We first played Frostpunk more than a year ago, but its chilling examination of tough moral choices in impossible leadership circumstances still sticks with us. Many players felt the same way, as the game slowly and steadily built up a following on the way to selling 1.4 million copies in its first year.
For those unfamiliar with the setup, Frostpunk takes place in an alternate-history 19th Century where the onset of an ice age exterminates the vast majority of the human race, and players must lead a small and fragile group of survivors as they prepare for an even worse deep freeze. Building their settlement and sending out explorers to scavenge for vital supplies, commanders must deal with a cascading series of difficult decisions that test the limits of human rights in no-win situations.
This summer, console players will finally have a chance to see why we named Frostpunk the best simulation game of 2018 and called its uncompromising finale one of the best gaming moments of last year. We recently spoke with 11 Bit Studios to see how the experience is changing in the migration to the new platforms.
All The Content From The PC Version Makes The Migration
The console version of Frostpunk will not look deficient in comparison to its PC predecessor when it launches later this year. Developer 11 Bit Studios says the PS4 and Xbox One versions will release with every piece of content that has been delivered to the PC version thus far. This includes all the free content updates, gameplay balances, customization options, and difficulty settings. Most importantly, the post-launch Fall of Winterhome scenario and popular Endless mode make the transition as well.
Completely Reworked The Controls For Gamepad
Successful strategy games are notorious for crashing and burning on consoles to the point that many big franchises like Total War and Civilization don’t even bother. Many times, the culprit for the unsuccessful ports is poorly translating the point-and-click controls and menu-heavy interfaces to a gamepad. 11 Bit Studios ran into the same issues when exploring bringing Frostpunk to consoles.
“It took us some time to get the console version going, but there’s a good reason for it,” says project lead and senior lead designer Jakub Stokalski. “When we got the game out and it did as well as it did, we started the usual porting process just to try a virtual cursor and see how it how the game played. It played really badly. That’s when we realized that we can’t really do a port of this game.”
From there, the team looked at other control schemes being used by recent console strategy conversions like Cities: Skylines and the Tropico series, but still didn’t feel any of them felt truly comfortable on a controller. “That used to be the case with shooter games as well, right?” Stokalski says. “I mean, you wouldn’t have played a shooter a couple of years back, but then Halo came along. We have to do some things differently, but it can feel like a native experience.”
To find that native experience, the team redesigned a vast majority of the interface. Fonts and menus were changed to be readable from a couch. Camera sensitivity needed to be adjusted so the virtual cursor moves quickly across the map, but snaps naturally to interactive objects like buildings. The developers integrated a top-down view to allow players to more easily place buildings. When that wasn’t quite good enough, 11 Bit added a new left-trigger modifier that makes movement even more precise in building mode.
Using streamlining as its guiding principle, 11 Bit developed a gamepad control scheme to make oft-used functions easily accessible. The d-pad controls the speed of passing time. The left trigger opens a command hub that gets you to any menu you need to be in, and the right trigger gives you contextual control of workplaces to make sure you have quick access to all the macros like toggling overtime and emergency shifts. The goal? Make every important and frequently used command accessible within two clicks. Stokalski thinks their work has paid off.
“I think of myself mostly as a PC player, but playing these two builds of the game like daily, I actually prefer to play with the controller right now,” he says. “This is reinforced with the usability testing that we do with all of our titles before release. The PC version got scores in the range of like 8-8.5 as far as usability and ease of use goes, and this version is running up to 9 out of 10 among our [testers].”
The Console Version Will Be Supported Moving Forward
Sounds like a no brainer, right? But not every console version of a PC game gets the same treatment. While updates won’t necessarily come day and date with the PC improvements, Stokalski says they will all make their way to the console eventually. Most importantly, this includes the company’s plans to launch new paid DLC in the near future. While 11 Bit wouldn’t share major details about what sort of new content is coming our way outside of reaffirming it stays true to the bleak tonal spirit of Frostpunk, Stokalski says it’s going to be on par with the length of the original game’s main scenario.
The Frostpunk Console Edition comes to PlayStation 4 and Xbox this summer.
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