9.4 C
New York
Saturday, April 13, 2024

Frost Giant Studios’ Debut Mixes ‘Starcraft’ With ‘Diablo’

Frost Giant Studios, cofounded by former Blizzard real-times strategy masterminds Tim Morten and Tim Campbell, has finally unveiled the trailer for its first game, Stormgate, which enters beta on Steam next year. The trailer provides a peek at the feel of this upcoming real-time strategy throwback.

This first look was only a teaser, however, so I sat down with two key Frost Giant employees, writer Micky Neilson and assistant art director Jonathan Ryder, to dig into the game’s backstory and learn how Frost Giant plans to follow in Blizzard’s footsteps without repeating its mistakes.

Low-Fi Sci-Fi

The first moments of the Stormgate trailer evoke the feel of Starcraft. It’s in the ghostly blue hue of a holographic projector, the subtle mumble of an AI assistant, and the thunderous arrival of a chunky sci-fi mech suit. Instead of going for a purely retro aesthetic, however, the trailer mashes modern, high-resolution art with the gritty, lived-in feel that defines the Starcraft franchise. This carries over to the game itself, which is built on Unreal Engine 5.

“When it comes down to design and art, when we see something futuristic, whether it’s a vehicle or a doodad on the map, you should be able to tell what the function of that thing is by looking at it,” says Neilson.

The human technology in Stormgate is defined by bulky suits of armor, pouches, and useful-yet-imperfect holograms. Weapons shoot bullets, not lasers, and armored suits achieve flight the old-fashioned way: with a rocket pack. This captures not only the feel of early Blizzard titles but also, by extension, that studio’s inspirations, such as the tabletop war game Warhammer 40K, the Alien franchise, and 1997’s cult sci-fi movie Starship Troopers.

That’s not to say Frost Giant’s approach is stuck in the ’90s, however. Jonathan Ryder, Frost Giant’s assistant art director, says the team updates the low-fi aesthetic by guessing at the impact of more recent scientific breakthroughs.

“MIT was creating this bacteria that can create electrical charge into a battery,” says Ryder. “So, we thought about, what would 50, 60, 70 years of innovation on that look like, if we were using it for clean technology?” This speculation helps the team bend the rules of physics without losing touch with reality.

The trailer also reveals the Infernals, Stormgate’s distinctly different second faction. These creatures take inspiration from another Blizzard franchise, Diablo, and bring an unexpected dose of high fantasy. This would seem to run counter to the speculative realism of the human faction, but Stormgate hopes to keep the Infernals rooted in the same logic by walking a line between sci-fi and fantasy.

“They use magic, so there’s always those questions,” says Neilson. “How much of it are artifacts, or how much of it is innate? Sometimes, magic and science can come together a little bit. If you’re casting a cold spell, is it drawing from the moisture in the air to create that spell?”

It’s a Toy Chest

Stormgate’s blend of Starcraft and Diablo reminds me of the box of random action figures I often dove into as a kid. Yeah, I could just play with Ninja Turtles or Transformers on their own—but it was more fun to mash them together.

Most PopularBusinessThe End of Airbnb in New York

Amanda Hoover

BusinessThis Is the True Scale of New York’s Airbnb Apocalypse

Amanda Hoover

CultureStarfield Will Be the Meme Game for Decades to Come

Will Bedingfield

GearThe 15 Best Electric Bikes for Every Kind of Ride

Adrienne So

“With this sci-fi and fantasy background, we can do endless things,” says Ryder. “It becomes this toy chest for us as artists, to be able to invent things, working with narrative, working with design.” Ryder, obviously passionate but also forced to hold back details, says conversations about how the game’s themes will play out in art and design are ongoing internally. The trailer is just the start.

This flexibility has implications for Stormgate’s narrative and gameplay. While the details of its monetization remain to be settled, Frost Giant Studios plans to offer the game as a free-to-play title with quarterly updates. The setting’s blend of opposites provides opportunities to imagine unusual new missions, maps, races, units, and gameplay modes.

“We wanted to create a world where we could say yes to all kinds of things,” says Neilson. “We wanted a huge sandbox where we could really turn the designers loose, turn the artists loose, and say yes to the greatest ideas.”

This will extend to the heroes, a key element that any real-time strategy gamer will crave. From Starcraft to Dawn of War, hero characters help advance the story and provide players a relatable character to identify with.

The trailer’s protagonist, a human explorer on the hunt for rare artifacts, is the only hero shown so far and will have an important role in the story. But players will also encounter heroes from the game’s Infernals faction and other races not yet unveiled.

“It’s going to be an ensemble piece as far as characters are concerned,” says Neilson. The player’s point of view on the world will shift through the campaign as they find themselves in the shoes of both factions—or, well, whatever passes for footwear among demons.

Stepping Out of Blizzard’s Shadow

It’s impossible to discuss Stormgate without referencing its ties to Activision Blizzard. Ryder and Neilson, like Frost Giant’s cofounders, spent years there before moving on to Frost Giant. But Blizzard’s recent troubles, which include multiple allegations of sexual harassment, have tarnished the studio’s once unbeatable reputation and left fans looking elsewhere.

Ryder says the Stormgate team hopes all players can find a home in its new game. “We want to make sure people feel like we’re inviting them in,” he says. Beyond the demonic conflict, dusty ruins, and rocket packs, Stormgate hopes to hook players with an empowering vibe that builds on, instead of repeating, past hits.

Here the game channels the themes of a more recent Blizzard title, Overwatch. Despite beautiful cinematics about friendship and trust, Blizzard’s competitive shooter never received an in-game narrative or gameplay mode to match—and instead gained a reputation for terrible behavior by players.

Frost Giant wants to avoid that mistake. While Stormgate will lean into the RTS genre’s esports roots, it’s investing equally in noncompetitive modes. This includes a cooperative “comp stomp” mode that pits teams of three players against increasingly nasty AI foes. This mode, inspired by the co-op missions in Starcraft II, should entice players more interested in building a friend’s base than wrecking it.

“We’re trying to have a spin of hopefulness to it,” says Ryder.

Related Articles

Latest Articles