On The Importance Of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

By Jim Rossignol on December 10th, 2011 at 1:18 pm.


With the news that iconoclastic Ukrainian developer GSC Gameworld has closed its doors, putting the future of the Stalker series in jeopardy, thoughts turned to the games they had made, and the hopes we’d held for a sequel. There are a few reasons why the Stalker series is so important in the greater scheme of gaming, and as of 2011 those reasons seem more pressing than ever.

I’ve written extensively about Stalker. I’ve discussed its use of the Chernobyl exclusion zone as an architectural theme, and I’ve talked about how it has taken elements of a distinctly post-Soviet fiction, that of the zone of Roadside Picnic, to create a world that sits apart from the Americanised homogeneity that exists across the spectrum of gaming.

There’s something far more important about S.T.A.L.K.E.R., however, and that’s the kind of game it was trying to be – a singularity that is both alien to and coexistent with the tradition of Western shooters. It took everything it could from Quake, Half-Life, and Unreal, but the alloy it forged with them was shot through with other elements: Eastern pessimism, RPGish sentiment. Crucially, it is open and non-linear, like an RPG. It is also quest-based, rather than objective-orientated, which means you are not necessarily rushing to the next waypoint, or following the nearby NPC, but instead deciding if you should wander into a side-quest, or make an exploratory digression. It is a shooter paced and spaced like an RPG, leading to an experience that feels wide-open by comparison with other shooters, while at the same time having brutal and violent FPS combat mechanics. There’s never any doubt that this is a game about guns, but the consequence of how it deals with everything else makes the experience unique.


It is also terrifying. Few games have managed to convey such a sense of threat in enemies or environments. The shooters that overtly reach for horror – I’m looking at you, FEAR games – come off looking trite next to Stalker’s claustrophobic, howling terrors.

GSC’s key success in making all this work, I believe, was in the execution of their “A-Life” concept, which was to have a great deal of randomised activity taking place in the world, whether or not you chose to interact with it. Packs of blind dog hunted, Stalkers wandered lonely paths, bandits lay in wait for travellers – travellers who may or may not come along that road. That’s not to say it had great AI, but rather that the illusion of a world it created was so potent.

The crucial observation about Stalker made by myself and others, is that Stalker’s Zone is a world that feels as if it is going on without you (even when, in reality, you are at the calculated centre of it all). A battle taking place in its bleak valleys is just as likely to not involve you at all, and be between antagonistic factions, or Stalkers and hapless mutants, as it is to have you go in all-guns-blazing. Watch, intervene, or move on – that choice is yours, and it makes that choice feel so much more real than the half-choices foisted on us by the scripted tales of every other shooter you might care to mention. So many games get this stuff wrong. They place the player at the centre of everything, and consequently lose any sense of reality or gravity for their game world. We become aware that this is all theatre, a pop-gun gallery staged purely for us to knock back down again. Stalker, meanwhile, rumbles on without us. Mutants short and groan in the night, bizarre factions struggle for control, and weird artifacts shimmer into existence in hidden spaces.

All this in a world choking on its own atmosphere, and here was a game that meant something. Back in 2007 I interviewed the Stalker series’ creative lead, Anton Bolshakov, and he said this about the game he had made:

“The accident in Chernobyl of 1986 is one of the black pages in the history of Ukraine … As time passes, people start forgetting about the accident and the related problems which Ukraine has to cope with, now virtually independently….The motif behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was to create a game which would remind people of the Chernobyl accident and at the same time warn mankind against any possible fatal mistakes in the future.”

That’s a remarkably bold statement to make about a videogame, and it’s one that I often think about when I write about the original Stalker game and its quasi-sequels. The message for the games industry is clear: you don’t have to have pretensions to art – because here is a game that could not be more unpretentious in an artistic sense – for your game to have a serious message. Even the manshooter can be about something, without having to carefully distance itself with irony or hyperbolic absurdity. But, more importantly, Stalker is an example to designers that there is also scope to do shooters differently on a mechanical level. They do not have to be linear rollercoasters, nor multiplayer menageries. They can be slow. They can involve wandering. Even contemplation.


Few videogames, it seems, have been able to learn the lessons of Stalker. We might never actually see its progeny. Like EVE in the world of MMOs, it might remain an outlier experience, essentially unrepeatable in the future history of games. No matter how much other games might try, they land far from the careful blend of freedom and tight combat that Stalker delivers. The Fallout games seem like a bizarre pantomime by comparison. Even more promisingly action-angled games such as Borderlands have struggled to make the notion of “open world” really work in the player’s favour, ending up with something more like a loot-gobbling Diablo variant than a thrilling immersion in an alien environment. The third iteration of Stalker, meanwhile, was even more open, even weirder, even more sinister. And, like a rare material from a far away resource, it remains incredibly valuable to the gamers who have discovered it.

Get out of here, Stalker. But don’t ever think we’ll forget what you did for us.

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218 Comments »

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  1. rei says:

    *tear*

    • sqparadox says:

      This is one of the saddest developer closings I can remember. Stalker was one of the few bright gems in an otherwise bleak FPS world.

    • nutterguy says:

      *Russian mode engaged*
      Get out of here, Sniffler.
      *Russian mode disengaged*

    • lijenstina says:

      xr_punch.script

    • rei says:

      I’d say this is up there with the closures of Looking Glass Studios and Origin on my list of largest industry tragedies.

    • Voon says:

      And Ion Storm. Don’t forget Ion Storm.

      *sheds tear*

    • Nameless1 says:

      I’m sad.

    • Gaytard Fondue says:

      I was genuinely sad when Iron Lore closed.

    • irongamer says:

      I love STALKER, it offers a completely different way to play the FPS genre. The open world and RPG elements offer a breath of life to the dusty corpse of the standard stale FPS. I found it interesting to watch a new band of NPCs come trooping in on some road to occupy a vacant camp. It is too bad they shut down. There are few, if any, other experience architects attempting to bring the genre to the place STALKER already stands. (Hopefully the Firefall open world will deliver)

      Best wishes to all at the studio in this hard time.

    • Dreamhacker says:

      And Troika Games.
      And Black Isle.

    • Roshin says:

      /holds up lighter

    • Frank says:

      And, finally, Mucky Foot.

      I think that’s all of them.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Contemplation! that was such a rare thing. So few games get it right. Minecraft, maybe, but going on an artifact hunt, forgetting about the plot, just getting that one that you could put on your exo and run forever, then just staring at the rays of light going through the grey trees… man, this is truly sad. Such a blow for the industry too.
      Do you think there is a chance some publisher will pick up Stalker 2 and get some of those guys working together again?

      raise a glass to gsc today!

    • Felix says:

      No one remembers Swingin’ Ape Studios. I remember, though. Blizzard killed them, and I will never forget.

    • Woden says:

      Don’t forget Oddworld Inhabitants (although apparently they’ve gotten better).

    • Dhatz says:

      It took Kamina’s death for Simon to grow the fuck up. NOW’S THE TIME FOR INDUSTRY TO DO THE SAME!

    • ukpanik says:

      *lip wobbles

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Farewell S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and your creator GSC…. this is seriously sad.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      I reply fail’d

    • LifeSuport says:

      This and:

      id software – ended by the release of Quake
      Sierra on-line

      =(

    • Necroscope says:

      Don’t give up yet. I’ve been on some russian websites that suggest this is a PR stunt !!!!!!!!!! That Stalker 2 is about to be announced and that this is to set publicity on fire for the franchise. check this and tell me what you think:
      http://blogs.stopgame.ru/topic/27202/

    • Lugg says:

      What I think is that I don’t think I can speak russian.

  2. DigitalSignalX says:

    A fitting epitaph, well said.

  3. Askeladd says:

    I was thinking about how I’ll miss Stalker and unique that game series was when I refreshed and found this post.

