An interview with Magdalena Tomkowicz from Reikon Games
We recently had a chat with Magdalena Tomkowicz, narrative designer of Ruiner, a brutal new action shooter currently in development. Published by Devolver Digital, Ruiner is a fast paced, cyberpunk themed story of a wired sociopath fighting back against a corrupt system.
Set in the year 2091 you will have to battle your way through the grossly overpopulated metropolis of Rengkok City fighting cyber-enhanced goons in a bid to retrieve your kidnapped brother. The ones that took him know that you are coming, but you’re not alone in this battle, a secretive hacker is lending you a hand. Clearly inspired by the cyberpunk aesthetic of high tech, low life Ruiner portrays a dystopian world controlled by corporations. Here’s what Tomkowicz told IIG about the origins of the game.
“We started sometime in the middle of 2014. We’d been wanting to do our own game for months before, because how long can you make fantasy or zombie games, right? There’d been many different ideas but somehow there was always tech involved. So a kind of sci-fi, cyberpunk-ish vibe. When some of the projects we did for other studios finished, we started seriously working on a game. It wasn’t Ruiner yet, but it was its primordial form.”
Ruiner delivers fast-paced, neon-soaked ultraviolence all from a top-down perspective. In this way, the analogies to games such Hotline Miami are understandable, however beyond a shared aesthetic Ruiner is a totally different animal. For a start the combat is a lot more complex, you can’t wipe out entire rooms of bad guys without playing tactically. The narrative direction is also a lot less cryptic, you can expect more of a classic cyberpunk storyline here with clear outcomes. Here is what Tomkowicz had to say to IIG about Ruiner’s plot.
“To me, as Narrative Designer, the main inspiration is reality. I’ve been interested in the development of technology – especially communication technology – and its integration into human lives since very early in my life: my father was a computer engineer and I was reading tech magazines in preschool. We’re only now beginning to see its influence and it’s a matter of discussion whether what’s going on is good or bad.”
“It’s definitely opened up amazing opportunities for many people all over the world and connected the whole planet together – but at the same time, many of our problems remain unsolved. The tension between the visions of what you can achieve as a human being – or a species – and the awareness that humans are fundamentally flawed, that we’re destroying the only world we can live in, that we’re exploiting one another, that slavery is still there and it’s doing fine – this is the space where Ruiner comes from. The world around us changes, things change but humans – not so much.”
There’s a lot of mechanical depth to be found in Ruiner’s combat. This is no run and gun affair, each engagement will test your understanding of the weapons and abilities available. First and foremost let’s look at the melee weapons on offer, for those who like to get up close and personal. You start with a trusty pipe, which although hard hitting isn’t exactly glamorous, it is the future after all. If you’re looking for something a little fancier you could try the nano katana, electric sword or one of the game’s two-handed super swords.
For those of you who prefer ranged combat don’t worry Ruiner has you covered too. The game’s arsenal features over 20 guns, ranging from conventional firearms like pistols, SMGs, shotguns and plasma rifles, all the way up to hi-tech cyberpunk inspired armaments like the singularity gun, orbital cannon, sonic shotgun, subzero gun and lightning cannon. With such an eclectic mix of sci-fi noir inspired technology, we were interested in the team’s influences. Here’s what Tomkowicz had to say on the matter.
“We’re all fans of the original Ghost in The Shell, Akira, Cyber City OEDO and other cyberpunk manga and anime classics. Most of us know Gibson, Banks, Dick or Lem. Our technical designer, Maciej, even has MA in cyberpunk. But we never wanted to follow any genre by the book or replicate stuff that we know. We’re exploring the ideas we’re passionate about.”
