Developer interview: Chernobylite

Every now and then, you see an announcement that makes you realize how closely related art and real life can be. Such a case was the announcement of the next gen console versions of Chernobylite, which are coming out next week on the 21st. To mark the occasion, we talked to Wojciech Pazdur, developer and creative director at The Farm 51. We discussed the development process for the game, what players can expect from the new versions and how the developers are dealing with what’s happening in and around Chernobyl right now.

You went the Kickstarter route with Chernobylite, which through stretch goals also helps determine the scope of your game. Looking back, how did you experience that phase as a designer and developer?

We had a clear vision on what we wanted to achieve with our Kickstarter campaign. When we launched our Kickstarter, we already had a playable demo to present the game’s prototype. However, the outcome of the campaign was way better than we initially planned, so we published stretch goals with our propositions for additional content.

At the time, the game was in its early stage and the gameplay was focused on survival, team and time management. With further development we began to add more and more elements which made the game more interesting to the player. Thanks to our Kickstarter backers, and later on Early Access players we were able to adjust some of the mechanics to players’ actual tastes. Sometimes this resulted in throwing out some elements completely, and sometimes redesigning them thoroughly. In further development during Early Access, when we were thinking of new mechanics or content, we kept in mind what our players would really want to have in the game. Sometimes their requests were met and we added features based on their feedback. We wanted to create the game along with the community from the very beginning and we think we did a good job here. It really helped us make a better game.

Chernobylite originally launched in Steam’s Early Access program. What was your approach to keeping the community involved over a period of almost two years?

First of all, we wanted to keep the community posted on what is happening in the project. Since day 1 we have been posting weekly reports with insights from behind the scenes, sneak peeks on the upcoming content, fun facts from the development and so on. Until today we published 116 such reports. There were also major news updates, changelogs and hotfixes – in other words full transparency. Apart from that we’ve been in close contact with the players through the Steam forum, read their feedback, addressed their issues, and collected bug reports. Each piece of information from our fans was treated seriously and quite often was implemented to the game. The fact that the community had an actual influence on how the game looked, encouraged many players to jump in and follow the project.

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How do you feel about the reception towards the game? Anything you would have done differently?

We’re satisfied with the game’s reception. We feel that we made a good game and players see that. Our reviews on Steam are “Very Positive”, several outlets mentioned our games in various rankings and “top games of 2021”.

What could we have done differently? Probably we would reconsider adding enemy soldiers. It made a lot of sense from the designer’s perspective, after all, there are soldiers in the actual Exclusion Zone and it reflects the feeling of the place. However, when we take a look at this from today’s perspective, we were a small, 30-people team trying to make a game which would compete with huge titles like Metro, Stalker or Call of Duty. Titles made by teams of hundreds. Despite our enormous efforts and tons of work (of which we are still very proud) it would be wiser to limit combat to monster enemies. This way we could focus more on interesting mechanics instead of people-like AI which is definitely more complex and difficult to make on a good quality level in a team of our size.

To what degree does the upcoming launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X versions of Chernobylite feel like the end of a long process for you as developers?

The release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X | S versions, but also the Enhanced PC Edition, is undoubtedly the result of months of hard work. Our main goal was to add Ray Tracing to the graphics options to introduce even more realism to the already graphically advanced game. Reaching this point gives us incredible satisfaction, and it is also the moment long awaited by the players. One of the most frequently asked questions from the community concerned the Next Gen version of the game.

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Let us not forget, however, that this is not the end of our path. We plan to release a large amount of new content for players, both free and paid. Spread over 4 Seasons. So while this stage is coming to an end, the journey will continue for many months to come.

The game is set in and around the city of Chernobyl, which is a popular location for games and films. Why did you go the extra step by visiting and scanning the environment for extra authenticity?

There were a few reasons. Firstly, we wanted to create a very immersive world. The Zone is a place that’s one of a kind and our goal was to transfer this uniqueness from real life to the game’s world. Especially when Pripyat and its surroundings have been deteriorating and slowly disappearing throughout the years and will vanish completely one day. Secondly, we’ve been researching 3D scanning technology for over 6 years now starting with our previous game Get Even and later Chernobyl VR project – a documentary about the Chernobyl disaster meant for VR headsets. During these years we learned that thanks to 3D scanning and photogrammetry we can achieve amazing results and high quality 3D assets with significantly less time and workload. Combining these two arguments, it was natural for us to choose photogrammetry as the main tool to create 3D assets for Chernobylite.

What’s one of the most common misconceptions people have about a place like Chernobyl?

It’s probably the radiation. People still tend to think that it’s extremely dangerous, even life-threatening. In reality, radiation in most places is not much higher than in a bigger city or during plane travel. Of course, there are spots with high radiation and some metal objects are still radioactive, and the Zone is still covered with radioactive dust. But when you behave reasonably and obey the rules when visiting the Zone, it’s safe to be there. The real danger there today are decaying buildings, and the risk of having a roof fragment fall on your head is higher than the risk from the radiation.

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What goes through your mind when you see the current events that are unfolding in and around Chernobyl?

We are heartbroken when we see what is happening in the whole Ukraine over the past weeks. This war, like any other, is an unnecessary violence which takes lives of innocent people and forces millions to flee and abandon their homes while those who stayed have to fight for their lives during the humanitarian crisis. It’s impossible to imagine that one day, instead of having a nice morning coffee before work, you hear there is war in your country and nothing will be the same again. That is why we decided to donate our weekly incomes from Chernobylite to the Ukrainian Red Cross and we recently launched the Charity Pack DLC of which whole proceedings will be transferred to the Ukrainian Pure Heart Foundation for medical and humanitarian aid. Console players can buy this DLC on GOG and Epic Store without having to buy the game itself. We encourage everyone to join ours or any other charity activities to help our friends in Ukraine. We hope peace will come soon but Ukraine will be needing help for a long time to rebuild their country.

Chernobylite is heading to new/next gen console systems soon. What are some of the changes people can expect when compared to the existing versions out there?

In both the case of the PS5 and the Xbox Series X | S, players will get two graphics options: “Performance” with 60 FPS and higher quality visuals, and “Resolution” with 30 FPS and a higher resolution, with Ray Tracing implemented and more details including shadow, environment and texture quality. And thanks to the use of SSD drives, players will be able to play almost immediately without unnecessary waiting for the game to load.

In addition, Xbox Series X | S users will get additional vibrations during the game. In the case of the PS5, we go one step further. The new pad allows the implementation of special vibrations, thanks to which each weapon has a different feeling on the rear triggers. The resistance players will feel when firing (which is different for different weapons) will make them feel each shot as if they are actually clicking the trigger.

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