  4. Santiaguito says:

    When i first read about this yesterday, it made me a sad panda.

    • Orija says:

      One of the few developers that I actually care about and it chooses to pull down the shutter. I have no hopes for the STALKER IP now, even if someone picks it up, we know it will pander to the console audience.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      Sometimes I really have to try not to be an asshole to the console people. They have a place and I honestly think the existence of consoles should not be a problem for PC gaming whatsoever if things were made right.

      That said, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. going console would have really hurt me personally, especially since I’m sure the game would have suffered greatly to fit in them. If someone eventually produces a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game for consoles and it becomes anything, even slightly, less complex or deep than what the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are, I would be really, really pissed.

  5. Stevostin says:

    Thank for that article. So much needed. If I had to trade “all other single player FPS” vs “STALKER series”, all other FPS wouldn’t stand a chance.

    It can’t be the end of everything Stalker related, thus. The people involved in it, the people wanting badly to play more, something has to happen.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      Sometimes stepping aside when your work is still on top is the better option. I too would love to play more S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but not at any price. If a future developer is unable to assure me that a new game would be an improvement in ever level to Call of Pripyat, I prefer that they don’t even try.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Stalker 2 did not need to be better than Call of Pripyat. More of the same would be more than welcome. Looks like not even that will happen, now. Here is hoping that Lost Alpha gets released…

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      I think something should’ve happened with Bloodlines as well, and yet…

  6. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    As I mentioned in t’other thread, I think Stalker’s great achievement was in never dialling down the threat.

    Playing Fallout 3 now, I’m level 21 of 30 and just going through the motions. Walk through door, VATS, everyone dead. I’m not fighting, I’m just clicking on obstacles and waiting.

    Stalker, on the other hand, never stopped scaring me. Creeping up to the Mind Scorcher, praying I had enough ammo, seeing the silhouette of that alien structure outlined against the storm-racked skies, hearing the rustling sound of something… it always felt like it could all go wrong at any moment, and that everything was balanced on a knife edge.

    It felt like a real achievement to survive that world and make it through to the end; Fallout 3, by comparison, feels like a round of golf – lots of walking interspersed with brief moments of action.

    I maintain that games’ greatest strength is in the mise en scène, and there has never been a better example of that than the Zone.

    • tameimpala says:

      I have yet to play Stalker – I scare easily, especially in videogames – but I think I may man up and give it a go. I agree with sonofsanta, mise en scène in videogames is what makes them for me. For example Vice City’s decadent 80’s atmosphere or Morrowind’s alien vibe were what made the games worth playing, even though the game mechanics weren’t the greatest.

    • mbourgon says:

      +1 to tameimpala. Bought it, but hell, Bioshock gave me the willies and I never got through it.

    • Kent says:

      Wow, you guys sure scare easily. You should try Shadow of Chernobyl with the Oblivion Lost mod (or whats it name?). It introduces frighteningly tough enemies to the game. One thing that I really feared were walking into the zombie factory where I knew that I would not be able to get my ammo back so I had to be especially prepared.

      I never finished Stalker because I couldn’t bring myself to… I got to the last area, loaded with the best weapons and armor in the game plus rocket launcher and stuff. Yes, I were ready… but I just couldn’t close the game forever by finishing it.

    • Solrax says:

      Yes, well said sonofsanta. Other “scary” games had me thinking, ok, so I’m supposed to go into that dark room, and some monster is going to jump out of some closet, but I’ll get lots of drops, so let’s go.

      But STALKER is the only game I’ve played where I really hesitated and thought “I don’t *want* to go down into this laboratory’s dark basement” Not because there’d be monsters that would drain my ammo supply, but because I didn’t know what would be down there, bad things have happened here and it couldn’t be good…

      I’ve gotten lots of friends and relatives to play STALKER, and the word I use to describe it is always atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere…

    • kert says:

      Sounds like i have to play it, as System Shock 2 was the last shooter that i cared about, at all. In a sense, STALKER sounds like its true spiritual successor.

      ( BioShock is a joke )

    • Kent says:

      Stalker isn’t a “spiritual successor” to System Shock. It’s its own game.

    • gwathdring says:

      Playing Fallout 3 without vats can be pretty intense. The gunplay isn’t very good, though, so it’s a bittersweet experience. Battles feel hard won, but loses often feel unfair results of clunky gunplay.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Don’t forget the great mod community they spawned: GSC had an awesome sharing spirit, releasing old builds for the fans and allowing modders to mix and match assets between their various games (unlike say… Bethesda). The community kind of reflects that, with a rather laid back attitude towards borrowing each other’s work. A refreshing change from the often heard “how you dare touch my copyrighted masterpiece” modder screams.
      Attitude which allows magnificent compilations such as http://www.moddb.com/mods/stalker-complete-2009 (gonna be updated for 2010 apparently)

    • Premium User Badge

      sonofsanta says:

      @Kent: I played SoC with LURK on (Jim mentioned it on here a while back) and that was terrifying. Genuine darkness at night, and those bloody Burers making noises and hitting you with psychic powers from a quarter of a mile away, and you’ve no idea where they are…

      Although those little scampery buggers near the swamp freaked me out as well. They were quick.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      I think to this day, Stalker (the first one) is the most out-and-out atmospheric game I’ve ever played. The sustained threat (until the very end at least, that stupid gauntlet level full of power armour mooks and the following bit where you constantly teleport all over the sarcophagus for no very good reason, that was a waste of a great level) was a big part of it, agreed.

      For me, the circumstances were part of it: I’d just got my own flat, with a friend who was also playing and loving it, and I had the time and opportunity to soak whole days into it, because it damn well deserved it. I also found myself working out how to mod it myself, the first time I’ve ever done it and actually released anything for anyone else, just because I wanted it to be as good as it could be.

      I’ve never played Clear Sky or Call of Pripyat, and part of that is because my circumstances are different now, and I know I can’t give it the time or concentration that it deserves. Another part of that is that I’m a little afraid that my happy memories will be spoiled by new stuff; to be honest, I don’t feel a need to go back to Stalker, once I’d tweaked it a little, it was perfect.

      Go well, GSC people. You did something special for me, and I’ll always be grateful.

  7. TreeBeard says:

    Good article, needs some proof-reading to fix a few typos. I could never get into STALKER as much as I tried – I love open world and shooters. Which is the best in the series? Which should I go for if I wanted to attempt to get into it?

    • LionsPhil says:

      Speaking of proofing, shouldn’t there be a “don’t” in that last line of the article?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yes. Blame John for not proof reading it. And also for not ever playing Stalker.

    • Lipwig says:

      Can you blame him? I bet all the LARPing about Lydia in Skyrim takes up all of his free time.

    • Premium User Badge

      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Call of Pripyat is probably the best one to start with, particularly if you’ve tried Shadows of Chernobyl and bounced off it. It’s a gentler introduction, starting you off in an area where there are few really dangerous mutants, and most of the humans are friendly or neutral. The main quest doesn’t press you, and you have time to learn how to hunt for artifacts, and to understand the combat and health mechanics of the game. You’ll still need to use quicksave before heading into danger, because you start off quite fragile, and if not careful can easily bleed to death, or die from radiation or fire or chemical anomalies, but you’ll learn how to avoid them with patience and bolts.

      Then once you’ve completed that, go back to Shadows of Chernobyl, where you learn much more of what makes the Zone what it is. Clear Sky is decent but not essential; it’s got some odd design elements and some really large difficulty spikes (which it shares somewhat with SoC), and is certainly the least of the three, but worth playing if you still want more of the Zone after finishing the other two.

    • SLONUS says:

      I’d recommend the last one, “Call of Pripyat”. It’s the best one for me. “Shadow” is on the second place.

