Interview: Exploring the PS5 Indie Action Game Recompile with Creator Phi Dinh

Hacking the mainframe

Game Profile
Action, Platformer
PlayStation Network Release Date:
To Be Announced (USA)

You might have missed it a while ago, but Sony announced that Recompile will be making its way to PlayStation 5. The game is a stylish Metroidvania action title in which you hack your way through a virtual landscape. It's looking very promising indeed, and so we wanted to catch up with the developer to learn more. We spoke with Phi Dinh, founder of Phigames and creator of Recompile, about the game's structure, its story, and bringing it to PS5.

Push Square: Just to start with, could you explain what kind of game Recompile is for our readers?

Phi Dinh: Recompile is a 3D Metroidvania-inspired sci-fi adventure game. You play as a computer virus, injected into what we call "The Mainframe", a mysterious virtual world in which you must explore, survive, and ultimately create the first sapient artificial intelligence. Unique to Recompile are the environmental hacking mechanics, allowing the player to bypass obstacles and create moments of chaos and emergent gameplay.

Recompile is an action game at heart, but it puts a focus on story as well. Could you talk about the importance of the game's narrative?

There are two stories being told in Recompile, running in parallel with each other. Your story, the player's story of the journey through The Mainframe, is a personal tale of survival and discovery. And then there is the external story, the telling of the events of the world outside of the computer, the real world, our world. You'll slowly discover the reason for your existence, and why you were installed into The Mainframe in the first place. And eventually you will discover how your actions are actively affecting the world outside.

Recompile is about the creation of the first sapient AI, the technological singularity that will change the fate of humanity as we know it. There is also a deeper environmental message. The game's version of our planet is a dystopian one, ravaged by the effects of climate change, resource scarcity, and war. The player's actions are analogous to the actions that we as a human race must take today, and how they affect the future of our planet, and the lives of our children, our grandchildren, and beyond.

You've mentioned before that player actions will affect the game's ending. To what extent is this the case? Are there many endings for players to discover?

We wanted to experiment with subverting the traditional Metroidvania formula, which is typically based on a linear path of narrative and gameplay progression. Instead, we wanted to create a game with multiple critical paths, entirely dependent on play style. The game is about creating AI, but what personality traits the AI will have reflects on how the player approaches the obstacles in the game.

For example, if the player favours aggressive mechanics, and completes the game with all guns blazing, we might end up with the awakening of an equally aggressive AI antagonist, resulting in a human extinction-level event. Conversely, if the player completes their objectives using only hacking and pacifist methods, we may end up with a future involving symbiotic relationships between man and machine. There are five endings to Recompile, and it is up to the player to discover them through the consequences of their actions.

Recompile has a few elements from shooters, Metroidvania, and other genres. What would you say are the main inspirations behind the game?

Recompile is inspired by many great games of this and previous generations. The exploration and wonder of discovery can be attributed to titles such as Journey, ABZÛ, and Rime. I'm personally a huge fan of Metroidvanias, my favourite being the indie darling Hollow Knight, which is a game that gives the player a lot more freedom to explore their own path compared to other similar games in the genre. We are all big fans of [The Legend of Zelda] Breath of the Wild, a game which provides a lot of inspiration for the visual effects and sound & music design. Dark Souls is another, for its narrative, world-building, and rich atmosphere.

The game has been in the works for a while on PC, but is now coming to PlayStation 5. How has the transition been, moving from PC to a brand new console?

As far as I can remember, this is probably the first console generation that can truly match (or perhaps even exceed) the capabilities of modern gaming PCs. Compared to previous generations, we've had to sacrifice little to none in terms of frame rate, graphical features, and gameplay. This has been really exciting for us, as it allows us to focus on making Recompile the best game it can be, regardless of platform.

How are you using PS5's features to enhance the game? For instance, 3D audio, or the DualSense controller's haptic feedback?

No comment on PS5 or console-specific features at the moment! As the game is deep in production, we're still actively working out what we can support.

What are the benefits of bringing Recompile to PS5? And what challenges does it bring to development?

Recompile is built in Unity, a game engine that is very well known for providing fast and easy solutions to supporting a variety of platforms. Compared to previous generations, porting to the PS5 has been an extremely smooth experience. We've had to do very little in terms of rewriting shaders or fiddling with graphics APIs, which was previously unheard of.

Sony featured your game on PlayStation Blog back in July. Is there extra pressure to deliver following this exposure?

We've had a great relationship with Sony, and they've been a big player in supporting Recompile and its upcoming launch onto PS5. We've had the freedom to develop the game, on our own terms, into something that we're very proud of.

When can we expect to play Recompile on PS5?

We're working our hardest to get Recompile finished, but currently there is no release date announced. Our goal is to launch the game as an early title for the console.

Many thanks to Phi for answering our questions, and to Cheryl Wassenaar for making the interview happen. Are you excited for Recompile on PS5? Hack into the comments section below.