Bishop and Councilor of War
On forum: 12/04/2002
Message edited by:
Back in April, possibly the most important person in STALKER's development, now co-founder of 4A Games, had a long chat with the crew of the game development podcast at http://www.galyonkin.com . Asking the questions are Sergey Galyonkin — director of marketing at Nival, Mikhail Kuzmin — game developer, and Sergey Klimov — publisher/director/lawyer/journalist.|
Original podcast at:
Transcribed and translated by Don Reba.
Hi. My name is Sergey Galyonkin. You are listening to the podcast from site galyonkin.com. With me on the line are Mikhail Kuzmin and Sergey Klimov. And Andrew Prokhorov from 4A Games is our guest.
We are very glad to have caught up with Andrew Prokhorov, actually, yes. And he is very glad to have sent off the game.
Sent off where?
PROF: Well, to have passed certification for both Xbox, PS3. Well, and PC is, of course, easy.
PROF: Thank you.
Did you pass on first attempt or the second.
PROF: No, the second. On the second, and it was pretty difficult. And from really tough moments, when we were not making some things on time, to pretty amusing ones, I don't know, can we say the word "vagina" on the podcast, for example?
Well, yes. Why not?
PROF: A week before submitting to certification, ESRB, well, the ratings agency, tells us that we have a stripper at one of the stations, and you can clearly see her "vagina".
But if you could see her dick, it would have been ok, probably?
And you are, like: this is my artistic vision.
PROF: We got together, held a little meeting on the subject of the vagina. So... it was like... artists, programmers got together, looked closely — nothing seems to show. Well, finally, we opened up the texture — there was no vagina, it was a play of lighting and the person's own imagination. Well, I was happy about this, since we... since she danced for him so convincingly that he actually believed it. That was nice.
I'm in hysterics right now.
PROF: We sent them the texture, where you could clearly see that nothing was there. After all, we passed. But at the same time, it was, like, all nerves, the publisher rattling: "what's going on here?"
I can imagine the Kotaku headlines: "Ukrainians cut out a stripper's vagina."
Ahahahahaha ha! And sold it!
Attention, kids waiting for Metro: Last Light for the vagina's sake — it was cut. Don't buy!
Right! Getting back to the topic. You passed certifications, you've done well, on second try — also excellent. And you are coming out on PlayStation and on Xbox, right?
And the first game was only on PlayStation, I mean, on Xbox.
PROF: Only Xbox.
And how come?
PROF: We would not have pulled it off. Could not do that and that, since we were doing it for the first time — porting to console — we were very frightened, it was very scary. And we really could not pull off both at the same time.
Was it the publisher's requirement?
PROF: No, it was not the publisher's requirement. It was, actually, our own decision, that, let's not spread ourselves thin, not chase two rabbits. It was new for us.
And can you say, like, how this is done in your company? I mean, I know that, at least for Eastern Europe, for Poland, for Russia, it is just unreal to stop and not say: "I was everything right now, and so on." Who said: "we won't do PlayStation 3?" You, or somebody else? Or is everyone that sensible over there?
PROF: Well, there are four of us leads, well, there are five co-founders, four gamedev leads, who, actually, came over from Stalker: Oles Shihkovtsov with Alexander Maximchukov, who are our technical, so to speak, foundation; it was their decision, let's do this first, and then go on to other things. Porting to Xbox is easier that to PS3.
It seems to me that Metro 2033 is a very typical example of a second project. You know, they say that on the first project, everyone tries to do it all, but on the second, you realized what they got burned on and avoided open world or promising anything unrealistic.
PROF: Agreed! Sure, Stalker was developed as a dream game. It really was not not too bad that we got this experience. We took a more pragmatic approach to Metro. I would not say that with less soul, but more pragmatically.
Let's say, gauged your strengths better. Because I think there is plenty of soul in Metro.
PROF: Exactly right. Yes. All in all, we took a more pragmatic, thoughtful approach to the second project. Well, to the second large project we participated in.
Well, about Stalker. It was six years in the making. How did you get to work on Stalker?
Can I dig a bit deeper? We missed all of our traditional part because of the stripper, how did Andrew get into game development?
Yes, by the way.
And immediately another question: what did you study? Because many people ask. And did your education help you?
PROF: Ok, very quick: when I was little, I thought that I would be an artist and only an artist, because I grew up in an artist family — grandmother, dad, mom — all professional artists. And then I got caught up in studying — physics, math…
…and went downhill from there…
PROF: …and fell so low as to want to be an avionics engineer.
PROF: So I have an avionics education, finished university, called — National Aviation University it is called now. Then Soviet Union fell apart and I did not know what to do — it was 1993 — but I kept at it: science, construction, airplanes — went into the Master's program, wrote a dissertation, passed pre-defence, and then I got a misfortune — I was being booted from the dorm, $100 stipend was not enough to make the ends meet, and since I was then working part-time as a bodybuilding instructor in a gym, I made a pitch: here is this wonderful me, decent artist, knowledgeable about computer graphics to boot — an acquaintance recommended where to apply — this company he knew, where computer graphics was in demand. This is how I got into GSC back in 1996. And this meant the end of my career…
…in bodybuilding. Hahaha.
PROF: I finished with bodybuilding on my own later. But avionics science was done for sure. This is how it all started. It swept me up, like, when I really knew this was my thing. It was a real breath of fresh air, because when you start doing something and realize it is not yours, that you chose wrong — it is terrible. When I started in game development, it was primitive, but it was a passion.
At that time, in addition to developing its own games, GSC made localizations.
PROF: Yes. It was a sort of a pirate outfit. At the same time, Sergey has started — this young talanted businessman — to think about our future and, actually, this is how I got in, because they needed people who could draw. Hehe. I came in, drew a space ship… It is funny, of course, the newbies are not so lucky, of course. It used to be enough to just draw one spaceship and you were all set.
You need two now.
By the way, do you remember, Andrey Iones said about Saber that they give designers this test: to make a level called "submarine". And he thinks that if a person can do this distinctively enough, he is good, else "goodbye".
Interesting, I also liked how my friend, Maksim Aristov, who is currently in Valve, passed his interview. He was told: "you have half an hour; look, you are in an airplane, the plane crashes and you begin to fall — come up with the gameplay."
