Frost­punk

PC

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher 11bit Stu­dios For­mat PC Ori­gin Poland Re­lease 2017

One of our work­ers is crip­pled. Frost­bit­ten from his work haul­ing fuel from the coal piles far out­side our city and hun­gry be­cause the cook­house ran out of food, he col­lapsed and was taken to the med­i­cal post. But, in­stead of cur­ing him, the doc­tor lamed him and now he’s un­able to work, a bur­den on our so­ci­ety. The peo­ple ask if we should build a care home for him, but the no­tion is ridicu­lous. We can’t even feed ev­ery­one.

Frost­punk is a new city-build­ing strat­egy game from the stu­dio that de­vel­oped This War

Of Mine. It imag­ines an al­ter­na­tive Vic­to­rian Bri­tain which has been stricken by the sud­den on­set of an ice age, and tasks you with sav­ing your peo­ple by build­ing a city for them in the heat thrown from a huge, smoke-belch­ing gen­er­a­tor. But as the tem­per­a­ture plunges and re­sources dwin­dle, build­ing be­comes only half the chal­lenge, since this is a mash-up of the long-term strate­gis­ing of city-builders such as Sim City with the minute-by-minute cop­ing strate­gies of sur­vival games like The Long Dark.

Like This War Of Mine, Frost­punk explores what peo­ple are forced to do when un­der great stress. “This War Of Mine was very much about the dif­fer­ent con­se­quences of sur­vival – the hu­man costs,” lead de­signer Kuba Stokalski tells us. “We wanted to build on that and the nat­u­ral way to scale it up was to ask what a so­ci­ety would do if it was faced with sur­vival.”

The doc­tor’s mis­take was our fault. We de­creed that our medics should risk dif­fi­cult med­i­cal pro­ce­dures in an at­tempt to cure pa­tients so we could free more of our few beds for the newly sick. The hunger was also our fault. We didn’t ap­point enough hunters to for­age for food, and in­stead asked them to find steel so we could build a work­shop. The cold was our fault, too. Though the tem­per­a­ture had dipped to -40°, we didn’t over­drive the gen­er­a­tor for fear of putting too much strain on it. Be­cause if the gen­er­a­tor fails, we all die.

Mis­takes, over­sights and best in­ten­tions col­lide and cas­cade. And now the peo­ple are protest­ing about be­ing bit­terly cold, and we must make them a prom­ise that their con­cerns will be met. But should we prom­ise that we’ll make them warm im­me­di­ately? Or give our­selves more time so we don’t risk un­der­min­ing their faith in our lead­er­ship? Now night has come, the work­ers must rest, and our coal sup­ply is run­ning low.

De­spite its name, Frost­punk is a sober and thought­ful game in which you don’t make evil de­ci­sions, or even bad ones. When you choose to make an edict that chil­dren can be put to labour, it’s for prag­ma­tism. It will re­lieve the pres­sure on our adult work­ers and en­sure we can gather more food and build warmer hous­ing so fewer peo­ple have to live in

tents. But if a child should be hurt while work­ing, it will have a ma­jor ef­fect on the peo­ple. Sick­ness, hunger, cold and death are con­stants, but the moral ef­fect of your de­ci­sions are two gauges, Hope and Dis­con­tent. A dis­con­tented pop­u­lace might re­volt and hang you. A hope­less one will aban­don your city.

“It proves to be a re­ally in­ter­est­ing philo­soph­i­cal area to ex­plore, es­pe­cially with what’s hap­pen­ing right now with dif­fer­ent so­cial move­ments and changes all around the world,” says Stokalski. The Vic­to­rian set­ting is an ex­plicit at­tempt to sit­u­ate Frost­punk within the Bri­tish In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion and among the works of so­cial the­ory that sur­rounded it, such as Friedrich En­gels’ The Con­di­tion Of The Work­ing Class In Eng­land, and also into mod­ern themes of cli­mate change and the rise of au­to­ma­tion.