    • Muzman says:

      It’s tricky to name CoP as the first play. While it is clearly the most well put together of them all, there is quite a lot of Zone experience most of us carried over from the first one after hours of stumbling around and dying. Just not being over awed by the space and a lot of patience came from SoC. The way the game handles non essential quests and so on. ‘Call’ really drops you in cold. And that’s brilliant, but even though it does it awkwardly, ‘Shadow’ offers more of a pathway to zone survival gamers are likely to recognise.
      .So I’d say start at the beginning.

    • Cheese says:

      I’d say go in chronological order of release, that being Shadow of Chernobyl>Clear Sky>Call of Pripyat.
      It’s the best for getting the storyline and the backstory of the Zone right, which I personally found pretty great, though you could skip Clear Sky, since it only offers some tidbits and it’s often considered the least good in the series. SoC is probably the scariest game; you get a sample of the fear in Agroprom underground and then get thrown into the terrifying experience that is the X18 laboratory. It isn’t that hard to get into if you’ve played a few fps in the past and the challenge makes the game more fun.

      Call of Pripyat is however the most open and free-roamable game though, and Pripyat at night is quite atmospheric and scary. The only problem with it is how easy it is, both to complete missions and accumulate huge amounts of dosh. Then again, this might just be a result of having experience from the first two games, but many fans of the series agree that CoP is the easiest.

    • cptgone says:

      i think i spotted another typo:
      “a distinctly post-Soviet fiction, that of the zone of Roadside Picnic”
      as Jim obviously knows well, Roadside Pinic was written in 1971 (hardly POST soviet).

      read it when i was stil a kid and it made a lasting impression on me.
      i, too, was thrilled to see a game that incorporated the Tchernobyl Zone into the story.
      book, game and movie are very different, but definitely worth your while!

    • Solrax says:

      Also, he spelled “Americanized” wrong.

      /runs

    • Quinnbeast says:

      Having really enjoyed SoC both vanilla and modded, and to a lesser extent Clear Sky, I never actually played CoP for some reason. And now I’m *really* happy about that, because it’s sitting in my steam account waiting to go.

      Cheers GSC, for making a few FPS games that genuinely had something to offer. There’s a lot of bland shit out there.

  8. airtekh says:

    Sigh. Well said Jim.

    ‘The Zone’ will remain one of my favourite places to visit in gaming.

  9. greg_ritter says:

    Wait till you read “Roadside Picnic”, man.
    And thank you for this fiiting and sincere epitaph. Good-bye, Stalker.

  10. CMaster says:

    Honestly, I never felt that A-Life really delivered on its promises. The AI was too stupid, the actions too inane – and at least in SoC, the level of violence too extreme too really convince (if you were to spend 24 hours in Garbage, thousands of Stalkers would die – but there are only meant to be a few hundred stalkers, all told?). CoP was more convincing in it’s much more sedate depiction of the zone, with Stalkers mainly just traipsing around, although they still didn’t actually seem to be doing anything.

    What really shone about the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games then wasn’t the unsuccessful attempts at a living world. It was the world itself. More than any of the characters, The Zone itself absolutely steals the show. You see many sides of it, you see the moods and tantrums of The Zone itself, as well as its deepest secrets, The Zone is simply one of gaming’s finest characters and certainly one of the best settings you’ll ever experience. ShOC was one of the most atmospheric and creepy games ever, and CoP, while never quite managing the same “moments” as ShOC, manages to convey very well the sentiment of “this is not somewhere people should live”.

    • Lipwig says:

      You should retry SoC with the Oblivion Lost mod. It greatly increases the possibilities of A-Life and the complexity of the system that has mutants and stalkers wondering between zones in an incredibly organic way. Ever had to deal with a controller taking over the entire bar area? Yeah. The best experiences in Stalker are the ones that happen as a unique result of the simulation and the player interacting with that simulation. Oblivion Lost just makes it better.

      It also tightens up the gunplay, both you and the enemies are now far more threatening. The weapons are no longer an unrealistic rpg progression from bad to ok but well balanced based on how they’d handle in real life. Everything is more accurate and damaging. It makes gunplay extremely dependant on cover and situational awareness, knowing that you can kill an enemy in three shots and die to two,

      Really, SoC+OL is one of the greatest examples of gameplay and ludo-narrative ever created. It is fundamentally one of the best games ever made.

    • Lipwig says:

      It’s a shame Jim is the only writer left here that prefers detailed gameplay systems and emergence to cat ear backpacks and Skyrim larping. I wonder what Quintin is up to.

    • Teemuslayer says:

      Many promised elements of the original Stalker had to be cut before the release in order to get the game out by the new, publisher forced time.

      Many mods, like the excellent AMK1.4 (of which the crappy OL-mod ripped its few good elements), do restore many of these elements back to the game, and the effect is simply stunning. I´d say that with AMK-mod, on highest difficulty, SoC is the defining Stalker experience one can get.

      Ignore the Complete 09 mod, that does nothing but destroy your framerates, rape the game´s visual style and mood, and make the game notably easier than even vanilla.

    • Max.I.Candy says:

      totally agree.
      The Zone was a living and breathing,exciting and menacing entity (I think thats the right word).

    • Moist says:

      “Many mods, like the excellent AMK1.4 (of which the crappy OL-mod ripped its few good elements), do restore many of these elements back to the game, and the effect is simply stunning.”

      Rubbish, the difference between AMK and OL is minor and each emphasises different mechanics while largely having most of the same features.

    • mejoff says:

      @Lipwig.
      LARP: you keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

    • Moist says:

      Enduring a game with shit mechanics and no consequence through the power of iMaGiNaTiOn, in this case John’s really creepy imagination. As if art can come from undressing a virtual woman and having a mock virtual funeral. That has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of video-games and the narrative sperg that goes on in the vast majority of John and Alec’s articles is neither well written or interesting or really has anything to do with games at all.

      Jim, at least, grasps the importance of gameplay. You know, that thing that chess players do that has been widely studied in a number of different fields and is legitimately art for reasons Duchamp outlined but very few games journalists ever seem to get.

      “Beauty in chess is closer to beauty in poetry; the chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes throughts, and these throughts, although making a visual design on the chessboard, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem. Actually, I believe that every chess player experiences a mixture of two aesthetic pleasures: first, the abstract image akin to the poetic idea of writing; secondly, the sensuous pleasure of the ideographic execution of that image on the chessboard. From my close contact with artists and chess players, I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists”

      This doesn’t mean writing about the floppiness of a c at ear backpack or undressing a town or just LARPing. It is to do with the beauty and value of interacting with a system and being an agent in that system with a deep language of choice and consequence in the actions you take and do not take.

    • Gira says:

      Lipwig is absolutely right. STALKER is a triumph of ludonarrative over narrative, gameplay over non-interactive Cinematic scripting, and systemic consequence over binary hard-coded fluff response. It’s The Real Deal. It’s a Proper Game. It’s everything games haven’t really been all that much for the past 7-8 years, and I really do wish people would start recognising just how special it is. That serviceable barely-interactive mediocrity like Skyrim is championed as the apotheosis of PC gaming while STALKER’s frequently thrown into the “Oh Yeah It’s Okay But A Bit Buggy And Clunky, Heh!” box is inconceivable to me.

    • JackShandy says:

      I see what you’re saying, Moist von Lipwig, but this is a site dedicated to publishing entertainment, not furthering the course of Game Art. I don’t think anyone ever claimed that Lydia’s Funeral was meant to be an artistic triumph. It was just very funny.

      It also seems pretty silly to claim that because Duchamp said this certain type of thing in a game is art, these other types of thing can’t be. You haven’t given any reason why a Lydia’s funeral-style scenario couldn’t be art, just quoted a dead guy. That’s sloppy.

