Offices GSC Game World smelled like a gas station. Kyiv studio responsible for the iconic immersive simulator STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl and its hotly anticipated direct sequel STALKER 2, During the turbulent winter of 2022, he stockpiled thousands of liters of fuel — along with first aid kits and other survival gear — in his corridors. Who could blame them? Everyone in Ukraine was preparing for the worst.
International headlines in January and February 2022 warned that a massive Russian invasion of the country was imminent. The conflict, if it occurs, will be the most destabilizing military confrontation on the European continent since the end of the Cold War. GSC Game World left a legacy of tense gunplay, eerie atmosphere and perfectly twisted side quests, but now the studio was forced to contend with a far more pressing reality that transcended the rigors of game development.
“All winter long, emergency buses stood in the GSC office with drivers ready for action,” says lead producer of the project Maria Grigorovich. STALKER 2. (Grigorovich agreed to answer my questions via email due to the language barrier.) “The evacuation plan with all the dates and meeting points was also ready: the employees were aware of their organizational responsibilities if necessary.”
Ukraine is home to over 200,000 programmers and computer engineers. In recent years, the country has established itself as something of a regional haven for the tech sector, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue despite a supply chain that is strangled by Russian military operations. (After all, most of these workers only need a laptop and an Internet connection to keep track of their time.) In that sense, GSC Game World is one of many Ukrainian companies struggling to stay afloat despite massive layoffs, widespread shortages, and frequent travel. to public shelters that define a zone of active hostilities. Yes, GSC has a game to release, but the company also needs to keep its employees safe when the bombs start to fall.
As messages from the Russian border grew more dire and foreign countries began withdrawing their embassy staff from Kyiv, GSC offered to relocate some of its staff to Uzhgorod, a medium-sized city close to potential refugee gathering centers in Slovakia and Hungary. Two hundred workers and their families agreed to participate, while others moved to neighboring Budapest. Those who came to Uzhgorod packed one suitcase each and pulled out of the office all the equipment they could collect.
The mood, according to Grigorovich, was both anxious and strangely optimistic. Yes, GSC Game World moved from Kyiv, but the team has not yet left the embrace of Ukraine itself. Many still believed that more sober heads would prevail and all Russian insults would be graciously exposed as false saber-rattling. Wouldn’t it be nice if all this talk of an invasion dissipated into thin air?
“It seemed that anyone could go back to Kyiv if there was no escalation,” Grigorovich explains. “This scenario was not destined to come true. Soon a full-fledged war began.
Today GSC Game World is a double company. While 130 employees are still in Ukraine – some of them on the front lines defending their country – 200 have moved to Prague, which now serves as GSC’s main headquarters, after a long refugee journey through Eastern Europe. This is without a doubt one of the biggest challenges a video game studio has ever faced. Russia launched an offensive against Ukraine on February 24, 2022 at approximately 4 am local time. Kyiv was immediately subjected to a massive bombardment, and any hope that the Putin regime was seeking limited territorial gains, limited to the country’s eastern flank, was immediately dispelled. Uzhhorod was relatively safe from the line of fire, but the studio still had a lot of its team in the Ukrainian capital. “Some people living in the Kyiv region were sure that Bucha or Irpin would be relatively safe under any scenario,” Grigorovich explains, naming two outskirts of the city. “It’s a miracle that we finally convinced them to leave, given all the horror that followed.”