Areal Kickstarting S.T.A.L.K.E.R. “Spiritual Successor”

By Alice O'Connor on June 25th, 2014 at 8:00 pm.

When we first saw the announcement, I had no idea someone making a 'spiritual successor' to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. would cause such a mess.

If you took a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. design document and replaced the words “Chernobyl disaster” with “weird meteorite,” you wouldn’t be far off from Areal. Think post-apocalyptic open world survival FPS with non-linear missions, populated by simulated life and mutants, and fizzing with dangerous anomalies. That sounds pretty enticing in itself, but developers West Games also have a few former S.T.A.L.K.E.R. folks working on the game, including the series’ lead designer.

As you might guess, it’s on Kickstarter. However, West Games don’t have much to show of Areal at this point. Their pitch relies heavily upon S.T.A.L.K.E.R. footage and pre-existing artwork not made for the game (some even made for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.). Given that they’re only looking for $50,000 (£30,000)–nowhere near enough to realise such ambitious ideas–it’s a mite concerning.

Areal’s based upon a novel of the same name by Sergey Tarmashev, where civilization’s fallen apart thanks to a corrupting meteorite material named Metamorphite turning everything wonky. Unlike S.T.A.L.K.E.R., this makes things a little colourful too, with things like weird overgrown forests and blue warped wolves. Put S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in that world and bish bosh wallop you’ve got Areal.

That’s the idea, anyway. What they actually have is less clear. Footage in their pitch video is either S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or what appears to be an environment bought from the Unity store. West Games founder Eugene Kim has said it’s all an attempt to convey their process of researching existing tech and resources before starting on their own engine, which seems dishonest. Without labels, potential backers unfamiliar with either would assume they’re seeing Areal. It’s unacceptable. Lots of the artwork in the pitch and on its website is also beyond the game, either from Tarmashev’s novel or art that Areal’s concept artists created outside Areal (including some for Oblivion Lost, the game that turned into S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl). Yes, it is vaguely related to the game, or its makers, but it’s not from the development process people are backing.

As you may have seen elsewhere on the cyberbweb, the Kickstarter has ruffled the feathers of Survarium developers Vostok Games, a studio formed by a load of former GSC Game World folks. They’re understandably not keen on the Kickstarter’s claim that it’s “being developed by the people behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” when hundreds more worked on the games–many of whom are with them. It’s one of those deceptive marketing lines we like to think people understand is fluff (like ‘from the creator of…’ or ‘from the publisher behind…’) but too often goes uninterrogated. Vostok PR Director Oleg Yavorsky addressed the issue in a statement today, also claiming that using S.T.A.L.K.E.R. footage is “not only illegal, but simply just not right.”

Whether you think the Kickstarter pitch is naive, deceptive, half-arsed, or some combination of the lot, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. talent West Games have working on Areal were more than testers. Yuriy Negrobov was lead designer across the whole series. Designer Peter Dushynsky was one of several plain old designers for the series, as well as for Metro: Last Light at 4A Games (another GSC-spawned studio). They’ve also got concept artist Alex Moseichuk (who left after Oblivion Lost’s change), a series animator, and a chap who was working on the cancelled S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2′s engine. It takes more than that to make a game, but it’s a fair start.

Still, despite all this kerfuffle, Areal has come half-way to its funding goal within a day, so I imagine we’ll see what comes of it. If you fancy backing it, $25 is the lowest tier offering a copy of the finished game. I imagine West Games will jump a few steps in their marketing plan as they try to win people over, so hopefully we see more of Areal soon.

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65 Comments »

  1. Glottis1 says:

    With $50,000 it is definetly possible to make spiritual successor to S.T.A.L.K.E.R… As a text adventure.

    • Oculardissonance says:

      Someone in the comments section of the kickstarter pointed out that the game they are supposedly working on in the background is just a unity store assets pack seen here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USVMbvPDhgw the clip goes on to show supposed devs flipping between concept art and this asset pack. Also other commentators have traced almost all the concept art found on the page to other games and novel illustrations. they don’t implicitly say that these concept art is from their dev team but they don’t state its origin either. Even if the game is legit these are highly shity business practices.

  2. TheIronSky says:

    If this isn’t a complete scam, then I must be living in Rod Serling’s surrealist wet dream.

  3. Ghoulie says:

    Multiplat? Hrm.
    Multiplat on a ridiculously small budget? Double hrm.

    • Sam says:

      Quote of the video “we make the best games because we definitely know how.”
      Definitely, for sure, hundred percent we know how. Don’t worry guys, we got this.

      (It’s likely that most their team has English as a second language and I wouldn’t normally wish to poke fun at an odd bit of phrasing in that context, but the dramatic man-voice saying it was too great.)

