With the last update of Frostpunk 11 bit studios released a new scenario. Because of this, project manager Jakub Stokalski had some time to talk about the current status of the game. Not only did we talk about the roadmap and further planned updates. But, we also questioned him about the background story of Frostpunk. And well…he explains some interesting things about storytelling.
Jakub Stokalski has been working at 11 bit studios for 3.5 years. He is currently project leader and senior lead designer for the ice age survival game Frostpunk.
Jakub came after his studies in contact with game design. As a student in the field of psychology, he has dealt with “Human-Computer Interaction” and graduated in the field.
He lives and works in Warsaw, Poland, where he has his desk in the office of 11 bit studios.
Björn (KlabauterMannLP) conducted the interview by phone.
Björn: Which non-11-bit-studios-games do you prefer to play in your free time?
Jakub: Actually, I’m more professional than private — well, that answer is not really sexy right now.
Strategy and tactical games and some RPG ones I liked the most in the past. With examples as the Total War games, Mass Effect, and Baldurs Gate. But now, when I play a game privately, it has to give me something. It must be mature and value me as a player and human being. So, it doesn’t question my time or intelligence by trying to manipulate me into, for example, buying loot boxes. I have no time for that, and I believe in meaningful experiences that can be transported via computer games. I like that as a player and as a game designer.
Björn: Clear statement. Thank you! Now let’s talk about Frostpunk.
After the release of the game, you released a roadmap relatively soon. Are you still on schedule?
Jakub: Yes, we are — surprisingly. (laughs) That’s not usual, of course, in game development. But yes, we are on schedule.
We have just released “The Fall of Winterhome”, the first announced scenario DLC* where we did something different, and we got a lot of positive reactions from it. Next comes the endurance mode, an endless game mode with a more open end that players have wished for. And around Christmas comes the DLC “Winter Snapshots”.
* DLC = Downloadable Content, content that can be downloaded as an extension after the game is released.
What was the risk of announcing a roadmap for the rest of the year as early as June? We all know that the community can be offended if you promise something and then cannot keep it.
Jakub: Yes, that was a small risk. But we are very honest about the roadmap. If it becomes clear that the update can’t be delivered in time because something happened, we have to explain it and postpone it.
But we just wanted to do that. We got such a great welcome from the community for the game at the release and felt so much excitement. They gave us a lot of feedback which merged with our ideas. So we just wanted to make it clear: we want to develop this next. That’s what we do, and we believe we can do it with the team and the experience we have.
”We made this roadmap and we believe we can do it with the team and the experience we have.”
Björn: When you published the roadmap, the story DLC was still called “Builders Update”. Did you plan something else first?
Jakub: No, that was just a code name. We did not want to reveal by the name what “The Fall of Winterheim” would be about.
Björn: Tell me more about the planned endurance mode. As I can’t really imagine it. Frostpunk is a game that lives off telling stories — but how do you tell an endless story?
Björn: Ah! So you disable the story elements for the Endurance Mode?
No, it would not be Frostpunk anymore. The story is still there, but it leaves the player rather alone and isn’t in the foreground. But the game mode is already different from the scenarios. They are there to tell the stories in the world of Frostpunk and uncover, bit by bit, what happened.
Björn: Now let’s talk about the DLC “Winter Snapshots” scheduled for December. Will this be a pure screenshot tool? Or can you further improve the engine so that more than just snapshots in the highest resolution will be possible?
”Winter snapshots will be a surprise update.”
Björn: So, about the background story of Frostpunk. Will, you continue to tell the story and solve the questions fans have. Or will you leave it to the players to imagine the rest? As an example, why are people moving north and not south, and where does the winter come from?
And so it will be with all the new scenarios. Where we will shine a light on specific parts of the world. Then we can tell a new story, what happened there each time. All our stories will be about a society that has to survive and about what you are willing to sacrifice to master the situation. But beyond that, the scenarios of the background story can always reveal a bit more. That’s an approach that works very well in my view.
“All our stories will be about the society that has to survive. And what you are willing to sacrifice to master the situation.
“I like that the world of Frostpunk is bigger and more open than what you get to see in a single game. And it’s great to see players coming up with their own ideas and stories could happen in this big world. On Reddit, I’ve read about a group of people thinking about playing a role-playing game in the world of Frostpunk, right with paper and a pencil at the table, without a computer. I think that’s wonderful when such a world is created, which leaves so much space, that there are many different stories in it, without contradicting each other.
Björn: Yeah, from my point of view, that works. I talked about our interview in my Livestream and one had a theory that was supplemented by another and at the very end, the group came to the conclusion: There must have been aliens at work.
“Aliens definitely do not play a role in Frostpunk.”
Björn: There is beautiful artwork in Frostpunk. And you encourage the artists to share their pictures on Twitter. Is this a marketing concept?
Jakub: Yes, Magdalena Katańska has created the artwork of the cover for “The Fall of Winterhome”. And of course, we used the image itself for our marketing. But then we asked her, “Can you show a bit more about the history of the development of this cover picture? As people are interested in the progress of creating it. “And she still had the various intermediate versions and said,” Sure, I do! “. And then she put it online as an animated GIF:
Hi 🙂 Here's a step-by-step process of my latest artwork. I started with my earlier Winterhome illustration from @frostpunkgame and tried to convey the mood of events that occured before the player finds this city in the main game. #Frostpunk #WinterhomeMustFall #gamedev pic.twitter.com/xQtupL2v6d
— Magdalena Katańska (@qualiney) September 18, 2018
It may have had a marketing effect, but it was important for us that the artist could show her work. Besides that, people could now see how the cover got created. You can’ do that with programming, as people won’t understand the lines.
Björn: It shows the appreciation for the artist that her work can be showed and that it is not just part of an 11 bit studio game.
Jakub: Yes, that’s right, games are released by companies, but they are developed by people. And the job is full of hard work and if you can show it and be proud of it, that’s only fair.
”Games are released by companies, but they are developed by people.”