Production hell "STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl"

Published on July 31, 2018

Production hell "STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl"

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    The history of the development of the iconic protracted game STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, created by the Ukrainian company GSC GameWorld and released in 2007, has long been shrouded in a lot of legends. The reason for their appearance was that in the release version the game was little similar to the promises that were distributed before the players - because of the cut out content and capabilities, it now looked more like a linear shooter than an ambitious open world sandbox. Rumors claimed that the THQ company responsible for publishing the game in the West was to blame.

    Over the past ten-odd years, many of the secrets have cleared up. Various participants in the events shared their memories; all sorts of game builds have flowed; The source code for the X-Ray Engine version 1.6 (which was thoroughlychecked by PVS-Studio ); the authors of numerous mods for the game tried to eliminate the shortcomings of the game, including returning the cut content, and ensured its long life.

    Today, Eurogamer published material based on a recent interview with Dean Sharpe, who was working at THQ at that time - the western publisher of STALKER - and supplemented with facts told by Oleg Yavorsky (at that time - PR manager of GSC, now Vostok Games). It frankly tells what actually happened to the "Stalker".

    GSC had difficulty attracting the attention of Western publishers to their games - in particular, on the web you can find an interview with company director Sergei Grigorovich, in which he talked about trying to negotiate with Blizzard about the development of WarCraft III by GSC, showing them the demo that was destined eventually become the "Cossacks." Therefore, in 2001, they decided to take risks - they had to present players with the most ambitious concept of the game, which in fact did not exist at all. And at first this risk justified itself - the idea of ​​the game made noise, and they managed to attract the attention of publishers and sign a contract with THQ.

    According to Oleg Yavorsky, the GSC PR-manager, they focused on selling the idea itself and therefore tried to create an overhead from the very first day — that was how ideas like the notorious advanced AI A-Life system, as well as NPCs, appeared could pass the game to the end ahead of you. How the GSC was going to put all this into practice - it was not known, including by himself. When they finally connected all the promised elements of the game together, it turned out that the gameplay of them does not add up. As a result, the game design had to be changed, and the game had to be redone again and again - and so on to infinity.

    Jack Sorensen, executive vice president of THQ, was seriously concerned that the project was repeatedly postponed and still not ready for release. He, half in jest, persuaded his old friend Dean Sharp over dinner, who, a couple of years before, had closed his own studio, Big Ape Productions, and went on sabbatical, while at the time looking for work. According to Sharpe, he was not going to fly to Kiev at all - however, after the third jointly drunk bottle of wine, he was no longer very clear on whether his friend was joking or not - that is why he agreed to see how things were going for GSC. The next morning he received a call from THQ and clarified the details of his flight — Sharpe was a bit shocked, but there was no choice.

    Sharpe’s first visit to Kiev, which took two weeks, did not make the most favorable impression on him - in his words, “to get something from the GSC was like trying to squeeze blood from a stone.” The team treated him unfriendly and almost refused to contact him. Returning to California and telling about the progress of game development, Sharpe did not intend to return to Kiev. However, according to the publisher’s manual, someone from THQ had to be constantly with the developers in order to “help” them complete the project - and Sorensen was able to persuade Sharpe to take this place, assuring that he would easily cope with it.

    And here THQ really put a GSC knife on the throat. Dinu Sharpe was prepared for the role of the villain - he was for the GSC. Today he claims that everyone in the company hated him. When he tried to convey the message from THQ to the studio’s staff, they simply ignored him — and the translator deliberately distorted the words he uttered. According to Dean, he was forced to punch the table and ordered Oleg Yavorsky to translate the following phrase for the staff: “You guys can go fuck and fix your shitty game,” and then he went out. When Sharpe came back in again, he took the company’s director, Sergei Grigorovich, aside and quietly told him: “You won’t get any more money until you finish the game.”

    After that, Sharpe contacted THQ and together they made up the schedule of the Milestones, which the GSC had to reach in order for them to get paid. Now there was no other choice for developers other than to follow the will of the publisher.

    What happened in the end - every stalker fan knows. Everything that was possible went under the knife: several locations, transport, various monsters (who had been in it from the earliest builds) were cut out of the game, and artificial intelligence was extremely simplified. When the changes became known in the network, this process was dubbed “Stalker castration”, and THQ and Sharpe, through their actions, aroused the public hatred of the gaming community.

    There is one interesting fact. Especially strong anger among the players was caused by the fact that the sleep function was cut out of the game. In fact, according to the plan, such a function should have remained in the game. Only about half of all the bug reports were associated with it, and therefore it was definitely decided to cut it out, which once again earned Sharpe a lot of criticism. For some time, hunger was cut out, but they managed to get this mechanic back before the release.

    As Sharpe himself notes, he has never had a relationship with the GSC team. The developers now did what they were supposed to do according to the plan agreed with THQ. By the time of release, they were exhausted and prepared for two options - either the game was set to become a commercial success, or - a complete failure.

    Fortunately, the game managed to achieve success - and in its sequels, the developers were even able to return some of the cut content and features. Dean Sharp himself after the release of "Stalker" became interested in playing Metro 2033 and later became the CEO of 4A Games. It is not surprising that he told about everything that happened only so many years later.