Biomutant has been on people’s minds for a long time. Announced back in 2017, the post-apocalyptic RPG featuring anthropomorphic animals who can do kung-fu (and a lot of other cool stuff) finally has a release date of May 2021. During that time, random spurts of news and videos have been interspersed by long bouts of silence, causing many to wonder just what was going on with Biomutant. With the release date on the table, Experiment 101 studio head Stefan Ljungqvist spoke with IGN about the long wait and what’s the team has been up to over the last four years.
Experiement 101 is a small studio, much smaller than the scope of Biomutant might betray. Being developed by just 20 people, Ljungqvist says that as parts of the game grew bigger and more complex, it required extra work and additional time. “It’s a big game, a big bite for 20 people to chew off,” Ljungqvist said. The IGN interview reveals that Experiment 101 didn’t want to expand to meet the scope. The small size of the team allowed them to stay flexible. But with that small team comes the downside of working to fix bugs within their limited capabilities.
“It’s been a huge amount of work for QA, because it’s not easy in an open-world game to find them, And then once they’ve been found, we have to fix them, and that’s put some additional challenge on us, being a small team,” Ljungqvist remarked. “At the end of the project, there’s only a certain amount of bugs that you can physically fix during the course of the day.” And apparently, that’s most of what the last year or so has been, strictly fixing bugs to make the complex and dense open-world systems work properly, rather than launch the “finished” game in a buggy state. Experiment 101 opted to quietly keep working to make Biomutant the best game it could possibly be. But that meant long stretches of nothing new to talk about or show and further pushing out internal deadlines and delaying the game.
Given one of the most notorious recent examples of a buggy game release with Cyberpunk 2077, it seems to have been a good decision for Experiment 101. Ljungqvist acknowledges that its unlikely to be completely bug free at launch. “Any game is going to ship with [smaller] bugs, but I’m talking about bugs that are truly disruptive to the game experience,” he said. “We don’t want to ship with that. I think that’s what caused us to just wait until we were ready to do it.”
But in that time, Experiment 101 has also expanded the game massively. Ljungqvist told IGN that the script was only around 85,000 words by the end of 2019, but the final game’s script is about 250,000. The expansion of the script has created an entirely new karma system in Biomutant called “Aura,” changing the dialog from NPCs based on your character’s light or dark allegiance. It’s also improved on the tutorials, to give players a better idea of how to play around in this massive sandbox. And with 10 different voiced languages (along with three additional text-only languages), there’s been a lot of work put into localization.
Coming from bigger studio (Avalanche), Ljungqvist knows all about burnout though, so he’s been careful to set appropriate pacing for the team, again a reason it’s taken so long to release. Ljungqvist says the support from THQ Nordic to release the game “when it’s done” is at a level he’s “never had before.” Specifically, the team has avoided crunch that other major studios get pushed into, and to great effect. “I mean, the studio, we are 20 people and we can’t afford to have [staff] leave the studio, or be destroyed during development. That would be devastating.”
Any sprints that the team does do are very limited in scope, fully paid, and they get “recap time,” which allows the team to shift time off around so it’s not just long days repeatedly for weeks on end. “I think it’s part of the DNA of the studio to not do it,” he said. “That’s why I think for us, if we do it, it’s controlled, and it has been rare. I guess now moving into the release, we’re prepared to do it for some days, but it’s not the constant thing. It will kill you.”
That’s also why Biomutant doesn’t have native next-gen versions on PS5 and Xbox Series X right now. The studio has been focused on the core game, which was developed primarily on last-gen consoles. Still, it will take advantage of things like the SSD for faster load times, and optimize performance and visuals with the capabilities of the better hardware. If Experiment 101 opts to release a proper next-gen upgrade remains up in the air. The focus right now is simply on getting the game to launch. But of course, PS5 and Xbox Series X players will still get to play it on their consoles via backwards compatibility, which maximizes Biomutant’s potential audience.
And so, nearly four years on from its announcement, and after multiple delays internally and externally, as well as long periods of silence during development, the small team at Experiment 101 is finally ready to share their creation with the world. Just a few short months of polishing up the open world will bring Biomutant to players’ hands on May 25th, 2021 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Expect additional updates and news over the next four months as release nears.