Surviving the unexpected in indie development to make Ruiner

We chatted with the developers of Ruiner to learn about making good cyberpunk and good top-down twin-stick shooters.

Ruiner is a new twin-stick shooter from Reikon Games that’s dripping with atmosphere, a pulpy murder-filled story, and intense action that’s…well, admittedly rather difficult. It’s another feather in publisher Devolver Digital’s cap, and we were lucky enough today to get to talk with Reikon co-founders Magdalena Tomkowicz and Jakub StyliÅ„ski on the Gamasutra Twitch channel. 

It was a fun time, and a great chance to look at a game that mixes pulpy, polished violence with an interesting revenge story. You can watch our full conversation with Tomkowicz and StyliÅ„ski up above, but in case you’re already on your way to KILL THE BOSS right now, here’s a few noteworthy takeaways. 

There’s storytelling power in top-down spaces

Tomkowicz, the game’s narrative designer, was kind enough to explain her philosophy for fitting a proper revenge story inside a twin-stick shooter. She shared some practical tips, including making sure no line of dialogue was longer than 3 lines, but also she said part of the goal was to make sure much of the game read “like a comic book.”

In comic books, Tomkowicz said, readers still take a long time to read pages even though there’s less dialogue than prose. So with Ruiner, she attempted to paint the game’s story through images the player can process as they move through the environment, helping add flavor to the top-down perspective. 

Be prepared for ANYTHING

StyliÅ„ski spent a lot of time talking about how, despite years of experience at companies like CD Projekt Red and Techland, the Ruiner development team couldn’t have predicted the challenges they’d run into. The worst of them (which they survived) was when it licensed a track for Ruiner’s announcement trailer…which had to be promptly taken down because the musician they’d licensed the track from had used music they didn’t own. 

As StyliÅ„ski said (in exasperation), there was literally no way to predict this happening, so the journey to make sure they could have an announcement trailer for PAX East was a huge challenge that they hadn’t anticipated. If you’re going indie—even with experience—StyliÅ„ski advices you to get ready for challenges like this, along with the normal creative and technical ones. 

Faceless characters don’t have to be generic characters

Lastly, StyliÅ„ski and Tomkowicz talked about the main character’s design, and how his faceless LED helmet gives players a character they can project their own ideas onto. We asked how they felt about their hero compared to the supposedly “relatable” generic shooter heroes of years before, and they said that there’s still something specific about Ruiner’s violent hero that rewards player’s imagination, instead of depressing it. If you’re working on a game in need of an interesting hero, Tomkowicz's insights might help you make something memorable. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel.

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