If you dabble at all into the subjects of Swedish art and/or pen-and-paper role-playing games, you’ll likely recognize the name Simon Stålenhag. Not only is Stålenhag well known for his retro-futuristic art depicting landscapes populated by large mechs and other sci-fi machinery, but he’s also the creator of the Tales from the Loop pen-and-paper RPG. When game developer Avalanche Studios released a new gameplay trailer for its upcoming co-op shooter title Generation Zero last month, there were some who noticed that the game’s “Swedish countryside with giant mechs” motif bore a striking resemblance to Stålenhag’s work. As it turns out, Stålenhag noticed too, and he’s not exactly thrilled by the discovery.
Stålenhag first made his displeasure known in a tweet he sent out shortly after the gameplay trailer’s debut. In the tweet, Stålenhag expressed his annoyance over having to constantly explain to inquisitive fans that no, he did not help create Generation Zero, an admittedly reasonable assumption for fans to make given how closely the game’s setting mirrors his own work.
In a later series of tweets, Stålenhag clarified his stance, saying that he doesn’t mind when one artistic work shows clear influences of another, and in fact he even encourages aspiring artists to freely borrow, reference, and modify the work of other artists who inspire them. Where Stålenhag takes issue is the fact that, even though he didn’t work on Generation Zero, he *has* collaborated with Avalanche Studios in the past, so seeing that the studio just happens to be making a game with a retro-futuristic landscape setting without offering him any sort of acknowledgement has left him understandably annoyed:
“Avalanche knows who I am. We live in the same town. The game director of [Generation Zero] follows me on Twitter. I’ve even met them and briefly worked with them, and not once did they mention they were working on a game set in the Swedish countryside in the late 1980s, featuring giant robots. The minimally decent thing to do would have been to at least acknowledge the similarities when pointed out. If acknowledging that is something you’re not prepared to do—fine—but then I’m sure there are other ways to do Swedish sci-fi that doesn’t look confusingly similar to the Tales from the Loop books and RPG.”
Eurogamer brought the Stålenhag issue up during a recent interview with Generation Zero game director Emil Kraftling, the very same person whom Stålenhag mentioned in the above Twitter statement. Kraftling confirmed that Stålenhag wasn’t involved in Generation Zero’s development, and he also refuted the idea that Generation Zero was at all influenced by Stålenhag’s work. However, Kraftling did also reveal that Avalanche had contacted Stålenhag’s agency to confirm that no copyright was being infringed upon, a claim which Stålenhag decried as false, saying that there would have been no need for Avalanche to reach out because he hadn’t directly accused the studio of anything.
It’s a bit of a messy situation to be sure, and it’s sadly impossible to know whether Avalanche was indeed directly inspired by Stålenhag’s work or not. At the very least, players will be able to judge for themselves when they get to sample the upcoming beta that Avalanche has planned for shortly before Generation Zero’s full launch next year.