I'm Back In The USSR
On a rainy autumn day of September 27 2004 my plane touched down in Moscow international airport. But light rain surely could not ruin my spirit, as I was on my way to a four day International Press Tour 2004, arranged by Buka Entertainment in order to showcase its upcoming products. For those unfamiliar with this company, Buka Entertainment is one of the leading publishers in the territories of ex-USSR, having published more than a hundred games there, and is a producer of Russian-made games, some of which, like Hard Truck, Wind Warriors, Battle Mages and The Entente, you’ve probably already played. This time they've had a few new games to showcase, so journalists from all around the world were invited.
September 27, 2004
The press tour started on the evening of September 27th, when the kind girls and guys from Buka took us for a tour of Moscow. Traveling around the Red Square we had a chance to see and touch one of the most magnificent places in the world; a place where you can see history come alive – since the old days the Red Square didn't change much, apart of the occasional fires. Those wondering about the origin of the square's name will be surprised that it has nothing to do with communism – as a matter of fact, in ancient Russian language the word “red” also meant “beautiful”, and so the Beautiful Square it was named by the Tzars. No matter the name, some nasty things have also happened on this square, such as executions (during certain periods of time in Russian history gallows were made early in the morning for those waiting to be hanged on a particular day every week here), and even until now Lenin's mummy is lying in the Mausoleum (which you can see on one of the photos – not Lenin, but the Masoleum itself).
However Moscow itself no longer reminded of its communist past; as a matter of fact it looked almost like any other Western city I’ve visited so far (if not for the traffic, that was really bad by any standards, and people breaking every rule possible on the road didn't make it any better –- with the cops doing nothing about it). Screaming advertisements, shopping centres, casinos, hordes of people shopping and going out... Who would have thought that only 15 years ago it was a completely different country? The evening ended in a nice restaurant located on the famous Arbat street, a street made exclusively for pedestrians many centuries ago.
September 28, 2004
The next day, upon awakening, we’ve proceeded to Buka Entertainment’s headquarters, all while still admiring the city, and not so much, the traffic. Upon arrival, we were given a tour of Buka’s offices and warehouse, both of which looked quite modern and cozy. At the moment Buka Entertainment employs around 90 people, and we got to see all of the different departments as well as meet some interesting people. Next on, we were shown a beta version of the first person shooter Hellforces, currently under development in Voronezh-based Orion development company, and the first expansion pack for Battle Mages, dubbed Sign of Darkness (developed by Targem Games). You'll be able to read a preview of it soon right here on GamersHell.com.
After a short stop for lunch where among other things we’ve tried a Russian alcoholic drink called “Khrenovukha” (made from vodka and horse radish – arguably the best thing to save you from cold), after whch we’ve proceeded to the studios of Ice Pick Lodge, the developers of cross-genre horror survival game Pathologic... On our way we’ve passed through the Moscow subway system, which is, as I’ve once read, the biggest subway system in the world -- and which is arguably the only complete remainder of Russia’s communist past (the paintings and sculptures inside were not changed from the communist era – and why change them when they look so nice?). While this served no immediate purpose, I believe it was a way of Buka’s to prepare us for the upcoming first person shooter of theirs, Stalin’s Subway, a beta of which we unfortunately were not shown, as it was still too “raw” for press presentations. At Ice Pick Lodge’s studio we’ve been greeted by their friendly PR manager, main game designer (on photo below), game producer and some of the guys that work on the game. The presentation was really interesting, and I hope you’ll check our website again in a few days to read the full preview of the game.
The night of September 28-29 was spent in a train going to St. Petersburg, dubbed the “Red Arrow” by Russians... Six hours on the train passed as a few minutes, as all journalists that came for the press tour got to know each other, and after a few glasses of the most traditional Russian drink (vodka) we all became friends and had a jolly good chat for the remainder of the night, chatting about stuff that journalists like to talk about... I think we even broke a world record, by fitting 14 people into one single compartment of the train! Bedtime was really late, or early, depending on the way you look at it... At 6am we had to be up, and that’s when yours truly and another journalist were forgotten in our compartment, and Sergey Rudenko, Buka Entertainment’s Vice Licensing Manager, heroically went to our rescue to the depot (where the train has dragged us meanwhile) and woke us up.... This was certainly not the awakening I was hoping for, but the rest of the day fully made up for this little inconvenience.
September 29, 2004
After a few hours of sleep at the hotel, we’ve started our day in St. Petersburg by visiting Lesta Studios, the developers that have made The Entente: WW1 Battlefields, and whose upcoming project is RTS/flight-sim mix, Pacific Storm. These guys were really kind to us, and even allowed us to try out the most current beta version of the game for ourselves.... which I was quite positively impressed with. Next in line, were MADiA, the development studio responsible for flight sims Echelon and Echelon: Wind Warriors. They were presenting their upcoming first person shooter Operation: Matriarchy.
After the presentations we went for a lunch at a really great restaurant, the name of which eludes me right now, but Russian food there was really delicious. A two hour boat tour of St. Petersburg on the Neva river followed. Among other things we’ve seen the first fortress that was established in place of modern St. Petersburg in 1703, and from which the city has started, as well as the famous arts museum Hermitage, and the cruiser Aurora, which was the ship which has started the 1917 Red revolution in Russia... just check out the photos to see some great views of St. Petersburg. A dinner in a restaurant located on a ship has followed, where Max Mikhailev, Buka Entertainment’s Vice President International, kept the party going. After that all of the journalists had spare time, which we’ve quite obviously used to do some games shopping (games are VERY cheap in Russia), and later on go to the bar.
September 30, 2004
The press tour was now officially over, and I’ve spent the night awake, wandering about sleepy night streets of St. Petersburg and talking about life in the country with a nice girl that worked at the hotel we’ve stayed in... sleep was out of the question, as this was my last night in this strange, and yet inevitably attracting land that we call Russia... To be honest, I didn’t quite feel like leaving just yet, but the plane couldn’t wait... The trip back to Canada from St. Petersburg took around 26 hours, counting the time I’ve spent waiting for planes in various airports (St. Petersburg -> Moscow -> JFK (NY) -> Toronto), so I actually got some good sleep after all my adventures... Stay tuned for previews of all the games I got to see and try while in Russia, they’ll be posted right here in the following days.
P.S. Big thanks to Claudio Todeschini of TGMOnline for letting me use some of his photographs – he admittedly has much better artistic taste and skills than me ;)