Today, developer Ghost Ship Games announced that their co-op shooter-mining game Deep Rock Galactic will be making its way to PlayStation in the near future of 2022. I got to talk to Ghost Ship Games chief executive officer Søren Lundgaard all about the game, what the launch means for Ghost Ship Games, and how they’ve built a community of players who really support each other.
Rock And Stone! Ghost Ship Games CEO Søren Lundgaard Talks Deep Rock Galactic’s Upcoming PlayStation Launch
If you’ve not played Deep Rock Galactic, allow me to catch you up to speed. You and three other dwarves descend to the deepest caves in the galaxy in search of treasure, although you won’t be the only ones down there. You face off against swarms of the local fauna and must work together to survive.
It’s a really incredible co-op experience, that has a pretty easy to grasp concept when you think about it. “Basically combining Minecraft and Left 4 Dead” Søren tells me, was the starting point for the idea behind Deep Rock Galactic. That’s how it began, and right from the beginning Søren was in.
“We founded Ghost Ship Games six years ago now, six people starting this journey. In fact the five others started one month before me. I knew the game director, Mikkel, very well because we worked together for 10 years back then at a company called Deadline Games. He invited me down to their office. I was working at another company, on the second floor. They invited me down, and I was like, really curious to see what they were doing. These veteran game developers and Mikkel, that was probably something really interesting.
I looked at the project, and even though it was a very early prototype of Deep Rock Galactic, back then, it was instantly like, there’s something in this. There’s something magical about this combination of procedural generated terrain and a shooter, and these dwarves digging for gold. Something was really cool about it.
I went back to my office, really envious of the five guys, and then they called me back one hour later. They said ‘Hey Søren, would you want to join us, equal partners and everything’ and I said yes, and I’ve not regretted that decision. That decision has been the best decision in my professional career, for sure. “
So the six of them set out to make this cross between two genres, driven by the desire to see a game like Minecraft, with great exploratory depth also get injected with the same kind of action packed gameplay you’d expect out of something like Left 4 Dead.
More than that however, was their desire to make a unique co-operative experience, that really encourages you to help one another. With those core concepts, everything else began falling into place as they built the game world.
“So what should we do? They’re going down into a cave, they’re fighting some monsters. They’re probably looking for minerals, for gold, diamonds. Who’s doing that? Dwarves, obviously. They’re digging for gold, they’re good at fighting – it was the clear answer. Then we decided to set it in space, to give it a sci-fi angle and not be totally stereotypical.
[But] we’re still taking all the tropes from being dwarves. They drink beer, you are a comrade and we’re all in this together. It just became interesting putting them into this sci-fi setting because it gives us a lot of playful possibilities that aren’t seen in other games. So we kind of have our own space there.”
Another main aspect of Deep Rock Galactic also came about from just considering the real-world aspects of these mines you’d explore. One of the first things you’ll notice when you jump into Deep Rock Galactic is the lighting, or rather, the lack of it in a mine.
Want to see what’s in front of you? Toss a flare, and watch the mine light up brilliantly as you’re automatically dazzled by the procedurally generated level design. It’s one of my favourite uses of lighting in a game, which is something I frankly couldn’t wait to tell Søren and hear more about it.
“It just feels great right? And it’s the thing that, as a game developer, you can sitting there with all the cool dynamic lighting and you can set it up and it’s fun to play with but it isn’t really often a mechanic in a game. Here we had a chance to turn that dynamic light tech into a game mechanic.
It’s been challenging because there was not a lot of other games to look at on how to do that. I think it just came from the natural concept that you’re in a cave, and there’s darkness. So it was part of the initial concept and pitch from ourselves, that let’s play around with being in darkness and you control the light, you set up the light, you are bringing light.”
While the idea for flares did come from just thinking about how it’s pretty dark in caves, it also had inspiration in a classic PlayStation 2 game.
“One of the inspiration games was a game based on the move The Thing – excellent game, played it on the PS2, me and Mikkel back in the old days. It had this thing about you throwing a flare on the ground, and you had a limited supply. You have to really think about when to throw the next flare, and Mikkel had that idea, ‘Lets see if we can put that in the game’ and I though that was cool.
It’s been something we’ve tweaked a lot, and the first, if you go back on the internet and look at some old stuff of Deep Rock Galactic’s prototypes – because we’ve done open development, so everything we’ve done is out there if you dig for it, and they will show you a much darker game.”
Now the game is at a place where it looks gorgeous and is illuminated so well, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to figure out how create a darker, almost forebodingly so, kind of level.
“We’re still dreaming of maybe creating some sort of really dark biome, where it’s extra black and we play more on this than normal. Just one of the many ideas we have for the future.”
Since this is the PlayStation debut for Deep Rock Galactic, and more importantly it’s debut on PS5, Søren and his team aren’t forgetting all the new features they can add. Specifically with the DualSense controller, and how they can further immerse you into the game.
“We’re focusing mainly on the controller, on the haptic feedback. Our designer has had a good deal of time toying around with it. We did try something where you did stuff to the controller (gestures as if to move a controller in his hands) and you would ‘Rock and Stone!’ in the game.
