Bóg, Honor, Ojczyzna
Poland doesn’t exactly spring to mind when you think of game development. You’re much more likely to think of Japan, the USA , France or the UK when prompted. However, it’s time they should be considered. Since the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, the 29th-best country in the world to live in according to this Newsweek survey, has found itself on the cusp of a gaming revolution, with more and more developers emerging from Eastern and Central-Eastern Europe. In the first of a series of three articles, my mission is to educate you, the benevolent reader, in the ways of game development in Central and Eastern Europe, starting with Poland. At a time when one of the highest rated and most successful PC games of the year is Polish-developed, now seems as good a time as ever.
There are three key developers I want to focus on, covering a range of games and genres released since the 1990s. Not all of the games are great titles - a few are terrible. However, amongst the mediocre titles are a few gems that everybody should play. And we’ll start with by far the biggest and best developer in Poland.
Key Products: The Witcher series, Good Old Games and Metropolis Software’s games.
One of the biggest games distributors in Europe, CD Projekt have had a profound impact on not only the video games industry in Poland, but also the lives of gamers worldwide. Being the first company to distribute computer games on CD, and being the first company to translate international games such as Baldur’s Gate and Heroes of Might and Magic V into Polish using well-known Polish actors. They are generally considered to have brought the modern games industry to Poland.
It doesn’t end there. In 2002, they formed a subsidiary development team, CD Projekt Red, whose first game was Wiedźmin,or The Witcher to me and you, based on the books by legendary Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. If you haven’t played The Witcher , read the review by our imperial warlord Falconer here, and then consider the fact that the Enhanced Edition, readily available everywhere, improves upon the game in every single way by adding more animations, dialogue and improving the stability of the game. It really is one of the greatest RPGs of our time.
Expanding in distribution and translation in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, CD Projekt has increased its influence in Central and Eastern Europe. They also purchased Infernal and Gorky 17 developer Metropolis Software in 2008, greenlighting the first person shooter They, which has since been placed on hold to concentrate on one of the best games of 2011 so far, The Witcher II: Assassin of Kings. Built on a proprietary engine, rather than Bioware’s outdated Aurora engine, The Witcher II boasts stunning graphics, and improves upon the original in nearly every department. My colleague Davneet was particularly enamoured with it, as can be seen in his review here.
But it’s not just through groundbreaking new games that CD Projekt is affecting the lives of gamers worldwide, it is also through the power of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, with memories of games you played lasting longer than many memories of apparently ‘important’ things, like family birthdays and when you were supposed to put the bins out. However, there is often the problem that when you try to play the older games on modern systems, they can have compatibility issues or DRM issues you can’t resolve (entering words from manuals you no longer have in your possession, for example). CD Projekt have sought to eradicate this problem with their site Good Old Games, which allows you to purchase exactly that - Good (with a few exceptions) Old Games, without DRM and with a lot of extras. With Publishers such as EA and Activision on board, GOG (as it is affectionately known) is a digital distribution service with a unique selling point and a large community.
CD Projekt is therefore the behemoth of Polish developers, and this seems set to continue with the recent announcement of a joint venture with Disney in Poland to help distribute films, games and other content. This further increases their stature within Poland, and they look as if they will go from strength to strength both domestically and internationally.