When Generation Zero released its gameplay trailer earlier this month, I remarked that its blend of moody landscapes and retro-futurist technology looked very similar to the work of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, the creator of pen and paper RPG Tales from the Loop.
As it turns out, those similarities have not gone unnoticed by Stålenhag himself, and the artist is not particularly happy with how those similarities have caused a flood of questions regarding whether he was involved with the project.
The issue has been rumbling on for several weeks, starting not long after Avalanche released its gameplay trailer for Generation Zero. In a tweet, Stålenhag said “Every time Avalanche releases a Generation Zero trailer, I have to answer questions about if I was involved or if they ever talked to me about it. It’s getting tedious.”
Stålenhag then followed this up with a thread explaining his feelings in greater detail. To be clear, it isn’t the similarities between Avalanche’s work and his own that he finds troubling. “Borrowing, referencing, and modifying other artist’s work is a very important part of art” he wrote. “Furthermore, I don’t think it should be necessary to declare your influences.”
What does annoy Stålenhag is that he already has connections with the studio. “Avalanche knows who I am. We live in the same town. The game director of the GZ 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,” he added. “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 has since followed-up the story, speaking both to Stålenhag and Avalanche’s Emil Kraftling, the director of Generation Zero. Kraftling stated that Stålenhag “hasn't been involved with the game directly or indirectly” and that “his work has not been the motivation for—nor the inspiration behind—why we decided to create it."
In addition, Kraftling said Avalanche had been in contact with Stålenhag’s agency, and that there was an acknowledgement that no copyright infringement had been made. But Stålenhag refuted that there had been any such acknowledgement from his agency because neither himself nor they had “accused Avalanche of anything.”
It’s impossible to know for sure whether Avalanche took inspiration from Stålenhag’s work, or whether the whole thing is a freak coincidence. But Avalanche’s refusal to acknowledge any kind of similarity between Stålenhag’s work and Generation Zero does seem a stretch, especially given the existing connections between the two. According to Eurogamer, Kraftling claimed that they’ve explained the situation to journalists who have asked, but nobody had published any of those explanations. Hopefully the two sides will find a way to settle the issue soon.