If you know Frostpunk, an acclaimed city builder survival simulator about the frozen apocalypse, you will also know that there is snow everywhere in the game. But with the upcoming The Last Autumn expansion, releasing on July 21, we turned the table around and messed up the core visuals of the base game. Green leaves replaced white snow, and since we never imagined Frostpunk without it, it turned out to be more challenging than simply changing the weather.
In 11-bit studios, we are creating games in which art amplifies the message of design. At Frostpunk we use artistic design to establish that bleak, relentless, palpable desolation that resonates throughout the events we portray. Lighting and colors, stylized parts of the user interface, particles, or even architectural shapes all served that purpose. Royal blue and steel tones dominate the Frostpunk palette, and all the colors are cool and bleached.
Each morning in the game’s daily cycle serves as a ray of hope, so we made them a little different and uplifting. But then minus 60 degrees go in and everything is desperately normal again. Meanwhile, dark splashes from the UI in the Law Book or story event screens, which may resemble charcoal, which is, after all, the game’s main resource, accentuated the gloomy tones. And details like dirt on buildings, frozen screen edges, sharp shards floating in the air proved to be very helpful in keeping the mood.
All of 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 a huge leap into something different. Being snowy is, alongside being steampunk-ish, Frostpunk’s central visual identity. Players see the screenshots of the game and recognize them immediately, and we were about to drop that ingredient. At least in part of The Last Autumn’s story, as winter is an imminent threat and the delicate snowdrops are starting to hit at some point.
As I said before, during the development of the main game, we had never imagined a “green” Frostpunk, but adjusting the palette was only a minor task. Most importantly, the entire environment, all the 2D illustrations in the game, and all the buildings had to be adapted to their “autumn” versions. In fact, the weather changes in the game are based on delicate and complex tricks with smoke and mirrors. Conditions change during storms, but despite that, we still move into winter. So snow removal, which may not seem like a big deal, required a lot of work. Like making it appear again, since we know what the result will be and we have to address it as well.
Basically, Frostpunk was created by many custom systems and it is not as flexible as we would like. Take rooftops, for example. The red roofs cut the full picture and green terrain very well, but in the base game, we had no roofs on the building models at all, as they were all covered in snow. We also didn’t have many types of terrain other than snowdrifts, as we just didn’t need them. In addition, the new types of buildings such as the boat dock, which 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 doesn’t mean restricting creativity. Knowing the limits of your game can stimulate you even more. That happened during the development of The Last Autumn, and we consider it a great achievement for the art division of 11-bit studios.
But The Last Autumn isn’t the only Frostpunk expansion to debut on July 21. Although The Rifts and On the Edge are not as distinguishable in terms of visuals, as they are both covered in snow, they also introduce interesting new game mechanics. Rifts add a new map for Endless Mode and Bridges, a new type of construction for collecting resources scattered across the islands. On the Edge narratively follows the events after the Great Storm from the end of the base game. Players are tasked with building and maintaining an outpost outside the city, without the Generator, to extract resources from recently discovered military warehouses and maintain 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 season pass included.