It was simple: we needed more power.
After having released the smash hit SteamWorld Dig 2 in late 2017, we sat down to discuss where to go next. Over the past few years Image & Form had launched four very clever SteamWorld games in highly stylized 2D and picked up an array of awards along the way. Still, many felt it was time to find a new direction, to do something else. Something that didn’t necessarily feature steam-driven protagonists or fit every thinkable platform, but rather would explode in full 3D, use every little ounce of computing power and generally go all the way. In short, a game where more is more. We had never made such a game, and we didn’t know if we had it in us. It would mean new processes, a new game engine, new skill sets. It required a new start… but we had reinvented ourselves before. It was time.
And so, The Gunk was born. Or rather, the idea that later became The Gunk was born, because it certainly wasn’t what it is today – that’s not how the Image & Form team makes games. We typically start with an idea around some tight core gameplay, and then we iterate, iterate some more (and then we iterate on the iterations themselves for good measure), until we have created a brilliant game around it. As for The Gunk, the first (and graphically very simple) prototypes that Game Director Ulf Hartelius presented involved running, jumping, vacuuming this slimy gunk off the ground and watching plants grow back when you had cleared a patch. It wasn’t much, but it felt tasty and was strangely soothing – and ridiculously gratifying. Here was this “something” that we knew we’d want to polish into perfection.
One of our early hurdles was the defensive urge to “hold the game back” to ensure that The Gunk would run comfortably on any platform. It took us a while to understand that we were tasking ourselves with something impossible – we wouldn’t be able to maximize the game while worrying about frame rates. We had to choose, and we decided to go for the grand vision. Mind you, we had pulled off tricky stuff in the past and squeezed outlandish frame rates out of limited hardware, but to realize the full potential of The Gunk we would need real power. And so, we decided to talk to Microsoft and ask about this new hardware they were tinkering with. And now, dear reader… here we are: The Gunk will come out exclusively on Xbox Series X and Xbox One.
The Gunk is a game about two friends who run a small scavenging outfit together, and who travel from one space rock to another in search for resources they can harvest and sell. One day they land on a planet that looks dead from a distance, turns out to be unlike any other they’ve set foot on. A slimy parasite — or gunk — covers vast areas and seems to corrupt the otherwise vibrant nature and wildlife. It’s clear that they must fight this gunk to understand what’s happened and to save the dying planet. But this also creates a rift between them; on one hand, the planet will die if we don’t rid the planet of the gunk. On the other, we’ve got problems of our own and surely this isn’t our fight to begin with. So, who cares… right? Do we have to?
That’s the premise of The Gunk. To be honest, the game has frightened me many times. In the past we’ve produced indie hits and been the underdog that (just about) everyone roots for. The games have been cartoonish and harmless. Here’s a game about really scary stuff, slimy things and real conflict. And a scope that’s big from the beginning, that doesn’t need us to feature-creep the living daylights out of it.
It’s really scary, yes. New things always are. But at least we’ve got loads of power to play with.
We’ll have more news to share in the coming months about The Gunk, currently slated for release on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and Windows 10 PC in September 2021.