    • Gira says:

      It can’t be art because what defines the “art” of videogames is their underlying mechanics; it’s what differentiates them from other visual media. Lydia’s funeral was a cute exercise in virtual LARPing – the game mechanics didn’t care about it, and the world didn’t react to it. Had Lydia’s death triggered some kind of systemic reaction in the gameplay, where the player character had developed a sort of measurable attachment to the character and was affected in reaction times or whatever by his “grief”, and he perhaps was treated reproachfully by the Jarl who handed her over, and Lydia’s friends and family came to visit the corpse in regular vigils, and … I mean, if the game had reacted in any way at all to what happened, you’d be onto something. As it is, it’s meaningless.

    • JackShandy says:

      He interacted with a bunch of systems to arrive at a result that had meaning for him. It was an interaction that would be impossible in any other medium. I don’t believe a game has to provide a scripted acknowledgement of your actions for them to be meaningful.

      I just wish the people who like a certain type of games would stop saying that every other type of game isn’t art, or shouldn’t be made.

      -Edited to make it a little more clear, hopefully.

    • Gira says:

      He interacted with a bunch of systems to arrive at a result that had meaning for him. It was an interaction that would be impossible in any other medium.

      An exercise for you: go buy an action figure, contort it into a suitably “dead” position, and then put it in a box.

      Voila! ~systemic interaction impossible outside of videogames~

    • Gira says:

      I don’t mean to sound trite – well, I do, a little – but the point is, whatever meaning was ascribed to the experience by the player, the game didn’t give a damn.

    • Moist says:

      It’s obvious John cares about the value of video games in mainstream society. He seems to post at least one article every month criticizing some element of mainstream media that horribly misrepresents videogames.

      The trouble is that videogames have a limited language and philosophy for describing the things that make them art. Outside of chess psychology and networking there is very little serious discussion on the intricacies of a well designed game. Remember; the only thing that matters is gameplay. It’s not what you see or hear or feel or the emotions that are evoked unless those motions are evoked as a result of gameplay. Gameplay matters and nothing else does, except as window dressing, everyone is focused on the window dressing. Analysing the linear narrative of a game usually has no value at all because literature and film will always do those things better. I’d love to see a film critic review the narrative of a modern video game because they’re all fucking horrible.

      What are the “other things can’t be” that you define.

    • JackShandy says:

      Gira: The action figure example is pretty weird, yeah. If you paid a guy to say “Oh no, she’s dead!” when you contorted the action figure – bam, the game responds to your actions. Does it matter that you can replicate this stuff in real life?

      Moist, John’s story happened entirely through gameplay – interacting with the follower AI, and physics, and the spells the game gave him. Mentioning linear narrative is a bit off-topic ; I agree that most game narratives are bad, if that helps. Of course, I know the only reason these interactions were meaningful is because of the Window Dressing – because the game tells you that this unit is your follower, and this container is a coffin, etc. Dismissing even this level of story is really extreme, I admire you for it. Personally I think the strain between the thematic explanation for a unit, and the way it interacts within the system, is what creates game art.

    • Moist says:

      “Personally I think the strain between the thematic explanation for a unit, and the way it interacts within the system, is what creates game art.”

      I don’t understand this, can you rewrite it using terms that have a more definite meaning? What is a “unit”, what is a “thematic explanation”?

    • Gira says:

      If you paid a guy to say “Oh no, she’s dead!” when you contorted the action figure – bam, the game responds to your actions. Does it matter that you can replicate this stuff in real life?

      No, it doesn’t, and that wasn’t the crux of the argument. Yes, I could pay for any number of imagined consequences to occur if I so desired (I think Richard Garriott is partial to doing this in his big Halloween parties) but that would be tantamount to LARPing, which is the issue at hand. The game only reacts insofar as I either a) imagine it does or b) force it to. That’s not real interaction.

      Compare to STALKER, where clearing out a bandit-infested hovel might (or might not) lead to a group of wandering Loners setting up camp there, whose presence might inspire even more Loners to come, to the extent that what was once a dangerous and hostile place is now a beacon of safety in the Zone. And then, you know, the bandits might retaliate and attempt to retake the hovel, and they might succeed or fail, or perhaps the Loners might be decimated by a pack of boars, And maybe one of the Loners who was heading in that direction might be carrying an item you desperately need, but he’s dissuaded from going there because of the boars, impacting your plans and experience significantly. And so on.

      Is that a deeply sophisticated ludonarrative experience that could hold itself up against Humboldt’s Gift? No. But it’s the start of something. Whereas linear narratives in games are a distraction; an impediment to this kind of progress. As is fake interaction.

    • JackShandy says:

      I’m fighting on two fronts here.

      Moist: By “Unit” I meant a distinct piece of the game that interacts with the other pieces: An item, an NPC, an attack, a chess piece. By “Thematic explanation”, I meant what the game tells you this is, held separate from what it does in game. So, calling one piece the King, saying that a certain attack is a fire spell, etc.

      So, chess has one piece that moves one square per turn, and loses the game if it’s taken – another that can move all squares in every direction. Calling these the King and Queen is interesting. Obviously, high-level chess players don’t consider the theme at all, and so they’re engaging with it on the purely mechanical terms you call art.

      Gira: Right. From your first examples, I thought you were saying that an action within a game can only be meaningful if there is a scripted response to it – like Manderley chewing you out if you go into the ladies bathroom. I agree that Stalker’s bandit-cave clearing scenario is more interesting. (I’m not going to say “More artistic” or anything like that. From now on I’ll just sort things by how interesting they are.) It’s a sliding scale, though: Skyrim has reacted to John’s funeral idea in an interesting way just by allowing him to do it. If the game had a whole series of interlinked corpse-related systems that had taken effect, it would be more interesting.

      Edit: And again, linear narrative has almost nothing to do with this. I agree that it’s not what games do best.

    • Moist says:

      It doesn’t really matter what they’re called. Sure you can analyse the themes of chess but from that perspective you’re not actually recognizing what separates chess from sculpture. Aesthetic appreciation is fine of course, it’s just that once you get into details of theme and aesthetics you are no longer talking about a game, or what makes a game. Chess would be no different if each piece was a different prism and this is why thematic analysis is very near to irrelevant when it comes to game theory.

      The trouble is that analysing gameplay is difficult. John easily heaped praise on Dragon Age 2 and refused to play The Witcher 2, The Witcher 2 is not only a better game for non-linear narrative and engaging (if imperfect) combat, it’s also actually thematically and aesthetically a better game than DA2. That’s failing on two fronts, and that’s the problem with the great majority of games journalism, it’s written by LARPing idiots with no academic experience or knowledge of game theory or really any qualification at all just that they like to have interspecies gay sex in extremely poor renditions of sci fi worlds.

    • Moist says:

      Here is an example of John Walker really having no idea what the difference between turn based and real time strategy is:

      “Apparently people who care about RTS games care that this third in the series will not be turn-based. NOT TURN-BASED?! OH NO! I’m so upset I’ve killed all my children! Is that right? I don’t know. You strategy people are your ways – look at the lot of you.”

      JA has never been an RTS game so he gets his fundamental facts wrong. That aside, there is a reason some games are turn based and others are strategy. Keith Burgan called the difference between turn based:

      “Most of us who are heavily involved in games and game design realize the massive benefits to simple, classic turn-based mechanics. I’m not going to say that turn-based is “better” than real-time any more than a screwdriver is better than a hammer; they’re just tools which we can use to get the job done. These days, however, many game designers are indeed using a hammer to nail in a screw, and building some pretty shoddy birdhouses. ”

      Indeed, JA2 is probably the greatest turn based game ever made with oodles of meta strategy and detail in its world and combat options that would be unavailable in real time for the physical fact of information overload.

      The difference between turn based and real time is that turn based strategy has abstracted away physical skill. Players can spend as little or as much time as they want considering their (many) options and the point is, this is still gameplay. Having to do it all on the fly is gameplay too, and it has it’s place, but it fundamentally has less strategic depth than turn based.

