Puzzle game

Afterburn on crafting Railbound, an easy-to-use comic book-like puzzle game brought to life

A small studio with its own philosophy

Spierewka got into gamedev in 2013. He started with game jams and was part of a team that created the original prototype of VERY HOTa minimalist FPS with cinematic time-based gameplay.

“From there, I completed my bachelor’s degree in game programming, then worked at CD Projekt RED, before jumping in and creating my own little studio,” he recalls.

Founded in 2016, Afterburner is an aspiring team based in Lodz, Poland. As Spierewka told us, the name wasn’t chosen by accident, as he still hasn’t found a “foolproof way” to deal with burnout, a feeling many game developers are familiar with.

Over the past few years, the studio has released several smaller titles and is now set to release Railway on PC, mobiles and consoles.

“Our core philosophy is to create comfortable puzzle experiences with smooth difficulty progression – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have spicy levels for demanding players appearing later in the game,” says Spierewka.

Make Railbound and shape its visual style

In his heart, Railway is a puzzle game where a player must connect and repair train tracks to help everyone reach their home. The catch is that you have a limited number of tiles that you have to place in strategic places, so all the wagons eventually arrive safely.

“We have some experience designing puzzles, but our previous games were pretty static affairs – you use a card or place a piece, and the game reacts,” notes Spierewka. “Railway is more dynamic – the player sets the playing field and then watches the action unfold, which means we had to change our approach a bit.

On the gameplay side, Railway is inspired by puzzle games like Mini-metro and cosmic express. What really sets the game apart are its eye-catching visuals.

To create the art style for the game, Afterburn contacted Vile Monarch, another Polish studio founded by This war of mine co-creators Kacper Kwiatkowski and Grzegorz Mazur. They delivered some concepts, which helped Spierewka and the rest of the team design Railwayits distinctive look.

Afterburn had to put a lot of effort into creating the art style, also taking inspiration from French graphic novels. And the main promotional art for Railway was drawn by Polish illustrator and cartoonist Igor Wolski.

The main challenge was to finally turn all these concepts into real in-engine visuals. According to Spierewka, the team spent more than half of the development time on it, and they are now finally happy with the result.

It might not look like it at first, but the game is fully 3D and is the result of a lot of playing with shading techniques,” he says. “Post-process-based contours are all the rage in the development world right now, but we’ve actually gotten the best results using proven geometry-based contours.”

What tools does Afterburn use?

“We’re quite small, so our processes are probably less than ideal. We have weekly stand-ups to determine what needs to be done with the game, playtest sessions once a week, etc. Spierewka talks about the organization of work.

“Our company wiki is kept in Notion, although we need to prune it a bit since it’s only been growing since the start of the project. We use Trello for tasks and store data in a combination of Git, NAS and cloud services.

Like many other indie developers, Afterburn uses Unity as the engine for their games. For years, the team has been combining it with Visual Studio because that’s what they feel most comfortable with.

Speaking of other tools, the set is pretty standard and includes Sourcetree/Github Desktop/Fork as version control clients, Blender for 3D, and Photoshop/Affinity Photo for 2D art.

“I’ve loved Photoshop for a long time, but I’m not a fan of their current business model, so I tried out Affinity Photo which lacks some features and UX, but can do the job really well,” adds Spierewka.

Waiting for launch

Afterburn has worked with a publisher before, as 7Levels helped port its previous two games, Golf Summits and inbento, on the Nintendo Switch. Other than that, the studio has so far followed the self-publishing approach. However, the team is not ruling out striking a deal for a global launch in case they manage to find the right partner.

“For us, it would be someone who takes the burden off us of the things we don’t want to do, while allowing us to focus on development and making the game as good as possible, without making it harder for us. us in the long run,” says Spierewka.

Afterbun started working on Railway in November 2021 and originally planned to release the game in spring 2022. However, the studio had to postpone the launch, currently targeting late summer as the new release window.

“Making the art style took longer than expected and that’s the main cause of the delay, although it’s also very important so that we don’t get too disappointed about it,” says Spierewka.

Without going into specific numbers, he is optimistic about the upcoming launch as the community seems to be happy with the game so far. As he concludes, “It would be great if Railway allowed us to continue to create and publish games like this.