Half Life 3
But he was an artist. He is not a game designer, really. But he came up with something. Since he is Valve now.
Really, that's a pretty cool test. I think people could come up with some clever solutions in the comments to this podcast.
No, no, not a sex simulator. I just remembered this Soviet TV show, where an airplane fell during the span of 37 episodes.
Right, right — Hard Piqué. Once again.
I would like to make the comment that out of all presenters at the Kiev Games Night, and we had a good audience, it was Andrey who most remembered, and they said: "this is the man I would get into the industry for, this is the man I would like to work with". So you, despite not presenting any kind of business plan, not showing any pictures, not telling about your gross, as is fashionable with the socials…
Made do without telling jokes, surprisingly.
You did not even say that whoever has no dough is a… hm — Misha, you can beep this, right?
I can beep everything you say.
Ok, good, whoever has no dough is a total @#$%, and so on. And nevertheless, the people said: "we would follow him". So, you've got something that modern financially successful companies lack, and five or six years from they will be gone from the market. Can you formulate, why you make games, what drives you?
PROF: So, while you were talking, I followed, but when you asked the question — why I do this — well, simply because no one on planet Earth has come up with a more interesting profession. It is just my luck that I can create worlds. I don't work as a developer, I work as a Creator. It really draws you in. If you would ask which profession could compete with game development…
PROF: …well, maybe… maybe… well, possibly…
PROF: There! Good! Agreed. A Hollywood director, Hollywood actor. This is because they also have diversity, it's interesting. They also create worlds, but in a bit of a different plane. It is really also very interesting.
What you are saying now is very similar… let's put it this way, the main message is similar to Matthias Kempke's message, when he told us that what separates games from books and film is that, instead of telling a story from A to Z, you create a world. That is, it is the only kind of media, where you let the viewer explore a whole world, it's rules, anything you want. Okay. Can you say, what you don't like in your work? What flips you out, for example. Let's say, you worked Monday to Friday and said: I liked such and such, but this, dammit, I was forced to do.
PROF: That would be the very same. After I work from Monday to Friday, I have Saturday and Sunday to look forward to — I don't like them. Because I like Mondays.
PROF: And this is a big drawback. This job makes you a workaholic, you forget about your family, your children. And this is sad, because those willing to get into it with such passion, you must be absolutely sure that, like, your wife will support, your lovely wife will be hundred percent behind you. But you also must be sure that ten years from now she will say: that's it, stop. I was told this recently, and for me, this is the other side of the coin: with such passion, having a work-hobby, having one of the most interesting jobs in the world, you start to devote less time to your close ones, your friends, children. On the one hand, it depends on the person — it should be kept apart somehow. But sometimes — it's difficult. Well, this is my problem.
By the way, this is the way to do it, in my view. I can always tell how long a person will last in the gamedev industry by how they celebrate Fridays. That is, if I see one write in his Facebook, or wherever, thank God it's Friday, I understand that he is not in his place, that he does not like his work. It is not just game development, but life, really. If he likes Fridays and not Mondays, then he dislikes his place and he should change something. Because life is short and there is no point wasting it on something you don't like.
You know what this sounds like? CD Projekt. I talked to them on this subject, and Marcin Iwiński, one of the two founders, said: our company's problem is that you can only be successful, if you are into it, if you are completely immersed and forget everything else. We come to work on Monday and, if we like, work right up until the next Monday, including any weekends and so on, and then the wife comes and says: I demand a divorce. So you say: okay, fuck it, okay. Let's do yoga, let's go, I don't know, tend to the garden. And it lets go for a few months. But then you encounter problems at work, you go there and, boom, you are once again gone for six months. So, he said that he knows no one who were successful, but at the same time could work, you know, from nine to six and be normal people the rest of the time.
You know, I don't think this is specific to the game industry. When I worked in distribution, dealt with retailers, well, there the more or less successful people, in retail business, in distribution business, they feel the same way. The same situation, when the man is wed to his job. This, I think, is not just the game industry. If you are allowed to slack off somewhere, so to speak, this means that the industry is too rich and can allow itself to overpay by, say, a factor of two, for people.
I would like to express a little bit alternative opinion about that fire in the eyes. Yesterday I made a presentation to university students — third, fourth, fifth semester. With me there was Vadim Starygin, better known as Badim. You probably know him as the flash gamer. I tried to convey this same thought to the students as the one Sergey Klimov just expressed, that you have to have a fire in your eyes, in our industry. Badim replied to this with a simple, and maybe not unique to himself, thought, that this is what employers do to get out of paying people their worth. That is, they are already motivated — fire in the eyes. And so you don't have to pay them as much. What do you think about this?
Well, this is a common story, guys. Interesting work pays less than uninteresting work.
Actually, CD Projekt's founders, who I spoke with, have person fortunes after going public, well, maybe forty-fifty million each. And they are at work seven days a week!
The damned man makes them do it.
They have those same problems with their wives! Who set demands, saying: why the @#$% were you late? I mean, why, dear, were you late, why were you at work until 10 PM at your meetings or whatever. They have no money problems.
PROF: Speaking of fire in the eyes, speaking of its being a trick to pay less, I'm certain this is not true. Maybe it exists somewhere, but at the same time I'm sure that for most competent owners a person with this kind of approach to work in a miracle that… I could pay more and more to this kind of person. So, I think this is nonsense.
I agree with you, that when you find this kind of person, you are willing to raise his pay and do anything else, because you know he works with soul.
PROF: Because he will give me the time for my wife and my children. In any case, he would hold the line if it came to it. Any competent businessman, if you have another, he is incompetent — get away from there, will support a person who knows what he wants and does it with fire in his eyes.
I have another version: the only thing worse than an idiot is an idiot with an initiative. The advantage of the game industry is that it is better to be an idiot with an initiative than without.
Sergey brought us back to Earth, as always.
It's just that I did not always work in the game industry.
PROF: But we are talking about gaming. And it still seems to me that in this game industry we are living in a tiny universe that, especially among the post-Soviet realities, gives us the illusion of a perfect world. Because our employees want to work, though some have more fire in their eyes and some less. But, on the whole, our director, well, technical director, came from another area and says that this is the first time he finds himself in a situation, where he does not even have to make anyone work.
