After a period of suspicious silence, we knew something new was simmering in the MHG kitchen, but not exactly what. That’s precisely why we have spent Friday night glued to the screens closely following the exclusive presentation of the new game Scars Above.
“An alien object appears near Earth. A team of astronauts goes to explore the object and that departure results in an event that causes the astronauts to be transported to an unknown alien planet. The protagonist Kate, a mission specialist – astrobiologist and a member of the Scars team, who are in charge of examining conscious life, is transported to that hostile environment, along with her team members” that is how Ivan Zorkić begins the story of this scary but also exciting world they created.
We, of course, had other questions concerning, first of all, the process of creating the game.
SGA: How did the Embracer collaboration help MHG work on this type of project? Access to resources, seniors, something else altogether?
Ivan: We started the project before MHG became part of the Embracer group, so we already had a plan for the project and ideas of what we wanted to achieve. However, when we found a publisher (Koch Media, which publishes the game as part of the recently announced label “Prime Matter”), we got a partner with experience and knowledge that meant a lot to us. Soon after, we ourselves became part of the Embracer group, of which Koch is also a member, which further expanded our possibilities.
From our partners within Embracer, we receive help, resources, and knowledge in several areas: from experience in working with owners of gaming platforms (so-called 1st party), through support in testing and analyzing the game, to help provide all the necessary technology and equipment to release the game on game consoles. There is also marketing support, a well-coordinated feedback system, technical support, etc.
In Serbia, things are improving in terms of game development, but many obstacles are still difficult to overcome alone. And generally speaking, there is a certain trend of consolidation in the industry – merging different companies with common goals. The industry is like that in general, it’s really hard to succeed on your own, and as long as you share the same vision with your partners, things are easier when you perform united. By joining Embracer, we have kept what makes us Mad Head, and our possibilities have expanded considerably.
SGA: Did working on your previous project Pagan Absent Gods, help with this one?
Ivan: Although Pagan Absent Gods and Scars Above are different games, a lot of the experience gained is transferable and usable. Pagan was our first action game and our first core game and we learned a lot there and gained some knowledge without which this project would have been much more difficult. More importantly, with Pagan we started the process of transforming MHG from a casual to a core game developer, which meant establishing new internal procedures, new working methods but also, in a way, changing the way of thinking.
The whole process is long and complex, but the first and most important steps were taken on Pagan. In addition, Pagan also gave us experience working with a major publisher and created many contacts that we did not have before. Also, we learned a lot about technology through Pagan, and the attractiveness of that project for developers allowed us to strengthen the team quite a bit.
SGA: How did the team progress, compared to when you first joined MHG?
Ivan: In many ways. MHG is the same creative, enjoyable, slightly crazy studio with a soul that it always has been. On the other hand, in some respects, it is almost unrecognizable in relation to its early history. We have learned so much, gained so much experience, that it is really difficult to compare the humble beginnings of our studio with where we are now. People who have been with us for a long time have gained a lot of knowledge – from knowledge of technology to in-depth understanding of various work techniques – and many new people have joined us and brought with them their skills, which then spread throughout the studio. Progress, therefore, exists both in depth and breadth, in every sense – technological, technical, artistic, organizational, etc.
SGA: How can studios and companies further advance this maturation of teams ?
Ivan: By organizing and planning – through a systematic approach to everything, an approach that draws on previous experiences and creates a basis for further progress. I think it is important to have a strong vision, the goal you are going towards – your mission. When you have a clear direction, you go towards it faster, because you build the experience in a focused way. I intentionally use the word “building”, because experience, for me, is an architectural construct – you need to build both in width and height, but if you start different structures again, you will not be able to rely on what has already been built. That is why it is good to have that direction so that you can achieve your goals by building. This is easier said than done, it is often as difficult for companies to find their way as it is for individuals. We have gone through various phases, and I think that has given us certain views that we would not otherwise have, but I think that we have now found our way and it accelerates our maturation as well. Of course, we are constantly working on educating people, on improving the work process, all through the prism of our values and common goals.
SGA: What can the entire Serbian ecosystem learn from this example?
Ivan: I think every developer has their own unique story from which lessons can be learned. Our story is about perseverance, but not stubbornness. Even when we stumbled, we found the strength to move on – and in this industry, stumbling is just part of the job. But no matter how persistent we were, we were also ready to change and adapt, to accept new challenges and change in accordance with them. I think adapting to new circumstances is key to game development. Each part of the history of this studio is a story in itself, and although we are now slowly entering , I would say, a longer-term period, I know that this story of ours will have new chapters and that we will not be willing to continue to change.