Home Interview: Solo Leveling: Arise’s Seong-Keon Jin Capitalizes on Global Hype in Smash-Hit New Game

Interview: Solo Leveling: Arise’s Seong-Keon Jin Capitalizes on Global Hype in Smash-Hit New Game

The global IP Solo Leveling has been read over 14.8 billion times, was watched by millions around the world following the first season of the anime series, and laid the foundation for Netmarble’s new game Solo Leveling: Arise to rise to the occasion, or stick out like a sore thumb. Anime Corner had an opportunity to interview the staff behind the game and learn more about the behind-the-scenes process of bringing such popular title to the gaming world.

In an interview with Solo Leveling: Arise lead developer, Seong-Keon Jin, he breaks down their faithful approach to crafting a familiar Jin-woo to fans, while taking him and the original story further. He outlines their approach to production and what fans, old and new, can expect from the game that already racked up 15 million pre-registrations and went #1 in over 70 countries worldwide.

Seong-Keon started his career in the game industry in 2002 with the development of Nexon’s Crazy Arcade. Covering extended genres including casual games, shooting, racing, and CCG, he became well-versed in game development. Seong-Keon is now leveraging his expertise in the Action and Collectible RPG genre via The King of Fighters ALLSTAR development and is now leading the development of Solo Leveling: ARISE as an Executive PD at Netmarble.

Q: Can you give us some background on your career and path to Solo Leveling: ARISE? Was game development something you’ve always dreamed of doing?

Seong-Keon: Frankly speaking, game development is in fact not something I dreamed of doing when I was young. I was just a student who was really into games, and the only experience I had regarding the gaming industry was writing a game analysis report during my college years. But, I was interested in how IT and venture businesses were sweeping the market and the burgeoning gaming industry at the time. I enjoy working with great team members and I’m proud to be a part of this community.

Q: Solo Leveling is a world already established by the popular manhwa: How much did the manhwa guide the development of Arise?

Seong-Keon: In my opinion, one of the points that fans liked the most in the original web novel and webtoon is how the main character, Sung Jinwoo, levels up like a game character. He becomes stronger and wins against challenging enemies. We applied this concept of ‘leveling up’ of the original series to Solo Leveling: ARISE, so that users can play the character, level up, and get the touch of the original series’ narrative as they play the game. The original series of Solo Leveling is already a worldwide mega-hit. Players of Solo Leveling: ARISE can experience the strong plot of the IP, along with the diverse action styles and quality battles of the game. I believe that not only fans of the original series — but also any players, regardless of their age or cultural backgrounds — could be immersed in the game.

Q: Arise’s Jinwoo seems more similar to the anime’s version, in that he’s more serious and the game plays quite cinematicly. How much focus was there on creating this cinematic experience?

Seong-Keon: What makes ‘Solo Leveling: ARISE’ remarkable is the fact that the original webtoon — which was praised for its excellent drawing style — is adapted into a 3D game, and we wanted to make the best of this feature. We tried to combine the webtoon’s articulate scenes with cool action moves that were hard to convey in the webtoon, resulting in the unique cinematic narratives you can see in the game now.

We experimented with different ways to apply the transition effects to turn a 2D image from the webtoon into 3D and vice versa. To better use these transition effects, we also tested features that auto-capture scenes in the Unity Engine. However, the team agreed that it is better quality when concept designers do the drawing with their own hands by referring to the original webtoon. That’s how we came up with the current form of presentation. Players would be able to experience fast-paced and detailed combat of characters including Igris and Kang Taeshik while playing, who alternate between 2D and 3D presentation.

We used a 2D Spine to maximize the emotions of characters and monsters outside the combat scenes. This is best represented by the Giant Statue of Cartenon Temple. We first tried 3D modeling to depict the horror smile of the Statue. However, it turned out that Spine was more appropriate and effective than 3D to bring the creepy yet frightening smile of the Statue as it appears in the webtoon.