I would just like to add to that sentiment. I think that this is the main advantage of the game industry, that there are people gathered here who give a fuck. And just try to find an insurance company or a bank like that — it's just not possible.
Actually, there are people like that in insurance companies and banks, too. And they make insane money. I have seen people who are that passionate about insurance.
Hello, Sergey Galyonkin? Hi, I got your number from Luda. You know, your auto insurance is due. Would you be interested in an offer?
Those people don't sell, they organize others. I had a friend like that, he was really into security, he thought he brought good and stability into the world…
Hello, Lena. Lena, did you call Sergey Galyonkin? I think it is time to call him. He is a grown-up guy now, he needs life insurance.
Sergey, you make it seem like there are no industries except gamedev and other places have robots instead of people working for them.
I have to say that I dealt with several industries. For example, I worked with people who make cars. So, Fiat, for example, Alfa Romero, Peugeot. Okay, for instance, Ferrari — everything is fine. The other Italian car companies, well, okay, the people sit around, slowly move around, like turtles, because nothing changes in their business, they are guaranteed their salary for many, many years ahead. Because they have already reached the top of their Mount Olympus. I dealt with people who worked in casino gambling. Okay, all the talk there is about cash.
Sergey, this is a large industry. It just rips you apart. Well, let's get back to GSC.
Yes, back to GSC, to STALKER.
Andrey, you got into GSC to draw.
PROF: To draw. At first, we made the Doomcraft project — about Doom monsters on Warcraft battlefields.
Wow! I have even heard about this!
PROF: That project did not work out, because…
It was like a competition, who violates the most copyrights, right?
PROF: Well, Sergey was the kind of guy, well, he was seventeen years old, he was quite optimistic and brave, he even tried to show it to publishers.
Showed it to Blizzard.
PROF: Yes, and they…
It was Warcraft 2000 he showed them.
PROF: Warcraft 2000 was my next big project. But it did not work for a number of reasons.
By the way, about Warcraft 2000, could you tell us? Because I heard the story that Blizzard even liked it. And they were ready to work on it, if it were not for Warcraft 3.
You know, I even played it back in the day, and enjoyed it. It was pretty!
PROF: Guys, all I know, I know from Sergey's words. He went to a game show and says: we showed it, they came in, took a look, I started my presentation, they got up and left. But at the same time, they did look at the monitor. That's it. That's all I know.
Maybe they didn't know Ukrainian, that's why they left?
PROF: Well, there was…
Ptica translated, I remember. Alex Ptica.
Then we have to ask him what really happened.
What's this? I only know him as a journalist.
He is a journalist. He worked for GSC, this is Ukraine, everyone helps each other out here. Alex Ptica volunteered to help Grigorovich.
Mama mia. So, he has been working in the industry for longer than Igor Baiko.
Well, Alex Ptica is an old man. He is a game journalism legend.
Okay, Okay, I think we should give him some sort of a prize.
PROF: Guys, can I finish talking about GSC, so that at least we get through it by the end… well, then there was Venom, which started the stage of my realization of my childhood fantasies, what I wanted to do a little bit differently. Venom was an attempt at an interpretation of Heinlein, with his Puppet Masters, in the shooter genre.
Hell, man. I am ready to sign up to work for you tomorrow, now. I am willing to work for people who like Heinlein any day.
PROF: Sergey, I only saw you once in person. But I am ready to work with you, let's do it.
And so, in this podcast Klimov changes his job.
Mihail, Sergey, close the podcast! We have plans to discuss.
Hey, I like Heinlein, too! Come to us! My favourite book.
Which book is your favourite?
Stranger in a Strange Land
PROF: Guys, so, Venom was cool, fictional. And that was the only time Stalker could be conceived. The question was, let's stop making Doomcraft, we have two good programmers, Zabaryansky and Lut, they have an engine, we should do a shooter. Shooter? Good, let's make a shooter. And they needed an idea. I said, well, I liked Roadside Picnic and I liked The Puppet Master. So, when we worked on Heinlein's puppet masters… copyright… but, no, we only borrowed ideas, only borrowed… well, just like in Stalker…
Hey, listen, you named your project Venom — this is also, excuse me, copyrighted — this is some character from the Marvell universe.
PROF: Well, this is just… in any case, what we did with Stalker was a bit worse, in my opinion.
And when you finished Venom, Zabaryansky left to Deep Shadows.
PROF: Yes, and two new programmers came in: Oles Shishvotsov and Alexander Maximchuk, who brought a new engine prorotype — the future x-ray. GSC said then: we should do a free-for-all — rocket launchers, machine guns, and lots of things. And they started something like that…
PROF: I don't know what influenced him, what gave him the idea… No, it was not Firestarter. Firestarter was done by another programmer, another team. After our guys worked for a year and made a sort of a demo, I knew, wow, that was cool. This is when I said, that's it, this is Stalker. Three people, that is, Alexander Maximchuk, Oles, Shishvotsov, and Sergey Karmalski, those were the ones who made the first prototype, well, of the world to be, of an engine, and then I came in afterwards. But I came in not as a lead, but as a bulldozer. And that was it. And after that…
Hey, and where did they come from? Were they just students? Just came in from the street?
PROF: Yes, yes yes. They were just studying…
They were studying! If my son is listening to this podcast, Kostia, it is important to study!
It is important, yes. It is really important.
Look how the dad is parenting his son — through a podcast. Note that this is a Friday evening. It is past 8 PM in Kiev, past 9 in Moscow, while daddy is sitting down and talking with uncles.
PROF: And the rest was an avalanche. Because more people came in, as the project sucked them in, more and more — Alexey Clon, who came up with the life simulation idea. Then came in the programmer Dima Yasenev, who actually implemented this idea. But! At the same time, it is not true what they say, that all Ukrainian game developers passed through Stalker. Unfortunately, many people who passed through the project used this to ask for pay raises. The Stalker team was 40 people. And…
I know this. Actually, they say that all of the Ukrainian game developers passed through GSC, not just Stalker. Because there were tons of people on Cossacks during various periods.