The problem was that it happened too often and it was too difficult to control. So I’m not sure where that is at right now, but at least we tried. But we’ve implemented haptic feedback into a lot of things, and motion controls to help with targeting.”
Now there are a lot of things to like about Deep Rock Galactic, and as I previously said the flare’s being used as dynamic lighting is likely my favourite use of lighting in recent gaming history. For Søren however, it’s the two things that make him the most proud.
“I think the goal we set up was to use procedurally generated terrain to create a new experience every time – so that was one goal. The other goal was that we wanted to create the best co-op game ever – so a small goal, right?
I’m equally proud of what we have achieved in both of those things. On terrain and procedurally generated elements, we started out with some complex ideas. Then we realized that this was too complex, we couldn’t control it. So it’s technically this really simple thing we’ve implemented that just works really, really well.
Then the co-op elements. We already talking about ‘Rock and Stone’, and that’s just one example of things that we have implemented that have just worked extremely well. It glues the players together, and we’re building a lot of things that do that without you having to use voice chat.
Jonas, our lead programmer said that he felt going into a co-op game as a newbie you could feel like you’re dragging down everyone. So that’s something we really wanted to turn around. Experienced players should be proud to take newbies and train them up and be happy about that whole thing.
Where that’s ended up has just surpassed all our expectations multiple times. Somehow it’s managed to create this extremely friendly community where people are just collaborating and taking care of each other, both inside and outside of the game. That’s very rewarding.”
Søren is right about the game’s community, because the proof is in the mineral pudding. The first time I ever sat down to play Deep Rock Galactic, in my first session with another player I ended up playing another three levels with the the same squad, with two other players who did nothing but their best to teach me how to play and help me along the way.
A community so focused on helping each other and supporting one another is really a great thing to see in gaming today, and all of the credit goes to Ghost Ship Games for being able to create such a space for players. Especially when you consider aspects like the Performance Pass, which is their own take on a monetized battle pass.
Rather than having to pay for the full battle pass like in other titles, the Performance Pass is based on, as it’s name suggests, performance. Play the game, complete challenges, progress. It’s as simple as that, and the best part is that it is all entirely free.
“We though there was more intrinsic value if it was presented as something like a battle pass where you play the game, and claim what you want from progressing in the game. You become more attached to it, you feel like ‘I deserve this’.”
The best part about the efforts Ghost Ship Gameshas made in order to build a supportive and engaged community is that they’ve also given back to the developers where they can.
“It’s been a long journey with the community because as I said, we wanted to do open-development with this game and we’ve definitely done that. We’re quite the small team with 30 people now, but most of the time when we were developing the core parts of the game we were 12.
We thought that the community would just help us test the game and give us some feedback – but one example that has us really surprised is that the game is now translated into 20 languages, all done by the community. I think we have like 80,000 words in the game.
It’s an ongoing process, and it’s not necessarily the quality level eveywhere had we done it professionally, but the ownership that the community feels because they are also represented in the game. They feel like ‘Oh, I’m from this small country but I can actually help spread the game in my country by adding this language that never would have been added for business reasons.”
One thing that Ghost Ship Games won’t do however, no matter how many times they get the question, is implement a PvP mode.
“The answer’s no, and one of the reasons is that the way we have set up the networks is that it’s peer to peer. So the players are hosting on PC, on Steam and the same on PlayStation. We don’t have dedicated servers, so we would need quite a different set up.”
They really just can’t do it, at least not how it is currently set up. That’s not to say that they’ll do it at sometime in the future, because a competitive, PvP vibe isn’t the tone Ghost Ship Games is looking for.
“I don’t think we’ll ever do that.”
At the end of the day, no PvP doesn’t matter because Deep Rock Galactic is a full and rich experience already. While those on PS5 and PS4 will have to wait a little longer to start digging with their friends, we can also expect plenty of new content to hit the game next year.
“Season 2 will arrive in April, probably, next year, and we still don’t know what will be in Season 2, to be honest. We needed to see how successful or not season one would be before we figured out what would be the right thing to do. It’s been super successful, and we want a bit more time to explore…
Now the game feels quite complete, but we can still add a lot. So I think we’ll take it from the season perspective and say, ‘okay, what kind of themes could we go into, and what kind of gameplay would fit that, and how can we toy around with this whole thing.”
For now at least, Deep Rock Galactic is Ghost Ship Games main focus going forward, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be the only thing we see from Ghost Ship Games in the future.
“There is no sign of us abandoning Deep Rock Galactic anytime soon, but we do sincerely want to create a new game as well. I have actually no idea what that game will be, I just know it will be something where it’s hopefully recognizable to be a Ghost Ship game.
We’re going to involve the community, and we’re going to attack, maybe some other genre, maybe kind of the same but with a different angle. I don’t know.”
Whatever the game is, I know I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for it. Even if it has a third of the creativity Deep Rock Galactic has, it’ll be well worth a look.
As far as when you can jump into Deep Rock Galactic on PS5 and PS4, make sure to stay tuned to PSU for the latest updates. For now however, look for it in January 2022.
Thank you to Ghost Ship Games chief executive officer Søren Lundgaard for taking the time to talk to me and PSU about Deep Rock Galactic coming to PlayStation, and to Coffee Stain Publishing for making it happen.