Kenshi has been in development for a long time. Eight years, in fact. And it’s no wonder: the majority of it is the work of just one person, Chris Hunt, and the game is scheduled to be absolutely huge. So what is Kenshi? It’s a harsh, open ended RPG that relies on detailed sandbox play rather than a linear structure.
Your primary goal in Kenshi is to survive. And it’s not made easy as the other characters in the game will not be intimidated by you as you’re not a fated hero. You’re just a regular nobody trying to get along with your life. And so it’s possible that bandits will kill you in a village raid, that you’ll be mugged, or you may even be turned into a slave at any point if you let an attacker get the better of you.
For the past couple of years, Kenshi has been gaining popularity on Steam Early Access, and due to that the progress it’s been making has accelerated as more money means more time and people can be thrown at it. Siliconera caught up with the game’s lead Chris Hunt to talk about how he got started working on Kenshi, why he undertook such an ambitious project by himself, and where the game is now heading with its latest updates.
To start with, could you give a brief history on the development of Kenshi – how it got started, how long it’s been in the making, and who’s working on it?
I started work on Kenshi around eight years ago now. For the first five or six years, I worked alone on it full time whilst juggling a minimum wage security guard job during the nights to get by. It’s been in the works for a long time, mainly laying in the fundamental systems and getting it into a playable state. But it’s finally picking up pace now that it’s on Steam Early Access and I can afford extra manpower. During the last two years I’ve managed to grow a small team – Sam, our first programmer; Oli, our world designer; Natalie, our PR contact & writer; Otto, our 3D & concept designer; and Maykol, our second programmer.
What would you say is the concept at the center of Kenshi? What kind of experience does it offer at its core that you won’t find in other games?
It’s a mixture of genres: an open world RPG, kind of like Skyrim (very very loosely speaking), but with RTS elements of squad control, base building, research and crafting.
I’ve never liked the hand-holding that most of the big RPGs give the player where you’ll start off a hero, strong from the very beginning, nothing to fear. In Kenshi you start out as a normal runt with no special powers, no higher stats. You are not special, you are nothing, and even survival itself is a struggle. You’ll be bullied, harassed, caught up in the war of another faction… maybe you’ll even get caught up in a bandit raid while resting in the ‘safety’ of a town.
Of course, you will be able to grow strong yourself, to stand up to any oppressors and build your own faction, your own army or your own town. It’s a sandbox world so the player should have almost endless goals with no fixed missions and scripts. The difference between Kenshi and most RPGs is that trouble will come looking for you.
You say that Kenshi has a "sword-punk" style world. Could you explain what you mean by this?
Kenshi has a lot of influences, particularly the concept of a wandering desperate Samurai ronin, or a hungry survivor roaming a desolate wasteland. It’s based in a harsh world with ramshackle tech and violent inhabitants struggling for survival, giving it a kind of steampunk-samurai hybrid edge. It’s not to be mistaken for an Eastern setting though, Kenshi is set in its own world with it’s own fauna and flora, its own races and history. It just happens to have lots of swords, ninjas, monsters and Mad Max-style apocalyptic-looking robot limbs and architecture!
The number of systems in play at once in Kenshi is almost overwhelming. What has driven you to make a game with so much detail? And do you ever feel that you’re being too ambitious?
I’m driven to make Kenshi because I want to make my dream game. I even enjoy creating Kenshi more than I enjoy playing games themselves. So, although it does have an ambitious amount of features, as long as I have the time and the budget I will keep trying my best to finish my vision to its best.
Money has never been a motivation for me so I can take my time using the funding from Steam sales to finish it completely. The only thing that can make it overwhelming is the fact that it’s Early Access, it’s already available to the public. This means that I do need to stick to time frames and try not to get carried away adding extra features.
It says in the description that Kenshi has a "realistic medical system." How realistic are we talking here? To what lengths have you gone to simulate wounds and medical practices?
I want injuries to be something that actually impacts gameplay. It makes fights more interesting and realistic. At the moment, if you leave a wound unbandaged, you can still bleed to death even after surviving a fight, the outcome can have unexpected twists and turns. Get injured too badly and you’ll move slowly, limp, or won’t be able to hold your sword in a fight. Some characters might get back up again, some might collapse later. Or if a character’s legs get crippled, they’ll have to fight from crawling on the ground.
Have you ever had worries about funding the development of Kenshi over the years? Has your primary model always been selling early builds? Have you seen this model become more viable over the years with Early Access becoming more prominent?
I wouldn’t be able to fund Kenshi’s development without Early Access. Before we got Greenlit in 2013, I was alpha funding it myself through my own website, which was enough to support myself and hire freelancers. Steam Early Access, however, has given me the funding I need to get a team together and make progress. The only difficulty of Early Access is that we have to work under more pressure to keep the game steady and playable for the players while we work.
Does the community around Kenshi do anything creative? Such as fan art, guides, writing up journals of their time inside the game? Could you share your favorites?
Actually, we have a whole section dedicated to fan fiction on our Steam forum (https://steamcommunity.com/app/233860/discussions/4/) and there’s a lot of artwork in the community hub too. A lot of Kenshi players definitely seem to have creative minds and often make their own stories to play to. There are so many to choose from I don’t get the time to read all of them.
What are you looking to add to Kenshi next and how will this affect the game?
The next big feature will be the new world map and weather system. Oli’s been working on the new world for 18 months now and we’re finally getting closer to itss release. It will have different biomes and wildlife, and it’s going to be huge… we expect one of the largest open world maps for an RPG yet. The weather system will add to the barren atmosphere (think sandstorms in an open desert) and heavily affect the survival aspect of gameplay.