      Funny how few gamers or critics have ever thought about what separates real time for turn based. Probably they spent too much time waxing lyrical about a mercenary’s particular hairstyle or their qUiRkY comments.

    • Moist says:

      Keith Burgan on the topic of immersion in gaming:

      “Secondly, cinema does not improve a game any more than gameplay improves a film. Cutscenes in a game do not make a game more movie-like, any more than taking a few electric guitar breaks between chapters of “Catcher in the Rye” makes the the book more musical. Games are great at being games, and movies are great at being movies. I’m not saying you can’t make something good by blending the two in some way or taking inspiration from each other, but I am saying that they don’t need to. The future of games isn’t “more and more like movies”, the future of games is “better games”.

      But here’s the largest point I want to make, about this word “immersion” itself. Like I stated before, and like you already know, when people say it they are talking about visual/aural stuff. Which really means they’re talking about technology. “HD makes the game more immersive”, “voices make the game more immersive”, “bump mapping makes the game more immersive”, etc. The truth is that none of these things make a game more immersive.

      Ironically, it’s actually when we look past the graphics, sound, controls, and everything else that people normally consider the elements of immersion, that we become immersed. When the Pong-paddle becomes an extension of our arm, or our thoughts, and we subtly, unconsciously, shift our weight in our chairs. When we frantically spin the falling Tetris piece, shouting a bizarre litany of curses. This is when we are fully immersed in a game, and it has absolutely nothing to do with visuals or technology. So what does it have to do with, then?

      My friend (and Dinofarm Games lead artist) Blake Reynolds says that the most important thing about an illustration is “transparency”. What he means by this is that the quality of the drawing is such that we don’t even think about the drawing itself; we can look past it and are able to appreciate the meaning or purpose behind the work. This rule applies to game design as well. The way to create an “immersive” game is by achieving a transparent game design”

      “Now, where it gets tricky is that “transparent design” is a synonym for “good design”. What’s nice is that the laws of design are very fundamental to the human experience, and what’s even nicer is that they are not new. Video games are new, but they are simply a new type of canvas for the same laws of design. If we find a new island, or even a new planet, the laws of physics stay the same.”

      “If visuals made things more immersive, then movies would be inherently more immersive than books, but we know that this is not the case. People can be just as wrapped up and immersed in a book as they can in a movie. In a game, immersion comes from gameplay”

      http://expensiveplanetarium.blogspot.com/2011/02/immersion.html

  11. Toberoth says:

    Lovely article, well-written. Thanks Jim.

    I tried to play Stalker a few years back, but I found it difficult to get into. I’m more than willing to have another go though, especially after reading this. Can anyone from the RPS community recommend some mods/patches/tweaks to help me get the best out of the game? Should I play the first one, or the sequel(s)? I’m relatively clueless!

    • Nemrod says:

      Well, you could try Call of Pripyat which has a better production value and tighter gameplay/atmosphere.

      For the mods well… that’ is a difficult matter. Depends on what you want, from scary utlra realism to more weapons and quests stuff. Type in CoP Mods in google, everything you could want it easy to find ;)

    • Solrax says:

      I’d say start at the beginning. I never used any mods, and never missed them, but I don’t know what they add. I don’t think you have to have mods to enjoy the game, it is one of my absolute favorite games without them!

    • Gira says:

      Call of Pripyat is the weaker of the two (Clear Sky being even weaker but thoroughly redeemed with the Complete mod). It’s far more tightly scripted, and so facilitates much less systemic emergence. SoC is definitely the Ultimate STALKER, especially with Oblivion Lost.

  12. hatseflats says:

    Stalker managed to make the world feel real better than Skyrim managed to do so. It’s not just shooters having trouble with centring everything around the player. Great games (if modded), what a shame the studio is now gone.
    Also, everyone should stop bitching about all FEAR games not being scary. The first one was extremely scary, much more so than STALKER, and about as scary as Amnesia.

    • Archonsod says:

      I’ve seen scarier episodes of ‘Allo ‘Allo than anything FEAR managed to come up with. Admittedly, it’s probably a much harder thing to evoke with a corridor shooter as they tried; you lose a lot of the unknown element when the player only has one direction to go in.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Insert Yahtzee here.

    • ZeroMatter says:

      What? I nearly fell asleep during FEAR. The only time I was scared was when one of those invisible super-soldiers jumped on me out of nowhere. (The same thing spiders already achieved in Skyrim.) Never finished that game, because it didn’t deliver.
      (The only good thing about the game was its fantastic AI – seriously, what’s wrong with developers? That was the first and the last time I saw an AI that was actually, kinda, GOOD.)

      Anmesia on the other hand…I never finished because I was afraid I would end up dying out of fear…

      I never played a STALKER game however, a damn shame…

    • Orija says:

      Zero, the AI was scripted.

    • lijenstina says:

      I thought that Lt Gruber’s little tank was pretty scary.

    • hatseflats says:

      The AI was dynamic to a certain extend, at least. It was pretty good. Whether FEAR was scary depends on how it’s played. If one plays it at the highest difficulty setting, it is extremely important to move around very slowly. If the player does that, he’ll notice the nasty atmosphere. If the player, on the other hand, picks a more moderate difficulty setting, he or she will run straight past the little things that make the game scary, only notice the jump scares and think it’s not a scary game.

    • Max.I.Candy says:

      FEAR on extreme difficulty was an awesome experience.
      one of my favourite fps sp games (along with CoD2)

    • Yosharian says:

      FEAR shit me up totally and I thought it was an excellent game even if it did drag a bit during the apartment sections – just goes to show that horror is a very subjective experience.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      I thought FEAR had some pretty good scares and thought the ending was quite disturbing too. They did throw most of the best scares at you in the demo though.

      Interestingly, I didn’t find STALKER scary at all really. Definitely a wonderful oppressive atmosphere running through it, but nothing that made me want to stop playing or not keep moving.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s not the speed. The problem with FEAR is it sets your expectations within the first five minutes and does nothing to change them, so you just get stuck in the usual shooter mindset – if you see something you shoot it, if it bleeds shoot it some more, if it doesn’t you ignore it. Once you’re doing that then it’s entirely a question of how sensitive you are to the jump-shock stuff. If they’d have flipped that around a couple of times to keep the player off balance then it might have worked.
      Stalker manages to evoke it’s atmosphere because it doesn’t allow you to get comfortable in that way. The first encounter with a poltergeist for example – you have no idea what it is, whether it’s hostile and if you do attack it there’s no indication you’re having any effect. In addition the inventory system forces you to deal with scarcity on top of that – half of the tension stems from the simple fact that you’re pushing into unknown territory with no idea whether you’re carrying enough ammo to get through to the other side, and knowing fine well you’re a sitting duck if you run out.

    • Urthman says:

      Arguing about whether a game is scary is so ridiculous.

      What, you expect someone to say, “Oh, you’re right, I guess I wasn’t really scared.” Or “Gee, when you put it that way, I realize I was terrified the whole time and didn’t realize it!”

  13. captain nemo says:

    Excellent words Jim. Hope a decent studio picks up the IP

    • Kynrael says:

      Let’s hope a *great* studio picks it up. I personally don’t want to see a bad remake of STALKER.
      It would tarnish what it stands for.

    • Unaco says:

      Never. If GSC don’t make it, it won’t be STALKER.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I believe someone did a thread in the last article about this of “who would be able to do STALKER 2 justice?”

      I honestly don’t know. Part of that is that I never played it, and part of it is that the PC-first world-simulating nonlinear-shootan immersive sim is deeeeead. Valve might be great and all but they make scripted rollercoasters, not this kind of thing.

    • Orija says:

      Bethesda could, but then again, multiplatforming would ruin it.

    • Max.I.Candy says:

      i seriously hope bethesda DOES NOT pick it up!

