When was the first time you saw a computer?
I saw my first computer when I was around 17 when my high school took us on an educational trip to visit some big construction company - in those days everything here was big. They had one large room filled with what seemed like absolutely nothing. We were told that this was a computer and they printed us pictures of Snowhite and the Seven Dwarves that were comprised entirely of numbers. Also, as some part of our curriculum at high school, we had five hours of programming basics but if there were any computers available they didn't let us use them - the logic of Communists.
When did you play your first game?
As you can see, I certainly didn't grow up on video games. In the cultural house "Druzba" (Russian for friendship), they had some arcade games but they never caught my interest and I really didn't distinguish these games from foosball and other available mechanical games at the time. As a matter of fact, up until the revolution in '89, I didn't know anyone who had a computer or who was interested in such things. It wasn't until the time of the revolution, during a student strike, that we somehow got a PC and eventually had the chance to play some PC games. I remember that we had "Prince" and "F-19". I liked Prince but found it difficult to play with my clumsy fingers. However, I recall being quite taken with F-19. To this day I still consider that game to be a master work - mission generation, a combination of stealth, strategy and action, really a superb game. Not so long ago, I read Sid Meier's profile and found out that it was his creation, so it comes as no surprise that it's such a gem.
What about some prehistoric game experiences?
Prehistoric games, well, whenever I read interviews with developers I am envious at their mention of having had Commodores, Amigas, ZX Spectrums and the like. While at university I bought a 386 with a friend so that we could use it for design (typography) purposes. We really didn't even have any games on it, because we were afraid of viruses and Windows 3.1 was always crashing on us. I really picked up playing PC games during my fine arts study at university. We seemed to have a lot of free time, so we began to play. During my study I played lots of games, mostly action or strategy titles like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Command and Conquer etc.
When did it first occur to you that could get involved with games?
I enjoyed playing games and they interested me as a phenomenon but something really overwhelmed me when I started playing Duke - I suddenly realised that here was a game with a strong character that was well developed and made sense in relation to the game environment. This surprised me and I had great fun when I played the game. Prior to this I had never noticed that games had such potential.
When did you decide to embark on a career in games?
I studied at a fine arts university (studio video - multimedia - performance) and had my work featured at prestigious exhibitions for young artists, but yet I remained unsatisfied with it all. Stemming from my experiences with games and the internet, I had the feeling that the arts scene had only attracted multimedia works of a highly trivial nature into galleries. This is why I chose the subject of "Digital Speech" as the thesis of my dissertation, so that I might make an argument for my convictions that I had developed at school.
And in the end, I was brought to the conclusion that the most intelligent and complex way to practice this theory would be through games. I suppose it sounds a little weird - most people start to make games after years of experience playing them. I started to make games mainly to express theory.
Certainly, but without playing there would be no basis for theorising...
Of course. And while working on my dissertation, I had several formative experiences. As I have already mentioned in connection to Duke Nukem, a game can contain a "persona". Similarly, Grim Fandango fascinated me not only with its graphical form but also with how well written it was. The dialogues were comparable with those of great films. Fallout blew me away with its perfect, non-linear narrative system. I also suspect that it was with Quake that I first comprehended the strength of the community of gamers. It is something that you don't see in other areas of business.
And then came your work with Pterodon...
It was an experience that consumed several years of my life: pleasant co-workers and the chance to work on an AAA game. However, it also convinced me that I wanted to do some things differently and I got insights into how it is possible to prevent certain mistakes during the development of a game. That's why we founded Hra01.
Any design credo?
Well, nothing revolutionary. But I would say that a good game can emerge in two ways: through the skillful development of proven elements, such as with Max Payne 2, or through the functional integration of several original solutions, as with Operation Flashpoint. And of course, it can sometimes be something in between - look at Vietcong. A good game can't come into existence without ideas and a game vision.
When dealing with a reality-based theme, I think it is important to go and study primary materials such as images and written documents, scientific works, documentary films and first-hand accounts. Film and literature have already chosen from these sources what is understood to be the most interesting for their purposes and games must do the same. What is attractive in film doesn't necessarily have to work well in games - sometimes though it's good for marketing!