05 Aug 2021 10:05 PM +00:00

The Ascent Interview: ‘Sometimes You Have a Great Idea, Only to Realise Someone Else Shipped Before You’

In The Ascent, you adapt or you die. Fail to level up, upgrade your weapons, and react to whatever lethal surprises the dangerous streets of Veles hurl at you and you’ll be wiped out.

For Neon Giant, a studio of just 12 people, the same rules applied. Being small allowed them to be agile – to keep moving and react to an ever-changing environment. It also meant development took that little bit longer.

As Neon Giant toiled away on The Ascent, more and more cyberpunk games – from larger studios with bigger teams – were announced. Rather than despairing, Neon Giant watched, learned and adapted.

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Read more: Why The Ascent is one of the year's biggest surprises

“We started production before most of those games were shown, so they did not have a direct influence per se, but we absolutely reacted to some things,” Neon Giant creative director and co-founder Tor Frick told Gfinityesports.com. “Sometimes you have a great idea, only to realize someone else had that same idea and ship before you.”

As additional cyberpunk-genre games emerged, it presented more opportunities for Neon Giant to break out in the crowded genre with something unique.

“We wanted to push a bit more in the far-future direction, including more fantastical elements with aliens, spaceships and really taking the dystopian metropolis to ridiculous levels, Frick said. "We felt it was a bit more of an unexplored space, as well as giving us plenty of material to create the kind of over-the-top gameplay we wanted to have.

"The Ascent with its more zoomed out camera distance needs to have larger differences in enemies, chunkier environments, larger explosions. Everything needs to be pushed to silly levels (which is FUN!)"

Amidst the flurry of bullets, blood-splattered bodies, and thumping techno-cyberpunk soundtrack, it’s easy to ignore the world around you in The Ascent.

After a shootout, you probably didn’t notice that the advertising TVs, now riddled with bullet holes, have scrambled audio, or that the volumetric smoke clouds that built up during the gunfight have begun to dissipate. Perhaps you didn’t clock that prior to the firefight, your now-perished foes were talking to civilians, using vending machines, and going about their lives.

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The Ascent isn’t a mindless shooter. In fact, it cleverly breaks up the action with delightful tours of Veles. The sheer amount of detail in the world stops these quieter moments feeling like ‘padding,’ and, instead, sews the world and frenetic action together to make it all more believable.

“We wanted to create a world where the player could stop and take in the sights and sounds for a while and just feel the ambience,” said Frick. “When not going full on guns-out crazy, of course.”

Being a team of just 12 brought with it a number of challenges, which ultimately affected the genre of the game.

“We started out very small with only a couple of people, and we knew that if we had made, for example, an FPS, it would have been very difficult to try to stand on our own, and push the kind of worldbuilding, art, and gameplay polish we wanted to strive for,” Frick said.

“Making a top down shooter allowed us to make something we believe can stand with the best in its genre. Of course, this adds limitations in many ways, but also opens up many opportunities.”

The Ascent has been universally praised for its graphics since it released July 29 – but Frick explained that with such a small team, a few shortcuts needed to be made.

“We knew we needed to cut corners where we could, so we developed a very specific workflow which allowed us to create the vast amounts of content we needed," he said. "In many ways, the way we create things is the opposite of what we are used to at larger AAA-teams. Not better in every way, just very different, and perfectly suited for what we are doing at Neon Giant.”

“We also went for an art style that played well into both the style of game and our strengths as individuals – that, plus the fact that the artists working here are absolute wizards at their craft!”

Those hoping for DLC might want to shelve those wishes for now, however. Frick said the next step for Neon Giant is patching the game and fixing bugs while working on quality of life improvements.