PROF: Well, maybe.
You have to give out certification. "The given document affirms that its owner has made an actual contribution to Stalker." And not that next guy.
It's not like it bother me much. No one comes to me and says "we made Stalker."
Hahaha. That would have been interesting.
But my colleagues in the industry complain: you know, people that come in and say "we made Stalker" are not really all that.
We had an artist send us stolen examples of our own work; he had them in his portfolio.
So, if you get the Stalker lead asking to work for you, you should not be too surprised. Ok. Stalker had a lot of ideas. I remember seeing the early builds… Well, how early? Not that early. I remember being able to drive cars. There was a lot of interesting things in there that did not make it into the final game. This is not surprised, it happens frequently, but can you give an example of something you really miss?
PROF: Well, driving cars, I guess, and that's all.
Well, I remember why the cars were cut. Because if you drive around, walking is not all that fun.
PROF: Mmm. To be honest, I don't remember why they were cut. I vividly remember Dean Sharpe coming, who said: you have been developing this game for five years, and, like, have a conscience, it's time to wrap this up.
Hahaha. Did he really say that?
PROF: He was the first American who did not smile. Because, they all come in, and that American smile: wow! wow! wow! But this one, he sits down and does not smile. And it began to grate when three weeks later he… I mean, he walked around there and…
And did not smile once?
PROF: …he gathered everyone and said: guys, you have to finish the game, you delayed it long enough. I could… I mean, the only reasonable way to finish it is to finally cut some features.
And this was a very well-known and much-discussed fact, that moment when the developers announced the feature cut.
And it's pretty funny, how the Stalker developers learned what a feature cut was on the fifth year of development. Live and learn.
PROF: Well, yes, when he said "feature cut", we, well, I personally, I mean, what's that? It's like castrating your child, isn't it?! And he said: well, I could castrate it, but that would be wrong, because I don't know it. It really is your child, so it would be better if you did it yourself.
He has a big swing, could nick someone.
PROF: Yes, something like that.
This is like when Batkin, I don't know if I can tell this or not, I hope I am not getting anyone in trouble, he was talking about Uncharted and how one very experienced producer came to them during development and the very first thing he did was to do a feature cut. And this was almost the main key moment that saved the project. Naughty Dog had such grandiose plans that he cut two thirds of the game and they made it.
PROF: Well, in reality, yes. The choice: either your project never sees the light of day or it comes out, maybe in reduced quality, but it comes out — that's a big difference. But, God, what Dean had to go through after this. Somehow… Well, because he never smiled, we didn't like him very much back then, so in the end, the public was given the version that it was all big bad Dean Sharpe. And he said, he got email with Such threats!
Ahahaha! In Russian?
PROF: That someone would hire… no, not only in Russian! I don't think Russians would have come up with the idea of hiring negros… blacks.
You can say the word "negro" on our podcast. [Editor's note: the word is not considered contentious in Russian language]
PROF: And I… really, that they would gang-rape him. They described what they wanted to do with Dean Sharpe.
Russians with wild imaginations, I don't know.
PROF: Or it was not the Russians. In the end, of course, it was not his fault, but ours. We cut cars, and, really, not much else. Everything else more or less worked. Cars worked, too. It is just that they did not really fit into the game balance, so it was easier to get rid of them.
It was like a DLC.
So, you finished Stalker, but you said that you began to develop, to think about your own company even at Stalker's finishing stages.
PROF: Actually, even at the starting stages. Once gain, very briefly. In 2003, I get a call from Electronic Arts, well, a letter. Because by then there was a certain amount of negativity accumulated during my work with GSC, this dea idea seemed like: well, I'll make Stalker and come over. But it was scary to go along. So, I said: can bring my friends along?
Haha! Me and my pals.
With those very negros.
PROF: I mean, could I bring someone along? Yes, you can; come over and we'll talk. And at that stage, I talked this over with Stalker's core team and it was then that we got this idea — we can always leave, but could we do something here? We did it, we went to Electronic Arts and said: thank you for the invitation, we really like it here, but can we not come over? And they replied: no problem, it's all good. And the person who invited us, his wife was an agent…
PROF: HR agent for publishers. So, Anekina, Norwegian by birth, she gave us some real moral support — everything can be worked out, guys. If you want it, you can do anything.
And which project did Electronic Arts call you for?
PROF: Eh… Golden Eye.
I would like to remember, guys, the story of another company that was created by people who were called to work at Valve. They came over, looked around, and just like Andrey replied: thanks, but we'll do something at home. Do you know who they were?
Markus Pearson. They later made Minecraft. They were offered jobs at Valve, but they looked around, said: everything is awesome, and if you believe in us, we believe in ourselves, too!
PROF: That's right! That is, at that moment: Electronic Arts, God, they were the main publisher and gods…
They were right at their peak in 2003.
PROF: So, it was good encouragement, that, if they believe in us, then we must be doing something right. We went to Sergey and said: Sergey, we are going to leave after finishing Stalker. At first, he reacted entirely reasonably, which, by the way, was very nice — like, thanks for the warning, but as that moment approached… well, back then we believed that Stalker would be done in a year, but then four more years went by. By the time it was over, our relationship soured, and by the end it was completely in the gutter.
Well, it would not be the first for Sergey. He had people leave before. Zabaryansky and Lut left before you.
PROF: But they did not warn him four years in advance. And, I don't know, it seems like we did everything right, that we let him know.
It was honest, at least.
PROF: Yes! I understand, it's emotion, you can't have it any other way, so, in principle, I still consider Sergey my friend. Maybe not a friend, but I regard him well. But a divorce is always a challenge for both parties.
So, back in 2003, you talked with Electronic Arts and were confident that the project would soon be over and you would finally start on your own thing, but three more years went by before you handed in the game. How did you work those three years?
PROF: It was only Stalker for us. Because we… Stalker was our board, one that would let us dive into the world of game development…
PROF: …and win. Those are the people who made Stalker!
Tell me, please, what exactly did you do on Stalker? What were you responsible for, exactly?
PROF: I started out as lead artist, but then, when I became a bulldozer, I became the project lead and…
Hahaha! New job title — bulldozer.
