Meet the Ukrainian developers making games in the midst of war

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To say it has been a difficult year for Ukraine would be an understatement. Towards the end of February, Russia declared a completely unjust war on the country, ignoring all human rights and completely uprooting the country in every way possible. In addition to the loss of life, daily life has been virtually interrupted in the region. This has included several video game developers who have had to delay games, move their studios entirely, or go completely silent. To that end, we spoke to Nordcurrent team members Simonas Sturys (head of marketing), Alexander Bravve (head of development) and Tatyana Margolina (head of Dnipro office) about the situation in Ukraine, how whose conflict has disrupted their usual daily life, and more.

Bravve says: “In Dnipro, almost all employees decided to stay, for different reasons, and part of Odessa left Ukraine for Europe or Poland.” Tatyana Margolina, head of the Dnipro office, explains: “20 out of 30 people are in the Dnipro office. In the first weeks, more employees left Dnipro, either to western Ukraine, to Poland, or to other countries. Now that the situation has [been] settled in the city of Dnipro, some of those who left are gradually returning.

But, the team did not come into the current situation lightly, as Tatyana tells me. “The war began on the 24the [of February]. There was information before that however that there was a high likelihood 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 practiced evacuating the office to the shelter. They call back. Nordcurrent was well prepared and knew exactly what to do if the conflict escalated. As they came to learn, it would be useful to them. The team evacuated the building on February 24 as planned the evening before, and for a time their lives were uprooted, as a new status quo was established.

Work in a shelter

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

“The basement was not used, we are currently rebuilding this part of the building, so we decided to use this part of the building as a shelter during the war, and our first step is for everyone to meet in the office during a situation.’

As we speak, it quickly becomes apparent that the Nordcurrent team are trying to maintain morale in some way, but it has proven more difficult than expected. “They are currently ready to enter a bomb shelter at any time and are ready for the alarms to start ringing at any time,” as Tatyana points out. ‘[For the] first two months it was not possible to work effectively from outside the office. Therefore, part of our employees stayed in the office, or rather lived in the office during several alarms. Being together with a team helped keep [our] high mental state and gave us the confidence and motivation to work.

It’s not just a matter of work for Nordcurrent, as they’ve found themselves indulging in the tried-and-true tabletop RPG experience, which has come in very handy, as Bravve states. “The first week after the war started, we were playing Dungeons and Dragons. The main reason we did this is because in this game you can directly influence the world around you, which you can’t. currently in Ukraine. It is a question of escape.

In Dungeons and Dragons and many other tabletop RPGs, the world is controlled by the Dungeon Master, and players are free to make their own choices with what actions they would like to take or where they might want to go. It’s something that has proven to be a luxury amid the current conflict in Ukraine, which has seen Nordcurrent turn to living inside a shelter in the basement of their offices, as their country is drawn into a conflict that we cannot begin to imagine. But, as war continues to rage between Russia and Ukraine, Nordcurrent doesn’t want to stop making games, and look beyond the present, and towards what they hope will be a better future.

The future of Nordcurrent

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The conversation shifted to what Nordcurrent’s future might look like, as they’re clearly looking forward to continuing development of their ongoing game and updates for existing titles, with some hopeful ideas that we sincerely hope to come true for them.

“Maybe we will do avatars for character customization for Ukraine Victory Day,” Bravve laughs. ‘We recently released a game that was developed in the Dnipro office [Happy Clinic] which was a big hit and released just a month before the war started. We release games more or less regularly, with a number of them in soft launch where we test features and how they work on different systems.

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

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

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