Yesterday, we all poured one out and strummed our acoustic guitars in the irradiated rain for STALKER 2. From its ashes, however, Survarium has risen. Be warned, though: this isn't STALKER 2.5. It's a brave new MMOFPS world, and the newly christened Vostok Games has no intention of treading water. So then, will it be different? Probably. Will it be excellent? Hopefully. And will it be interesting? Absolutely. Excited, but also a bit hesitant, I mined Vostok's Oleg Yavorsky for as much info as I could before he had to run off and continue, you know, launching a brand new game company.
So, first up, why an MMOFPS? STALKER's muck-and-grime-coated calling card, after all, is the incredible sense of somber isolation it creates. It's very nearly otherworldly. However, I have to imagine even that thick fog of atmosphere would quickly disperse if someone shot me in the back while spewing racial epithets they probably don't even understand. There is, however, a method to Vostok's apparent madness, as Yavorsky explained:
"MMOFPS is an interesting genre for us, and it's actively developing worldwide at the moment," he said, referring to the current MMOFPS expansion with Firefall, Planetside 2, and with rumours of Blizzard's Titan project being in that genre. "On top of that, it allows us to be closer to the players by constantly sharing ideas and developing the game non-stop. Secondly, the free-to-play concept allows us to cope with piracy problem, which is still a big issue for us here."
So an online game world, constantly updated, with server-side control for the developers. You can see why that might be appealing to the developers, but at the same time off-putting to the Stalker hardcore.
And while solitary atmosphere was a major aspect of STALKER, its soul lay in the people making it. Fortunately, their ideas and passion could still make the jump to Survarium - even if all their previous hard work, sadly, has not. This project is effectively a start-up, and will not be leaning on the previous assets, world-design, or technology of the Stalker world.
"We are at prototype-building stage," Yavorsky explained. "The technology development started in early 2012. We are not using any STALKER 2 assets in Survarium, it's all from scratch. In terms of ideas, we are going to incorporate quite a few of what we had in mind for STALKER 2, but now on a new level, given the context of MMOFPS."
So that's where Vostok's headed, but where does that leave the STALKER franchise? Is the Zone officially abandoned - perhaps somewhat fittingly a development wasteland where only modders scavenge what's left and re-purpose it into something new? For now, it seems that way. And while Vostok's not happy about it, the STALKER developers refuse to let that get them down.
"The STALKER brand rights belong to Sergiy Grygorovych, the founder of GSC," noted Yavorsky. "We had negotiations, but did not reach agreement with him to continue developing under STALKER brand, so we started our new IP."
This of course means that STALKER itself lies in the GSC founder's hands, and could still be used. Vostok simply represent the talent behind the games, who have moved on to new things.
"We all love STALKER - it's been our child, and it's a very painful situation indeed. This said, though, we're optimistic about the ideas and concept we have for Survarium. It should become the STALKER idea's next evolutionary step in every respect."
Hard to be sure how that would work, but you could perhaps see an analogy there with other MMOs, and the way stalker itself worked: the bars and bases of the original game could be the multiplayer hubs, with huge instanced wildernesses stretching off from there, for you and a small gang of friends to explore, battling against the horrors of the wilderness. Vostock have already said that they expect player-versus-environment to be the main event, so perhaps solo play will still be possible, but perhaps co-op - the thing forever missing from Stalker's world - could also create an interesting new dynamic for Zone-like survivalism.
We can't wait to see more.