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

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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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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