Retro game design requires developers to strike a careful balancing act. They must simultaneously appeal to gamers’ sense of nostalgia while living up to their rose-tinted memories of the genre, which are often larger than life. Trying to reinvent a legendary genre of fiction simultaneously, however, is akin to juggling while walking a tightrope. But Carlos “Revel” Lizarraga, co-developer of the indie, retro FPS Sprawl aims to do exactly that.
Game Rant recently spoke to Lizaragga about his personal connections to the cyberpunk genre, Sprawl‘s numerous influences, the importance of emergent gameplay, and a time when twitchy shooters dominated PC gaming. This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us what your favorite piece of cyberpunk media is?
A: Actually, that’s an easy question! My name is Carlos Lizarraga. I’m better known as “Revel.” I’m one of the co-developers on the retro movement-focused shooter, Sprawl. Which is, in of itself, a reference to the famous works of William Gibson. And my favorite piece of cyberpunk media is Ghost in the Shell, 1995.
Q: You mentioned the title is a reference to William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy. Are you a fan?
A: Yeah! I am a big fan of Gibson. Gibson was absolutely instrumental in opening my imagination to… the idea of synchronicity, you know? How his stories were developed independently from Blade Runner, they had the same sort of tinge going on, they were telling the same sort of story, shared the same group of influences, just in a different way and with absolutely no knowledge of each other. And before Gibson published Neuromancer, he said “I want to see that movie,” and when he saw it, he said “I’m f*****. My book is dead.”
Q: How would you introduce Sprawl to players who have yet to hear of it?
A: Sprawl is like the games you remember playing on the computer in the 90s or in the early 2000s, as you remember them, and not as they actually were. It’s also a logical extension of the guiding design principles of those games. Games back then were focused on high-speed movement, the action was very frantic… but with the advent of consoles, and controllers, a whole set of principles went away. You had to slow things down to let people aim and move appropriately—you know, the whole floaty movement thing that happened because of Halo.
So, hopefully, Sprawl is a return to that form, as well as an extrapolation of it. Like, that type of game has gotten very popular as of late. So seeing that, we’re like, “How can we take that to the next level?” Because if you want to play Quake, you can go play Quake again. Or any one of the twenty-five million clones that have been released since then. So, we were more concerned with why people play these games. You know, the fast movement, straight into the action, adrenaline-pumping… and lots of emergent gameplay. We sort of doubled down on that. We took everything that made those games fun, threw in wall running, weapon combos… took everything to the next level.
Q: Bullet time and wall running feel natural for a cyberpunk title. Without spoiling anything, can you tell us if players will unlock or encounter other cyberpunk mechanics?
A: No. We made it very clear to ourselves from day one, that the game you’re gonna be playing, is definitely a game of mastering the mechanics. At its core, the game is very easy to pick up. And at first, you’re just not going to be very good at it. But as you play, you start to unlock things in yourself: understanding how to take advantage of the mechanics. You see those core relationships and see “if I do this bullet time in combination with this kind of wall run, and I move my mouse just in the right way, I can pull something really flashy that is beneficial in combat.” It’s not a question of “you get a pick-up three levels into the game and it’s gonna unlock cyberhacking.” We didn’t want to make that type of game. We wanted a game that rewarded you for you, rather than just throwing new features at the player. That’s what all of our favorite games did.