GSC Game World was founded in 1995 by Sergiy Grygorovych, when he was 15 years old. The Kyiv base a year later, in 1996, was already a two-room apartment with 15 employees. Among the first employees of the company was, of course, Sergiy’s younger brother, Evgeniy, who is still present at the studio to this day, but Andrew Prokhorov, who is now strengthening the 4A Games team, was also there.
Initially, they specialized in the creation of multimedia encyclopedias and educational software, which those very popular in Ukraine and Russia at that time as well. Then they thought one thing, to our great delight! In 1997, the company decided to focus its knowledge on computer games. Their first project was a non-commercial work called Warcraft2000, implemented with a dedicated small team (programmers, artists, designers and musicians). Warcraft 2000 as a theme choice was no accident. They saw huge potential in the Blizzard classic and hoped that with this project they would be able to pique their interest and they could make the next part of Warcraft. A demo was also unveiled at Mila’99, but the Blizzard producer literally left him without a word (he simply stood up and left the presentation). This behavior was mysterious to the team. Perhaps shocked by the sight of using the look of Warcraft, they managed to create a demo that was able to display hundreds of orcs and humans on one screen at a resolution of 1024×768. Because they came to a dead end in this way, the project was completed, and the engine code was made available for free on the Internet. There was no beta test for the project, not even technical support.
Interestingly, the head of Microsoft’s gaming division, who is entering the market with Age of Empires, also saw the project at the event, even exchanging business cards with him, but the relationship never continued. Yet Age of Empires 3 was seen by the gentleman in this project.
The Cossacks come into action
According to the developers’s reminiscence, Cossacks was already unveiled at Mila99 alongside Warcraft2000, where they potentially noticed the studio’s first serious title. CDV Entertainment later came into focus, who then acquired the publishing rights.
Although some interviews said they always wanted to call their game Cossacks, but the French Jeuxvideo still referred to it as European Warlords in 1999, which was not far from the truth. An interview with Strategy-Gaming.com was given by Anton Bolshakov (designer), where the strategy was named European Wars: Warlord’s Style. Let’s not forget that Warlord’s Style appeared in the logo of the first parts of the Cossacks every time.
However, let’s not jump so far ahead. As we call it today, the development efforts of Cossacks: European Wars began back in 1997, thanks to the release of Age of Empires. The actual work itself began a year later, in 1998. The work of Age of Empires II was already in full elan and it was known that Ensemble Studios was targeting the Middle Ages, so Ukrainian developers – “as a sort of sequel” – focused on the struggles of 16-18th century Europe.
Turn back onto Mila99. Their game was primarily aimed to the Ukrainian and Russian markets, however, the Cossacks received a reception at the show that would have been a sin not to take advantage. The lucky ones who could see the game already loved the many playable nations there, the beautiful 2D graphics, and the thousands of units that appeared on the screen. There was no way back: to break into the international market.
As a result, the team, which numbered only 4 in 1998, had already counted 12 before the development of the game was completed, in 2000.
The game first appeared on the Russian market on November 27, 2000 with the distribution of Russobit-M, followed by the German-speaking market on November 30, 2000, thanks to the Karlsruhe-based CDV. In the other European countries had to wait until March 30, 2001, while North America “received the green flag” on April 24 this year.
By December 2001, the game had sold more than 500,000 copies in worldwide, mainly in the Russian market (there were more than 300,000 copies), followed by the English and German-speaking markets. With this, Sudden Strike became the CDV’s best-selling title. It finally crossed the 1 million at the end of 2002.
Aware of this, the Cossacks could not avoid continuing.
Another dream of GSC GameWorld is to step out of the shadow of the Cossacks and enter the AAA market. Targeting the world of increasingly popular action games, they began developing Oblivion Lost and Venom. In the case of the latter, with the powerful help of Virgin Interactive, the development was finally completed in 2001 and entered the North American market on November 25, 2001 as Codename Outbreak. Despite the budget price range, it was not a blockbuster, and even critics did not paint too good an opinion of the game in the international press (Metacritic score: 55).
The other project, Oblivion Lost, would have been a sci-fi-themed shooting range, but Ukrainian developers were greatly influenced by the Strugacky brothers’s classic, Roadside Picnic. Using this and mixed with the nearby Chernobyl theme, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. The Oblivion Lost project was thus completely rewritten into their own Chernobyl world (note that the early subtitle of the work even featured Oblivion Lost, which was eventually discarded but restored to glory by a fan mode). However, the development took a very long time.
In addition to all this, there was even a siding in the history of GSC Game World, and that is undoubtedly Hover Ace. Although the work, which blends competition and “hard” action, came on the market under the care of the renowned Strategy Informer, it did not become as popular among players as the games that inspired it: WipeOut, POD.
Back to the roots!
The success of the Cossacks has encouraged the pair of GSC Game World and CDV to continue on the path paved with their current success. The U.S. market performed worse than expected in terms of sales, so Ukrainian developers tried to lure the “overseas” player base with a resounding title, the American Conquest.
Fortunately, the development of the American Conquest did not hinder the Cossacks series. The first add-on to the game, The Art of War, was released on April 1, 2002. The 5 new campaigns, the 2 new nations (Bavaria and Denmark) were followed by other little things like the map editor requested by the community, the 16 times larger maps, and other minor modifications.
The success of Cossacks: The Art of War reassured the developers that they had brought to life ideas already planned but eventually omitted from the first add-on. Cossacks: Back to War released on October 18, 2002, and finally brought Hungary and Switzerland to the list of selectable nations. The second add-on, which could be run as standalone, brought several minor innovations (educational campaign, single-player missions), but mixed the three releases into one.
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