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      Bethesda already made their version of Stalker.

    • Max.I.Candy says:

      i think i would douse myself in petrol and set myself alight in protest if beth decided to make it.
      it would have completely wrong dialogue and completely wrong and shitty combat for a start.

    • Voon says:

      4A would be good enough if they’re planning to pick that up. But, they probably won’t get it, considering what Galyonkin said about 4A and Grigorovich being ‘not exactly friends’.

  14. mcwizardry says:

    I’m really interested in the details of why GSC closed shop so abruptly, it’s very unfortunate that they won’t finish the work on STALKER 2. Also why do they run a Facebook poll claiming “Help shape the STALKER series” and then shut down the same day.

  15. Archonsod says:

    It’s funny how STALKER is going to be the only game they’re remembered for. IIRC weren’t GSC behind the Cossacks series too?

    • domowoj says:

      Cossacks was really only a big thing in CIS territories, though. STALKER was much more accessible on an international level – shooting dudes is a language everybody is fluent in.

    • paterah says:

      Did they also make American Conquest? One of my favorite rts games although I never played Cossacks. And it also boasts one of my favorite game soundtracks as well.

  16. lijenstina says:

    AI is expandable by just adding schemes. NPC healing, throwing grenades, looting, suicide, blowout shelters, npc melee, zombification, offline alife, squads, companions/ followers, weapon reload/switching to a better gun, under-barrel grenades, npcs buy equipment at the traders etc.
    If original Stalker had all the schemes now available in the mods and the expansions it would be a much better experience. However it still did beat most of other games around.

  17. Paul says:

    If this all turns out to be a PR stunt, it will have been worth it for this article. Nicely displayed reason why Jim is my favourite RPSer.

    • lijenstina says:

      We’ll have to wait until Monday to find out. At least their Twitter did said so.

    • Unaco says:

      Are we supposed to have a favourite? I just imagined them all as The Hivemind… a single entity with multiple personalities, arguing with itself in different voices…

      If we’re picking favourites (and with it being Christmas, the time of year for lists) here’s my Top 3 RPSers…

      #3. Quinns… Despite never finishing the AI War Diary, or the Tale of Onion Brogues, he did leave permanently, which at least slammed the door on finishing these things… Like the father, who spends Christmas morning gluing together bits of plastic to complete his child’s Action Man gew-gaw, then stops for lunch… once he’s done eating, he doesn’t go back to the assembly of the toy, and after an hour of repeated whining from the child, he ups and throws the whole thing on the fire. Closure, of a sort.

      #2. Karen Gillan… I have a thing for redheads. He also left… I’m noticing something of a pattern here.

      #1. Dave Tosser… Why did you leave us Dave!?!?

    • Orija says:

      I can’t even tell their articles apart without reading their names below the heading, for shame.

    • Paul says:

      Well, Jim has the most similar taste in games to me, so his reviews are usually good recommendations for me..unlike John’s, for example.
      Also, he plays Stalker. Unlike John.

    • Necroscope says:

      I predict this that is whole episode of rumours is a setup and that Stalker 2 will be announced on monday to a rapturous chorus of applause and WTF another rotten PR stunt!

  18. Premium User Badge

    Joshua says:

    As this game involved throwing rocks at anomolies to avoid them, collecting papers to advance the storyline, and shooting mutants with shotguns, I find it fitting that RPS has a ‘farewell’ article.

  19. BAshment says:

    I loved it that there were no levels only better gear.

  20. sinister agent says:

    I’ve tried many times, with and without all the mods people name, but I’ve simply never been able to enjoy Stalker for more than about half an hour. Every time, I end up hating it. It’s just too broken. But I really respect what it tried to do. Its ideas were great, and its sense of place quite unique in games. It’s a shame they’re gone – I’d have probably given stalker 2 a go.

    Fallout 3 with FWE at its toughest settings is about the only game I can think of that even compares to Stalker, and even that comparison falls apart when you have to talk to people. It also doesn’t feel as desolate and creepy.

  21. Syra says:

    Genuinely sad. This was a game that represented a lot of the things that could be right with the industry, to see the people who made it fail will mean fewer games like this and more risk aversion.

  22. westyfield says:

    This article didn’t make me tear up (because that would be weird), but if any article were to do so, it’d be this one.
    Farewell, Stalker. I said come back, don’t stand there!

  23. MichaelPalin says:

    First time I’m nearly crying for a closed game company. Not PR.

  24. rockman29 says:

    Amazing article…

  25. Casimir's Blake says:

    No it’s not an obituary for Stalker, it’s an obituary for choice and open world, non-linear immersive sims (let alone FPSs).

    The only AAA / “mainstream” / “top-shelf” devs bothering to make open worlds worth visiting are Bethesda, and even that’s stretching it. Without Stalker 2 in the pipeline, I feel that we will never see immersive sims or non-linear FPSs of any sort, appear on the PC, from AAA devs any more. The only exception here is Arkane.

    ‘Tis a sad day. No more Stalker? Really? No more vast wastelands to explore, plunder and discover? This is disappointing news. Let’s hope that SMRTER Pripyat and Lost Alpha see releases, with all the new maps they will include, they will go a long way to making up for GSC’s demise.

  26. Bishop says:

    Jim wins my vote for replying to my email within a day or two.

    Lewie gets last place for taking about a month to reply.

    1st place can go to the RPSer that covers my indie game next year.

    EDIT: supposed to be a reply to another comment

  27. povu says:

    The STALKER series… I don’t know of any other game that made me quick save – and load – that often. :D

    • Inglourious Badger says:

      Is that in reference to game crashes or the scary monsters? It’s a very true comment either way

    • povu says:

      I barely have any crashing issues with the STALKER series, even when playing CoP with the CoP Complete mod. Which puts a lot of strain on my machine.

      I mostly meant because of the game’s scaryness and difficulty. If you’re caught by surprise you can die very quickly.

  28. Baka says:

    Great article, Mister Rossignol, thank you for it. This was really the worst news. Also, did you ever manage to get into Stalker Soup? I feel like I should really give it a last try now.

  29. G_Man_007 says:

    I can’t say I won’t be sad to see the loss of Stalker 2, indeed, just as you all, I was eagerly waiting to tread that soil again, but I remain eternally grateful that GSC was able to give us three wonderful games from the franchise (I don’t forget the other games they are known for, but I can’t say I played them – Stalker was what brought me to them). Also, I am grateful that there is such a love in the community for the franchise, others who share my passion, and who mod the games to make them even better for all, though I’ve yet to use these mods.

    I can honestly say that I have never played a game that has involved me on the same level – not on a standard level of immersion, I’ve been as immersed in other games – but in that Stalker provided you with it’s own creation of involvement which has been touched on in this thread and article. I use the same adjective every single time I talk about Stalker; oppressive. I’ve never played a game that’s made me feel such oppression, not in the freedom or scope, but in the immersion. I feel oppressed by the nature of the world, the atmosphere, the feeling that regardless of what I do, where I go, whether I’m sporting a basic hunting rifle, or a modded semi-auto rifle equipped for mid range sniping, I’m never safe.

    There’s so much to find appealing too; the fact that every time you play, every time you reload a game, it’s different. I could tell you about the moment from Clear Sky when on the way to the Duty base, I saw a group (I forget which faction) ripped apart by bloodsucker that I am convinced was waiting for a scripted moment when I was supposed to be with a Duty patrol during a quest. The fact that a monster scripted for a separate event gave rise to a water cooler moment that I was able to take part in gave me great joy.

