Sad Cat Studios Talk Replaced, Inspirations & Cyberpunk

"The most surprising reaction was getting a reaction at all."


It feels like 2021 has been full of surprises when it comes to gaming. Elden Ring actually turned out to be real, which was a surprise to many, while the indie multiplayer shooter Splitgate exploded in popularity, catching everyone off-guard. However, one revealed game from this year surprised everyone with its incredibly popular initial reaction: Replaced. Even the developers were surprised by the reaction it received.

Replaced is a 2.5D cyberpunk adventure developed by Sad Cat Studios that’s set for launch on PC and Xbox next year. We sat down with the studio’s co-founder Igor Gritsay, along with fellow founder and game director Yura Zhdanovich, to talk about the game, its inspirations and what makes the cyberpunk genre a fun space to play around in.

Also, will there be any sad cats to pet?

So, for people who don’t know, can you give a brief overview of what Replaced is all about?

Yura: Ah, we knew this question would come up.

Yeah, it’s a nice easy one to get the interview started.

Yura: So Replaced is basically a cinematic action adventure game, set in a 2.5D 1980s alternate history version of a cyberpunk dystopia. You play as an artificial intelligence trapped in a human’s body.

I know that in previous interviews, you’ve cited the Batman Arkham series as an inspiration for combat.

Igor: That’s my jam.

Honestly, it’s a good one to go for. It still holds up to this day.

Igor: It’s basically the greatest. It’s like a beat ‘em up, but at the same time, there’s this RPG progression stuff. But yeah, the Arkham series is like a masterpiece.

So I was wondering if it was difficult to translate that style of combat from 3D to 2D.

Igor: Well, we wouldn’t say it was like a direct translation from 3D to 2D because we didn’t aim to replicate it 1:1. It’s more of a general inspiration for the feel of the combat, where everything is smooth and the animations transition from one to the other, giving the combat a sense of flow.

In the Arkham series, with all the various systems that were implemented, it looks like one continuous motion, and that’s a bit easier to translate into 2D, because we don’t have this third dimension that you have to keep track of. At the same time for us, it’s really time consuming in terms of animations. You have a certain amount of enemy types, all the things they can do that the protagonist can’t do, and every small beat of these interactions requires separate animations for every character that’s in the scene. In our case, it just means tonnes of work for our animation team, and this is basically the hardest part because all of the movements have to look natural, or seamlessly transition into one another.

Of course, there are also certain difficulties in terms of game design, as the character can’t move in three dimensions, so you’re pretty limited by your movement on the map. We’ve tried to keep the game a bit more grounded than, for example, your typical Metroidvanias. Our character can’t jump like the main character in Hollow Knight or Blasphemous, so we have to keep it realistic, yet also cinematic. This is the narrow line that we’re walking, as we have to balance between the “fun-ness” of gameplay and the cinematic approach. We have to know the boundaries of what our character can do within our universe.


To be honest, you touched on one of the questions I’d planned on asking later: which do you feel has been more difficult during development, combat or platforming?

Yura: It kinda depends on what we’re talking about during development of those separate sections of the game. Even though we have a couple hundred animations for the character in platforming for it to be really almost seamless in terms of movement, we had spent a lot of time designing around constraints in both situations. As of today, we’re finished with the platforming, but it took a lot more time to produce assets than combat overall. Design-wise, combat was harder for us to get off the ground, but in terms of pure production and animation work, I think it was harder to do the platforming.

One of the aspects that stuck out to me about Replaced is that it’s set during an alternate history 1980s. What inspired that decision specifically?

Yura: I believe our desire to dive into the alternate history aspect was driven by two main factors, one of them being that we wanted to do our spin on the whole sci-fi/cyberpunk theme that’s getting more and more popular nowadays. Secondly, we like the aesthetic of the time, and we like the aesthetic of the science fiction that was envisioned at the time. What would today be like in the eyes of writers in the 1980s who developed or provided the ideas for science fiction movies? It’s that symbiosis of factors that drew us towards creating this sort of take.

Igor: Also, I would say that Western culture and American movies of the 80s and early 90s is something that post-Soviet 90s kids are really familiar with. When the Soviet Union collapsed (and we were born after that), there was this surge of pop culture, because Soviet pop culture was, how would you say, unfashionable or unappealing for people who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. Our media was basically flooded with 80s Western pop culture phenomenons like The Terminator or Rambo. We love this stuff from our childhood, and we kept it really dear to us.

