PVKK’s full title is literally too big for our website, and the devs say it’s ‘Space Invaders, but the cannon you fire is really complicated’

PVKK, or—if you’re feeling ambitious—Planetenverteidigungskanonenkommandant, looks fascinating. A sort of Papers Please-like from the Dome Keeper team, it situates you at the controls of a giant planetary defence cannon fending off extraterrestrial invaders. PVKK seems set to scratch my itch both to twiddle with vast arrays of analogue buttons, and to melt into the faceless machinery of an authoritarian state as a cog in the apparatus of violence. Finally, developers are making videogames for me.

They’re not making names for PC Gamer dot com, though. Attempting to write the full title in the headline for this piece led to our CMS just kind of, um, giving up: Rendering about 32 characters before taking its ball and going home. PVKK it is, then.

(Image credit: Bippinbits)

“It’s Space Invaders, but the cannon you fire is really complicated,” says director René Habermann in a chat with PCG. Defending your planet—which is not the Earth—against invaders is a long and laborious business: There are clunky buttons to push, knobs to tweak, dials to adjust, all to find a firing solution that will hopefully blow your enemies out of the sky.

It all looks very tactile, which makes sense, because to hear Habermann tell it the entire concept for the game sprung out of a profound appreciation—or fetishism—for the satisfying thonk-thonk of lumbering, Cold War-era interfaces. “The original inspiration for the game came from a free sound effect of a button press that I found online… it sounded so satisfying that I thought, ‘Okay, I need to make a game where I can use the sound file.'”

Combine that with Habermann’s personal fascination with “cockpits or technology or trains, that all have a million small little knobs and levers” that have him feeling like “oh, yeah, I would love to like just flip a few switches,” and you get the impressive array of toggles and levers that make up your command module in PVKK. But there is another half of the game, too.

“I think Papers, Please was the game I mentioned the most when talking to the team,” says Habermann. “It did a great job at having this dry gameplay that’s still fun, but really elevating this through the context that it gives you on the outside.”

(Image credit: Bippinbits)

Think of the scenes that tell you what’s going on with the nation’s politics and your own family in between stamping passports. PVKK is going for a similar thing. “That’s what I’m really looking at when thinking about the pace and structure of how PVKK plays,” he says, “so you do have these individual days where you have this gameplay part, but then you also have time and space to have the second part of the game.”

That second part of the game lets you wander a little in your bunker: fiddling with the teleradio and reading the news. This part of the game will let you make upgrades for the cockpit, and there are even “escape room elements” like puzzles and clues, things to ponder that your authoritarian government may not want you to know.

Which, you know, sounds pretty sinister, but Habermann says he’s “maybe a little bit bored by the narratives that I’ve seen very often: Here’s the bad regime and the good rebels.” PVKK is going for something a bit harder to chew on: “There’s also not necessarily a bad guy and a good guy,” but rather “factions who think they are acting in the best interest of someone. 

(Image credit: Bippinbits)

“That’s also engaging for me as a player when we come to decisions. Suddenly it’s not, ‘Okay, do I choose the good path here or the bad path? And then [later] I will do my evil playthrough’.” Instead, Habermann prefers when “It’s really a decision every time” a choice crops up. That’s likely also why he says the game “Doesn’t really have a message,” which I found a touch surprising. 

“That’s something I really enjoy… The playground for people to have their own thoughts and interpretations.”

René Habermann

The authoritarian government and enormous, Schwerer Gustav-esque cannon made me think PVKK might be taking a consciously satirical, anti-war stance, but Habermann feels “sometimes it’s just unpleasant to be forced to read the message that the developer wanted to tell you,” and that instead “What I do enjoy a lot is to put the player in certain situations, and let them have their own thoughts with it… That’s something funny that also happened already with Dome Keeper: Some people picked up that you land on this planet, you shoot all the native creatures, you exploit the planet, and then you then you go away again. Yeah, like, ‘Am I the bad guy?’ … That’s something I really enjoy… The playground for people to have their own thoughts and interpretations.”

(Image credit: Bippinbits)

I suspect my own thoughts might come down against the authoritarian regime with the enormous cannon, but I’ve been surprised before. What I know for certain is that I am very keen to get my hands on PVKK’s myriad intensely tactile buttons. Could I find the button sound effect that kicked the whole game off? Well, ah, not quite. Habermann says it’s not in the game anymore: “I went back and listened to it, and now I thought ‘Okay, it’s not even that good’.” Turns out Bippinbits’ sound designers do better work than free online sound banks, and PVKK’s audio “needs to sound great.”

There’s no hard release date yet, but Habermann says he’s “excited to share” the sound designers’ thunks and clunks in the months to come. “Like in the trailer, you can’t even hear that much, but you will in the future.”