, we’ll certainly be balancing out the overall experience. Getting rid of some easy exploits, but leaving in enough room for experimentation and skill-based techniques. We’re also looking into implementing additional modes for speedrunners.

The team reassures players that the game will have plenty of replayability. For those who purely want to experience a story within this universe, what can players expect from the story?

We think it’s safe to say that a single playthrough will take anywhere between 5 and 10 hours. We’re looking into additional game modes and higher difficulty settings added as a part of post-launch support. First, we’d like to see how the community reacts to the full game so that we can address the players’ needs the best we can.

A lot of replayability will also come from the character progression system – the players will be able to modify certain parameters and skills of the Ghostrunner, effectively creating distinct builds favouring different approaches to the game. Replaying a level with a different set of modifications will sometimes provide a vastly different experience.

“…there’s no stopping, no waiting, no losing control of the character for the sake of set pieces.”

There are several groups working together to make this complicated universe a reality. One More Level leads production and development with only a small indie team of 30. Slipgate Ironworks supports OML and All In! Games is in control of the cryptic and engaging social media content.

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The mysterious theme of glitchy AI serves as a nice segue from the initial content that we’ve revealed a while back to the finer story points that are going to be teased and/or revealed towards Ghostrunner’s release.

Grandaddy of FPS shooters, 3D Realms, is involved with Ghostrunner too. The veterans focus their efforts on the intuitive marketing behind the upcoming FPS, with their immense experience and knowledge.

It’s definitely a singular experience to have our worked inspected (and appreciated) by some of the most experienced veterans of the entire industry – which Scott Miller of 3D realms undoubtedly is. It’s similar to the accounts of people who get to work on the franchises they grew up with, although less direct. Words of encouragement from such mentors are bound to mean a lot.

Finally, the team told us “later this year” is as precise as they can get with a release date. I guess we’ll all be waiting impatiently for the most agile FPS to strike. It will release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. You can add Ghostrunner to your wishlist on Steam and join the All In! Games Discord community to stay up to date.