Alterborn Interview – Exploration, Combat, Settings, and More

Alterborn's lead game designer Pawel Pernak speaks with GamingBolt about the upcoming Soulslike action RPG.

Posted By | On 18th, Apr. 2022

Alterborn Interview – Exploration, Combat, Settings, and More

With elements taken from looter shooters, roguelikes, and Soulslikes, Iron Lung’s upcoming action RPG Alterborn is looking like quite an interesting blend of genres, and based on what’s been revealed about the game so far, it seems to be making some exciting promises where its world, choice-based gameplay, and customization mechanics are concerned. Recently, we reached out to its developers to learn more about Alterborn and what makes it tick, and learned quite a few new interesting things about the game. Below, you can read our interview with lead game designer Pawel Pernak.

alterborn

"We design Alterborn in a holistic manner meaning that its visuals also dictate the narrative; Arkane games such as Dishonored are a big inspiration to us as far as aesthetics are concerned."

Alterborn’s setting seems one of the game’s many interesting elements. Can you tell us a bit more about it, and how much the game highlights it lore and backstory?

Here is what I can tell you not to spoil the game too much; we design Alterborn in a holistic manner meaning that its visuals also dictate the narrative; Arkane games such as Dishonored are a big inspiration to us as far as aesthetics are concerned. Everything you encounter in the game, be it an enemy or a gun should be unique and from the get-go pique your interest, making you ask yourself how it came to be within the game’s world, what role it fulfills.

On the other hand, when it comes to the setting, we were inspired partly by the Borderlands series which does not play by any rules and is simply… fun. Violent, crazy but also fun. We think that the Soulslike genre became a bit stagnant and every single game that falls into that category has the same vibe to it if you will. We want to try something new while at the same time replicating all the essential components that make these games so darn good.

You’ve previously described Alterborn as a dynamic and replayable game- can you expand on that a little bit, and some of the key ways that the game attempts to achieve that?

We make use of procedural content BUT at the same time we are well aware that such content can end up feeling bland and simply not interesting. We combine interesting, handcrafted levels with procedural content and partial procedural geometry to achieve the most optimal experience.

Our main goal is to incentivize replayability and create systems that make you want to play the game multiple times, with each playthrough being unique in some way. Hades is a big point of reference here, I consider it an absolute masterpiece when it comes to the overall design.

What can you tell us about Alterborn’s relationship system? How much do players’ actions affect the game’s world and its story?

We want the player to feel like each of their decisions impacts not only themselves but also the world around them. Alterborn is set in a world of no heroes, just humans and their conflicting desires, all in an unwelcoming world. You may encounter a specific person who wants you to eliminate a different person; such a decision should feel difficult and in turn lead to varied outcomes linked to both the narrative and gameplay itself.

What can players expect from the game’s progression mechanics? How expansive will they be, and how much of an emphasis will they put on build variety?

Progression is one of Alterborn’s core pillars. There will be many different progression systems within the game that function in symbiosis, letting the players customize their character in countless ways. Again, we want the player to be presented with a lot of choices that are both interesting and difficult. As you play the game, you’ll find countless weapons, armors, trinkets, slottable passive and active abilities and much more. You won’t be able to equip all of them though. In fact, you’ll be quite limited and have to constantly tweak your loadout to adapt to challenges that are being thrown at you. As you keep on progressing through the game, you’ll learn more about enemy archetypes and whatnot subsequently being able to make better, informed decisions.

alterborn

"We make use of procedural content BUT at the same time we are well aware that such content can end up feeling bland and simply not interesting. We combine interesting, handcrafted levels with procedural content and partial procedural geometry to achieve the most optimal experience."

Alterborn’s clearly pulling a lot from a lot of different genres, but specifically where it’s combat is concerned, what sort of a balance does it strike between shooting, looter shooter, and Soulslike mechanics?

