Now that Scottish Games Week is over, we want to give some special coverage to the worthy winners in the first-ever Scottish Games Awards. Today we’ll be looking at ION LANDS, the developer behind Cloudpunk, winner of not one, but three different awards: Art and Animation, Creativity, and Best Large-Budget Game.
We sat down with Cloudpunk’s Lead Writer Thomas Welsh, to discuss the game’s inspirations and the way in which fans have found enjoyment in a more everyday vision of a cyberpunk future.
Labour of Love
ION LANDS began as a very small team, driven mainly by their shared passion for the cyberpunk genre.
“We’re a scattered bunch of cyberpunk fans from around the world.” said Welsh, of the team. Despite their small size, they managed to pull together and release the game on what is a fairly quick time scale by game development standards; the game was announced in 2018, and released on PC in April 2020, with console releases following in October of the same year.
“When Cloudpunk was in development, we were a really small team, but following the success of the game we’ve grown quite a bit. We’re in Germany, Scotland, England, France, Canada – all over now!”
This success is undoubtedly due to the game’s unique approach to the cyberpunk genre, both visually and mechanically. The team opted for a voxel art style for the game, a technique that makes use of 3D pixels to create visuals with the simplicity of retro graphics, and the depth of modern ones.
“We knew the voxel style would make us stand out visually, but we had to distance ourselves from the voxel games that people were more familiar with.” said Welsh. “We found our own style by combining voxels with particle effects, neon, cool banners and dynamic lighting.”
With the visuals sorted, ION LANDS worked to develop a unique gameplay identity for the game as well, starting with some of the greats. “Gameplay wise, we loved the mix of storytelling and exploration in games like Firewatch, and of course the old Blade Runner point and click adventure by Westwood was an inspiration.”
This focus on narrative was a key first step, but the real secret to Cloudpunk’s success came with the developer’s choice of player character; instead of opting for a traditional gun-toting hero or a hyper-skilled android hacker, ION LANDS chose to put the player into the well-worn shoes of a cyberpunk delivery driver, ironically keeping a game in which the player drives a flying car fairly grounded.
Unorthodox as it was, this decision has been a big hit with the game’s players. “Our fans seem to like the everyday version of cyberpunk city life. They like being a normal person in a cyberpunk world – not an android cop or a cyborg ninja or something.” Said Welsh. “They like the mix of small, personal stories interspersed with big cyberpunk themes of transhumanism, AI and fighting the corporations, even when you have to fight them with your wits instead of with a gun.”
On Cloud 9
With such a unique, resonant experience on offer, it’s no surprise that Cloudpunk was among the winners in the first Scottish Games Awards. What was surprising, however, as much to the developers themselves as anyone, was the fact that it won a total of three different awards; an astonishing, and undoubtedly well-deserved, feat.
“The awards really mean a lot.” said Welsh, on behalf of the ION LANDS team. “We’ve been nominated for others in the past, but all those ceremonies were online due to the pandemic. Seeing fellow developers in person was a real thrill, and it was very exciting to fumble my way through a few words on stage!”
Beyond the awards, ION LANDS found a lot to love across Scottish Games Week in general. “What I saw of the event was great. Scotland needs more things like this. The talent here is phenomenal and we need to get better at shouting about it. And of course I was there for the best bits – the discussion in the pub afterwards and the tipsy train ride home with some new pals!”
An excellent summary of the opportunities events like Scottish Games Week can deliver to developers of all sizes, and a reminder that both Scotland, and ION LANDS, are primed for further success in the future.