RUINER Interview — Nowhere to Hide
Brutal. Intense. Violent.
Publisher Devolver Digital increasingly attaches itself to some of the industry’s most promising independent games. RUINER is the latest example.
Founded on December 1, 2014, Reikon Games is a new studio located in the capital of Poland, Warsaw. RUINER is its debut project. However, it’s a new studio comprised of industry veterans whose credits include The Witcher series, Dying Light, This War of Mine, and Shadow Warrior. In other words, it’s the first release of a team who have collectively shipped many great games. And it shows.
RUINER is well-realized, and is as captivating to play as every trailer so far has made it out to look. In short, this isn’t your usual “debut project.”
The game itself is a self-described brutal and intense action shooter set in 2091, in the cyber metropolis of Rengkok. In it, you play as a wired sociopath — a killing machine — who has lashed out against an unbridled corrupt system in order to unveil the truth, as well as to rescue his kidnapped brother. In RUINER a chaotic storm of violence is almost always the answer.
Recently, I sat down with Reikon Game’s Narrative Director, Magdalena Tomkowicz, to talk more about RUINER — from its documented brutal difficulty to whether or not the game’s narrative takes a back seat to its gameplay. And obviously much more.
Editors’ note: the following email was conducted via email.
Tyler Fischer: What inspired Reikon Games to make RUINER? And where does RUINER itself draw inspiration from?
Magdalena Tomkowicz: Actually, it was the other way round: RUINER inspired the founding of Reikon Games. We were entirely focused on the game, and the company was a necessary byproduct in the process. RUINER is the coming together of different people and the things that drive them. Whether it’s exciting and smoothly-running gameplay, amazing visuals, love for classic anime or intriguing setting — everything you see in the game was brought in by people who have been passionate about it.
T: With virtual reality finding its place in the market, the rise of invasive and wearable technology, as well as constant talk about nefarious corporations, it feels like the fascination with Cyberpunk has been on the steady rise the last few years. And now games are finally at a place where they can do the genre justice.
That being said, could you elaborate more on the game’s 2091 cyber metropolis setting, as well as what has been done to make RUINER feel like a new and original take on the genre?
MT: From today’s perspective, Cyberpunk is quite an old-school, retro genre. While we indeed grew up on works considered cyberpunk, and we dig William Gibson, our angle is different. First, it was never our ambition to make a cyberpunk game. For a long time we avoided that word. Because it would imply a genre, and we wanted to simply make a game about things that interest us. And it so happens that many of them are associated with cyberpunk. So to all of you cyberpunk hardcorers out there, don’t expect blue and pink neons, rain and existential spleen. RUINER is not that.
Part of RUINER is the improvisation on the future of virtual reality. We take it to quite a dark dimension where people use one another for entertainment — like they’ve been using each other for many different things. The technology is here. The question remains: will we dare to use it?
T: I’ve heard from quite a few people that RUINER is really difficult. Is that something that happened somewhat organically, or was the goal always to create a game that was going to seed out the weak from the strong?
MT: We like to say that RUINER is challenging [smiles]. Yes, that was the idea from the beginning gameplay-wise: to create a game that would lure you into this world and give you a hard time, but at the same time tickle your ambition and make you want to try again, even harder. However, it turned out that many players were interested in RUINER not only because of the gameplay. The world we created fascinates people and makes them want to experience the dark adventure in the back alleys of Rengkok City. It took some time, but eventually we decided to implement difficulty levels so that more players can play the game, do some sightseeing and try themselves in the combat. The developers’ recommended will always be hard, though.
T: Some people will say that high difficulty is just a cheap way to create replayability or to hide unenjoyable gameplay. How do you strike that balance of creating a game that is both very difficult, but also very fun? Was there ever a concern that the team was leaning too much into the former?
MT: RUINER is pretty hard yes, but we give players many tools for survival, ability to change your build on the fly, and very quick respawns without losing any progress. The game is hard, but we wouldn’t call it unfair.
There was actually a point at which RUINER was balanced for us devs, and so feedback from focus testers was very negative, as they struggled in during most combat encounters and were super annoyed by the hyper difficulty level at that time.
Since then we added three difficulty levels, although even easy can be a little challenge at times. Players now say that the game is tough but fair, and that’s what we were aiming for. We know that impossible challenge is not the way to go!
T: It has been said that movement (quick movement more precisely) is crucial in RUINER. But beyond this mantra, how much freedom of playstyle and approach options should players except? Would you describe the combat as something that can be mastered and repeated, or is it constantly evolving and asking something new and different of the player?
MT: We want to give the players as much freedom as possible. In the prologue, we introduce the basic gameplay mechanics which is Dash – the super-fast movement – in its basic and tactical form, and Shield – one of the combat gadgets. Once you master the movement and using the gadget, individually or in combination with others, you start developing your character: you level up and unlock new skills and upgrades.
You can replay any level with new set of skills. You can also switch between them on the fly if your current setup doesn’t work for you or the enemies force you to take a different approach.
You can choose to play aggressively or more tactically. Do the killing with your basic weapons, support yourself with gadgets to make it easier for you, or even make your enemies kill each other. We definitely want the players to have a lot of fun with the game, and to try new things.
T: A lot of what I’ve seen, heard, and read about RUINER is been all about gameplay. Would it be fair to say the game’s narrative is second-seat? How much story and exploration should one expect?
MT: When we started working on RUINER, we wrote down the four things that we wanted to be the pillars of the game: gameplay, visuals, sound and story. So the story and the main characters have always been very important.
However, RUINER is first and foremost an action game, and we’re not promising a non-linear, choice-driven, twisted story line. We wanted the story to fit the game, drive the action, not slow it down with long dialogues and cutscenes explaining what’s going on. That’s why the dialogues are kept to a minimum and have max three lines, and cutscenes build up the tension, prepare you for what’s coming rather than explain anything.
Initially, we weren’t planning side-missions either, but we’ve had so much positive feedback from the players about the world, and that they would love to explore it that we added a couple of side story elements and a Database where the players who like to read can learn more about the world, the characters, weapons, enemies, etc.
Sometimes we hear that there’s not enough of that narrative immersion and exploration – and we’re happy to know that the players want more Rengkok – but RUINER is not an RPG with fast-paced combat, but an action shooter which happens to have a really cool setting and quite a big story component. We’ll be more than happy to develop these elements in a possible future [smiles].
T: How long is an average playthrough of the game, and has there been anything done to encourage replayability?
MT: The game depends very heavily on the player’s skill, patience and dedication — and it relates to your question, too. We assume an average playthrough would take between 6 to 8 hours. But this time can get significantly shorter or longer depending on how fast you learn, and / or how much time you want to invest in mastering the game.
As you level up and unlock new abilities and weapons, you can experiment more and more with different setups. You can change your set of skills and equipment on the fly. You can also come back to any level that you’ve completed and replay it with new and more abilities.
T: What framerate and resolution is the team targeting?
MT: PC: 120 fps (actually we’ve had to cap it because of over-optimization) [smiles]. Console: over 30 fps. Full HD.
T: Has there been any consideration in bringing the game to the Switch?
MT: There has. Very abstractly.
RUINER is in development for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One. It is poised to ship on September 26th.