Q: This image of Jin-woo being built from the ground up was really interesting. How would you describe “Arise’s Jinwoo” by the numbers? Like, on average how high is his Angry setting? How Chic is Jinwoo? How much of the Laughter Eye property is he packing? How much tinkering was necessary to create Arise’s Jinwoo?

Seong-Keon: There are two versions of Sung Jinwoo in Solo Leveling: ARISE – the E-rank Sung Jinwoo and the S-rank Sung Jinwoo. If I were to describe each version of Sung Jinwoo in numbers, I think it would be something like this: (out of 100)

E-rank Sung Jinwoo:

  • Clumsiness: 70
  • Pathetic-ness: 50
  • Toughness: 10

S-rank Sung Jinwoo

  • Anger: 80
  • Chic: 70
  • Toughness: 100

As for the E-Rank Sung Jinwoo, we wanted him to be a character who is so weak and pathetic that he could barely survive even with the helping hand of a healer. On the other hand, the S-rank Sung Jinwoo is someone who is constantly growing. He is tough and cold-hearted but also becomes heart-warming when he looks after his sister.

When I started working on Solo Leveling: ARISE’s artwork, the very first thing I did was to shape Sung Jinwoo and his style that fit in the game. We kept working on improving the quality of every aspect, from his proportions to facial expressions to ensure anyone who sees this character would identify him as Sung Jinwoo. Now I remember — it took us more than one and a half months to decide on the concept of Sung Jinwoo’s character and create the modeling of him.

Also read:
Solo Leveling Episode 5 – Chad Jinwoo

Q: This is arguably Solo Leveling’s second boom. Many fans have long finished the manhwa, and some are just starting after finishing Season 1 of the anime. Then, you have people who are solely gamers, patrons from previous Netmarble games, and fans who just want to play the hottest thing out right now – How much is each type of “Gamer” at the heart of your decisions? What’s the process of profiling how each Gamer evolves throughout Solo Leveling: Arise?

Seong-Keon: I believe both fans of the original webtoon — that hit 14.3 billion views worldwide — and fans of the anime are showing a remarkable level of interest in the game adaptation of Solo Leveling. Solo Leveling: ARISE has now achieved over 12 million global pre-registrations.

Other than the team’s effort to relive the original series in the game, we also worked hard to make Solo Leveling: ARISE a fun, enjoyable action RPG. When we hear the words ‘action RPG’, we often think about Soulslike games that maximize the fun of controlling. But when developing Solo Leveling: ARISE, we focused on allowing a wide array of users who are trying out the game because they enjoyed the original Solo Leveling webtoon.

Anyone can easily enjoy ‘controlling’ characters by having good timing with QTE or counterattacks. On the other hand, players can experience the fun of stylish actions with diversifying action styles depending on how they combine the weapons, Runes, and Hunters. 

We put our efforts into the game’s interfaces and other features for convenience to ensure that users can enjoy the same level of fun experience regardless of the platform they’re playing on. Whether they are fans of action games or RPG games, users will gladly experience the fun of Solo Leveling: ARISE’s action to the maximum extent. Solo Leveling: ARISE has only just been officially launched, so please understand that it is not the best time to discuss the composition of users. However, we are actively highlighting the two advantages of Solo Leveling: ARISE through various media and influencers, and expect users who are hoping to join.

We prepared diverse figures to allow users from various groups (fans of the IP and gamers) to enjoy playing the game for a long time. We are now working hard to make more improvements after the game goes live.

  • Fans of the original series will find the game easy to play, and the game’s original stories and behind-the-scenes content will provide new content for them to enjoy.
  • Gamers who are not familiar with the IP can become immersed in the story of Solo Leveling and have a great experience playing an action game through various strategies, control methods, and combat content.
Solo Leveling: Arise passes 12 million pre-registrations worldwide

Q: Can you give more detail about how the different game modes in Solo Leveling: Arise accommodate players of varying skill sets?

