S.T. A.L.K. E.R. 2 is in coma, and it won’t probably pull through, but its heritage is living and flourishing. In spite of the talks around hazy closing of GSC, its sons have already created a new company with great plans — Vostok Games. The first project of the team is free-to-play action game named Survarium. It is ideological and spiritual heir of S.T. A.L.K. E.R., but at the same time it is original and unique game. F2P-model might embarrass old-school players, but people say that it is the game of future, so we have to get used to it. We meet the Vostok Games team and asked them questions which we’ve been interested in for a long time. And Oleg Yavorskiy was so kind as to answer them.
Greetings! Please, introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about your job responsibilities.
Hello! My name is Oleg Yavorskiy, I work at Vostok Games. I’m responsible for PR and marketing in our company.
It is well-known, that Grigorovich decided to stop the developing of S.T. A.L.K. E.R. 2 for some personal reasons. Who is the right holder of this universe now and what did happen with the technologies and scenario, which GSC-team had worked on? In your opinion, what is the future of S.T. A.L.K. E.R.?
The right holder is still Sergey Grigorovich, and you can see the confirmative message at http://gsc-game.ru/. All groundwork of S.T. A.L.K. E.R. 2 was left as it was, and developing was stopped. So the project is frozen. We hope that the game has its future, but it is Sergey who should take a final decision.
So what started it? How was the project Survarium born? We know that canceling of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was a departing point, so what was next? How did you decide to create a new studio, and what steps did you take?
Everything has been started from December, 2011, when we got to know that GSC Game World studio was closed. A brief history of what was happening at that time you could already see and hear from our first Developer’s diary. Of course, it was hard for the team to put up with canceling S.T. A.L.K. E.R. 2, and our first desire was finding an alternative source of financing in order to continue developing of the game. For about two months we were looking for any opportunities to arrange for the investment of project and team, but talks were dragged out. Unfortunately, we didn’t have half a year in reserve for talks and waiting, so we were to start searching another job or try to offer our plan B to the investors. That plan was another version of our project: it was not so expensive and easier to sell. And then we realized that free2play online game was the rapidly growing segment of the industry. After we drew up new business plan and a game was named «S.T. A.L.K. E.R. Online», we enthusiastically resumed our searching of the source of financing. Closer to the end of February we met representatives of Investment Company named Vostok Ventures, who quickly realized what our situation was and expressed their interest in our collaboration. But it was not as simple as that. During the negotiations we recognized that we couldn’t reach an agreement on transferring of rights on «S.T. A.L.K. E.R.», so all that remained was to start absolutely new project from scratch. That piece of news made our team collapse, but thanks to Vostok Ventures — they believed in us without «S.T. A.L.K. E.R.» brand. So we thought everything over, drew up new business plan, invented new concept of the game and started our work. That’s how the story of «Survarium» began.
You’ve found the investors for Survarium pretty fast, and seems like you didn’t have any problems with it. How did you interest them and how strong might be their influence on the project’s development?
In fact, we had to get through the difficulties of searching process, constant worry and long feeling of uncertainty. Also none of us dealt with attracting investments for the project before, so that’s why we had to learn a lot on the fly. I think that we were lucky after all: we succeed in searching for the investor; we were lucky to stay together till the end no matter how hard our way was, and it’s very important! As for responsibilities, the investor trusts our experience and vision of the project, so we are in charge of all of the development.
Do you think that game industry declined in post-Soviet space? There are almost no releases of the big projects, and once talented creators started to work on-line and transformed their ideas into serious business. Why don’t you choose an easier way and, for example, reorient on social games or cheap games for mobile platforms?
Let's start answering in some order. I don’t think that game industry declined – it’s just changed and adapted to the new market conditions. Due to the progress of computing technologies and potential of computer graphics, complexity and cost of big projects’ development considerably increased during the last ten years, and will continue to do so. Herewith, making computer games is still venture business with high risks, so it’s very easy to fail. All that causes a situation, in which we can see, that only the leaders of the industry can let themselves make really big projects nowadays, and the others ruin themselves or reorient from the market of retail games to on-line games, social projects, mobile and browser projects, and so on, where the financial and time costs are much smaller. Accordingly, here you can let yourself create five small games, three of which will fail, one will be so-so, and the other one will shoot and cover losses made by previous games.
Talking about our team, we didn’t get used to looking for easy ways. We’ve always been oriented on large projects, and Survarium is not an exception. In spite of the change of format and moving to on-line, our method of approaching is the same – we still seek to make a global project, a big game universe with its history and characters. We have a lot of ideas for several years ahead of time, regarding to the development and expansion of borders of this game universe.
