How to make a game when war is raging outside

We can most likely imagine that not only developers, but all people in Ukraine have it easy, without anyone having to tell us. Or maybe we can’t because, let me guess, the vast majority of us haven’t experienced anything like that. Snippets of what the game’s development looks like when the war breaks out pro server shared the producer from the GSC Game World studio, Maria Grigorovičová.

In the winter at the beginning of 2022, the Kiev offices of the Stalker 2 developers are said to have felt like a gas station. Along with first aid kits and other basic necessities, thousands of liters of fuel were also piled up in the corridors. At that moment, everyone still hoped that they would not be needed, but the rescue buses were ready and the drivers were just waiting for the instruction. “We also had an evacuation plan ready with all times and places. Everyone knew what to do if it was necessary to leave suddenly,” describes Grigorović.

When news from the border clearly indicated that things would get tougher, and other countries began to recall ambassadors home, the studio offered its employees a transfer to Uzhgorod, a city near the Slovak and Hungarian borders, from where it would be easy to flee abroad. Two hundred developers and their families have accepted it. Everyone quickly packed one suitcase, took the equipment from the office in their hands, as much as they could carry, and drove off.

At that moment, it is said that everyone still hoped that the aggressor was just rattling his weapons, but hope took its toll with the arrival of February 24 and the first bombs exploding in the streets of the capital. The refugees in Uzhhorod were relatively safe, but a lot of developers were still staying in Kyiv at that time. “Some people from the region were convinced that no matter what happened, they would not be in danger in Buča and Irpini. Fortunately, we eventually convinced them to leave,” adds Grigorović, recalling the horrors that later took place in these places.

In the end, approximately 130 developers from GSC remained in Ukraine. Some continue to work from home, when the Internet works tolerably well or they don’t have to run for cover in the middle of a company video call, others defend their homeland with a gun in hand. Which, as we unfortunately know, doesn’t always end well, even by accident.

The studio evacuated a total of five hundred people, mainly developers with their families, which was said to be a logistical nightmare. “You don’t prepare to run away from war, and it doesn’t matter how much fuel you have. The relocation was complete chaos and confusion. It was absolutely impossible to rent a vehicle, and the train and bus stations were flooded with people,” recalls Grigorovicová. People in management practically did not sleep as they frantically looked for where and how to send employees, and the relocation of animals and children, among whom was Grigorovich’s son, turned out to be particularly challenging: “She keeps asking me when we will return home. He’s still young and doesn’t understand what’s going on. Which I’m actually glad for.”

But he said no panic ever broke out. There was no time for her. “We constantly had to concentrate as much as possible. Therefore, the rush of emotions did not come until much later, when the evacuation was complete. But the danger was real—and so was the fear. The atmosphere was, to put it mildly, tense,” says Grigorovicová.

The studio had been considering opening a branch in Europe long before the war, but no one knew it would happen under such circumstances. As you have probably already read or heard somewhere, that part of the GSC developers who fled Ukraine eventually settled in Prague. The choice fell on the Czech capital thanks to the “warm welcome from local people from the gaming industry and the friendliness of the landlords”.

“Crazy things happened to us along the way, probably a whole book could be written about it,” Grigorović continues. “When we asked a foreign partner for help with crossing the border – and by that we meant transportation and logistics – they offered us a long list of armed personnel. Which both moved us and forced us to laugh somewhat nervously.”

“We dream of returning to Kyiv and working as before,” he adds. “Of course they all want to go home. But some of us have nowhere to go. Absolutely every Ukrainian lost something during this war. Because of Russia.”

The subtitle of their upcoming game Stalker 2 has changed from Heart of Chernobyl to Heart of Chornobyl, which is the Ukrainian transliteration of the region’s name instead of the Russian one. The developers see the whole game not only as an article of the entertainment industry, but also as a symbol of steadfastness, as it will be one of the first Ukrainian works of art released despite the invasion.

“It was a game about Chernobyl from a Ukrainian studio, but it became something much bigger,” concludes Grigorovich. “Now it is a national product that will show that Ukraine is not only extremely brave and effective on the battlefield, but also valuable in terms of cultural heritage. It’s something we can show the world.”

Source: Games by

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