Seong-Keon: A lot was considered when adapting the webtoon with a Munchkin protagonist into the game, and we came up with two different modes to maintain the balance: the Sung Jin-woo Mode and the Hunter Mode. In the Sung Jinwoo Mode, users can play as Sung Jin-woo and other Hunters, and Shadows are summoned in users’ gameplay. In the Hunter Mode, players control a team of Hunters without Jinwoo that can tag in for one another. With such dualized game modes balancing the game, users may find Solo Leveling: ARISE even more enjoyable.

Q: It’s probably the hope of everyone involved in Solo Leveling that Arise players will go on to explore more parts of the IP [Intellectual Property]. That bigger picture likely comes with some creative constraints at Netmarble Neo. As gaming fans yourself, how did you ensure your unique tastes and inspirations were realized within the game?

Seong-Keon: I wouldn’t say it’s a constraint, but I think there’s a challenge that my team needs to address: ‘Sung Jinwoo is not like other Hunters’. As the Monarch of Shadow, Sung Jin-woo must exhibit an overwhelming power that clearly sets him apart from other Hunters. We had to design Sung Jinwoo as a character who is constantly growing and offers a variety of dynamic gameplay experiences.

In order to provide a variety of gameplay experience, we had to come up with ways Sung Jinwoo used various weapons. When we first came up with the idea to equip Sung Jinwoo with a bow or a pistol, not the dual dagger, we encountered a lot of opposing opinions. It was only after we presented the prototypes of Sung Jinwoo with other weapons that this idea was accepted.

The main narrative of Sung Jinwoo is interesting, but I find the unique setting of Solo Leveling’s universe, how Hunters awaken, and the different stories of Hunters just as captivating. I believe hunters deserve more attention, just like the main characters, and users should have the opportunity to get to know these hunters’ stories. Although there is still some room for improvement, we will continue to introduce new content about Hunters.

Content about Sung Jinwoo or the Hunters may not seem very special if you come across them individually, and it was quite challenging to bring those different content into one single game. I believe my team has found our own solution that complements both.

Q: Seeing the manhwa integrated into the game was particularly special. It highlighted how Solo Leveling’s different media could combine to form something bigger. What were you hoping fans experience through integrating the manhwa in-game?

Seong-Keon: Solo Leveling: ARISE aims to expand the universe of the original series; we don’t intend to deviate from the original IP. We try to reflect the original story in the game and utilize scenes from the webtoon at the same time. We have also implemented various narratives that capture the unique mood of the game, and we believe that the game can provide a refreshing experience to users who are already familiar with the original work.

We believe that Solo Leveling: ARISE could offer the IP’s fans the joy of exploring the universe and discovering new information. For the newcomers, we will provide various content to enjoy in Solo Leveling’s grand universe.

Q: While Solo Leveling: Arise is the newest addition, how does the game go back to where it all started? Given the inclusion of original stories, what was Chugong and D&C Media’s input on this?

Seong-Keon: At the time we started developing the game, the webtoon was yet to conclude. I started this project with the mindset of a fan, thinking it would be great to adapt this IP into a game.

While Solo Leveling depicts various traditional fantasy elements, it also adapts to modern trends through an art style appealing to young gamers, the ‘munchkin’ protagonist, and more. This makes Solo Leveling the optimal IP for a game adaptation.  We’ve been working to expand the universe of Solo Leveling while staying faithful to the original story and not harming the core IP at the same time. Chugong, the original author of the series, even praised the game’s expanded stories when he played Solo Leveling: ARISE, and fans of the series also gave positive feedback, highlighting how the game faithfully brought the original work to life.

We’re actively working together with Chugong to get his feedback and guidance on the game’s original stories and elements. He’s happy with the proposed content from the game’s planning team, and I am pleased with how fruitful this collaboration between us and the original author has been.

Q: Solo Leveling: Arise‘s reception doesn’t just affect one party, it arguably shapes the broader Solo Leveling image. Have you sat with all interested parties to decide on a long-term direction or culture? Were there targets for you at Netmarble Neo during development that are technically bigger than you?