Lots of players still have their doubts about free-to-play concept and don’t see the point of the idea of an “endless game". How are you going to try to change their minds?
First of all, we strive to give players fascinating game of high quality with an interesting game world, where they’ll be able to explore, improve their combat skills and see long progress of a character. We have some fresh ideas regarded to the storyline and game process itself. Due to going into on-line, we have an opportunity to constantly improve and develop the game universe. We hope that it will provoke stable interest of players to our project.
What elements will help you to make proper atmosphere in the dark world that you created? Will it be the sound, setting or the elements in complex?
Of course, the visual style is special — we create depressing atmosphere of soviet post-apocalypse, which is similar to our previous projects, and we pay a lot of attention to the details and lightning. Sound and music in the game are also one of important parts of the atmosphere. We are going to talk on this topic in detail in one of our next Developer’s Diaries.
Generally, a term «atmosphere» is not single valued. It is always complex of decisions, such as art, techniques, sound, etc., which are supposed to create player’s certain feelings of staying at the specific game universe. It’s important to skillfully combine these ingredients, in order to achieve the integrity of perception of the game.
Talking about the world of the game, the members of GSC had once gone to Chernobyl to find inspiration and materials. And this is understandable — there are Nuclear Power plant, a radiation zone and well-known Pripyat. But Survarium has different universe and brand new storyline written from scratch. What were the places where you got inspiration this time? Where is the scene of the game take place?
I don’t want to reveal any details of storyline, so I just tell that game’s events originally occur at familiar to us post-Soviet space, and as a tradition, we included a location from Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in the game. The game starts with series of large environmental disasters, which lead to devastating effects for the human civilization. As a result, human being has to fight for his/her life against aggressive and mutating nature. At present moment, we are exploring places and events related to large disasters, which have ecological and anthropogenic impact on the environment. And we even had a competition for players not long ago, where we gathered ideas for new locations.
Why have you decided to give up the licensing of already finished technology in favor of your Vostok Engine?
Every engine has its characteristics: one should be developed by large amount of people, which we can’t allow ourselves; another has to be developed in special way, which goes not with all games and developers. Besides, we have a lot of ideas simplifying and making easier the developing process and these ideas have no analogues in other engines available on market. And plus, we wanted to make very strong network portion, because it is very specific for every engine. I’d like to add, that we are always hard act to follow, and current engines couldn’t meet our demands, so we didn’t want to be one step behind.
How is the development of the game going? What is your stage for today? What has been already done and what does remain to be done? Will you be in time for the aimed date of release — the end of 2013?
The game is developing and the development is going within the limits of our schedule. The current state of project is pre-alpha, and we are planning to begin alpha-testing in spring, and start beta-version at the end of the year. You can see our release dates at our recently published Development Schedule.
Please, tell us about the main characteristics of free-to-play development. Did it make a big difference from what you had done before?
Actually, free2play doesn’t really change the approach to the development. On-line orientation of the project has much more effect. We can show innovations to the player on-line right after we finish working on them, and we don’t need to wait until it is done enough to record a game on CD and send it to a store. In other words, in so-called classic model of the development, a team is making the main parts of project for several years, and these parts are staying unfinished for a long time. And only in the last six months or in a year the team start polishing the game and finish it. But in the on-line development we must finish every element of the game and add it as an update on servers, before we continue working.
We heard, that you are reflecting on the idea that players’ actions will influence the storyline. Can we learn more about this idea?
The idea is that players’ collective actions will influence on further progress of the game. So when we define storyline’s further development, we will notice which decisions and actions were made by players. For example, there is one storyline object in location, which you can destroy or save according to your mission. In terms of the choice of the most players, this object could be saved or it will disappear from the storyline from that moment.
We also had information, that you are ready to increase game’s space and not to limit it with post-Soviet space only. Is that true? If that is true, what places of our planet can interest you?
Yes, that is true. Departing point of our virtual journey will be already familiar domestic places: Chernobyl, outskirts of Kiev, and locations in Russia. Then the storyline leads players to more distant parts — Europe, Asia, and America. Concept of the game has a global nature, so we will be able to model events in Survarium practically at every place of the planet.
The next question is about scenario of Survarium. Are you writing the plot only for background, so that players won’t be bored in the game world, or your plot has strong narrative and social implication? For example, James Cameron filmed «Avatar», and from one hand it is a blockbuster about war on the distant planet, but from the other hand it is a manifesto about ecological problems on mother-Earth. Can we expect something similar from Survarium?
