Ghostrunner 2 is one of my favorite releases of the year, and I had a blast slicing, parrying, and wall-running my way through Dharma Tower, and beyond. To discuss the development, design philosophy, cyber bike, and post-release plans, I had a chance to talk to Ghostrunner 2’s level designer Michał Król from One More Level.
I would like to begin by congratulating you on the fantastic reviews for Ghostrunner 2.
Thank you! It’s been a wild ride, but we’re really happy with the amazing response from reviewers and players!
Michał Król, Designer
How does it feel to see your work appreciated unanimously by critics and fans?
It is our first sequel ever, so it was a challenge for all of us. We wanted the second game to be bigger and more expansive in every aspect. We had many new ideas, but we needed to ensure that we pleased both the fans of GR1 (Ghostrunner 1) and those who hadn’t met Ghostrunner before. We also have a very active community of hardcore gamers, whose feedback was invaluable to us, and we wanted them to be satisfied with the sequel as well. Striking that delicate balance between the old and familiar and the new and exciting is not an easy task, and we’re glad that we managed to create a product that was so well received by everyone.
Let’s talk about one of the new key mechanics introduced in Ghostrunner 2, namely “Blocking”. Was the decision to add this purely based on making the game more accessible, or was it something you wanted to add in the first title as well?
The idea for blocking – and the stamina resource required for it – emerged right at the start of GR2 (Ghostrunner 2) production and was one of the first, if not the very first, prototyped features. Its aim was to enhance the game’s accessibility – but it doesn’t mean we wanted to make an easier game. It also allowed us to deepen the combat in many ways – such a new tool at our disposal allowed us to create new types of enemies, more varied encounters with them, and increased the spectrum of moment-to-moment decision making for the player.
The parkour and platforming feel better than ever, and I appreciate how it’s essentially the other half of the Ghostrunner experience. How do you decide which parkour/traversal abilities need to be added to Jack’s arsenal?
The answer is simple: testing. A lot of it. We select elements that best support the core of the game and provide us with the most possibilities to challenge the player when using them. Some ideas, while interesting, may not be suitable for continuous use due to potential issues with balancing and designing the levels with them in mind. Instead, they find their way into the game in a limited form as ‘exotic gameplay’ in certain segments.
But sometimes it’s the other way around – shurikens were a limited resource in the first game, but they offered so many gameplay possibilities for us that they became a staple of Jack’s arsenal in the second game.
I’m a big fan of the new upgrade system and feel it adds a layer of actual decision-making, but it’s quite the departure from the original’s. What was the decision behind such a radical change?
It started with a storyline that assumed the original Cybervoid was deactivated, and Jack had to rely more on hardware, not software – hence the idea of adding new chipsets to his body. We also wanted to provide players with a simpler way to experiment with builds while retaining some spatial aspect from the first game’s system. The general idea was to reverse the skill-tree concept, where we don’t spend points on a predefined scheme, but instead, we build and modify that scheme ourselves. We took something that players are familiar with, and added our twist to make the entire system more interesting.
Jack talks a lot this time around, with plenty of character growth and increased interaction in general. What was the experience like to add a deeper narrative part to the series from a development point of view?
Ghostrunner isn’t a story-driven game, but after the first one, we felt that we had created an intriguing world deserving of better presentation – and it’s not an easy task in such a fast-paced game. In GR1 we presented many crucial story dialogues to the player during intense challenges, and in hindsight, it didn’t turn out to be the best solution. That’s why right from the beginning of GR2 production, we contemplated on how to do it better – hence the idea of the base, where we have the chance to meet the characters who previously only accompanied us as voices on a communicator. The relationships between them and Jack are much closer now, allowing us to show in dialogues that he isn’t just a soulless killing machine; he has his own character and a sense of humor as sharp as his sword.
The new soundtrack has a pretty impressive lineup of modern Synthwave artists, from Gost to Dan Terminus. What was it like working with so much musical talent?
In GR2, we take Jack to a few interesting and diverse places, both within and outside the tower. That’s why we decided that the music should also reflect this diversity. New artists quickly grasped what we expected from them – they had an excellent feel for our game and knew perfectly how to capture the atmosphere of each level through their music. In addition to electronic music creators, we were joined by Arkadiusz Reikowski, an award-winning video game composer, whose music complements the soundtrack with a cinematic touch. Working with all of them was a pure pleasure, especially since, besides being great artists, they also turned out to be very nice and open people.
Are there any recent games that you were inspired by during the development of Ghostrunner 2?
Most recent one would be Neon White – it’s an incredible platformer that every fan of speedrunning should check out! Other than that, in GR2 we changed our approach to bossfight design quite a bit, and took some inspiration from souls-like genre, so games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Jedi: Fallen Order and the first Dark Souls were on our minds a lot. And I’m sure players can find a bit of Wipeout and Trackmania in the motorcycle sections. 🙂
The bike is such a cool addition to the game and complements the setting a lot. Though mechanically, it’s quite different from Jack’s regular movement. How did you land on adding that to the game?
From the very beginning of planning GR2, we knew it was time for Jack to leave the tower. As it is a desolate wasteland, we needed some means of transport for him. The choice was quite simple – no vehicle resonates more with cyberpunk than a futuristic motorcycle. The speed and mobility of such a vehicle immediately sparked a range of ideas for gameplay involving it. Riding on walls was an obvious choice for us. Then more ideas emerged, such as jumping off and grappling onto the motorcycle while in motion, which opened up further possibilities for level design. The culmination of all this was the boss fight – something that started as a joke inspired by Dune, eventually became a reality and an incredible experience from a production standpoint. And it seems that players like it too. 🙂
Were there any other ideas that you had to cut out? Can you share anything?
I can reveal that we planned two additional levels, but due to various reasons, we had to abandon them. However, the best ideas from those levels made their way into other ones, so no worries! I can also disclose that our fascination with the last two God of War games led to an idea for throwing (and recalling) the sword. However, it didn’t align too well with our gameplay, so we had to let it go. Perhaps another time. 🙂
What should fans look forward to for the future of Ghostrunner 2, and the series in general? Have you ever thought of expanding the world to other forms of media?
The Ghostrunner 2 is far from over – we’re still working on a few surprises for GR2 that will be released in coming months – both for our most hardcore fans craving for more combat and parkour challenges, and those who just want to ride the motorcycle a bit more. That’s all I can say at this moment. 🙂
What was it like working with 505 Games?
It’s been a blast really! 505 Games believed in our vision for the sequel from the very beginning and never once doubted the path we took for Jack in Ghostrunner 2. They supported us every step of the way and never questioned our decisions, even the riskiest ones. They knew that only we understood what made the first game such a success and that only we would be able to replicate that success. And I think we’ve succeeded.
Thank you for your time, and once again, congratulations on the fantastic release.
Thank you for the interesting questions!