Ghostlore Interview – A new action RPG based on Southeast Asian culture
14 Apr, 2022
Ghostlore is inspired by Diablo 2 as well as the developers’ native Southeast Asian culture. We talked to developer Andrew Teo to learn more.
Ghostlore is an ‘Eastpunk’ action RPG that’s entering Early Access today (Steam link here), and it should be on every Diablo fan’s radar. The game’s innovative systems include a ‘glyph system’ for upgrades, multi-classing (including classes such as ‘Exorcist’), and a variety of weapons.
Ghostlore also stands out for its unique aesthetic and theme, inspired by the developer’s home country of Singapore, as well as neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. Southeast Asian culture informs the game’s many monsters, and Southeast Asian martial arts have contributed the game’s arsenal of weaponry.
We talked to developer Andrew Teo about the game’s development and its journey so far. We thank Andrew for his answers and also Sarah Tan for facilitating this interview!
Tell us about the origins of the game and your journey in developing it to this stage.
I actually started working on what would eventually become Ghostlore back in 2018. I had just turned 30 so I wanted to try a hand at making the sort of game I enjoyed when I was a kid. I didn’t have a clear direction for the game back then, as my goal was simply to create a working prototype similar to an old game I liked, Diablo 2, where the player could control a character to fight monsters.
On a whim, one of the monsters I put in the game was the Pontianak. According to Singapore/Malaysian folklore, the Pontianak is a woman who died during childbirth, whose spirit is tied to a banana tree. So I thought it would be an interesting challenge for players to have to find and attack the correct tree in order to truly defeat the monster.
In 2019, I let some of my colleagues test the prototype, and they agreed that the Pontianak was the most stand-out feature. We started talking about all the various monsters found in Southeast Asian horror stories and how unique they are, and I realized there are very few games that portray Southeast Asian culture. It was then that the concept solidified and the name ‘Ghostlore’ came to me.
The setting of Ghostlore is enticingly themed around South East Asian culture. What is the game’s story and who is the protagonist in this world?
It’s not really a game that is centered around a protagonist, and I would say that the focus is more on lore and world-building rather than straight-up narrative. Do pay attention to the flavor text if story is your thing!
However, I would say that the story is very loosely based on an old Singaporean legend from my childhood – the legend of Redhill, the town I grew up in. The legend explains how the town got its name, Redhill:
Long ago, there was an island that was terrorized by ferocious swordfish. Fishing and sea trade was made difficult, and the Sultan’s royal army could not stand against the sheer number of attacking swordfish. One day, a young boy suggested an idea to the sultan. “Use banana trees to build a wall around the coast of the island,” he said. “The swordfish would try and attack, and their beaks would get stuck in the trunks of the tree.” The boy’s plan worked splendidly, and he became known as the savior of the island. The Sultan, threatened by the peoples’ love for their new savior, sent his royal army to murder the boy in his sleep. After the evil deed was done, the boy’s blood flowed – and flowed and flowed – until the entire hill on which the boy’s house sat atop was stained red.
It’s a loose interpretation, so there isn’t a literal wall and a literal Sultan and a literal kid. (There might be some swordfish demons however).
Did you ever feel like the focus on South East Asian culture would be a challenge when it comes to players who are unfamiliar with the culture?
Oh c’mon, it’s not that weird! Consider the story I shared above. I can guarantee you that you can show this story to anyone, from Africa to Australia, and they will understand it. The problem is awareness. This is a universal story. What makes it a universal story is that it illustrates a certain truth about life and the human condition, regardless of time and place.
Coming to the game, how long is a playthrough of the full game expected to be?
In this Early Access build, story content is around 3-4hrs. The full story will probably be around double that. However, Ghostlore is meant for endless replayability and can potentially provide hundreds of hours with its endless mode and procedurally generated content.
In Ghostlore, multi-classing, glyphs, amulets, and a variety of systems come together to give the player a plethora of options. How do you make sure the game is balanced and fun for all playstyles?
The item and skill system in Ghostlore provides for a staggering number of build possibilities. This is where Early Access comes in. A large number of players trying out different build combinations would help us fine-tune the game.
When can we expect the game’s full release, and on what platforms?
We are currently developing for PC and hope to port to other platforms in the future. The Early Access launch is on 14th April, with the full release sometime in August.
You can learn more about Ghostlore on the official website here and get your hands on the Early Access version when it launches on Steam today.