Seong-Keon: When bringing the Webtoon characters to the game, we reinterpreted the detailed designs of the characters from the original series. The artist who was responsible for the artwork of the original series and his assistants gave us feedback and comments on the reinterpreted content. Additionally, Solo Leveling: ARISE showcases stories from the perspective of Sung Jinwoo, as well as those of other Hunters, that have never been told in the original series. The story author of the original series also helped us create such stories.

Q: There was the finale of the anime’s Season 1 last month, the game’s open beta test this month, and Season 2 is expected soon. Being part of a massive media mix creates a schedule that seems to come with huge pressures. While we saw glimpses of Solo Leveling: Arise in 2022 – What makes you confident it’s ready to ship now?

Seong-Keon: The build we presented at 2022 G-Star displayed a prototype of Solo Leveling: ARISE’s combat system. It lacked depth and strategy, so we focused on expanding the strategic elements of the game. In addition to improving the strategic depth of the game, we’ve also increased the amount of content in the game, improved the controls, expanded the story, and laid the groundwork for future platforms. Since we’re planning to service the game across multiple platforms spanning from mobile to PC and console, we did a lot of fine-tuning work to make sure that users can seamlessly enjoy combat no matter what they play on.

I would say that those who already experienced Solo Leveling: ARISE’s 2022 G-Star build are in for an even better time with the full launch!

Q: What’s the lifecycle and maintenance plan of this game?

Seong-Keon: Although things may change, I do have an update roadmap spanning over a year’s worth of updates for Solo Leveling: ARISE. We will adapt development priorities based on user feedback as the game goes live. However, we plan to update new Hunters and their stories every three weeks, along with new Spiritual Weapons every six weeks. We are also considering adding stories and other content every three months.

Q: The new anime invests a lot of attention into the side characters. Similarly, how does Arise explore more than just Jin-woo?

Seong-Keon: Solo Leveling: ARISE aims to expand the universe of the original series without deviating from the original IP. That’s why we’ve been planning from the early stages to remain faithful to the original story while exploring additional stories that come after the original series ends. We try to do this through integrating scenes from the webtoon in the game and using different narrative techniques to capture the unique mood of the game. We believe that playing the game can provide a fresh experience to fans who are already familiar with the original work. In the original series, there are some characters who don’t really get fleshed out in the story.

Let’s take Song Chiyul for example. Song Chiyul enters Cartenon Temple with Jinwoo early in the story and becomes the last Hunter to escape the Dungeon with Lee Joohee upon Sung Jinwoo’s request later on. The original series also establishes Song Chiyul as the teacher who taught Cha Hae-In swordsmanship. Doesn’t this arouse curiosity about Song Chiyul’s relationship with other Hunters in the universe of Solo Leveling? Just like with Song Chiyul, we wrote original stories for various characters in the game to expand Solo Leveling’s universe and make players’ gameplay experience more fun. For these new stories, we’re working in collaboration with the original author, Chugong, in order to make sure they fit with the series.

We believe that Solo Leveling: ARISE will offer fans of the IP the joy of exploring its universe and discovering new stories. For newcomers, we hope to provide the perfect introduction to Solo Leveling’s fantastical universe.

Q: Circling back to your own creative tastes and inspirations in the game, the art and opening animation as the game was being installed really stood out. Could we get some details on those involved and how it came about?

Seong-Keon: The animated PV which players get to watch during installation was co-created between multiple departments, and we tried to depict Sung Jinwoo and other Hunters’ characteristics through the art. We wanted to show the lonely moment that Jinwoo has to go through as he starts his journey from an E-rank hunter to the Monarch of Shadows, as well as how he meets his friends and allies during his journey. We also wanted to showcase the unique appearances of the Hunters.

We created the animated PV to provide players with another visual experience beyond the webtoon cutscenes or cinematic cutscenes they may encounter in-game. We are grateful that so many players liked it. The full version of the video is also available on Solo Leveling: ARISE’s social channels.

Q: Was there ever a sense of awe, like, “Wow, this is Solo Leveling. This franchise – it’s really taking over the world” for you guys as you worked on it?

