GL. First of all we would like to know how has it all started, how has the company come to such a large scale project as Cossacks? It is more or less clear how the developers in western countries become game industry tycoons. The same process in Ukraine and even in Russia can but arouse many questions.
GSC. Everything began in 1995 when our company was founded. At that time there were only six of us and our activities were not directly connected with games. We worked in the field of multimedia products such as encyclopedias, and a bit later there were localizations. But practically all our free time ( and often the working time also) we spent playing games. We had many good (and not very good) games on our comps, and the most popular among them were Doom and Warcraft2. As a matter of fact, it was this passion for games that led us to the idea of making a game of our own.
Our test of the pen was not a strategy or 3D action but a quest. We made such a choice being under the impression of the wonderful ”Phantasmagoria” which we consider to be one of the best quests even today. So we made the decision and soon the work was already in full swing – we have written a fantasy script, were thinking out quests and riddles, made many sketches and were working on code. But as is often the case, you must spoil before you spin – we have overestimated our capabilities. We realized that we would need too much time to finish the job for the project to be commercially feasible. So after have a year of work we quitted. Though the first try to make a game was not a success but we gained good experience.
Already while working on the quest we were actively discussing the idea of making a large scale strategy game. We had accumulated a lot of ideas and after having thoroughly thought everything over we started developing a strategy. We began working on the engine, made sketches, polished up graphics. At a certain stage of work we got the information that Blizzard had some serious problems with the Starcraft engine and had already twice changed the team of developers and that it had nothing against working with foreign specialists – a group of artists from St. Petersburg (Russia) worked for Warcraft. So we decided to suggest to Blizzard to make an add-on to Warcraft 2. We had practically everything for Blizzard to take our offer seriously – a powerful engine ( already in 1998 it supported a 3D landscape, and 3000 units), wonderful artists, many interesting ideas and a great love for Warcraft. In order to demonstrate the potential of our engine we used the graphics of Warcraft2. But it turned out to be that the Warcraft 3 was not doomed to be made by our team.
We didn’t hope much that Blizzard would tell us ”Yes” , so for about half a year we have been working on our own strategy game ”Cossacks”. It is interesting that this name had appeared from the very beginning and remained unchanged till the day of the release. Approximately at the same time we started two other projects – a 3D tactical action ”Venom” and a racer ”HoveRace”. By that time we had a professional team which together with the developments that excelled everything that had been done before in that direction gave us assurance that our projects would be finished and wouldn’t pass unnoticed. That is all the story in short. Then there were two years of hard work, search for a publisher and, as a result that Cossacks is on the shelves and Venom and HoveRace are now in the final stage of development.
GL. Well, one of the most interesting projects of GSC is considered to be the Warcraft2000. Besides it was the first project finished by you. Whose idea was it to make this game? If it was a noncommercial project then what were your aims?
GSC. The idea belonged to Sergei Grigorovich, the GSC Game World director and later the Cossacks producer. As I have already mentioned we wanted to make a sequel of the Warcraft2 for Blizzard. It was one of our most favorite games and we were eager to make a sequel of it. I think that many of us have such a game – you play it for a long time, have a great fun but then there comes a moment when you feel that its frames become too tight for you and you start thinking about the sequel or add-on. You think that if you do this and add that you’ll have an ideal game. So that was what we felt at that time, but as we had already worked much on the engine we decided to realize this ideas in practice and to get consent of Blizzard.
So we had made a demo version using the graphics of Warcraft2 and our engine. We had prepared the necessary documentation and brought this to the Milia’99 in order to show it to Blizzard. The first wonder was that we could achieve the meeting with the producer of Warcraft, but this wonder was also the last one. Having watched the demo where several thousands of Orcs and Humans were running with the 1024×768 resolution he stood up and left without saying a word. The real reason for his act is still a mystery for us. Perhaps he was shocked by that impudence with which we had taken the graphics out of the Warcraft and put it into our demo. Though it was done only in order to demonstrate the possibilities of our engine. After this the Warcraft2000 had at once become an noncommercial project (without a license any commercial usage of this program was out of the question). So we stopped all the works in this direction and placed the game with the engine code in the Internet for free downloading. Because of the noncommercial character of the project we did no beta testing and there was no technical support so we apologize to all those people who had problems with the game.
GL. As far as I understand, your next project was Cossacks. For sure this game also had its routs. What could have inspired you to make a global historical RTS? It is commonly considered that it was Age of Empires… Is it true?