The gameplay depth doesn’t end there though, there’s a whole host of unlockable gadgets and cyber implants for you to combo with. Add to that a mixture of offensive and defensive abilities and you’ve got a deeply strategic shooter. The Shield will become your best friend, as it’s an easy option to get you out of a tight spot. You also have the ability to Dash and later, with upgrades, Multidash. This allows you to slow down combat and plan out your moves to devastating effect. Each weapon or gadget can also be upgraded in a number of ways supporting your chosen playstyle. Later on in the game, you can look forward to abilities that let you slow down enemies almost stopping time and kinetic barriers that allow you to control the battlefield more easily. This scope must have been challenging for such a small team. Here is what Tomkowicz told IIG about the difficulties they faced.
“Basically, the game took control of itself pretty quickly and we had to satisfy its needs. So, for example, from a team of 7 we’ve grown to a team of 20. Which, of course, has brought a set of its own issues – how to run such a big team. So generally, unless you’re following a beaten track or have a very experienced team, making games is extremely unpredictable, full of difficulty. But that’s what also makes it so adventurous and challenging – perhaps even addictive.”
With a potent arsenal of weapons at your fingertips and vengeance on your mind, there’s only one more ingredient missing, a rip-roaring soundtrack. Ruiner does not disappoint in this department offering players funky electro beats to accompany the frantic gunplay. It’s obvious that the music plays a huge role in this style of game as Tomkowicz explained to IIG.
“Music and sound has been one of the four main pillars of Ruiner since the beginning. The other three being: exciting gameplay, compelling storyline and unique visual style. Originally we wanted to hire some underground artists, preferably local, to create the music for us, but we soon discovered that it’s not easy. So we started looking for the music all around the web – that wasn’t easy either, but we found a couple good artists, like Sidewalks & Skeletons.”
“It was also our dream to have the music by Susumu Hirasawa in Ruiner. We thought it would be impossible and it took us a year, but we did it – thanks to Devolver and Danny from Laced Music.”
“Another discovery was Natalia Zamilska, a Polish electronic music composer and performer. She was recommended to us by Basia Wrońska, the voice of the Hacker girl in our trailers. We hadn’t heard about Zamilska before but we were taken right away.”
One interesting aspect of Reikon Games is the fact that a lot of the team have previously worked on big triple A titles. It’s quite commonplace now to see smaller team’s branching off from big studios in an effort to garner more creative freedom. As the indie market grows it presents ever more opportunity for small teams to realise their ideas and bring them to market. As consumers this is fantastic. It offers us a wide and varying range of experiences, a lot of which don’t follow the norms of traditional game development. It’s certainly different working on smaller games, which Tomkowicz touched on by saying:
“Working on big projects, especially The Witcher, has given us a good idea of what’s possible if you really want it and work for it, so we’re having a hard time having to compromise the quality and settle for something smaller in scope. But at the same time, now we have the freedom to develop our own ideas – we can do what we want! – which is even more motivating.”
Indie games are at a quite interesting point right now. With many titles finding huge commercial success, the sector has expanded opening up new opportunities for fledgeling studios. Creativity is at the core of what independent game development is all about and studios such as Reikon Games are embracing that. Tomkowicz shared his ideas on the indie game industry with us saying:
“For the creative and development side of things, I think that after the age of dinosaurs – the big multi-million dollar companies – and after the age of the small mammals – the multitude of the tiny inexperienced teams making tons of games – I think we’re entering a time where there will be more of the sweet in-between: small teams making great games.”
“Not just risky ideas – but ideas in general, trying them, playing with them – are great because they are exciting. They inspire the creators and players equally, show what’s possible, they push the boundaries. The big titles are usually strangely familiar. They usually recycle very few ideas over and over. I suspect the decisions are made not based on what’s good but what sold well and what will sell, so rooted in the past. But after trying a couple of games from the indie mega booth I felt so refreshed with the ideas these guys were turning into reality, not concerned with money or market or other external reasons. They just had a good idea and decided to go with it. And that’s all it takes. It just made me happy to be able to take part in the experience.“
“Imagine big games coming from these awesome ideas – that’s the kind of future I’m looking forward to.”
If you’re interested you can find out more about Ruiner here.