While there are many ways the world may end, be it bangs or whimpers, a worldwide glacial period is a rare theme to appear in video games. We’ve talked to Pawel Miechowski and Kuba Stokalski from 11 bit studios, and we’ve learned that their team is preparing a true snowstorm to keep us stuck at our monitors. Their latest work, Frostpunk, is shaping up to be an original game that might just make you freeze to death.
Right now it’s rather hard to say exactly what the next game from the creators of This War of Mine is going to be. Its enigmatic title may bring to mind – and rightly so – the steampunk genre, although the setting visibly strays from its commonly known version. Imagine a world covered in ice, a global glacial period where there’s pretty much nothing left aside from howling wind, barren plains, and deadly frost. Humanity had been decimated, and the remaining survivors try to find shelter in the last existing city – a towering industrial metropolis, one of the few places capable of providing at least a taste of the life-saving warmth.
Ice, ice, baby!
The devs from 11 bit studios were determined to avoid answering any fundamental questions, but we’ve managed to pick up a few important details. Society survival – that’s a new, rather intriguing term, which will soon become a matter of interest to many players, partially due to the main theme of the game, as the devs have chosen something rather frosty. Frostpunk is a tale of the last days of human race, its fall, and the subsequent desperate fight for survival. It’s a stone-cold epilogue to the history of a species whose former might and diversity were reduced to a single, feeble society. Will it survive the “white cold”? That’s for the player to decide.
The heart of the game focuses on managing a society in a world where no valid form of society should be possible. The majority of modern games stress the importance and rights of an individual. 11 bit games, however, has the moxie to turn this situation upside down: survival of society comes first, and the rights of individuals always lose against the needs of a group.
The age of ice and steam
You want some cold facts? Well, I suppose we can safely assume that Frostpunk will be a unique mix of various genres and mechanics: we can notice RTS mechanics, elements of survival, social and urban management, as well as decisions that will influence the lives of individuals and the fate of the entire society. As the devs themselves have said:
We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; we want to combine the existing genres in such a way that we get something original.
Contrary to what you might be expecting, the game isn’t set in the future. It depicts an alternative vision of the 19th century. After a cataclysm has almost wiped out humanity from the face of the earth, it’s the players’ task to preserve the lives of a handful that survived the disaster. The devs promise that the players will be able to explore the reasons behind the Armageddon – was it a divine punishment, or simply a natural phenomenon?
The technology that will become our lifeline will be based on steam and ice. We really like this idea, as it seems more than plausible to use this unlimited resource offered by a world covered in ice. The 19th-century-ish technology of Frostpunk will have us melt ice to get water and steam, and steam-powered engines will in turn enable us to warm the dying residents. As to the stuff we will do in the new game from 11 bit studios, we can only wonder: resource acquisition and crafting? Perhaps some mining and metallurgy, who knows? What we do know is that our main task will be to efficiently manage the city, make the right decisions, provide for the residents, and… sacrifice individuals in the name of survival of the collective.
The decision to choose a 19th-century society is very interesting – it’s the period of numerous groundbreaking discoveries in the fields of technology and sociology alike. The idea to use ice as the factor that impacts the development of society is not new, however. One of the game’s inspirations is the book from a Polish science-fiction writer Jacek Dukaj, entitled Ice; it describes a world that struggles against the frost, taking its toll not only on the climate but also on human mentality. Apparently, the city residents in Frostpunk are aware that their end is just a matter of time. Just think about the narrative possibilities offered by this set-up!
Miechowski and Stokalski emphasize that their intention is to create a hardcore game for a mature audience – one that will be entertaining, sure, but will also leave you with a few bitter thoughts afterwards. The problems we will have to face in the game will be so basic that we’re used to ignoring them in our modern daily lives. Imagine a city in which the only reason for human life is its ability to assure the survival of the city itself. Life for the sake of living is worthless in this society – it’s more of a resource that needs to be wisely expended to allow us to accumulate more of it. 11 bit studios wants to take us for a ride to a terrifying, cold world where the basic values of humanity become really twisted.
