Frostpunk's lead designer was 'dumbstruck' at the insanely difficult self-imposed challenges players managed in the brutal settlement sim: 'I was like, that's not possible'

Face covered with oil looking at fire
(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

Even if you're not a Frostpunk player, you're probably already familiar with it as the "child labor game," an unforgiving sci-fi society building sim set in a world so brutal, conventional morality gets left at the door. But even Jakub Stokalski, lead designer of Frostpunk 1 and co-director on its sequel, was surprised at the lengths players went to make the game even more hardcore.

"I was dumbstruck by someone completing the main scenario without ever turning on the generator," Stokalski told PC Gamer news writer Joshua Wolens in a recent interview. "I was like, 'that's not possible.'"

While most players have to learn the game by failing over and over again in the first few days of a run, Stokalski is fascinated by the ones who crank up the difficulty while also setting self-imposed challenges like the no-generator run. For context, the generator is one of your most crucial buildings, and one that many of your other structures and initiatives rely on⁠.

At a certain point with those Frostpunk challenge runs, Stokalski observes, "It really becomes more of a puzzle game rather than a strategy game. It becomes about build order: You need to figure out the proper build order and then execute it to the second in order not to fail."

That drive to pure optimization can be found in many games, but Stokalski wants to make room for more discovery and improvisation in the sequel. "There's a group of people who really enjoy playing like that," Stokalski said of the hardcore run optimizers, but the lead designer argued that "Strategy games are more about trying a different thing and seeing how the game responds⁠—still throwing some challenges at me, but leading to interesting and different consequences." 

"In designing Frostpunk 2," Stokalski said, "I hope we did a bit more of an interesting job in that regard, and that the game is broader, so that you can play it in more ways than you would Frostpunk 1 and still get an interesting snowball of consequences.

"For someone who's playing extreme Iron Man mode in Frostpunk 2, it would be less about finding a single build order, and more finding some cool, unexpected build orders or unexpected plays that would get you out of tight spots."

Frostpunk 2 is scheduled to release July 25 on Steam, Epic, and GOG

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.

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