    I had numerous untold fire fights in all three games that were against the odds and full of thrill. I remember the time in S:CS (I think) I was to attack the Bandit base in Garbage, and proceeded to assault, alone, from the train tunnel, and after many attempts, I did it, I single handedly took out 20+ bandits, scavenged everything, thought that was it, and went back to the Cordon to see where the Stalker faction squad I was supposed to be with, had gone. A script error had meant they hadn’t come through with me, and without them, the objective couldn’t be taken, and when I went back, the base was back in Bandit hands. Even though the game had effectively repopulated the area in my absence, it was as though those sneaky Bandits had snuck back in while my back was turned, but it was much easier the second time with help.

    I even gave the source code that was released a little bash, and despite frequent crashes, and instability, I was able to see a fresh taste of hell – oppression from the outset, no false feelings of safety, it was like the atmosphere was stuck in the beginnings or aftermath of a blowout, whereas the finished articles were more calm, more natural, but it was wonderful to have a quick peak at what the progress was like during the development.

    Yes, they were buggy, even causing me to have to go back to a previous save game in both SoC and S:CS due to scripts not activating and preventing progress through unlockable doors, but I did it all the same. They were gems, not flawed, perfect as they were, but with room for shine and gloss that could be added with more polish.

    I forgave Boiling Point for it’s bugs (made it more interesting if anything), I’ve even got Xenus and Precursors waiting in the wings, and it was no big thing to forgive the Stalkers three. I was filled with the same desire for more each time I finished one of them, and the next release came. And I actually enjoyed Clear Sky more than the first… Especially the marshes, I could have stayed there for all of the game.

    It comes to something when my favourite games and developers come from the Ukraine and Poland, as I consider the Stalker and Witcher franchises to be in my top two. Why does all the creativity seem to be coming from the Eastern blocs? What are they doing right, aside from delving deep into their histories, both ancient and more recent? I must confess an affinity for the pomp and style of the former Soviet Union, the iconography, the music, the feel of it all, and so of course, I am predisposed to value Stalker highly.

    I hope that Stalker 2 will still see the light of day, and that it will continue to be a strong and developing universe. To lose such a scope, such vision, on top of the lamentable loss of the members that made the geshtalt entity that was GSC, would be a tragedy too far. Is it too much to hope that they might regroup, keep that creative whole alive, and that they might be reunited with Stalker once again?

  30. noobnob says:

    No other game has made me feel like I am not supposed to be there. I am not supposed to live there, no one is. At least in respect of Shadow of Chernobyl, the Zone felt quite aggressive, in ways that no other game could give off the same feeling. Packs of dogs chasing singled out stalkers, bandits trying to take over the garbage every fucking day (seriously you could make a towering pile with their corpses), roaming mutants…while there were some glaring flaws with the AI, I feel this is the best that has been done so far in order to make a game where you feel threatened. And our only hope now rests on modders to continue to innovate on the 3 games that are left, in order to improve on GSC’s ideas for the series.

  31. Premium User Badge

    Nero says:

    To me the first STALKER has the best atmosphere of any game I’ve ever played. Pretty much the only game where it was generally scary walking around with thunder and lightning, all the scary sounds everywhere and when the dark really sets in then damn.

  32. kataras says:

    This is crap, I hope the people who worked there find another job soon.

    On the other hand we still have few mods to look forward to :
    Lost Alpha (http://www.dezowave.com/),
    SMRTR ( with 45 maps incorporated) (http://www.moddb.com/mods/smrter-pripyat)
    and Technobacon’s NS (http://www.tecnobacon.com/).
    If all of these are delivered, I think we ll never need another official STALKER release again…

  33. The Magic says:

    I think i need to watch the film now… and play Metro, and play a bit of Stalker because as much as i love that game, I hate living there.

  34. Hoschimensch says:

    STALKER is one of the best shooters in history. That’s a fact and with GSC gone, a bit of good old gaming is dead.

  35. DarkerFate says:

    I never really got what was so amazing about STALKER, I tried and tried(clocking in about 6-7 hours) to like it. But it never happened, it was boring to no end to me. I, for one, will NEVER understand how people could actually play through that.

    On the other hand, of course it’s sad that a game-studio that has a following is shut down. And, as can be seen here, there are people out there that could stand to play through that thing.

  36. wodin says:

    Maybe the Metro developers might pick it up…though it’s abit similar in substance. I’m sure they are the only ones I can think off who could get it more or less right.

  37. Premium User Badge

    tomeoftom says:

    Nicely said. A terrible day this is.

  38. nyarlathotep-88 says:

    Excellent article. A good and humble read for me to start my morning. I will miss thee greatly S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Going to play it today in honor of a greatly missed fallen comrade.

  39. Blackcompany says:

    BAshment says:12/10/2011 at 14:40
    I loved it that there were no levels only better gear.
    .
    .
    This is what I loved about Rage, and why now I wish I had picked up Stalker in the last big Steam sale. Perhaps I will do later this year.
    .
    Honestly, I think levels are ruining games. Yes, I said it. And don’t take me wrong: I love RPG’s as much as – and perhaps more than – most. But it seems devs simply cannot manage to scale a game to higher level play in a proper manner. Either they scale the entire world with you, and leveling makes no sense or they don’t scale anything and by level 20 (usually of 30 or 50) you’re a god in impenetrable armor with a huge gun/blade-of-instant-death. Neither is fun, and I for one am tired of both.
    .
    Which is why I think the ‘no levels, just better gear’ ought to become a slogan in gaming. Want to include some perks and abilities? Fine, add them when we equip a certain weapon, armor or item. Or award one or two as quest rewards. No problem. But scaling whole worlds based on level clearly isn’t working and clearly needs some rethinking.

    • Benkyo says:

      Exactly. I’m surprised this isn’t touted more often as being one of STALKER’s most successful design decisions. I think it’s because many reviewers come to it treating STALKER as an FPS with free-roaming elements instead of an RPG without everything that makes RPGs dull. If you can take a player-skill based system and simply scale up the threat and equipment you can avoid the whole levelling malarky entirely and that is what keeps the scary adrenaline-pumping situations just as scary, if not more so, all the way to the end-game.

      More RPGs without levels please!

  40. Premium User Badge

    Oozo says:

    Funny story: I sent a lenghty story to my editor literallyhe day before the news of GSC closing down broke. It focussed on the “mission” Bolshakov mentioned to Jim, how they tried to fulfill it and if they felt that their message had been heard. The article’s closing words, taken from an interview conducted recently, were to be: “We have to go on preaching the message.” Looks like I will have to change it.

  41. dyrvere says:

    I feel very sad about these news. Like my life will soon lose all it’s meaning, all my favorite game developers are burning out one by one after just a few years glory. Ion Storm, Origin, Looking Glass, who’s Next, Croteam, Valve or Irrational Games? :p

  42. Zeewolf says:

    Like others have said, this is one of the saddest closures in recent history. The Stalker-games were so very close to the perfect mix of shooter and rpg, and the atmosphere they created was so unique and… beautiful.

    I really wish the shooter genre would evolve in the direction that Stalker showed us. But I’ve always known that wouldn’t happen, of course. Instead I’ve been content that we’ve had GSC and the Stalker-series – and now we don’t even have that. So what hope is there, frankly, for the future of the first person shooter as an _interesting_ genre?

    Also, GSC were, despite console talks, one of the few remaining, high quality PC-centered developers. They gave me hope there too, made me think that maybe there’s still room for games designed for the PC from the ground up.

  43. Navagon says:

    The Stalker games may be comprised of some great parts – relatively open world to explore, NPCs wandering the zone, different attitudes towards you based on your actions, RPG elements, modifiable weapons, etc – but it was more than the sum of its parts. Much more. They’re powerful games and ones that have left their mark on me, and clearly many others too.

  44. From Ukraine with love says:

    SOC…It felt like such an achievement to me to finally kill all the bandits in the very first mission of the game, after all, with that crappy pistol, outnumbered 10 to 1, bleeding to death as i was from a double barrel shotgun blast to the arse, I must have reloaded a prior save 10 times…. but still. And so began my love for the zone……. damn, im sad.