11 bit studios is an acclaimed Polish studio founded in 2009. Their This War of Mine and This War of Mine: The Little Ones have been globally recognized by the gaming industry, but the studio has also experimented with titles like Anomaly: Warzone Earth, a rather intriguing reverse tower-defense game. 11 bit studios won numerous awards, and This War of Mine paid for itself during the first weekend of sales.
Since 2014, 11 bit studios has run their own publishing company, which has released, e.g., Beat Cop. The devs have also recently revealed that alongside Frostpunk they are working on a second title, which they modestly describe as “brilliant”. This secret project is currently led by Artur Ganszyniec, a designer known for his work on The Witcher 2 and Call of Juarez: The Cartel.
I’ve already mentioned Jacek Dukaj, but the developers have revealed several other, more or less loose inspirations. Art design is strongly influenced by Dishonored and its stunning world, whose heart was powered by whale oil while the rats were gnawing at its body. Miechowski and Stokalski have also mentioned the survival strategy game Banished, pointing out, however, that the social layer in Frostpunk will be much more fleshed out that it was in Luke Hodorowicz’s work.
The 19th century can be a varied and intriguing setting, making for a fine framework for Dishonored-like technology or architecture. The creators, however, advise us not to take this inspiration literally:
The are many elements from which we draw inspiration, but no single one of them will dominate.
11 bit studios have accustomed us to their original approach to video games, and Frostpunk will most certainly follow this method. A steampunk premise expanded by equally blessed and cursed presence of ice may become one of the most interesting end-of-the-world visions we have seen. Since the industrial age simply cannot do without 19th-century London, I’m expecting numerous references to that unique period that almost made a fetish of groundbreaking wonders of technological advance.
Winter is coming
Currently there are more than forty people working on the game, almost a hundred if we include contributors, sound technicians, and marketing specialists. The success of This War of Mine enabled the devs to catch a second wind, and Frostpunk is intended to be a large and fleshed out game. One more notable thing is the cooperation of Piotr Musial, the talented composer known, for example, for the soundtrack to The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine. Cinematics will be entrusted to the famous Platige Image (responsible for e.g. The Witcher 3, Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV, or the announced Witcher movie), and together with Musial they may create something truly memorable.
Piotr Musial is an exceptionally talented young Polish video game music composer. He has cooperated with developers such as CD Projekt Red, People Can Fly, Farm 51, or Platige Image. His creations include music for The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, Bulletstorm, This War of Mine, or Anomaly. The tracks from the Witcher soundtrack, e.g. The Slopes Of The Blessure or The Banks Of The Sansretour are among his most memorable compositions.
Stay frosty in 2017
Frostpunk is scheduled to bring the ice age to PC in the second half of 2017, but the devs have yet to show us at least a glimpse of actual gameplay. The numerous details they’ve shared concerning their unique world are, however, more than enough to capture our collective imagination. A game for adult gamers, featuring mature, almost philosophical observations and a creative combination of numerous video game genres set in a hostile, icebound world – can this even go wrong? Of course it can. But knowing who’s at the helm of this project and having played This War of Mine, we are full of optimism. There’s a dreadful winter coming soon, and I hope that it will be a pleasant surprise for millions of players worldwide.
- Frostpunk is a combination of survival and strategy game;
- The gameplay focuses on efficient management of an urban society;
- Real-time gameplay;
- Set in an alternative version of the 19th century;
- The world of Frostpunk has been destroyed by a glacial cataclysm that nearly wiped out humanity;
- The survival of human race is at stake;
- The game touches upon the importance of the needs of an individual when compared to those of a collective, and the player’s role is to make decisions that will influence the entire society;
- It will feature extensive philosophical elements, and the devs want to create a demanding game for a mature player;
- Set in a city, the last remaining stronghold of humanity, but according to the devs the player will also visit the surrounding area;
- The plot may reveal what led to the ice age;
- The technology of the setting is based on steam and ice, with strong similarities to the steampunk genre;
- The developers draw inspiration from e.g. Ice [Polish: Lód] – a novel by Jacek Dukaj, games such as Banished and Dishonored, 19th-century London, and steampunk in general;
- The game will probably be a PC exclusive, but the devs haven’t yet ruled out a simultaneous launch on consoles;
- The music will be composed by a renowned Polish composer, Piotr Musial;
- Platige Image will create cinematics for the game;
- In total, there are roughly 100 people working on the project.