GSC. We have always been attracted by the idea to make a full value simulator of a state management, reflecting the economy and warfare. The work in this direction started from detailed study of historical material and of experience of other developers. We have found out that many of our predecessors intentionally omitted some important aspects of economy. The most important components of the war strategy and tactics were sacrificed to the simplicity of a gameplay. So we were put before the problem how to incorporate all these realism raising features and not to complicate the system of control. Thus there appeared such a feature as the possibility to capture buildings, peasants and artillery, the population began to consume food and the troops began to spend ammunition, market prices began to vary depending on the demand and supply. As to the AOE, yes at the initial stage it was a certain reference point for us, it was one of the strategies that to a certain degree had influenced the planning of the gameplay. But at the certain stage of development we realized that we were able to make a game with more realistic graphics and what is more important a much lager scale strategy with thousands of soldiers, hundreds of artillery pieces and tens of ships and large maps i.e. with all those features which gamers were deprived of when they saw the inscription ”units limit”. These characteristic features of the game very well correspond to the peculiarities of the time period we had chosen for the game. It was the time of tremendous changes in the European structure with the sequence of bloody wars and revolu- tions that were wiping the whole states from the world map and creating new ones on their place. It was the time of unprecedented development of science and technology, as the result of which the era of firearms had begun and new armed services and arms appeared on the battlefields. The small feudal detachments were changed by large regular armies of many thousands. It was the golden age of sails ant the era of great geographical discoveries. The battles of that period were undoubtedly much more grand then the battles of the middle ages and ancient times (the time scope of AOE and AOK). Besides, we don’t know why, but this period of time was undeservedly passed by games developers, so we decided to fill this gap.
G.L. I wish the AOE developers heard us! By the way, I wonder if the people from Microsoft or Ensemble Studios saw your game. How did they react? And if they didn’t see how they could have reacted? Do you think the Age of Empires will be announced in the nearest future?
GSC. The director of the games division of Microsoft saw Cossacks at Milia’99. After the detailed acquaintance with the game he said: ”I see the Age of Empires 3 in this game. I should remind that at that time the AOE 2 was still in development. We exchanged visit cards and agreed to continue contacts. But there were no contacts since.
Microsoft has a strict policy in games publishing – to publish only hits that have the most original ideas, the best graphics, thus supporting they reputation. As soon as they see that the game doesn’t correspond to the level or there are strong competitors, they abandon the project. This was the case with the Close Combat serial or the Conquest: Frontier War. That’s why we think the announcement of AOE 3 if it is a classical sequel will depend on the success of Cossacks, and this in its turn will depend on our publisher. If Cossacks become popular in the West there can appear two games on the market which have similar features, for example the same time scope. In this case the AOE 3 either will be not announced at all or it will be based, for instance on an earlier then in AOE 1 period of time or it will be fully 3D. If Cossacks are not popular then we have good chances to see AOE 3 that differs from AOE 2 to the same extent as AOE 2 differs from AOE1.
GL. As far as I know, Cossacks made a small sensation at Milia’99. What do the Western press write about i?. Do the American and European magazines also compare it with the Age of Empires?
GSC. Cossacks made a sensation on Milia’99 because by that time the AOE had already been released and the AOE2 had no even a demo version. That is, Cossacks was compared with AOE. Our 8000 units with their limit of 50, our 3D landscape with their 2D one, our resolution of 1600×1200 with their 1024×768, our smooth units movement, our ships with turns in 256 directions with their ships jerking in 8 directions. All this had made impression on press. They wrote: ”Cossacks rise their heads”, ”Cossacks kill AOE” etc. Even today Cossacks is still compared with AOE, now with the second part of it. Some people say that Cossacks is a AOE2 clone (perhaps because of the green color of the grass, in AOE 2 it is also green), others write that it has nothing in common with it (except for grass, of cause).
GL. By the way, to the green grass…Some people are disappointed by comparatively monotonous landscape in Cossacks. Can you evaluate your creation objectively and name its main drawbacks?
GSC. Well, objectively the game can be evaluated perhaps only by gamers. For us, developers, it is rather difficult to do. Now we are a bit sorry that we had not enough time to realize some ideas. For example we didn’t realize such features as possibility to dig trenches, to capture ships by boarding, animated trees. This is the reason why the landscape is not so detailed as we would like. But in add-on which we are already working at we will introduce new landscape elements: animated waterfalls, rivers, spring, new types of vegetation.
Will there be the continuation of Cossacks? How do you see it. Can you imagine Cossacks to be fully 3D?
GSC. Now we are planning the release of add-on. It will include additional missions for Austria, Algeria, Poland, Prussia and Saxony, new single missions. There will be new units and ships. The gamers will see the famous Prussian hussars, the best in Europe Prussian musketeers, XVIII c. frigates and battleships the crown of development of the sail ships of war, cutters and bomber ketches, Turkish patrol ships. There will be such exotic units as submarines, designed and used in the end of XVIII c. There’ll be unique units and buildings in the missions.
GL. We are waiting this add-on impatiently. And what projects developed in Russia and Ukraine are to your mind the most promising.
GSC. Of those that have been already released I liked most the Evil Islands. Of those that are under development I would name Etherlords , the project of Nival. The first material looks great.
GL. And the last question. What would you like to say to the Cossacks fans and to your colleagues among whom there are also some RTS developers?
GSC. RTS is a young and rapidly developing genre of computer games. Don’t believe to Blizzard that tells that RTS is dying. Though it is RPG that is leading in all the charts, RTS has a huge potential and Cossacks is the good proof for that. Industrial monsters has missed a lot of interesting and impressive in RTS. I think we could prove that RTS is the most promising and popular genre.