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.
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.