As the leader of this so­ci­ety, you’re faced with a stream of sub­tle nudges to re­mem­ber the peo­ple who toil be­neath you. They’ll reg­u­larly ex­press their con­cerns and pose problems for which you’ll have to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions. If a child is in­jured in a work ac­ci­dent, you might be asked to re­view your law. Per­haps you should pro­hibit child labour again. But then you’ll lose pro­duc­tiv­ity. How about lim­it­ing them to safe jobs? Maybe that’s enough? If the pres­sure is mount­ing, how­ever, keep­ing the chil­dren work­ing might be a nec­es­sary risk.

Some­times they’ll de­mand that you make an im­prove­ment, such as to end home­less­ness in the city, which you can opt to make a prom­ise for, ei­ther to fix quickly or in a num­ber of days. Ef­fec­tively mini-quests, th­ese re­quests of­ten point to­wards a bet­ter way to play, but their de­liv­ery also hits an emo­tional note be­cause they re­late to hu­man needs. Some­times they run counter to your strat­egy, such as want­ing a pub when you’re try­ing to fo­cus on sourc­ing enough coal for the gen­er­a­tor to keep run­ning. “Mak­ing sure you might not al­ways agree with what they want is one of the lay­ers that al­lowed us to put more em­pa­thy into the so­ci­ety as a group,” says Stokalski. “We built chan­nels for you to em­pathise with each and ev­ery one of them: you know their names, who they are, what they’ve been through. But when you have 80 peo­ple and later on even more, you can’t em­pha­sise with them in­di­vid­u­ally, but at the same time we want you to feel emo­tions for the so­ci­ety as a whole.”

You also feel for your peo­ple as you watch them hud­dling on the bare ground next to the gen­er­a­tor and trudg­ing to the tasks you’ve set them, leav­ing paths through the thick snow. With day­light hours so short, and con­sid­er­ing how long it takes for them to get to the stacks of wood and other re­sources out in the wastes, chang­ing plans can be a dis­as­trous waste of time. The pres­sure of hav­ing too few peo­ple, work­ing too slowly, is con­stant.

Frost­punk is a grim game, a work of moral grey­ness and prag­ma­tism. But its pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the peo­ple and what it means to have re­spon­si­bil­ity over them opens a world of nu­ance which re­calls the work of other Pol­ish stu­dios such as CD Pro­jekt Red, maker of the

Witcher games, which also tackle deeply hu­man sto­ries about what peo­ple do when the chips are down. “Maybe it’s our his­tory as a peo­ple,” Stokalski says. “Up un­til the First World War we had no coun­try of our own, be­cause we were oc­cu­pied by Rus­sia, Ger­many and Aus­tro-Hun­gary. Then there was this brief pe­riod of in­de­pen­dence, and then the Sec­ond World War hap­pened, and then the Com­mu­nists. Hav­ing this in our col­lec­tive mind­set might mean we want to see deeper mean­ings in what we do. This his­tory re­minds us of bad things not long be­fore our mod­ern one that make us ques­tion our way of life, our sys­tem of val­ues, what’s good and bad. That’s maybe one of our in­spi­ra­tions.”

The re­sult is a game that feels very dif­fer­ent to the of­ten US-made city builder and strat­egy games that came be­fore it. In­stead of dom­i­na­tion and win­ning, Frost­punk is about the jour­ney you take to en­sure the sur­vival of your so­ci­ety, and how you feel about the way you achieved it. Could you have made bet­ter de­ci­sions? Prob­a­bly. Was sur­vival at all costs ul­ti­mately worth it? That’s for you to judge.

You feel for your peo­ple as you watch them hud­dling on the bare ground

Lead de­signer Kuba Stokalski pre­vi­ously de­signed indie 4X game Space­com

Though Frost­punk is first re­leas­ing for PC, the con­cen­tric na­ture of the city makes con­sole joy­pad con­trol more than vi­able

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