Hello from the Game Developer’s Conference, where every building comes with a blizzard-spewing air conditioner. I’ve just been to see Frostpunk, the societal survival game set in a pseudo-Victorian hellwinter, from the developers of This War of Mine. The frosty management game will support modding, they say, and there are plans for “additional scenarios”. That means both smaller, free updates and bigger packs of paid DLC. Although mod support “probably won’t be from day one”. And the developers haven’t decided what these later scenarios will contain.
I saw a demo similar to the one Adam covered here and can confrim it looks like Good Stuff. Little men and women make trails through the snow, struggling to collect wood as you lord it over them as the leader of a crater full of shacks. Eventually, more buildings arise. Coal extractors, food kitchens, steamworks, sawmills, huntering shacks. All the while problems popped up, threatening to imbalance the settlement's two sacred meters of “hope” and “discontent”.
It never got to the point were the citizens started rioting – something we're told can happen – but a small child did get injured working in the food production building. He got the rest of the day off, thanks to the benevolent demo-player from 11 Bit. I would have gone for the other option: “Scold him and tell him to be more careful”.
All this we know. However, the promise of mod support is new. They’ve opted to let people tinker with the game despite being mod-phobic about their previous work, This War of Mine. That’s down to the setting being more outlandish, they say. You see, they once toyed with the idea of opening up This War of Mine to modding, but decided against allowing silly mods into a game that’s mostly about civilians trying to survive a brutal, realistic war.
“We didn’t want a zombie mode,” says marketing man Patryk Grzeszczuk as an example, “because it would impact the feeling of the game.”
Probably for the best. But Frostpunk, being an alternative history in which you can chop people's frostbitten arms off and replace them with pneumatic limbs, was more suited to letting modders take a punt, and opening it up to Steam Workshop.
“It allows us to be more flexible,” said Grzeszczuk. “We’re more open for people to modify the game.”
They also spoke about the game’s relatively limited nature when compared to other open-ended management games. Many event pop-ups and problems will differ between players, but there is still a concrete story with a firm “climax point”.
“There is a time limit of sorts,” said Grzeszczuk, “but it is a part of how the story plays out.”
That’s probably a race to find a city that’s rumoured to exist nearby, where your people can flourish, before some disaster or game-ending event occurs. A skilled player will be able to complete the game in 60-80 in-game days, he says [Update: Nope, it's 30-40]. To put that into perspective, our demo was about an hour long, in which 6 days passed. But it’s important to note you can speed up or pause the passage of time at will. Although it’s more likely that the generator will explode under too much stress, or your people will revolt and overthrow you – two conditions that will also result in a ‘game over’.
Given those limits, it’s unsurprising they want to add post-release "scenarios". These will present the player with a new story to follow. When I asked how far-fetched those scenarios will be (this is a game with robot automatons and something on the tech tree called “flying hunters”) Grzeszczuk said they probably wouldn’t drift too far from the gruff, harsh tone of survival and tough decisions.
“We didn’t want it to be wacky,” he said. “The tonality of the game is quite serious. That said with all the options… you can make some weird cities, weird societies.”
They also once toyed with adding strange new scenarios to This War of Mine, he said, but again decided it against when an in-house version of the war-torn survival sim featuring giant rats didn’t quite work.
“We have some serious guys,” he said.
Frostpunk is out on April 24