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Through the thorns to the Monolith. How the legendary S. T. A. L. K. E. R. series was created.

While waiting for the second part, we remember how the iconic franchise was born
For many people, S. T. A. L. K. E. R. is more than a game. More than 12 years have passed since the release of the first part, but fans return to this universe again and again. However, not everyone knows what production hell the GSC Game World Studio had to go through at the time. Today we will tell you about how the legendary franchise was created.

It all started with Olesya Shishkovtsova and Alexander Maksimchuk-programmers who came for an interview at GSC Game World together with X-Ray, their engine for video games. Sergey liked the new technology very much, but at first it was decided to use it to create real-time strategies. Work began on two projects at once: Pilgrims, which combined elements of the shooter with mass battles, and Commandos. A little later, both projects were canceled, and instead the Studio switched to Oblivion Lost, a first-person shooter.

In the original version, the plot of Oblivion Lost was supposed to tell about a new way of moving through space through tunnels that connect the planets. Soldiers from the elite group “Pathfinders”, which included the player’s character, had to explore new worlds and find out whether they are suitable for humanity.

In early 2002, one of the developers recalls the novel “picnic on the roadside”, which the Studio wanted to use during the development of Venom: Codename Outbreak. Shishkovtsov picks up the idea, offering to correct the plot so that instead of aliens, it featured an accident at a nuclear power plant. It was proposed to move the action to the Crimea, and make the Crimean nuclear power plant the center of the Zone.

Through the thorns to the Monolith. How the legendary S. T. A. L. K. E. R. series was created.
Sergey Grigorovich instructs Sergey Karmalsky, the Studio’s lead game designer, to create a trial level, and the programmers to prepare a demo version based on it. During this period, a location is being developed that will later be known as the”Cordon”. On this old version of the “Cordon” model the boiler room and the plant “Rostock”. There are weapons such as HPSA (“Browning”) and a knife.

A little later, we decide to change the name of the game to Stalker, but due to difficulties with copyright, we have to put dots between the letters, turning it into a kind of abbreviation. The phrase Oblivion Lost, which has already spent a lot of resources to promote, becomes a subtitle.

Game designer Alexey Sitenow in favor of an open world with free exploration and a nonlinear storyline. The Studio is thinking about a two-week trip to the Crimea to collect materials. In such journeys, which are often carried out during game development, the team collects materials that will later be used to model the textures of buildings and landscapes. In addition, developers get inspiration and the right impressions to create the right atmosphere for the game.

Through the thorns to the Monolith. How the legendary S. T. A. L. K. E. R. series was created.
This journey, however, was not to be. A few days before the trip, Grigorovich saw a program about the Chernobyl accident. He gets the idea to move everything to the real Zone. It is worth saying that not all team members were enthusiastic about the idea. As one of the developers will say later: “it’s kind of weird to dance on bones. A lot of people died there, and how many lost their health, at home … it’s better not to touch Pripyat, it’s not good.” Nevertheless, Grigorovich insists on his own. Work begins on the appearance of the “Stalker”, which is so familiar to all of us.

Chernobyl, or there and back
April 2002. Instead of the Crimean trip, it is proposed to go to the territory of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Developers go on a trip in Sergey’s SUV. In the car are game designers Prokhorov, Kamalski, Sitnov and, in fact, he died.

The first problem the team faces at the checkpoint “Dityatki”, where they refuse to pass it due to the lack of appropriate passes. Grigorovich even tries to bribe the duty officer by inventing a legend about the alleged mother living in Chernobyl, but the guard turns out to be unapproachable. Igrodelam have to turn back, after which the PR Manager of the Studio Oleg Yavorsky instructed to issue a pass.

Through the thorns to the Monolith. How the legendary S. T. A. L. K. E. R. series was created.
Having received official permission this time, the team once again goes to Chernobyl. On their second journey, they are accompanied by their guide Rimma Kiselitsa. The trip turned out to be important, even extremely important, as the developers ‘ impressions received in the exclusion zone directly affected the creation of locations and the oppressive atmosphere of the game.