As in our previous games, there will be important ecological implication in Survarium. According to our plan, nature, as a certain living superorganism (here you can see already existing theory about that), decides to take vengeance on all humans for long rude exploitation of nature. Showing all the power of that revenge to the players we recon for not only entertain them, but make them think about more conscious and careful treatment of the world around. The mission chosen by us for our company is raising pressing issues of our days: science, ecology, relations between human and nature, violence and inventiveness of present civilization, and, of course, spirituality. This position will be reflected in Survarium.
What recently released games impressed you most? And, in your opinion, what event in the game industry was the main in 2012?
Among the games released in 2012, the impression was made by: Far Cry 3 (I used to play the first part with pleasure, and now the series managed to reach new level), I Am Alive (first of all, I liked the atmosphere of despair and survival); among the free2play projects Tribes: Ascend impressed me. 2012 stood in memory with appearance of new trends (and for me one of them was DayZ), process of restructing of several companies, and a change of the industry’s free2play direction. From my point of view, the main event is the appearance of Kickstarter and of the term crowdfunding. It is the first time when developers get an opportunity to have full-fledged financing for their projects from the players. And that’s powerful and compelling.
How does you team relax after everyday work? Do you go out into the forest or somewhere, or throw a party?
We like to work hard, but we also like to have a good time. During the nine months of our work we’ve already had a great time being at the bar where we supported football players at UEFA Euro2012, going out into the country where we celebrated reaching the first development phase, and we also celebrated New Year together — that was great! I think that these kinds of activities very important for the team and bring us together.
Talking about DayZ, do you think that the work of Dean Hall & Ko is a rival to Survarium on the European and American markets? By the way, do you analyze ups and downs of your colleagues of similar genre? We’ll ask you some analogous questions soon after «Rocket» Hall — it will be very interesting to compare opinions from the different sides of our planet Earth.
I was watching DayZ’s success during the last year, and I think that the developers did well offering players a new game decision. They found their niche and raised the interest to survival-games in general. Though the auditory of our projects can be called similar, Survarium is another game, with another world, game mechanics, with other characters and so on.
Did the appearance of Day Z influenced on the ideas and developing of Survarium? What projects did you regard as the main rivals on the concept stage?
No, it didn’t. At the moment when the information about DayZ appeared, we’d already worked on Survarium. When we started developing, we examined those free2play online shooters which we estimated as the most manufacturable and promising - Battlefield Play4Free, Warface. We looked at World of Tanks as the indirect rival. New games will always appear on the market, so our main goal is to make interesting game of good quality and show the players its difference from other games. It will be the players who will make a choice in the end.
How does the STALKER community see Survarium? How did the audience’s opinion change since the game had been announced?
Though Survarium is the ideological heir of S.T. A.L.K. E.R., undoubtedly, it is different. There are new genre, new game universe, new gameplay in the game, so much was changed. These two projects still have in common such elements as atmosphere, similar visual style, and presence of anomalies, artifacts and groups (but, of course, they will be different in Survarium). We consider that not all of the fans of S.T. A.L.K. E.R. will like the new on-line project with session based gameplay, but we’ll try to implement some ideas in the game, which were planned to be implemented in S.T. A.L.K. E.R. 2, but weren’t carried out, and new ideas, which bring their spice in on-line shooters.
Almost a year after the announcement, I’m happy to say, that we were supported by a lot of fans of S.T. A.L.K. E.R., and we would like to heartily thank them. We’ve formed active group of fans really fast, and there are a lot of websites appeared in the internet, and soon we’ll reach 1 million views on YouTube, and so on. Originally, the project was expected to be S.T. A.L.K. E.R. 2, but in on-line format. Little by little, we’ve made clear all of the special features and the ideas, which will make Survarium differ. Our community stably grows; new players appear, coming for Survarium, but not for S.T. A.L.K. E.R., and this is very important to us.
From your point of view, will the failure of The War Z affect the attitude towards domestic developers? Was a team watching the scandal being developed? And if it was, which conclusions were made?
I think that there were a lot of failed projects made on post-Soviet space, so another one doesn’t make any impact. The question of wrong stated expectations, as it happened to WarZ, was always really tough for us. We had that with S.T. A.L.K. E.R. some time ago, so now we try not to give airy promises, and we very thoroughly explain to players what and when they can have in our game. I believe that an open dialogue with players is very important in that case. And giving bans for the negative comments on the game is, of course, shameful amateurishness, from mine point of view. As there was said in «Igromaina» magazine: «If you made a trash, you awakened Ktulhu». It’s all fair enough.
Thank you very much for the interview. We wish you good luck in your project!
Thank you too, and we are grateful to you for the interest in our work!