PROF: Many things. That is, in life, I tend to juggle a lot of things, pull up those things that are lacking. I can do anything. I can animate, model, texture, create particles, camera tracks, record sound, draw textures. I can do anything! This is also my weakness, that I can hardly delegate work to others. So, in general…
Typical project lead, really. You describe a typical project lead — a person who has the grand vision, because he follows all disciplines at the same time.
PROF: To put it briefly, I polish and finalize.
A typical leader, I would say. Person who cares about everything, who gives a damn, who has no barriers, not someone who would say: okay, fuck, this is not my business, I'm going home. No.
Look, so you finished Stalker, you spent six years. How many did you spend on your next project? I think you have a good trend going.
PROF: We made Metro in four and now, Metro: Last Light was done in three. So, theoretically, by the sixth-seventh project, hehe, it will be a year!
We expect 4A's next game in 2015.
Look, when you left Grigorovich… I understand that this would be a strange choice for many people, especially when you work for ten years in one place, how you can just walk out the door and do something of your own. Were you scared?
PROF: We were scared. But because the moment got stretched out from the time we made the decision in 2003 until… well, I finally left about four-five months before the release. It was just testing then, and there was no reason for me to be in the office. Plus, thanks to the agent who found us… I slowly… well, all of us… there were four: Oles, Alex Rein was the director, I was the creative director, and we had a finansist… by that time we were morally and, in a way, intellectually prepared. That moment, when we suddenly had to open up an office, when we now needed finances, was the moment when GSC fired the art team in 2006. Because by that time our agent did not find anything… I now realize that it was not likely back then. That is, it was not likely to find financing for an Eastern European project. By that moment we were already like: oh, no, we need money, what do we do, how do we keep the team. All in all, we then found our financist, Vladimir Lymarev, who even back in USSR was working on the Soviet Star Wars Defense, as a programmer. So, he helped us out.
You are describing the situation that I just heard from Vostok Games — they had the same thing — layoff of the team, panic, search for a publisher, who would not believe in the team, and a Western publisher was taken in, and in the end help from local Ukrainian investors.
PROF: Yes, exactly the same, I agree. But our case was more stretched out over time. For them it was all much more sudden, as I understand.
Yes, just out of the blue. Ok, so you started making Metro 2033… so you obviously were changing focus. Since Metro was a sort of anti-Stalker. That is, even though you share the same setting — post-apocalyptic, you did everything different. Instead of taking someone else's license and artistically improvising on it, you used a license exactly. Instead of creating an open world, you made a corridor shooter, though still with soul. And instead of trading, like in Stalker, you made something more compact, with bullets (which I like a lot). As I understand, it was on purpose. It could not have been an accident.
PROF: It was intentional. Any developer, any creative person gets tired of what he does at some point and wants to try something else. Stalker, with its open world, was really difficult to develop, and we wanted… by that moment, Half Life 2 was released, which we loved dearly… and we wanted to try something to that effect. Plus, back in 2003, I just read the internet novel Metro, by the then still obscure author Gluhovsky.
He published it on his website for free. I remember I read it too back then.
PROF: The second Stalker… actually even back then I considered moving the setting to Kiev to address some of the problems we had with Stalker, to make it more compact, get the people underground — into Kiev metro — oh! And so I got this idea for the new company, spent nights writing the scenario, let a friend read it, and the friend tells me — it's kind of alright. In other words, a piece of @#$%. Read that Gluhovsky's internet novel instead, he told me. I read it and that same evening sent him an email — hello, I am Andrew Prohorov, let's make a game. And he responds: I am now a journalist in France, I live in France; it was all kids play; Andrew Prohorov — who are you? I say, well, here we are, making Stalker. And Stalker is something interesting. So, since then he has been waiting for us. Since then, he turned the internet novel into a book, published it, and by Metro's release we had a big author… well, back then not that big yet, but already with aspirations and…
Myself, I remember that many people discovered Gluhovsky only after Metro was announced and based on his book. That is, he went to print afterwards. I recall his first print was bad, and the second goood. But, it seems to me, in this case, the game helped the book as much as the book the game.
PROF: In principle, it was an equal partnership. We helped the book, and the book helped us.
Gluhovsky, well, how was he involved? I remember that the plot of Metro 2033 is different from the book, after all. Especially from the first version.
PROF: It differs, but nevertheless, for his first book, the second half was written just for us. Because the internet novel ended with a stray bullet finding its way to Artem's brain.
We call it: the author got tired of writing.
PROF: …and the second half was written on the premise that this would be a game, a shooter. For the sequel, the Metro 2034 story did not go well with what we do. There were four protagonists — it was more of some sort of a cooperative shooter, like Left 4 Dead.
By the way, it would be cool to see a cooperative shooter in the Metro universe.
PROF: And this was one of the reasons to… That is, we thought about doing it. But then, pragmatism won over, the story of Hunter, who went away in the beginning of the first book… that did not work out either. We decided to continue Artem's story. After this, Gluhovsky set down and… well, given that we wanted to diversify gameplay, to make every level unique… he wrote us the story and…
So, the story is written by Gluhovsky, do I understand correctly?
PROF: Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
In principle, this is the complete opposite of what happened with CD Projekt and Witcher. As I understand, there Sapkovsky removed himself from the process and does not consider the game some…
PROF: He was even involved from the start. He simply sold the license.
No, Mikhail is a very active guy, he is a bulldozer in literature. He is a really swell guy.
So, you say pragmatism has won over. In reality, it is common to think that you have to do multiplayer and cooperative shooters. It was thought, at least until recently, that they sell better. When you started developing Metro, when you started making it, everyone was doing cooperative shooters. But you still decided to make a story-based single-player game. Why was that? Were you not sure in your abilities or did you not think coop would be successful?
PROF: We had a good story and a clear vision of what we could do. As for multiplayer…
I, actually… I played Metro: Last Light multiplayer in your office. It is actually pretty neat.