“We are approaching an abandoned village. Rotten fallen power poles lie along the road. We are surrounded by overgrown, half-rotted huts. We go out to shoot the material, and we are warned that until we put on overalls and shoes, you can not go off the asphalt road, otherwise you can pick up “dirt” from the grass or plants. “Dirt” here is called radioactive centers and when they say “dirty car”, they mean that it is strongly irradiated… the Village has a depressing impression on us.

[…]

11: 10. The sun is hot. We are driving along a road that is surrounded on all sides by an impenetrable forest. Rimma tells how immediately after the accident, they began to cut down the irradiated ” red ” forest near the nuclear power plant. In the confusion, the chopped trees began to be buried in the ground. As it turned out, it was much worse than if the forest had remained standing. Buried “dirty” trees were close to underwater waters and radiation could get into drinking water. We are also told the first signs of radiation exposure: if the mouth has a bitter metallic taste, then we must urgently leave the irradiated area. The next stages will be headaches and nausea»

From notes from the official GSC Game World website

Through the thorns to the Monolith. How the legendary S. T. A. L. K. E. R. series was created.
After the forest, the team was led to a field covered with endless rows of irradiated equipment. Residents of Pripyat were evacuated using abandoned trucks, cars, buses, and even cargo helicopters. The most contaminated equipment was buried by bulldozers at a great depth, dumping blocks of radioactive graphite that had been thrown out during the explosion into the open reactor.

Both the cemetery of equipment in the village of Rassokha and the Red forest will appear later in the game. Here’s what Grigorovich himself says about the trip: “Everything we saw there and what seemed special, we fully implemented into the game. I remembered the size of the fish swimming in the cooling pond. She was just crawling and was of gigantic proportions. These catfish were very large. Maybe there are some in nature-five meters long and with huge heads – but I’ve never seen them. And there they swam in large numbers, just like a herring on a shoal. A huge catfish surfaced, swallowed half a loaf of bread – “brick” and dived back into the water.”

After returning from Chernobyl, developers are hard at work: artists make the first sketches of opponents and characters, modelers create a lot of new objects, including zombies, blind dogs, intelligence probes and mutant rats. Then the development of one of the key features of the game — AI-begins.

By the beginning of April, GSC Game World officially announces the change of the game concept to “Chernobyl”. The announcement trailer features a new name — S. T. A. L. K. E. R.: Oblivion Lost.

Through the thorns to the Monolith. How the legendary S. T. A. L. K. E. R. series was created.
S. T. A. L. K. E. R.: Oblivion Lost, 2002
2002 was busy in terms of developing locations. At the end of April, the creation of such places as “Cordon”, “research Institute “Agroprom” is completed, work begins on the plant” Rostock”, inspired by the eponymous plant in Kiev — this place was rented as an office by GSC Game World. Subsequently, the location was cut from the game’s plot, but it was based on one of the multiplayer maps. In parallel, the developers are engaged in another large location — the “Dead city”. An abandoned town with a monument to Lenin on the Central square, shops and destroyed five-story buildings, unfortunately, did not enter either as a plot place or as a map for multiplayer.

We are actively working on the code. A set of development tools (SDK) is being finalized, and the AI, called A-Life, is gradually turning into an extremely complex system. Better remember this name. In the future, GSC will place special emphasis on A-Life during the advertising campaign.

Through the thorns to the Monolith. How the legendary S. T. A. L. K. E. R. series was created.
Oblivion Lost, 2002-2003
The essence of A-Life was to fully simulate the life of non-player characters in the game. This meant not simple scripted actions, but full-fledged NPC development. For example, a Stalker once encountered by the player could change his attitude during the next interaction or become a member of some group at all, which had to appear independently from time to time and break up. At night, mutants had to become especially dangerous, so the player had a choice-to look for a safe location or still fight with them. Moreover, wounded enemies at the next meeting had to remember the player, thus becoming a serious threat.

GSC took the Open Dynamics Engine as its basis, adapting the engine to the required requirements. Ragdoll was used to visualize realistic falling bodies, transport physics was implemented, and the team paid special attention to ballistics of bullets and the reaction of objects to the player (things are very new for those times).

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