Take a tour of a pre-frozen apocalypse with the city sim’s art team.
If you know Frostpunk – an acclaimed city-builder survival sim about the frozen apocalypse – you also know there is snow everywhere in the game. But with the upcoming The Last Autumn expansion, launching on July 21, we flipped the table and messed up with the core visual elements from the base game. Green leaves replaced white snow, and since we never imagined Frostpunk without it, it proved to be more challenging than just changing the weather.
At 11 bit studios, we are making games in which art amplifies the design message. In Frostpunk we used the art design to establish that grim, unforgiving, and palpable bleakness that echoes throughout the events we portray. Lighting and colors, stylized parts of UI, particles, or even architectural forms – all those served that purpose. Royal and steel shades of blue dominate Frostpunk’s palette, and all colors are cold and bleached.
Every morning in the game’s daily cycle serves as a ray of hope, so we made those a bit different and uplifting. But then minus 60 degrees comes in and everything is back to being desperately normal. Meanwhile, dark UI splashes in the Book of Laws or at story events screens, which can resemble coal which is, after all, the main resource in the game, were stressing the gloomy tones. And details like dirt on the buildings, frozen edges of the screen, sharp shards floating in the air proved to be very useful in maintaining the mood.
All those aspects have to click together, and they did in Frostpunk. That’s why the decision to make The Last Autumn a prequel story in which players oversee the construction of the Generator from the main game, was such a big leap into something different. Being snowy is, right next to being steampunk-ish, Frostpunk’s core visual identity. Players see the game screenshots and immediately recognize them, and we were about to drop that ingredient. At least for some part of The Last Autumn story, since winter is a looming threat and delicate snowdrops are starting to hit at some point.
Like I’ve stated before – during the main game development, we had never imagined “green” Frostpunk, but tweaking the palette was only a minor task. Most importantly, the whole environment, all 2D illustrations in the game, and all buildings had to be adjusted to their “autumn” versions. In fact, the weather changes in the game are relying on delicate and complex smoke and mirror tricks. The conditions change during storms, but despite that, we’re still moving inside the winter. Because of that, the removal of snow, which might not seem like a big deal, required quite a bit of work. Just like making it appear again since we know what the outcome will be and have to address that as well.
Basically, Frostpunk was crafted by a lot of custom systems and it’s not as flexible as we would like. Take rooftops for example. Red rooftops nicely cut off from the whole picture and green terrain, but in the base game, we didn’t have rooftops in buildings models at all, since they were all covered with snow. We also didn’t have many terrain types besides the snowdrifts since we simply didn’t need them. Also, new types of buildings like the dock for ships, that come ashore and as the main source of resources in The Last Autumn, had to be faithful to the art style and visual structure of the game. And staying close to an already paved visual identity does not mean restraining creativity. Knowing your game boundaries can stimulate it even more. That happened during The Last Autumn development, and we think of it as a huge achievement for the 11 bit studios art division.
But The Last Autumn isn’t the only Frostpunk expansion debuting on July 21. Albeit The Rifts and On the Edge aren’t as distinguishable in terms of visuals, since both are properly snowy, they also introduce new interesting gameplay mechanics. The Rifts add a new map for Endless mode and bridges, a new type of construction to gather resources scattered across islands. On the Edge narratively follows the events after the Great Storm so from the ending of the base game. Players are tasked with building and maintaining an outpost outside of the city, without the Generator, to extract resources from recently discovered military warehouses and maintaining trade routes with other survivors’ settlements.
All three Frostpunk expansions will launch on PlayStation 4 on July 21. The Last Autumn, On the Edge and The Rifts, are available separately or as a bundled Season Pass.