PROF: Yes, look, if we talk about Metro: Last Light, it is different. With the first Metro, we did not even consider multiplayer. That is, we had experience, we had a new team and a new company, we had a good singleplayer idea — so we did it. In Metro: Last Light, multiplayer was planned from the outset and, all in all, the team's creative potential, that is, the lead game designer — mustdie — also known us Vyacheslav Aristov, were put on it, as well as the main programming efforts, since, we really wanted to finally make some money. And for that we needed multiplayer. Then THQ started to get doubts — you should make it, no, after all, you should not. They had a change of leadership. The prior managers said: let's not do it; let's focus our efforts — this is after about a year's work on multiplayer — let's focus on singleplayer. After all, the players were waiting for singleplayer, for a sequel. That was it, we halted the work, moved our efforts over to singleplayer — and then the new THQ president comes in and the reverse process begins. This is what stressed us out the most, these work-related moments.
So, you wavered: making multiplayer, not making, making multiplayer.
PROF: It was not us who wavered.
Of course, not you — THQ.
PROF: The financial side, the ones who financed this said — let's do it. We wanted to do multiplayer, because it turned out fun and…
I remember you had anomalies on the map, those, you had to run through. And the tactic I was told about was to…
PROF: Anomalies, monsters as the third force — it was all not bad.
So, we captured that location, I even remember that mission, where you had to run through, was it a crashed plane, or something… there was an anomaly, and you had to run through it fast, but… we got there with half our health, but we kept the location at the end. It was… I have not seen this in other shooters. It seemed like a very fresh idea.
PROF: In the end, we made it… well, the process itself of killing each other over network… it was done quite well, a year later, some of the people who did not play Metro multiplayer at lunch time set down and said: wow! This, they said, was as no less fun than Call of Duty, as far as shooters go. At the same time, it was a different settings and had its unique features.
Hey, listen, we got this question: what do you think about those of your colleagues who went into free-to-play, Crytek in particular? And what you have just described is a pretty good f2p shooter, is it not?
PROF: I would split the question into two parts: what do I think about f2p and what do I think about my colleagues. Well, there are some specific colleagues who I think will do alright. Crytek has already shown as much. I mean Crytek Ukraine. And Survarium — I think it was a good solution for their situation… In general, my outlook on f2p is negative. I think this is a way to… eh… find an easy road that will only lead you into a crowd of similar people looking for an easy road.
I would even say, all in all, it already has.
Yes, this is obviously happening already.
PROF: So, to make it short, I would loath having to do f2p.
Ok, so, multiplayer… I just thought you would say: we made Metro without multiplayer, multiplayer is done — we could make it f2p. But no, you won't do that.
PROF: We might finish multiplayer and release it as a small separate project. But it depends… this is more of a question for Deep Silver — whether they are ready to support this. We would have to think about the business model, whether this would be a small game on Steam and Windows Live. At the same time, to release it in a presentable state we would need another half a year.
So, you mentioned Deep Silver, which is a division of Koch Media, to which you were in fact… sold at an auction — after THQ's bankruptcy you were sold to Koch Media. I know Koch as a distributor. As a distributor, they are probably the best distributor in Europe with which I ever worked. As a publisher, I don't know them. Tell us, if you can, how you survived the transition.
PROF: It was painful. It was a most unpleasant process when… the moment we are about to release… the plan was to come out on March 20, so in mid-January, when all this stuff was winding down… that auction, when THQ's president tells us: everything will be ok, guys — they found some investor, so THQ is going to survive in some form, and then — BAAAAM — WHAAAAAAT??? It's like my son, Dania — he is eight — GERMANS????
PROF: You have to understand, he grew up on Company of Heroes. And so, he was shocked when in Turkey he was told: Dania, look, here is our hotel, about 70% there are Germans. That was his first reaction — GERMANS???? He even ducked to ran for cover. Then I explained to him about Germans… well, sometimes I tell him about the history of the war, how everything happened… but that moment — GERMANS!
So, the way I understand it, your son was surprised the most at this rights transfer, that the company took it in stride. So, Germans, so what.
PROF: Well, it was a surprising choice for us.
Because I… I mean, I don't want to praise or blame them. It was just the process itself that was interesting, the transfer of a developer company from one publisher company to another publisher company.
PROF: Well. They came to us and said: here is a document, please sign it to confirm that you won't mind continuing to work with us.
And — we are Germans.
By the way, that's true.
Hande hoch, zis is fantastish, right.
And another question: whose idea was it to make an English localization with such a harsh Russian accent? Just tell us it wasn't you, because people might not take our word for it.
PROF: It wasn't us. It was the publisher. When we asked why the hell it was necessary, they said: well, we are the ones who are going to play this game in English, we know better. Well, fine.
I had the same question about Company of Heroes, where Russians speak with an awful English accent… I mean, the other way around — the speak English with an awful Russian accent.
PROF: So, when they… when I attended the recording… well, I attended all the recordings in the States and, when they intentionally take Russian actors, those who were living there, and these Russian actors speak… the publisher's group just sits there and applauds: this is so cool! this is so cool! So, I see their reaction and I see that they are probably having fun.
I guess, those actors can probably speak without accent, if they have been living there long enough.
PROF: Yes, but they especially ask them: speak… and could you add some of words?! Which ones? Well, @#$%, #%$^, $#@. That's how we like it. Pff! It seems to us, like, god… they really clap like children. Of course, our actors — just give them a reason. And then they start… well, actually, sometimes it's actually funny. So, I made my peace with it, that… let them do what they want… if they like it, if they get giddy like little kids. Why not?
At least, it is voiced by Russian actors. Really, if you think about American kung-fu movies, they do the same thing.
They live in the world, where there is a Chinatown, a Russian town, I don't know, Vietnamese, and so on.
And they all speak with accents, yes.
Did you ever try to speak with Vietnamese Americans or with Chinese Americans? The hell can you understand them. And if they start speaking fluent American, it will probably look wrong. They have a multilingual society and this is probably right for them.
So, let's get to actual development. Because this podcast is about development, actually. So…
We touched on why PS3 did not work for your first project and why it did for the second. This is very good. Now we have a few questions from people who never worked with consoles and so, question: how difficult is it for a developer who just came from PC, who thinks he can always roll out a patch? Like, we'll patch it up tomorrow. Another problem? We'll patch it the day after. So, how difficult was it for you to shift gears to work with consoles, where there are no patches?
