Frostpunk creators dive into mind-bending sci-fi with The Alters, a deep-space game of survival

Frostpunk developer 11 Bit Studios unveiled its next game at the PC Gaming Show today, a "classic sci-fi" tale of survival among the stars called The Alters.

The Alters follows the adventures of Jan Dolski, who volunteers for a high-risk mission to find and extract a rare element called Rapidium that enables the creation of alternative versions of organic matter. But the mission goes wrong: The ship crashes, and Jan is the sole survivor. Alone and trapped on a hostile alien world, he's forced to use Rapidium to create alternative versions of himself—the Alters—to survive and ultimately find his way home.

The Alters are not clones: Each one is Jan at heart, but effectively a version of him that made different choices over the course of his life. Those choices led to different outcomes: Each Alter has a unique set of skills and traits, but also different attitudes, beliefs, and personalities. They're manufactured individuals, a dichotomy that's at the heart of the game.

"We as people, we are shaping ourselves every single day with every single decision that we are making," game director Tomasz Kisilewicz said during the show.

"This process, the whole process of becoming who we are, it can be quite painful at times. But in our game, Jan, the main character, he has this unique possibility of not only shaping himself, but also reshaping himself, numerous times, with every single Alter that he is creating."

Like previous 11 Bit Games, The Alters is built around the studio's "meaningful entertainment philosophy, so it's a game we hope will make you think even after you stop playing." It will feature elements of horror games, thrillers and mysteries, and a "thick layer of surreality," Kisilewicz said. "I mean, how surreal would it be to one day wake up next to a little different, alternative version of your very self?"

I know it's not likely, given 11 Bit's propensity for relentlessly grim experiences like This War of Mine (the horrors of war) and Frostpunk (the horrors of climate change), but I feel like there's room for some real humor in The Alters, too. I am perhaps not the most well-read member of the PC Gamer staff but the first thing that leapt to my mind when hearing about The Alters was the infamous Duplicator from Calvin and Hobbes, a device that enabled the lead character to create multiple copies of himself in order to lighten his load in life, which of course quickly led to chaos.

That may be a long shot, but what I do expect to see are some tricky ethical questions about sentience, humanity, and what it means to be alive. The Alters also bears echoes of Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which formed the basis of the movie Blade Runner. And like the book and movie, the questions are stark: The Alters are Jan's creation, but what does that mean for them as individuals? Are they individuals at all? Are they merely organic automatons, created to serve a purpose, or are they genuine people?

"It is very classic sci-fi in the way that we are taking a relatable topic, and we are using the sci-fi theme, we are using the sci-fi setting, to look at it through the magnifying glass and investigate it, take a closer look," Kisilewicz said. "But then when we were choosing the tools, this is a very contemporary game, and we are taking advantage of what videogames are as a medium. So we're using tools like systematic design and non-linearity in order to put the players in the middle of the experience, and in the end, allow them to create their own stories inside the game."

11 Bit said The Alters has already been in development for two years, but it does not yet have a release date.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.