Frostpunk devs say they're not out to make 'depression simulators' despite all the death and child labour: 'There always has to be a good way out'

frostpunk art
(Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

The thing about both Frostpunk 1 and 2, 11 Bit's snowpocalyptic city-builders that see you eke out a desperate existence in a world plunged into perma-frost, is they're a real bummer. There's the child labour, the organ harvesting, the fact that you can't even solve the riddle of history without annihilating your populace through hypothermia. There's just a lot to be sad about, in general.

But despite it all, Frostpunk 2 co-director (and senior lead designer on the first game) Jakub Stokalski tells PCG the studio's not out to make you sad. At least, not all the time. "There's a joke running around that we're really doing 'depression simulators' at 11 Bit Studios," says Stokalski, "And on the one hand, that's a pretty distinct way of defining a game studio, but at the same time I would hope that our game was not really about making people feel miserable."

"We can make it as difficult and shitty for you as possible. But that's not the point of the game."

Jakub Stokalski

What are the Frostpunk games about, then? "It's rather showing [players] that even through adversity, there is a way to feel satisfaction and to avoid the tragedy." Which is honestly a bit galling to hear, since I think it suggests that my doomed reign in Frostpunk 2 might actually have been my fault rather than an unavoidable quirk of fate. That can't be right.

But, alas, apparently it is. "We make a point of never making a game, or a choice, or a consequence, or a law, or a balance in a way that there is no good way [out], right? There always has to be a good way out," says Stokalski, "Because otherwise it's cheating, it's not being genuine to the player."

Which isn't to suggest you're supposed to be having a roaring time 24/7 in Frostpunk's world, mind you, but rather that it's a matter of balance. Stokalski emphasises that "There has to be tragedy, because if you fail, you need to feel that bad things happen if you fail," but that the developers have to take steps to balance it out. "We are the designers, we control pretty much everything in this world, we can make it as difficult and shitty for you as possible. But that's not the point of the game."

In other words, yes, those times I've doomed my city to oblivion really were all my fault. Sorry, citizens.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.