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To Hell and back with Solium Infernum by League of Geeks

With Solium Infernum, Australian game developer League of Geeks has revived Vic Davis’ PC cult classic from 2009. A strategy game of politics, intrigue, and betrayal in which players take on the role of a powerful fallen Archfiend and do everything in their power to conquer the Throne of Hell. “We’ve always considered Solium Infernum to be a diamond in the dark”, says co-founder and Studio Director Trent Kusters. “So our goal was to recut and polish it up, then bring it out into the light for all to appreciate its magnificence.”  

After the success of the studio’s debut game Armello, the League of Geeks founders were looking for new projects. “In 2021, we had two teams that needed games to tackle. We wanted games that were within our wheelhouse of strategy games, but provided a diverse portfolio with which we could more safely enter a turbulent market”, explains Kusters. One was an easy choice, Jumplight Odyssey. That concept had been floating around the studio since 2017. The second game was Solium Infernum. It was co-founder and creative director, Ty Carey, who suggested that re-imagining the 2009 strategy game was the natural progression from Armello.

Three years later the situation at League of Geeks has changed drastically. After launching Jumplight Odyssey in August of 2023 the studio failed to secure additional funding and was forced to lay off the entire game’s dev team in November. “Big changes, saying goodbye to great friends and colleagues, and having to place games on hold is always going to be challenging”, admits Kusters. “Many of us have been in the industry for a long time. We know the nature of the beast upon which we ride. So the answer is of course to move forward, to come together with the talented teammates we have around us and focus on the future.” 

Co-founder and studio director Trent Kusters

Full Blessing

After the decision was made to do a remake of Solium Infernum, the team reached out to its original creator Vic Davis of Cryptic Comet, who is a long time friend of the studio. He gave the project his full blessing. “We’re all huge fans of the original so we had a very good idea of what Vic’s intentions were for 2009’s Solium Infernum. But still, there was an extended period at the start of development where we worked very closely with Vic to ensure we were on the right path. Beyond that, Vic has been happy for us to carry it forward and into places he was never able to.” 

“The world of Solium Infernum is a classical, forlorn Hell and it shows. It’s not the Roman Catholic fire and brimstone or the molten mecha machismo of Doom.”

Kusters stresses that the intention from the start was always to do as faithful a reimagining as possible. Every change the team made was to enhance Solium Infernum or make it more accessible for a broader range of players. Still, with the introduction of the eight Archfiends they faced an uphill battle with the hardcore community of the original game. “In the original players were able to create custom archfiends from scratch, and while admittedly fun for advanced players and a much loved feature, it created a completely inaccessible entry pipeline for new players.”

Mighty protective

“We saw bespoke Archfiends as an opportunity to provide a way for a whole range of new players to be able to experience Solium Infernum. With the success we’d had with Armello’s Heroes and that being a strength of our studio, the eight Archfiends have been a true labour of love. In the latest round of testing, Archfiends featured in all their functional and aesthetic glory and the community’s fears of what they stood to lose were replaced with conversations about which Relics folks were attaching to which Archfiend, or which Archfiend was best for a Usurper Victory. So when we saw the original community engaged in that way, we knew all that hard work over the last three years had paid off.”

Some of the Archfiends

From the moment League of Geeks announced that they would do a modern day reimagining of Solium Infernum, there has been some ‘healthy scepticism’ from the die-hard fans. But during the three years of development their support has proven to be indispensable. “While we know we will never please every single fan of the original, it seems that the vast majority of them are in our corner and as excited as we are heading into launch”, says Kusters. “If you’ve been playing a game like Solium Infernum for over ten years you’re going to be mighty protective of it. But all of them have been absolutely amazing, with many joining our community from day one and assisting us in making their dream of revitalising this infernal classic come true, piece by piece.” 

Exceptions upon exceptions

Looking back at the development process, Kusters is amazed about the intricacy of Vic Davis’ original game design. “He made this game, essentially on his own, in just over 18 months. It’s taken us three years with over 30 talented developers to piece together his dark masterpiece. Honestly, the hardest part of development has been raising this infernal design from the abyss. Solium Infernum is a game of exceptions upon exceptions upon exceptions. And even as developers, when you see something behave oddly in-game it’s not guaranteed to be a bug. It may be that you don’t have the required intel to see it function as you’d expect, or an artefact is changing its behaviour.”

“Under the ever watchful eye of Adam Duncan our art director, Gavin Kusters, principal artist, and game/creative director Ty Carey, the myriad of talented artists who contributed to the project, we raised an infernal vision of Hell unlike any you will likely see in contemporary media.” 

“We knew that players’ comprehension of the game was always going to be the biggest challenge”, he continues. “Our design team have done the most incredible job of translating the game into an experience worthy of contemporary design standards and player expectations, but still, there are always improvements to be made. Working closely with the community in various playtests over the years and even right now in the lead up to launch gives you a very solid idea of where your game is failing to communicate important concepts. Or worse… succeeding in confusing your players.”

Destroying friendships

With everything that happened in the last couple of months with the League of Geeks studio, it’s clear that the team is hoping for critical and commercial success with the release of Solium Infernum. But beyond those goals however, is cultural success. And according to Kusters that’s what this project has always been about from day one. “We genuinely, sincerely, hope beyond anything else, that our re-imagining of Vic’s seminal cult classic reaches an audience that the original deserved, but was never able to. And that it gives them even just a fraction of the incredible experience Vic gave us all those years ago. Let’s see a whole new generation of players experience the strange joy of Solium Infernum systematically destroying every single friendship they hold dear.”

Solium Infernum is out on 22 February 2024

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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