By Kieron Gillen on May 7th, 2008 at 9:19 pm.
Stalin and Martians. As everyone knows, they’re natural enemies. We can only wonder at how it’s taken 50 years for videogames to get around to charting their epic conflicts. But the tardy industry has got around to it at last and we can but hope it satisfies all the serious Stalin/Martian martial conflict fans long-famished RTS appetites. Anyway, excited by the announcement, we decided it was time to talk to the development troika of Dreamlore/BWF/N-Game’s struggles and aims with Stalin Vs. Martians. And luckily for the interview, Dreamlore head honcho and Lead Designer of Stalin vs Martians Alexander Shcherbakov decided to talk back.
RPS: Obvious question: How on earth did the idea come about? Was drinking involved? Generally speaking, how intensely is drinking involved in the development of Stalin Vs Martians?
Alexander: Sorry to destroy the stereotype, but we’re not drinking all the time, despite the fact that we are Russians. It is true that the initial concept of the game (which differed from what we have now) was born out the talk I had with CEO of Black Wing Foundation during the Christmas/New Year holidays. So obviously we were drunk a little bit and that’s how it all started. No vodka was involved though. Only rakia. We were drinking beer and at the certain point imagined that we are Serbs and continued our conversation after buying a bottle of the magical South Slavic drink. Perhaps it had some impact on the further discussion, so actually right now I’m starting to think of Stalin vs Martians as a Russian-Serbian co-production. Sort of. The final shape of things and the final version of the concept came later, when we were 100% sober (believe us or not), but at the very beginning alcohol had its part. And was an important tool for the breakthrough of the Serbian game development industry, since Stain vs Martians is perhaps the most groundbreaking Serbian computer game ever.
RPS: Why Stalin, particularly? Did you weigh up the potential of other Soviet leaders? Or are you saving them for sequels?
Alexander: Most of the post-Stalin Soviet leaders are nothing compared to our beloved Generalissimus. So it was the obvious choice. We could pick Lenin, but he will appear in one of our next titles, not now.
RPS: Reading Evo PC’s interview, I was interested in the three-team development system. Is it difficult to co-ordinate three teams? How do you do it? Do the different personalities of the teams come across?
Alexander: No, not that difficult. As you might know, most of the tech stuff is done by N-Game, and most of the producing and game design by BWF and Dreamlore. So that scheme gives us situation when coordination becomes pretty simple, since everyone’s doing their job in certain fields. BWF and N-Game also cooperate on Salvation project and both companies are located at Dnepropetrovsk and partly kind of integrated one into another, so that helps too.
RPS: You’re clearly dissatisfied with the route of that the modern RTS has taken. Where did it all go wrong?
Alexander: It’s the same old problem as always. We had “clone wars, part I” after the release of Warcraft II and C&C. Everyone decided to make their own version of C&C. All the same, just add new units and buildings. Then some time later the developers found out that you can make WWII games and don’t even bother with making different units, just make your version of T-34 and Tiger tanks and here we go.
RPS: Flipping the hate around, are there any games particularly that you admire? What inspired you?
Alexander: Well, I’ve spent about eight years in the field of computer and videogames journalism, so after all this time it’s very hard to look at the lists of absolutely monotonous releases and not to throw up. And that’s what inspires. Just the simple fact that you think your game should have something unique about it, something outstanding, something that makes people say “Wow!” And you don’t have to invent bicycle to achieve that. There are million things out there that can be interesting. Lots of original concepts, stories, just use your imagination. Still I open up the reviews section in the gaming magazine, check the latest releases and most of the time feel that I just don’t understand who’s buying all this crap. Make me say “Wow!” or go to hell. Perhaps I’m just tired of gaming. Strange enough, but most of my favorite titles are not katamaris and patapons. It’s more like, Civilizations, Street Fighters, one or two odd Game Gear titles like Defenders of Oasis, Tetris (I had to say that for patriotic reasons) and Shenmue. Actually, Shenmue is my weak spot, I speak about “original concepts”, but deep inside my heart I want to make a couple of Shenmue clones. And I will. The story will be unique though. You know, I’ll run a random word generator and get something like: Lenin, vampires, steam robots. Sounds good enough.
RPS: Have you done much research into period Russian military technology? How about period Martian technology? How will you respond to those who take the game to task for any historical inaccuracies?
Alexander: The Russian units are 100% historically accurate (we even use the early version of T-34 tank, since it’s 1942 in the game). And that’s one of the weirdest things about the game. You have authentic Red Army units and use them to fight something absolutely inimaginable. Martian units are less historically accurate, only about 80%. There also have been some responses that our Siberia on the screenshots looks not vert much like Siberia and that’s not right. It is not quite true. When people hear “Siberia”, something clicks in their heads and they imagine snow and polar bears. But it is Summer 1942 in Stalin, no snow at all. If you want to see the snow in Siberia, you should buy the expansion pack for Stalin vs Martians, which we plan to release sometime in 2009. We think that winter campaigns is a perfect choice for add-ons. You can make a couple of new tiles, rework few textures and here’s the expansion pack that looks different. We decided not to waste the opportunity to earn couple of bucks doing almost nothing. That’s why there is summertime in Stalin vs Martians.
RPS: You find yourself at GDC in San Francisco, making an key note speech to the assembled intelligentsia of videogames. What do you tell all these developers?
Alexander: I think of specialist conferences as of mostly boring events where different companies play cock-measuring games. So if get to the stage, the only reasonable option is to show mine. The audience will laugh, since I don’t have the size that can impress anyone. Perhaps I will beak down and cry then.
No, I don’t wanna go to GDC.
RPS: I actually found myself at a conference at the weekend. They were debating development in Russia and similar, and what sort of stuff people had done which was impressive. Someone noted… has anyone over there done a funny game? And everyone was stumped, until I mentioned Stalin Versus Martians. Do you think there’s a lack of funny Russian games? And if so, why?
Alexander: Putin personally throws funny Russian people into jail. That’s why Russians are mostly dull and their take on computer games is 100% serious like they’re creating a nuclear bomb or something. The dullest people are Russian publishers, who have no sense of humour at all and invest money in serious WWII titles, worn-out IPs and cheap adventure games. It is a very hopeless situation and I think that the Jews are involved somehow.
Stalin Vs. Martians will be available in the future. A better future, positioned somewhere later in 2008.