I think there’s just something ironic about people who grew up in dystopian society tend to grow up and create content that’s very dystopian centered, as if we don’t have enough of that, even now. I just find it really ironic. For example, GSC Game World with their STALKER games, or 4A Games with the Metro series; both games are about post-apocalyptic destruction and hopelessness. [laughs] It’s like, why ask for more when you have all of this all around you?

How important was it for the player character to specifically be an AI trapped in a human’s body instead of just a human?

Yura: The idea of the player character being an AI trapped in a human’s body was what we came up with in the first place with the general idea of the game. When we first had the idea to develop the studio, we wanted to make premium games because most of us were coming from the mobile industry. We were thinking about an interesting theme that we cared about that we wanted to explore in an interactive medium, and this was the core idea behind the story from the beginning, even before the aspect of retro-futurism. It’s crucial for the player in a bunch of ways, because the story revolves around exploring artificial intelligence, and the standard questions people tend to ask today about the Singularity, and the role that artificial intelligence could play in our lives. Is it dangerous or not?

We wanted to take a stab at this theme, from the perspective of, for lack of a better term, creature, if it has to play by the rules of a meatbag. Confronting the context of what it means to be a human being is basically what drives the story, and makes the gameplay feel more contextual and much more meaningful when going through the, I would say, interesting story. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but we think we have an interesting twist on that, and even though we haven’t gone in-depth yet on our side characters or narrative aspects of the game, but when we do so in the future, there will be more to discuss regarding how we flesh out this theme. You’re discovering this world and context, almost through the eyes of a newborn.

Igor: Also, being an AI in a human’s body helps us to justify the cinematic aspects of the combat.


I know you’ve mentioned that Upgrade is an inspiration for Replaced as well.

Yura: Upgrade is something that we’ve incorporated a bit later when we thought about adding combat into the game. It’s one of my favourite sci-fi movies. It uses its theme and budget really well, and in really creative ways. We thought about how can we translate this feeling into the game, because we wanted to do action and combat. We have this kind of context, because we don’t want the character to be this badass killing machine out of nowhere. It was a natural inspiration for us, in terms of “hey, let’s take a look at this theme, tweak it to match to gameplay and see how it goes”. It was a lot easier working with something like that and justifying combat in a more grounded kind of game.

Igor: The main thing we were inspired by was creating a more machine-like style of movement to drive our combat animations.

I mean, if you’re gonna pull from anything, Upgrade is a good one to go for. I know you mentioned a couple of questions ago that you feel that you have an interesting take on Cyberpunk, and from the reactions Replaced has been getting, it feels like many people agree with you. What would you say has been the most surprising part of the game’s reception? What’s maybe taken you off-guard?

Yura: I think I could agree with Igor when I say that the most surprising reaction was getting a reaction at all. [laughs] We haven’t even thought that a game we’re making would gather this much attention with the more mainstream scene. It was shown first at the Microsoft E3 Conference, which is a big place for games. There was a lot of competition for attention between different titles, and we were watching it live thinking “wow, there’s a lot of cool games out there, maybe we’ll gather some attention?”

The reaction was shocking to us, and it told us that we were on the right track and that we should double down on the idea. I think, going forward, it was a good thing that we haven’t shown the best bits just yet, and we are definitely interested in what the reaction will be when we get to show more of the actual gameplay and the more surprising scenes in the game.

Igor: I would say there were two main surprises for me. The first is that, under the main trailer on the IGN channel, it says that we’re “steampunk”.


Igor: Yeah! [everyone laughs] It says like “steampunk adventure” or something like that, which is amusing. Aside from that, I was puzzled by how people managed to extract or extrapolate as much info as they do. For example, there are like tonnes of places where people try to look at the small details in games to create their own theories about that. I just experienced this myself, with this 90-second trailer, people try to extrapolate the craziest things that I wouldn’t even think of. Maybe because I’m part of the team. [laughs] It’s amazing how little people need to create their own really amazing takes or concepts on what they’ve seen. Watching people become inspired and create their own vision of what they’ve seen is really interesting to see.

You never really think about how theories and interpretations come across to a developer, so it’s really interesting to hear your thoughts on that.

Igor: I would say that speculation might be a really precious part of the gamer’s community, but at the same time, it can be a negative part when people try to create illusions for themselves and start to expect stuff that isn’t there, then get frustrated when they don’t get it. I think a part of that comes from trailers, as it’s the job of trailers to convey the initial message as clearly as possible, so there would be no frustration when the initial thoughts of players aren’t true.

