How does an action-RPG made by an 11-person team get highlighted by Microsoft as a launch title for their next big console? Well, apparently by making it cool as hell.
This month’s IGN First we’re shining an exclusive light on The Ascent, a cyberpunk-themed RPG that plays a bit like a mix of Diablo and a twin-stick shooter made by the small but extremely experienced team at Neon Giant. After its big Inside Xbox reveal, I spoke to creative directors Tor Frick and Arcade Berg about how they struck a deal with Microsoft to be at the next-gen forefront.
The Ascent – Exclusive Next-Gen Screenshots and Concept Art
It turns out, the story is a fairly simple one. About a year ago, Microsoft visited Neon Giant’s studio in Sweden to see an early version of The Ascent. Frick says what they had to show at that point was still very early in development, with the team only having worked on it for about a year so far. Despite that, it still impressed, and Microsoft was interested right away.
“They were immediately very excited,” Frick explains, saying the studio encouraged them to keep their cards close to their chest as Microsoft felt they almost certainly had something special on their hands. They started talking right about partnering up and potentially timing its launch with that of the Series X – and according to Frick and Berg, it was both the game itself and the studio’s own ambition that did the trick.
“We are trying to push things as far as we possibly can,” Frick says. Everything from the look of the game to the feel of the weapons was meant to go above and beyond. That can be seen plainly in early gameplay footage of The Ascent, with lighting effects, smoke and spark particles, and environmental destructibility that aims to do more than games in the genre are generally expected to.
Berg says that the Neon Giant team, a new studio composed of industry veterans, are trying to take their experience working on big, polished games with 500-person teams and apply it to The Ascent – despite the fact that Neon Giant has roughly 2% of that staff size. As a result, Berg recalls that “[Microsoft] definitely liked the the visual fidelity, the destruction, and just how tight the core was,” even at the early stage they initially saw it.
That quality coupled with with their team’s clear ambition gave Microsoft the confidence to plant a flag early, with Berg and Frick telling me the intent of partnering up was clear early on even if the actual official paperwork took a bit longer to button up (as paperwork often does). “We just kept talking,” Berg explains, “and they never stopped liking it, and we never stopped being excited.”
Frick says part of they’re ambitious nature is that their team loves to push tech to its limits. That makes the opportunity to work with the Xbox Series X as early as possible extremely exciting. “We really do want to use cutting edge technology, cutting edge hardware, because we enjoy it,” Frick explains. “It’s just who we are.” So becoming a launch title is by no means a one way street, offering Microsoft an exciting addition to its line-up and Neon Giant the chance to use the best tech they can to make The Ascent even better.
And despite the fact that neither Frick nor Berg are new to announcing new games, the reveal of this one last week was special to them. Frick says it was “much more personal” because of the small size of this newly assembled studio – for example, where trailer reveals within a large studio are just sort of a cool thing to see, they literally made this trailer themselves – and Berg says the emotional impact of finally showing it off to the world was much greater than any previous game he’s worked on.
We’ll have even more on The Ascent (including how Neon Giant is excited about the Xbox Series X) later this week, as well as even more exclusive gameplay next week. In the meantime, watch 12 minutes of gameplay right here, and you can catch up on all of our IGN First exclusive coverage around The Ascent here.
Tom Marks is IGN’s Deputy Reviews Editor and resident pie maker. You can follow him on Twitter.