PROF: Well, you really have to do another podcast with our programmers. So, really…
By the way, we would like it very much to do a podcast with your programmers.
So, if they are willing to talk about programming, well, for programmers. Because we are idiots in that respect.
PROF: Well, there are two programmers in 4A Games who…
Right! There are two programmers in 4A Games!
PROF: …well, who would take on any programmers in the world. There is Oles Shishkovtsov…
Good, good. We will have another podcast with them wrestling! In the mud!
They will be fighting with pillows in their pajamas!
PROF: They are very good, they thought ahead, when back in 2005 we started thinking about making a new engine, and we knew it had to be cross-platform, multithreaded, and lots more, and my favourite feature — the quaternion matrix. I have no idea.
What? I think we lost all our audience. We can talk about whatever, no one is listening anymore.
I don't know anything about programming, so…
That's what our podcast with programmers will be like. And then there will be just complete silence in the comment section. Everyone will just put guns to their heads.
There will be silence on our side.
PROF: So, when we came to consoles, we made it thanks to having programming leads among the co-founders who took it upon themselves.
Took a trip to London, blew up the car of SONY Europe's president, and said: dude, we have one more submission for you. And you passed.
Okay, so you can't say, just because you don't have a good idea of what the process looks like from the programmer's viewpoint. This is why we will have to speak with the programmers.
PROF: I would just start spouting nonsense, I mean, I know for myself how to tune the art for PC or Xbox. There are certain limitations, but, these limitations are actually useful, because when you have limited resources, you have to squeeze the picture from these resources. It really helps… well, really helps…
Ok, another question. We will have to speak with programmers from 4A and lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the difficulty of the endeavor and such. Can you tell us, how many people worked on Metro at its peak? I mean, at one time, how many people was there — twenty? thirty?
PROF: For the first Metro, forty on average, for second… well, we don't even have to average — well, eighty.
And this while making it in three years instead of four, but with already developed technology, in essence?
PROF: Yes, yes.
I would just like to use this opportunity to say "hi" to all developers! To all those developers who write in the comments that the three of them could make a game more awesome than Sim City. Think about it, eight experienced developers, and it was not the studio's first project…
What was the ratio? By profession, programmers, game designers, and artists — what ratio?
PROF: Don't forget animators.
Right. I simply count them as artists.
PROF: A suppose, we have more artists than anyone. About twenty five of them. Programmers, I guess… well, let's divide them into four classes — a few more artists, fewer animators and game designers, the rest are programmers. Very loosely, twenty of each.
So, thirty percent artists…
PROF: Twenty-five, twenty-five, twenty-five, twenty-five.
…and twenty designers…
Which brings us to our next popular question: how could someone get an internship in 4A, how to get work in 4A, what could someone do, if he thinks he got talent, but no work experience, what should he show you for you to take him on board.
And what, damn it, does 4A mean?
PROF: You can't! We won't take you.
You don't need anyone.
Quite an open industry we have! Hahaha.
Sergei, mark this timestamp: no point in listening after this.
PROF: To all those bright-eyed novices… it's really a difficult thing. If someone like this comes to you and says: I mean, let me in. Well, it is very tough to turn him down. Because, he is — you fifteen years ago. How can you be such an asshole? We tried to take newbies, but the chances… well, of getting into the main team are minimal, I'm afraid, if they even exist. People came in who, for example, made STALKER mods. I mean, they never worked in a company before. But they made STALKER mods on their own and they had a chance… and actually we still have a person like that working with us and he is really good.
So, typical advice — make mods — it works. They take modders.
PROF: This typical advice works. But please forgive me. This is not me being a snob, but please, make mods and go work in other companies first.
It's just that I wanted to add from my own experience — we often get interns coming in, writing letters. What is the problem here? Even if the intern is willing to work for free, he is not a free worker. He is a cost. Because you end up spending much more on managing him than on managing someone you pay. For instance, if he takes up 30% of his manager's time, he takes up 30% of his manager's paycheck and those 30% are not going to something else. And very often those 30% are worth more than hiring someone with experience.
PROF: Exactly right. Yes. It would be great to have, I don't know, more studios. Guys, the situation right now is such that, unfortunately, novices have to start in simpler studios, start with something small and then gradually climb up the ladder.
We regularly take people with no previous experience to work in Nival. We typically assign them to non-critical sections, were we know we can devote 10-15% of the time on teaching people who will then work in our company.
This is a little strange, we usually recommend, if I remember our Games Night conference message correctly, that people start in large groups to gain experience. How does it mesh with what has been said here?
Well, I think it just means that this studio is so special, so busy with its own projects, that it has no small stuff to hand over to interns.
PROF: Like I said, this is not me being a snob. This is just the reality of the studio. It would be very tough for us to take on a newbie.
By the way, we are talking with a 4A Games representative, whose project Last Light is in twenty-first place on Steam sales charts even before it has actually been released.
Well, well, well!
Okay, enough about interns. Let's discuss the studio itself. What does 4A mean?
PROF: I really dislike this kind of question.
That's what we are here for, to ask the tough questions.
Four co-founders, named…
PROF: Ah! Pardon me! What it means… right. This is actually very easy. Four STALKER leads, all with names starting with "A": me — Andrew, Alexander Maximchuk — Alexander, Andrew Tkachenko — art director (he was the lead level designer for STALKER), and Oles Shishkovtsov, who is actually also Alexander on his passport!
PROF: It's like four aces, right? And a kind of goal, that we make not AAA titles, but AAAA! So, this is how we came up with the brand.
You need Aaron A. Aaronson on your team.
I remember how I memorized the studio's name: there is A4 paper, and this is switched. I remembered it as the A4 studio that is not A4. Well… ok. Question: what was the most difficult moment in your career?
PROF: 4A's first year, when we were on our own, all our plans for finding a publisher are coming up empty, the financier explains what bad people we are. Of course, he didn't yell. I mean, it was fine. But, really, peole: you promised — half a year and you will find a publisher. And it has been a year and half! It was a nerve-racking time, and I started to think: God, maybe should not have gotten into all this?
So, you were afraid that the team would simply take off?
PROF: Well, kind of.
Not take off, the problem was that you were afraid that you would not find a publisher.
