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Meet the Ukrainian developers making games in the middle of a war

Drills, D&D and hope: We speak to developer Nordcurrent about their experience during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Updated: May 31, 2022 2:55 pm
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To say the year has been difficult for Ukraine would be an understatement. Towards the end of February, Russia declared a completely unjust war upon the country, ignoring any and all human rights and completely unrooting the country in every possible way. In addition to the loss of human life, everyday life has all but been halted in the region. This has included several video game developers who have either had to delay games, completely move their studios or go completely radio silent. To that end, we spoke to members of the Nordcurrent team, Simonas Sturys (Head of Marketing), Alexander Bravve (Head of Development) and Tatyana Margolina (Head of the Dnipro office) about the situation in Ukraine, how the conflict has disrupted their usual every-day life, and more.

Bravve states: ‘In Dnipro almost all employees decided to stay, due to different reasons, and some part of Odessa left Ukraine to Europe or Poland.’ Tatyana Margolina, head of the Dnipro office, elaborates upon this: ’20 people out of 30 are in the office in Dnipro. In the first weeks, more employees left Dnipro, either to Western Ukraine or to Poland or to other countries. Now that the situation has [been] established in Dnipro city, some of those who left are coming back, little by little.’

But, the team did not go into the current situation lightly, as Tatyana tells me. ‘The war started on the 24th [of February]. There was information before that however that there was a high probability of conflict, so we had a meeting in the office to decide what we should do if a war broke out. On the evening of the 23rd, we practised the evacuation from the office to the shelter.’ They recall. Nordcurrent were well-prepared with exactly what to do, should the conflict escalate. As they’d come to learn, it’d come in handy. The team evacuated the building on February 24 as planned the evening before, and for a moment, their lives were uprooted, as a new status-quo was established.

Working out of a shelter

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Tatyana continues to explain that the shelter is currently based in the basement of the Dnipro office, which was actually in the middle of construction when the war itself broke out.

‘The basement wasn’t being used, we’re currently reconstructing that part of the building so we decided that we would use that section of the building as a shelter during the war, and our first step is for everybody to meet in the office during a situation.’

As we’re talking, it becomes rapidly apparent that the team over at Nordcurrent is trying to keep morale up in any way, but that it has proven tougher than expected. ‘They’re currently ready to go into a bomb shelter at a moment’s notice and are prepared for alarms to start ringing at any point’, as Tatyana points out. ‘[For the] first two months, it was not possible to work effectively from outside of the office. Therefore part of our employees actually stayed in the office, or rather lived in the office throughout multiple alarms. Being together with a team, it helped to keep [our] mental state high and gave us the trust and motivation to work.’

It’s not all about work for Nordcurrent, as they’ve found themselves indulging in the tried-and-true tabletop RPG experience, which has proven to come in very handy, as Bravve states. ‘The first week after the war started, we were playing Dungeons and Dragons. The main reason why we did this is because in this game, you can influence directly the world around you, which is something that you can’t do right now in Ukraine. This is about escapism.’

In Dungeons and Dragons and many other tabletop RPGs, the world is controlled by the dungeon master, and players are able to freely make their own choices with what actions they’d like to perform, or where they might want to go. This is something that’s proven to be a luxury in the middle of the current conflict in Ukraine, which has seen Nordcurrent turn to living inside of a shelter in the basement of their offices, while their country is embroiled in a conflict that we can’t begin to imagine. But, as the war continues to rage on between Russia and Ukraine, Nordcurrent doesn’t want to stop making games, and look past the present, and towards what they hope will be a brighter future.

The future of Nordcurrent

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The conversation moved to what the future might look like for Nordcurrent, as they are clearly itching to keep the ball rolling with their ongoing game development, and updates for existing titles, with some hopeful ideas that we sincerely hope happen for them.

‘Maybe we will make some avatars for character customization for Ukraine Victory Day’ Bravve laughs. ‘We recently released a game that was developed in Dnipro office [Happy Clinic] that was a big success and released just a month before the war started. We’re releasing games more or less constantly, with a number of them in soft launch where we test features and how they run on different systems.’

Being able to continuously run the business while also in the middle of a war is incredibly commendable, and is something that could potentially shape their games moving forward. Nordcurrent is currently balancing a lot, preparing for their future and what is to come after the war itself. As Bravve puts it, ‘We constantly have a number of the games in soft launch. Now some will be developed further and will be released at some time as the global product, and we’re also having a kind of diversification of our business. We launched a PC publishing division more than a year ago, and we’re not just only focusing our core casual games but trying different genres, different branches.’

The war in Ukraine has not been enough to halt Nordcurrent’s hunger for games development and success, and we hope to catch up with them in the future. Until then, they’re going to be quietly rolling their d20s in their makeshift shelter in the basement of the Dnipro office, while dreaming up new ideas for their current titles, as well as developing new ones, too.

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