    • Atrocious says:

      It’s multi-platform with their own engine!

      See, they just need 50k because they already put all their own funds into it. (Unfortunately they don’t have any progress to show.)

      I really want to see a new STALKER like game come to life, but their website and kickstarter aren’t really convincing me to pledge any amount of money.

    • Turkey says:

      The Wii U comment was especially weird. In what universe would this ever come out on a Wii U?

  4. danijami23 says:

    Or maybe they had a little capital squirreled away, and they are only asking for 30k because their primary goal isn’t fleecing the shit out of consumers before the project has even started.

    • Bradamantium says:

      Asking for money when you’ve barely got more than a handful of concept art and some unmarked stolen footage sounds a lot like fleecing the consumers to me.

      • pepperfez says:

        I don’t know, it puts them a bit of stolen footage ahead of many Kickstarter pitches.

  5. Mulberry11 says:

    This was already confirmed as a fraud yesterday. RPS needs to do a little bit more investigating rather than just echoing a company’s kickstarter pitch.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Source, please.

    • Revisor says:

      Can we collect the evidence here?

      - The whole video only contains footage from Stalker, nothing about Areal
      - The goal is too low
      - They talk about a brand new engine, but all engine footage in the video comes from Unity3D
      …?

    • WhiteZero says:

      “confirmed” I don’t think that word means what you think it means. There are a lot of questions about the veracity of the project that West Games needs to address. And one should be very cautious about backing the project before those questions and concerns are addressed. But nothing is “confirmed” yet.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      You might have missed the bulk of this post. Which is understandable, it’s a huge load of text and I’m increasingly thinking about ways around this without sacrificing depth.

      I got in touch with the chap at Vostok who made the “fraudulent claim” remark which sparked all the rigmarole that’s so excited certain corners of the Internet today. Turns out, it doesn’t mean at all what people jumped to assume it means.

      He provided us with the official statement from Vostok explaining that they’re unhappy about two things: West Games’ talk of being “the people behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” when those were huge games made by many people; and their use of all that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. footage and concept art, which Vostok believe is both illegal and immoral. We quote them on that.

      The “people behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” bit is what was considered fraudulent. That’s very different to the game itself being “a fraud.” Unless you’re talking about something else.

      Perhaps that they seemingly use lots of footage of a Unity asset pack? Because I mention that too, along with West Games’ official explanation of that–which I’m dutifully displeased with. This will sound smarmy but I mean it earnestly: how was this “confirmed as a fraud” yesterday? If there’s something, please do tell me.

      But I understand. Huge blocky paragraphs are not the best way to explain things like this. I’m thinking about it.

      • dontnormally says:

        golfclap.jpg

      • evileeyore says:

        Since I can easily read and understand English when it is presented so clearly and intelligently I think your explanation was just fine.

      • Mulberry11 says:

        So we’re in agreement that the game they’re allegedly making does not correspond at all with the footage that they claimed was their game? Because I generally consider that to be a fraud.

        When i post my kickstarter that looks suspiciously like half like 2 and ask for 30k will you publish it on the front page absent any proof of the product even existing? This is important.

        • Muzman says:

          Sure! Just tell us your real name, that of your team and your former positions at GSC and 4A.

          • Mulberry11 says:

            A cursory google search is apparently all it takes to fill your roster with top notch talent. It’s not like anyone is actually checking if they work here.

            But since you ask, my name is Ken Levine, and together with my good friends John Carmack, Warren Spector, and Chris Avellone we have created one hell of a game for you guys. Brand new engine and everything. No that’s not a gravity gun it’s something new!.

          • Muzman says:

            I eagerly await your kickstarter, its weathering to some degree of criticism from other parties who know you, Ken, and its front page position on RPS that describes the qualms people have with the campaign regardless.

          • Mulberry11 says:

            As long as you bury the lede 4 paragraphs deep, below the fold and make no mention of said controversy in the headline I’ll be happy.

          • Muzman says:

            Shouldn’t be a problem after the controversy has been around the block for 24hrs and research has watered it down enough that it’s at best inconclusive outside the daily mail.
            Send them your copy forthwith and we’ll see how it holds up!

          • Mulberry11 says:

            What is inconclusive about a video featuring stolen 7 year old STALKER assets? What about claims of a brand new engine being made alongside images of Unity3d’s tech demo?

          • Muzman says:

            Nothing, so long as the conclusion is it seems shonky. However the initial conclusion leapt to, namely outright fraud, hasn’t panned out clearly yet.
            I think the caveats of shonkiness have been adequately expressed given the information to hand.

          • Mulberry11 says:

            fraud
            frôd/Submit
            noun
            wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.