  45. Premium User Badge

    thedavehooker says:

    GSC were gonna make Stalker 2, but then they took an arrow in the knee.

  46. Premium User Badge

    oceanclub says:

    I bought “CoP” a while back but haven’t played it much. What’s the best mod for it, or should I play it vanilla?

    P.

  47. Metonymy says:

    Naturally I come across as a troll when I say this, but how can anyone defend the call of duty style gameplay that these games have? I don’t understand how you have positive thoughts, or positive words about this kind of game?

    -You move only as fast as a human, you have to tell your character to run
    -Environments are cluttered, and that clutter adds nothing to the game itself
    -Environments look precisely like the real world, with moderate fantasy elements where required.
    -Things like grenades work exactly like real grenades, and aren’t their own weapon
    -All enemies are bipedal sentients, dogs, or some variation on that
    -All weapons are machine guns. Full stop. These machine guns are modeled after reality. No attempt is made to make them have an in-game personality, beyond trifling numerical tweaks.
    -Darkness. Darkness! Seriously. Darkness is one of the most completely childish elements in all of gaming. “Peekaboo” has more depth than darkness, because at least sometimes you can see the person’s face. It’s not gaming, it’s just reaching.

    In all ways and at all junctures, the decision was made to make this (and any Call of Duty style game) not a game at all, but a weak representation of reality. What is realistic about getting shot and continuing to act? How can anyone defend reality as a premise when it doesn’t contribute gameplay elements?

    Halo, at one point the nadir of all fps games, is at least, a game. New Vegas is a game. Rage is a game. Borderlands is a game. They are not good games, but they are games. Stalker is not a game. Stalker is storytime with “point cursor at bad guys.” Deer Hunter is much closer to what Stalker is, idealogically: pure roleplay.

    • Max.I.Candy says:

      WTF?
      you’re off your head mate

    • BrendanJB says:

      You are talking out of your bum. Literally.
      I am watching you right now and there is a voice emanating from your sphincter.

    • Premium User Badge

      LTK says:

      You seem to be under the assumption that the Zone is supposed to cater to you. What arrogance.

    • Muzman says:

      Not coming off as a troll exactly, but at least drunk and completely incoherent.
      “It does not have enough fantasy elements (despite being rife with them). Realism is not a game!”
      What bizarre drivel.

    • westyfield says:

      Naturally I come across as a troll
      Trolling tends to have that effect.

    • Metonymy says:

      These are not counterarguments.

      Muzman, my entire post describes the lack of form or variety in the player interaction, ie the gameplay. I assure you that the form the story takes has no connection to the points I’ve made.

    • Muzman says:

      Well, one, you didn’t make an argument. You just made a series of seemingly unconnected declarative statements with no definition of terms or general cogency. So there’s nothing to really argue against and it’s no wonder everyone thinks you make no sense.
      And two, I never said anything about the story. I was talking about the elements I was fairly sure you were talking about (namely the setting, the weapons, the enemies etc) You even mentioned realism! You’re not talking about realism?! What then? Your vague suggestion that the game is no better than Call of Duty complains about realism as some sort of crutch doesn’t it? (never mind that comparing Stalker to CoD is idiotic). You make no discussion of these elements in regards to gameplay either, except to say “It is story time with point cursor at badguys”, which you could reduce pretty much any shooter based game to if one were churlish enough.

      Here’s what your post amounts to whether you meant it to or not: Stalker is bad because it is realistic. The games you like better have more fantastical sci-fi elements and Stalker doesn’t have these things. That is what makes them “games”
      If that is not what you are saying, start again.

    • Metonymy says:

      I would just be repeating myself, and you would just be ignoring my points. You just don’t want to admit that there is no gameplay, because gameplay isn’t what you want. You prefer a game that doesn’t have interaction variety, probably because you want a relaxing or engrossing game, not a challenging one. I don’t want players like you in the hobby, since your dollars twist the hobby into something vulgar.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “You prefer a game that doesn’t have interaction variety”

      You are talking about some other game, clearly, because this is pure nonsense. Stalker has wider “interaction variety” than any other shooter, ever.

      Also: “You move only as fast as a human”

      No, you move about as fast as a motorbike. Stalker’s run speed is wholly unrealistic.

      “-All weapons are machine guns. Full stop. These machine guns are modeled after reality. No attempt is made to make them have an in-game personality, beyond trifling numerical tweaks.”

      Except for the pistols, shotguns of various kinds, grenades, fantasy “gauss” rifles and so on.

      “What is realistic about getting shot and continuing to act? How can anyone defend reality as a premise when it doesn’t contribute gameplay elements?”

      You do realise you are arguing for and against realism in the same post?

      Get out of here.

    • Muzman says:

      Metonymy, you don’t make the slightest bit of sense. On this subject, it’s like talking to the insane with you.
      If you must drag my taste into this you might as well know I can’t stand the Call of Duty series. I’m crazy about the Stalker games (and Looking Glass games and pretty much anything deep and emergent) because they are the polar opposite of Call of Duty style gameplay. I even wrote an ironman blog (which I hope to resume soon) all about how many ways there are for things to go in Stalker (and how many ways to die) and for most of it I barely get out of the first map So don’t even suggest this is a simple game near me, thanks.

    • Metonymy says:

      I am not arguing for or against realism, you don’t seem to be getting my point, and I suppose I have to take the blame for that. But I can’t help but think you are continuously bringing up this subject of realism in order to avoid discussing the point that I have made in 3 seperate posts now, which is that real games have gameplay elements, and Stalker does not. Stalker is a story. The only thing the player does while playing stalker is “move to location” and “click on bad guy.”

      Literally every other element of the experience is ‘story.’ It is a dry and utterly empty experience. How can you speak on behalf of this ‘game?’ Shouldn’t you be running a literature website, if this is what you enjoy?

    • Muzman says:

      We can’t discuss your supposed point because it’s nonsense and has no relationship to the game at all.

  48. EBass says:

    This has promped me to give a Stalker another run through. Now I’ve played CoP, SoC, SoC Complete and Priboi story all the way through, is there either

    A) A CoP mod that totally mixes things up?
    or B) A SoC mod which I haven’t played which I should?

    • kataras says:

      Hello, long time no see!
      I think there is no total overhaul for COP yet, but SMRTR or SGM mod make it a bit more interesting. Look at the GSC forums in mod discussion for more details.
      For SOC I think there has been a new revision of Priboy Story if you have not played it.
      A totally different beast is Narodnaya Solianka in its many versions, 50% amazing 50% frustrating, and it’s a time sink, they claim it has around 200 hours of play…
      STALKERSOUP is another ‘version’ of NS, but it’s still in BETA and to be honest I have not yet understood what they’ re trying to do.
      Look at the GSC forums for SOC for info on the above.

  49. Premium User Badge

    fupjack says:

    Just for something to look at, while we all feel bad:

    My workplace is a 100+ year old salt mine operation. It’s a Zone-like setting – no radiation, anomalies or mutants, though, unless you count my coworkers, ha ha. I think of Stalker every time I poke around in one of the abandoned buildings. Here’s pictures:

    http://www.shiningsilence.com/workzone/

    • Solrax says:

      That is very cool! Thanks for posting it!

      I have some pictures that I need to put up somewhere, that I’ve entitled to myself “I work in a Quake level”. I had a job in an huge old mill complex that had been converted to offices. The place was full of tunnels and bridges between buildings. I worked in an office in a basement. Right outside my office was an underground tunnel between buildings, brick-lined, with huge pipes running along it. Next to it was an open area with the pipes, brick, big valves, and I kid you not, big wooden crates! Where do you work that they have big wooden crates sitting around! That was what tipped me off where I really was… I just knew if I cracked one open there’d be ammunition, or maybe a first aid kit in it.