Seong-Keon: I found the global popularity of the original work, which hit 14.3 billion views worldwide, quite impressive, and global fans across all regions are showing a remarkable level of excitement for Solo Leveling: ARISE. Solo Leveling: ARISE achieved one million pre-registrations in just three days, and over 15 million pre-registrations before launch – less than one month since pre-registration began!

We are all fans of Solo Leveling who love the work and want to inherit it, and we have done our best to expand the universe of Solo Leveling and bring it to life. Yes, we did feel pressured as the original IP and the game are getting even more popular and anticipation among fans is escalating. However, we’re now working on enhancing the quality of the game and adding finishing touches to deliver a game that meets the high expectations shown worldwide.

Q: What is Jin-woo to you now, be it just a character you’ve spent a lot of time with, or something else? How would you describe him?

Seong-Keon: It was quite difficult to adapt Sung Jinwoo to a game, especially to express his overwhelming power that sets him apart from other Hunters. I believe that in order for the game to have a long lifecycle, additional characters that are as powerful as Sung Jinwoo are a must, though this would not necessarily apply if Solo Leveling: ARISE was a packaged game.

Q: With the success of Season 1, and the massive anticipation for the game, what can you share about how the future continues the ‘Solo Leveling boom?’

Seong-Keon: I believe that the anime adaptation successfully reproduced the original series to a high standard. Witnessing how the anime series is garnering global popularity, I could sense the power the Solo Leveling IP has and thought I should continue this momentum with the game adaptation.

In a game, players have the power to control the characters and progress the stories themselves, unlike in an anime. This will provide another way for fans to engage with the series. Just as the popularity of Solo Leveling increased when the original web novel was adapted into a webtoon and then an anime, I hope Solo Leveling: ARISE will further boost the series’ popularity.

Q: Based on the reaction to Arise so far, how likely is a console release? The game already supports Xbox and Dualshock controllers.

Seong-Keon: We are actively working towards launching Solo Leveling: ARISE on console. However, we believe that some of the preparations required to launch the game on both Steam and console platforms are the same. We are currently looking into launching on Steam first, as a preliminary step before the console release. The game will be first launched on PC, and we believe we could release it on additional platforms as early as next year if we base the work on the PC version. We will work hard to meet the needs of gamers around the world by rapidly expanding the platforms on which they can play Solo Leveling: ARISE.

Q: What will your days be from now on?

Seong-Keon: Solo Leveling: ARISE has just had its grand launch on May 8, showcasing the progress that we have made so far. We are also working on new content and plans to ensure the game remains enjoyable in the long term. We are now doing our best to repay the support and love of our players, 15 million of whom have pre-registered, so I hope you enjoy the game now that it’s launched!

Solo Leveling: Arise Global Launch trailer

Solo Leveling: Arise was released worldwide on May 8, 2024, on the Play Store and App Store, or PC via Netmarble Launcher. A Steam release has been confirmed, with fans already able to add the game to their wishlist. Solo Leveling: Arise is officially described:
About a decade ago, ‘gates’ began to open and connect this world to different dimensions. ‘Awakened Beings’ started to appear among ordinary citizens. These ‘Awakened Beings’ are the only ones strong enough to fight the monsters in the dungeons beyond each gate. They are called ‘hunters.’ However, not all hunters are created equally. One E-Rank hunter they call ‘The Weakest Hunter of All Mankind’ struggles to stay alive, even in the lowest-level dungeons. His name is Sung Jinwoo.

With almost nothing to his name, he braves the dungeons to support his family and barely makes enough to get by. At least until he finds himself in a deadly ‘Double Dungeon,’ hidden inside a lowly D-Rank gate. Believing it’s the end, he accepts the inevitable…… but awakens to discover new and strange abilities. A quest window, like one from a video game—only visible to him! And with it, a secret means of ‘Leveling Up!’ He now seeks to ‘level up’ by hunting monsters and completing these quests… …that can only be done solo!”

© DUBU(REDICE STUDIO), Chugong, h-goon 2018 / D&C MEDIA
© Netmarble Corp. & Netmarble Neo Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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