            No I think this word accurately describes it. If they weren’t asking for money you could still say “Shonky” but the rubicon has been crossed

    • hilltop says:

      You seem to be taking issue with RPS reporting on this and potentially providing more funds to the kickstarter. If the little blurb before the link to the full article didn’t include the following paragraph:

      “As you might guess, it’s on Kickstarter. However, West Games don’t have much to show of Areal at this point. Their pitch relies heavily upon S.T.A.L.K.E.R. footage and pre-existing artwork not made for the game (some even made for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.). Given that they’re only looking for $50,000 (£30,000)–nowhere near enough to realise such ambitious ideas–it’s a mite concerning.”

      then I could at least see where you are coming from.

      But the issues are flagged right there from the outset.

      And although it seems highly likely that this is not legitimate (awaiting this supposed Update 4) it has hardly been confirmed.

      EDIT: The updates on their kickstarter offer nothing reassuring. This does indeed look like a swindle at this point. Or (less likely) a bizarrely incompetent execution.

  6. thebigJ_A says:

    The lead designer is actually a chap called Snag, and he’ll totally split the case with you once you’ve gotten it for him.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Its OK. My friends Tunder and underslung grenade launcher are along for the ride too :)

  7. Jimbot says:

    Would help their pitch if the footage they showed wasn’t 90% STALKER footage inter-cut with XTREME editing techniques from the early 90′s.

  8. GernauMorat says:

    Metamorface

  9. Polifemo says:

    Quick google of “Aeral” , “kickstarter” “S.T.A.L.K.E.R” and “fraud” lead me to suficient evidence to conclude its a fraud, besides actual confirmed stalker devs calling West Games out.
    Of note:
    https://forum.survarium.com/en/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3450&start=20 (the deleted thread that contains the remarks Alice talks about above. Stil deleted obviously)

    Oleg Yavorsky – PR Director of Vostok Games (Former GSC Game World PR Director)

    “So that you understand, over the years of development of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and then Metro series, there have been literally hundreds of people involved in working on various bits and pieces, starting from beta-testers up to modellers responsible for certain weapon models. Many people came to the studio to work for a few months just for the sake of adding “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. development” to their portfolio. Frequently they claimed afterwards to be the ‘core’ developers behind the game – you wouldn’t know anyway, right?). Yet, my biggest concern is that West Games are using the footage and assets of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and representing them as their own, which is not only illegal, but simply just not right. I guess it’s all made for the sake of getting extra publicity (which unfortunately works), but guys on Kickstarter should probably pay attention”

    EDIT: Further researching makes me think it may not be 100% fraud but that they are handling everything extremely poorly and with enough unrealistic expectations to make it a “dont put your money on it or touch with a 7-meter-pole” affair.

  10. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Did anything more come of BitComposer acquiring the rights to the Roadside Picnic Universe? These aren’t from BitComposer but this artwork based on the book presents a delicious possibility

  11. DarkFenix says:

    So, a trailer comprising a mix of STALKER footage and a barrage of ‘cool’ buzzwords. How gullible do you have to be to back something like this?

  12. fatgleeson says:

    No love for Clear Sky in the tags?

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      We… don’t talk about that.
      *RPS readers look down and carry on eating in silence. Sounds of cutlery on china plates punctuate the awkwardness*

      • Mulberry11 says:

        There was nothing wrong with clear sky that a few mods couldn’t fix and the mechanics on a whole were much better than SOC

        • Maritz says:

          Hell, I quite enjoyed the base game. Never could understand all the negativity towards it, it was just a bit different from SoC.

          • Mulberry11 says:

            Yea it was mainly just the glitches on the faction system that made any real, lasting territory gains impossible. Otherwise it expanded and improved basically everything I enjoyed from the first game. Call of Pripyat was also solid although the final act and the ending felt really rushed.

        • ViktorBerg says:

          Really?

          * Buggy, even after 10 patches and with Sky Reclamation Project (which fixed most, but not all, bugs)
          * Faction wars don’t work properly without heavy modding.
          * Poor balance in some areas.
          * Reused locations, little new content.
          * From Limansk and on, a linear shootfest worthy of a CoD clone.
          * HELICOPTER BOSS FIGHT.
          * Gauss Rifle remade into something awful.
          * Almost no underground locations.
          * Very few horror elements.
          * An area filled with radioactive water that you cannot run in, essentially making the experience into a gated labyrinth of small islands (refreshing for some people, frustrating for others like me).

          There’s probably more that I can’t recall right now.

  13. 2Ben says:

    Did anyone else notice how careful they have to be with these axes?

  14. Artist says:

    If theres former Stalker-Devs and/or designers on bord its a reason for me to be concerned! Its those folks that failed to deliver what they promised!