PROF: Not find a publisher. Of course, for the financier who promised us half a million, and here we were needing more… it was a difficult moment.
Okay. What now. Here is a good studio management question. You have people working on the payroll, or do they have some kind of bonus to motivate them, if the project succeeded? You know, the common Metactic score bonus. Do you have something like that?
PROF: Yes. We had that for this project. If we reached 87 on Metactic…
Nomad! Do you hear?
Guys, don't let the developers down, so to speak.
87 — you really set the bar high.
PROF: But the bonus was also to match. Eh!
Those people who threatened Dean Sharpe — your negroes are needed elsewhere.
Haha. To threaten other people for other things.
But 87 is a very high bar, yes.
PROF: Do hit a target, what do you aim for? A little higher. So, when we announced that the score has to be 87 no one complained. We had to stick it out.
If you look at the Metro 2033 scores and omit those total idiots who gave it 40%, you should get something around 85.
You know, guys, I found a recent game that was made by some people I know that has the score of 88. So, it is not impossible. The game is called Witcher The Second.
Not a bad retort from Ukraine to Poland.
Match: Ukraine — Poland.
Russians probably don't get this, but the Polish have always been Ukraine's competitor number one.
I would be very glad, if Metro got 88-87. It would be swell. Even 81 is good for the first Metro. You show 'em.
It is very awesome. I mean, this is why I was surprised by 87. Okay, so you don't want to move to freetoplay. Do you have any other interests, I don't know, mobile platforms, something that is not a shooter, another setting? I know the answer, but maybe you can say it? If you are ready.
PROF: Well… no. Not mobile platforms; no, it will be a shooter; it is foolish and rash to learn to do something well, and then dive into something completely different. We should use our home advantage. We learned from our mistakes and are sick of them. We want to do something…
To make use of your experience.
I really like this. I often see studios, and not just studios, but the whole industry, dash from one new shiny thing to another. Social games appeared — everyone dived into social, casual games — everyone got into casual, mobile — I mean, what's the difference, we used to make AAA shooters and now we make card games for iPad. I really respect Andrew for taking a stance.
PROF: Well, thank you. Of course, it does not make sense for us. But we got a bit tired of post-apocalypse. It is really daunting. First we worked on STALKER for six years, then four on Metro; we actually have been at it for over a decade, in post-apocalypse, and we want something brighter, something more… and…
My Little Pony FPS! Ahaha!
After ten years of post-apocalypse, I mean, @#$%, you need something lighter.
PROF: Ok, I'll let you in on it. It is going to be about space.
Quite a risky proposition.
PROF: I know. Yes, yes, yes.
But Metro was a risky proposition as well. And when you were making STALKER, no one thought…
PROF: Retirement is just around the corner, who would I be afraid of?
I think we just got another, I don't know, 120 people willing to work at 4A for free. Guys, if you are pros, if you have been working in game development for 5-6-7 years, if you can do awesome, but you don't want to go all the way to Seattle, because there is rain and yanks, contact Andrew in Kiev. And if you have less experience, go to Nival.
We are still looking for a backend programmer for 200,000 rubles in Moscow.
You can learn that in a year, if you are talented. And judging by your comments, guys, you all got talent.
PROF: By the way, people leave us mostly for those places where there is rain and Seattle. Microsoft, and all that.
Which only speaks for the quality of your team, your studio.
Okay, here is a good question, I like it: if you made a game just for yourself and did not have to concern yourself with money, what game would make? Or is your next game exactly that?
PROF: The thing is that money or… I am not a businessman. I came to realize, or maybe picked up from someone wiser than I… I honestly believe it that if you take all your soul, all your energy, all your knowledge and keep at one thing, reach for one goal, then money will find you. Money respects this kind of people. There are other ways to do it. For example, Sergey Grigorovich chose money as his goal and he achieved it. Our team makes quality games, we strive for the highest standards — but to say that we got rich — we can't. We made nothing from the first Metro. We have enough to make the ends meet. Yes, many publishers would probably be willing to work with us, to give us more money. So, there is a choice between money and art.
So, the way I understand it, you are not there to make a quick buck. You earn as much as you need to make the next project.
PROF: Yes. But, of course, you always want something more… I mean, for retirement and all… why can't we have a yacht, or what do people have these days?
You know, it is an old tale about your worth and your success; it is not how much money you have in the bank, but if the bank burned down, if you got robbed for all you had, how much money could your raise in a day or, say, in a month. And if you earned yourself a reputation, if you have friends and partners who believe in you — you will just make a few calls and you will have your, say, ten million for your next project. If you all you accomplished is earned some money, if you have no partners and no one believes in you or wants to work with you — that is a whole other situation. I would prefer the first situation, when maybe you have not earned a big wad of cash, but you have earned trust and people will follow you and invest in our next project. I think that is worth more.
PROF: Hell, that is nice to hear. Because I think this is exactly what we have.
Thanks a lot, Andrew. I guess this is it. We talked even longer than we intended. Thanks for coming to our office.
PROF: You are welcome.
Get the programmers here. No joke. We really need a podcast with programmers, someone who understands that stuff. Because we don't and we can't find a person like that.
It will be the funniest podcast you've ever heard, I suppose.
We'll say: hi, hi — and then just set a timer — we'll be back in 60 minutes.
What did you say? Pointer? That's all I know about programming. Ok. And we would also like to thank those who submitted their question on Sergey Klimov's blog. We tried to make the whole discussion follow your questions. This is why we did not name anyone. Well, thanks a lot.
We thank you for your interest and for finding the time to write your questions. I would also like to thank Andrew… to thank him for doing… I don't know, just to thank him for being himself? Because I wouldn't want to develop games, if we did not have examples like him. On one hand we have Iones and Saber, who have very clearly defined commercial plans, and on the other we have Prokhorov from 4A. And here we are, working in an industry that can accommodate both of these models. I think this is just amazing.
PROF: Really, I am not vain, but it is just very nice to hear what you said. Thank you.
Okay, thanks, bye everyone. Leave your comments.
Yes, thanks a lot. Bye.
Bye, guys. All the best.
See you later. Bye.
Ce n'est que pour vous dire ce que je vous dis.