Space Punks is a free-to-play multiplayer online looter-shooter which will be coming to PC later this year, currently in development by Flying Wild Hog studio and to be published by Jagex. Ahead of the upcoming closed beta, I sat down with two of the members of the team — Krzystof Krieger, who is the game’s art director, and Marta Polak, a concept artist working on the game — to get to know more about Space Punks’ distinctive look and style.
Established in 2009, Flying Wild Hog quickly gained an established reputation in the industry after their excellent work on the rebooted Shadow Warrior franchise, which was filled to the brim with gloriously over-the-top explosive action. They're even working on a third entry in the reboot. This new title comes from their division in Kraków, which was created as a separate branch in 2015 and has previously worked in support roles for a number of major titles like Dying Light and Cyberpunk 2077. As a result, Space Punks is by far “the biggest product” Krieger has undertaken so far and one which holds “no comparison to everything [he] did before'' in over 10 years of industry experience.
Likewise, Polak's work on the UI and concept art is her “first job in game dev." She explained that, on top of fresh new faces, the studio also contains a number of figures from Wild Hog’s successful past projects including some of the team who worked on Shadow Warrior and other big IPs. Despite coming from a slightly different branch of the studio, however, I was assured that fans can still look forward to some of the group's signature gameplay elements.
“We at the Hogs are very good at the second-to-second, minute-to-minute gameplay,” she said. "It’s the fast-paced action you will feel from the first second."
In addition to being the first full title developed by the Kraków studio, Space Punks is also Flying Wild Hog’s first attempt at a game with an isometric perspective, and I was curious to learn more about the unique challenges this change in presentation would bring.
“When you think about the art point,” explained Polak, “we needed to focus on the graphic read. It’s a very fast-paced game where you really need to know in an exact moment what’s happening."
When constructing the characters, it was important to consider “the whole contrast and the fact that bigger shapes need to go upwards rather than downwards.” The ability to distinguish objects from the top down was also a factor in the choice for the game’s comic-book-inspired visuals, with Krieger adding that with “the possibility to use those bright saturated colors” comes the ability “to arrange our space how we want to find a proper focal point."
The case for comic-book visuals was also made in the team’s desire to create a free-to-play, ever-expanding world intended to endure for years to come.
“Realistic games age quickly because of advances in technology,” Krieger argued, “but stylized games stay fresh for longer,” so this was an important factor to consider. There was also the matter of the game’s tone; “it feels lighter with this comic book vibe,” and for the artists themselves it presents the opportunity to have fun and “really go crazy with the funny stuff” even if “not everything is going to be in the [finished] game."
In the character design, the goal was to create characters which were both expressive and easily recognizable. Although the game is primarily presented from the top down, Polak described how “we don’t just see our characters from the top-down view, but we see them in the Choose a Hero and in the story, where they will be visible more." It was also very important that players would be able to tell a character’s personality from their design so it is “easier for them to pick a character which is closer to their attitudes.” In regards to the alien characters, a lot of work went into creating appealing designs, with the team engaging in “big brainstorming sessions where you needed to break the rules” and trying to break things down and begin to “put it [back] together in a different way."
Alongside its cast of characters, the game boasts an "endless arsenal of weapons," which raises the question of how the designers went about creating so many unique items for the player to use.
“With how the human mind works it has to be something you can relate to,” Krieger explained. “You get the references and put them together but then try to find new shapes and new silhouettes.” The process involves starting with a goal, “what the weapon will do to the enemies and what we want from it, how powerful it is," and so on, and then combining “all those thoughts and all those references” before settling on a final, suitable design for the weapon.
A similar philosophy was deployed in creating the game’s various planets, which needed to appear both recognizable to the player whilst still conveying a sense of existing in a fantasy universe.
“If you look at the first planet you have a desert, and you can relate to a desert in some way,” said Krieger. “Then you add red crystals” and “you still understand what it is, you still see the crystal and know that it’s crystal and how it works." In the end, designing the maps was all about “trying to find what we can relate to and combining it in ways you would never see in a real-world setting."
As for the game’s development, I wanted to know if the ongoing covid-19 pandemic had made much of an impact on the team. “Not really," replied Krieger. “We’ve been developing the game over a few years. It started way before that. How we worked on the game also didn’t change that much for us, obviously we’re working from home now, but overall we were not influenced by what happened." Polak was quick to add that as a team, they “never lost [their] sense of humor, because [they] were working in good company!”
Finally, I asked how the team felt about the numerous comparisons being drawn between Space Punks and Borderlands. Krieger welcomed the comparison. “It’s a nice comparison, why not? It is a great game.” As to whether it was a fair comparison, “to some extent it probably is but that wasn’t our goal," he said. "We want to be, and we are, a game on its own. It’s our style.”
“We’ve got shooting, we’ve got heroes and explosives, so we can be compared to every game,” Polak added — which is a very fair point!
As it stands, Space Punks looks like it's shaping up to be a lot of fun. PC early access starts on the 14th of July and if you're a big fan of looter-shooters, or just want some over-the-top isometric action, this is one title which is definitely worth keeping an eye on.