    Remember how much A-life was meant to revolutionize gaming and how handcuffed that system ended up in the Stalker games? Heres the same take from their kickstarter and i BET it wont get a dot better as it wasnt from Stalker SOC through Stalker COP:

    X-life is a unique system that simulates life and adjusts to every action that the player makes. You can regularly observe and interact with the environment that surrounds you. Accidental encounters with mutants and other foes brings new and completely dynamic combat situations that always differ from one another.
    Yes, yes..heard that a few times before from the Stalker devs.. Hollow promises!
    My suggestion: Beware!

    • TheRealHankHill says:

      Don’t get it twisted, they didn’t deliver because they were rushed as fuck by their publisher to release it

    • Don Reba says:

      STALKER and FEAR still pioneered planner-driven game AI. It ended up handicapped, but just as a compromise to good gameplay. Turned out, players actually didn’t like NPCs beating them to quests.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      @ artist – I remember having many random encounters with AI in all the stalker games: Competing with other STALKERS who had turned up to look for MY(!) artifacts or were pillaging my lovely corpses (not the quest-driven “competitors” from Beard), coming across a roaming band of enemy, and then watching from a distance as a pack of hogs appear and thin out their numbers for me (of course pillaging the corpses and once, even finding a Bulldog 6 on one of them. Happy times). I even watched large battles between bandits and duty from time to time as they met on some open plain area.

      I also used to let dogs or mutants “find out” where anomalies were for me. Was the system meant to be more complex than this? Certainly there are some characters that need to be rooted to the spot so as not to break quests (though Bes used to die a lot during the monolith attacks on the freedom cordon and stop me completing his quests) but I found it quite amazing.

  15. Myrdinn says:

    I could forgive the amateurish trailer and all the conspiracy theories if their company would’ve immediately reached out and explained the situation. The fact that they don’t take the time to respond to these allegations makes me more inclined towards this being a scam.

  16. LockjawNightvision says:

    Replacing “Chernobyl Disaster” with “weird meteor” actually gets you pretty close to the short story (and Tarkovsky film) S.T.A.L.K.E.R was based on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roadside_Picnic

    I guess Russian science fiction just has a thing for weird meteors.

    • Armante says:

      I guess the Tunguska meteor had quite an… impact.

    • AyeBraine says:

      Umm… There are no meteors in Roadside Picnic. Even though the Visits are highly mysterious, they are visits, not impacts or natural phenomena. It’s the whole philosophical point of the book, like we’re some ants who crawl over leftovers, broken toys and packaging that some picnic-goers left behind. (And killing and betraying each other for these scraps and hoping for ultimate happiness one of them promises.) I read the book like 20 times in Russian since childhood.

  17. Frank says:

    They should have stuck with stills of the art, which looks fantastic, unlike those engine shots.

    Also, no one should ever claim to be a “definitive successor”. It immediately made me suspect these were shady guys, and, hey, upon reading the rest of the RPS post, I see that is confirmed.

    • Artist says:

      Russian developers? Shady? Never! Stalker developers? Shady? Hell, never…. Wait, wasnt there something…?

  18. Don Reba says:

    No one mentioned that the release date is set to September 2015.

  19. Artist says:

    Their 3rd “news update” still avoids to answer the raised questions and explains nothing:
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1577656602/areal/posts/890606

    • Don Reba says:

      But it does attack those who dare ask questions. Because the best defence is a good offence.

  20. Ghoulie says:

    Hey, speaking of which, here’s their “Lead Game Designer”.

    http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-74929321/stock-photo-a-young-man-standing-on-dark-background.html

    Might wanna cancel that pledge.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Oh.

      Oh dear.

      That cinches it, doesn’t it?

    • Bull0 says:

      That’s hilarious. Somebody should probably email Alice..

    • Philomelle says:

      I just pledged a dollar to post that on the Kickstarter’s comment page. Let’s see how fast they remove me from their project’s backer list, much like they did with the guy who asked all the right questions.

  21. Vodka, Crisps, Plutonium says:

    Welp, that kickstarter video was shite (couldn’t possibly force myself to finish watching it after the “nifty” effect of showing some concept art live on a laptop and, like, some person is playing this picture.. and then picture suddenly turns into CoP footage)

    Also, West games. For some Russian speaking blokes around here that would sound a just blatant trolling, as it’s exactly the opposite of Vostok games (you know, vostok… means “east”. Clever, huh?)

  22. hilltop says:

    An excellent summary of the controversy so far:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2014/06/26/areal-kickstarter-raises-huge-red-flags-backers-beware/

    This is proving to be a terribly interesting topic to keep an eye on.

  23. manny says:

    Also keep in mind Ukraine is in an economic depression due to the Russian invasion, so
    $50 000 is alot of money there. In addition, Kickstarter doesn’t let you keep the money unless you meet your target.

  24. Jalan says:

    I was kickstartled by this news.