It was back at the Xbox Games Showcase in July that Thunderful Group revealed The Gunk - a new Xbox exclusive developed by the makers of the popular SteamWorld series (Image & Form), set to release in 2021.
Earlier this week, we had a chance to speak to game director Ulf Hartelius about the The Gunk's premise, the team's reaction to the Xbox Games Showcase reveal, and the experience of developing for the Xbox Series X.
We've slightly re-ordered some of the following quotes for clarity purposes.
Pure Xbox: Hi Ulf! First off, could you introduce yourself and give us a bit of information about The Gunk?
Ulf: My name is Ulf Hartelius and I’m the game director for The Gunk. I’ve previously worked as a programmer and game designer at Image & Form since SteamWorld Dig 1. The Gunk is a 3D action adventure game about exploring a dying planet. There’s a fluid-like substance called “gunk” that’s corrupting the planet and the player does whatever they can to get rid of it; and to see what lies beneath.
Pure Xbox: Where did the idea for The Gunk come from?
Ulf: We were doing some prototypes where we experimented with different kinds of interactions. One that stood out to us had you absorb a kind of “dust” to reveal the playable area underneath it. There was a lot of enjoyable mystery to be had with so tangibly exploring an environment!
Pure Xbox: Who are our heroes in The Gunk, and why did you decide to move away from a SteamWorld setting?
Ulf: Aside from the playable character in the trailer, there will also be two unplayable team mates that you’ll be interacting with. But we’ll hold off on details about the story for now. For the kind of themes and experience we’ve set out to do with The Gunk, it was much better suited to both 3D and a non-SteamWorld setting.
Pure Xbox: Can you give us some details about how the gameplay works? Is multiplayer a thing?
Ulf: The core feature is getting rid of the gunk itself. By doing that, you change the environment both visually and gameplay-wise. Once the gunk’s corruption is gone your interactions change, as well as those of the monsters that thrive off of the gunk. As for multiplayer, just like with our SteamWorld games our focus is on making a tight single player experience that really respects the player’s time.
Pure Xbox: How pleased were you with the reaction to the game's reveal trailer?
Ulf: I’m immensely pleased with the trailer! We poured a lot of hard work into it, with help from some other very talented folks in the Thunderful group. I also personally enjoy all the opinions I’ve seen about the game’s title!
Pure Xbox: Why did you decide to make The Gunk an Xbox exclusive, and how will it take advantage of the Xbox Series X? Will it be a permanent exclusive?
Ulf: Since making this game is such a big step for us we knew we wanted to find a strong partner and Microsoft had been excited about it since our earliest conversations. And yes, it will be permanently exclusive for Windows 10 and the Xbox consoles. The gunk itself is using an advanced rendering technique that should benefit a lot from the added power of the Series X. It will also be a lot easier to get the game world as lush and vibrant as we’re aiming for.
Pure Xbox: Do you know what frame rates / resolutions you're hoping to achieve? What's it like developing for the Xbox Series X so early in its lifecycle?
Ulf: We haven’t established much definitively yet, aside from absolutely having at least 60 frames per second on Series X. A high and solid frame rate has always been a staple for us and that holds true going forward as well. [And] it’s obviously exciting with a new platform! We’ve never been early adopters of Xbox before, so it will be interesting to see how things proceed up to and after the console’s launch.
Pure Xbox: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about The Gunk?
Ulf: What it all comes down to for me, is that I really want to make a game where it’s exciting to explore! We’re doing a lot of work to make this world you’ll be exploring really feel like something you haven’t seen before. I’m really happy with the results so far and I hope everyone who plays it will feel the same!
We'd like to thank Ulf for taking the time to talk to us. The Gunk is currently slated for a September 2021 release, and will be available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Windows 10 PC (included with Xbox Game Pass).