Our very first step when making Alterborn was to break down all these genres into prime factors and think long and hard about what makes them tick if you will. Is it the action loop of the player? The game’s structure? Progression systems? All of those combined? Or something else entirely? We mixed and matched different solutions which in turn led us to many prototyping sessions and the current state of Alterborn. Frame by frame, we analyzed the gunplay of shooter games that we consider the best out there, trying to replicate the fun factor. Players familiar with looters will feel right at home because of progression. As for the Soulslike genre, we think its strongest features are the level design, the enemy behavior and the overall design philosophy.

How is Alterborn’s world structured? Is it a game that places much of its emphasis on exploration, or is it more of a guided experience that focuses on forward momentum?

Exploration is a key part of the game, there are many secrets to be found. We want the player to feel like they make impactful decisions when exploring the Shattered Lands. Alterborn is not fully linear and you’ll be able to make some decisions on how to progress through the game.

Alterborn’s approach to how to tackle difficulty is one of its most intriguing aspects. Can you elaborate on how that works in the game?

Much like FromSoftware games, Alterborn will not have a difficulty setting. With that being said, as you learn more about the game’s mechanics, discovering and unlocking new ones, you’ll be able to use them more efficiently subsequently innately lowering the game’s difficulty.

With that being said, sometimes we might reward players that choose to overcome toughest of challenges BUT we never want to force anyone to play the game in a certain way – that is your choice that should not be dictated by anything other than yourself.

Roughly how long will an average playthrough of Alterborn be?

The game time will be highly dependent on how you choose to play. Also, we expect most players that actually finish Alterborn to play it again because of the replay value which is really important to us.

What was behind the decision to skip last-gen console releases?

It is too soon to tell whether we will skip the last generation of consoles – we want to release Alterborn on as many platforms as possible. For now, we only confirmed the release on PS5, Steam and Xbox but you can expect more such confirmations in the future.

alterborn

"Progression is one of Alterborn’s core pillars. There will be many different progression systems within the game that function in symbiosis, letting the players customize their character in countless ways."

What can you tell us about the game’s boss fights?

Boss fights are an essential aspect of all the genres we are inspired by and we want them to be a core part of the Alterborn experience. Expect each boss to be distinctive and challenging. Stay tuned for more information in the near future.

How are you handling death in the game?

The game is a Soulslike but we also want it to be slightly more welcoming to newer players; you’ll find tools as you play the game that will help you overcome adversity. Still, a veteran player seeking a greater challenge will not be disappointed. Getting the combat right is absolutely pivotal to us.

What can you tell us about weapons and customization in Alterborn?

We want each gun to feel unique and for the player to have many ways of customizing it. We’ll be sharing more information about specific weapons in the future.

Will Alterborn also throw in puzzles in its gameplay loop?

Yes, we will have some environmental puzzles. To give you an example, one of our unique features is the Altered State system that was inspired by the Legacy of Kain series. When in the Altered State, your surroundings change in real time before your very eyes. The system is designed to keep the players on their toes, challenging not just their combat skill but also their wit and observation skills.

Since the reveal of the PS5 and Xbox Series’ specs, a lot of comparisons have been made between the GPU speeds of the two consoles, with the PS5 at 10.28 TFLOPS and the Xbox Series X at 12 TFLOPS. How much of an impact on development do you think that difference will have?

These two are generally different consoles, built with different ideas, with bandwidth being only one of many factors. To us, as developers, both are great to work with and we look forward to releasing our game on both consoles.

The PS5 features an incredibly fast SSD with 5.5GB/s raw bandwidth. How can developers take advantage of this, and how does this compare to the Xbox Series X’s 2.4GB/s raw bandwidth?

Our game and all its assets are optimized with multiple platforms in mind and we feel confident that we’ll achieve optimal performance on both, no matter the difference.

alterborn

"Boss fights are an essential aspect of all the genres we are inspired by and we want them to be a core part of the Alterborn experience."

Super Resolution is coming to PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. How do you think this will help game developers?

FSR as well as DLSS are great technologies that significantly improve the experience for those who look for the highest quality possible. We look forward to seeing how the biggest triple A titles will handle the technology.

What are your thoughts on the Steam Deck? Do you have plans for any specific optimizations for the device?

While for the time being, we’re not 100% sure whether the game will be on Steam Deck, we want to release it on as many platforms as possible.


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