Yura: I would say that, on our side as gamers, there’s a lot of good and bad, promising/over-promising and showing off something that isn’t quite as prevalent in the game. When making the trailer for Replaced, we have definitely gone to great lengths to surprise players and make them interested, but we don’t want them to think it’s open world or a Metroidvania when it’s not. It’s a straightforward, cinematic action adventure game with a great story, and I hope we can pull off the great gameplay as well so people play and go “wow, that was cool, it had an interesting story, I definitely need a sequel!”


So, where does the name Sad Cat Studios come from?

Igor: Well, the initial concept was that I drew some kind of squished cat on social media. It was like graffiti on the wall, like on Facebook. Yura really liked the cat, just because I can’t draw at all, and it was so dumb and stupid that we just thought that it should be our logo. Because of the cat’s facial expression, which was sad, that’s how we came up with the name. We couldn’t find the original version of the image, but Yura tried his best to replicate my inability to draw!

Yura: It was really tough to express this special kind of stupidity that went into that initial graffiti, but when I first saw it, I couldn’t forget it. From the sheer absurdity of the situation and drawing, so we just thought that if we ever made a business, we should find a way of honouring this, well, dumb piece of shit! [laugh] I think it paid off, because even people in our studio are very keen on it. After the trailer was released, we had a celebration with a bunch of sad cats on t-shirts, and it became a local hit. I hope someday, we can start selling merch with this stupid cat, and it’d be really funny for us to see how hard this dumb idea went.

It’s a funny dynamic how, as a game director and a founder, I’m more of a snobby guy who tends to go for the serious stuff (the cinematic part of the game was my intention), while Igor is always looking for how to make the game more fun or more engaging. We tend to portray the studio as this super silly community of silly people who just joke around, but right now we’re trying to develop this super serious game.

In other interviews, you’ve mentioned how the partnership with Xbox came about because they care about the indie scene. What was it that led you to Coatsink as a publisher? How did that partnership form?

Igor: We didn’t have a gun pointed to us to sign anything, so I’d say the partnership goes really well. When we were looking for a partner/publisher, we had several goals aside from financial support and marketing, and the most important one was a more laid-back approach. There’s no supervising managers for supervising managers, there’s no stupid hierarchy of control where you can’t even develop a game because you’re under a lens. This is why we like Coatsink, along with their experience with other games.

We also needed some external expertise, because sometimes it’s impossible to solve some development questions here because the premium gaming development community isn’t as extensive as other countries. We’re also not working with a legal entity, we’re working with people here. It was crucial that people on the other side had a similar mindset to us and understood what we needed, without pushing the boring bureaucracy stuff on us.


With Replaced being a narrative-heavy game alongside its focus on gameplay combat, has there been any consideration towards accessibility options within the game?

Yura: Accessibility is something of a new movement in gaming recently, with bigger titles really embracing the options for accessibility on a really high level. On our side, we aren’t really experienced in doing the accessibility options, but when we finish all the production for the game, and we start working on the more technical aspects and presentation, we’ll consider adding the options that we can add in consciously. One of the good things about Replaced is that it’s very… I wouldn’t say casual, but we try to make it as accessible and player-friendly as possible with the gameplay elements and mechanics on offer. It’s really a pick-up-and-play experience. Most of the complexity for us comes from making the game as accessible as it can be so anyone can pick up the game and have a good time and enjoy the story and gameplay.

Igor: I know Psychonauts 2 offered these options recently with an invincibility mode. The thing here is that we’re constrained by budget and the timeframe that we have to release a game, but there are some basic foundational things that could be done like invincibility mode. Some people tend to say like “oh, it’s for casuals,” but if you don’t want it, you could just not turn it on. We’ll definitely look into it, but we can’t promise anything on the scale of The Last Of Us Part II, where they not only went the extra mile, but the extra 1000 miles to make the game as accessible as possible for everyone. I think this stuff requires assistance from people with limitations themselves, or from, I don’t know, medical experts. We’re not at this level yet, but the basic stuff that can help everyone to finish this game, yeah, why not?

I’ve never understood that viewpoint of “invincibility mode ruins the game”. Like, it’s an option. Turn it off. It’s good that you’re thinking about these options though. Last question: will there be sad cats to pet in Replaced?

Igor: There will definitely be some ducks!

Yura: There’s definitely a lot of cats, but will they be sad? You’ll have to find out.

Ahhh, a bit of mystery.

Igor: You definitely won’t be able to make them sad by yourself, because we don’t want any of that. But yeah, we’ll have cats, we’ll have dogs, we’ll have ducks. There’s a lot of animals. No cows, unfortunately, but we’re still thinking about it.

Replaced will launch on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X | S in 2022, and will be available via Xbox Game Pass for Console and PC on day one.

READ MORE: 20 Best Cyberpunk Games You Should Plug Into

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