NARRATION: I'm Drew Scanlon.
I'm exploring the world through the lens ofgames, and I'm doing it with the support of people like you on Patreon.
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com/ClothMap In the wake of the Yugoslav wars, industriesof all kinds were slow to grow in the Balkan region.
This, of course, extended to the game industry.
We’ve touched on the Bosnian side, but thingswere tough across the border in Croatia as well.
More than 15 years after the war, a gamingconference called Reboot Develop was started by Damir Đurović, who explained to us thateven then it was a struggle.
DAMIR: There was literally nothing.
Not only that, but people were not even awareof the size of the games industry at that time.
There were literally few studios that wereknown.
In Zagreb, that was obviously Croteam becausethey are the oldest studio in the whole region– –actually, one of the oldest in Europe–thatstill lives.
And then, on the Serbian side, there was Nordeus, with their huge success of Top Eleven Football Manager.
And a few studios doing some outsourcing workand stuff like that.
All in all, you could maybe count all of them onthe fingers of two hands, and that was it.
DREW: It seems like there was sort of a “chickenand the egg” situation happening, where people wanted to develop games but there wasn't agame industry so it was hard to get funding.
DAMIR: Basically, at that time, there wasno Unity, there was no Unreal, so it was really, really hard to even start developing anything.
You needed a lot of resources, and you neededsuper talented people, to basically start building your own engine from scratch.
Croteam was one the very few ones that decidedto do that, in the end to great success.
They are still working on their own engine, of course, the Serious Engine.
But at that time, it was harder to start inthe games industry all around the world.
Here, even more so, because there was a lackof financial resources.
NARRATION: If you've heard of one game developerin the Balkans, chances are it's Croteam, the studio responsible for games like SeriousSam and The Talos Principle.
We spoke with chief creative officer DavorHunski about the studio's early days.
DREW: How long have you been with Croteam? DAVOR: Well, I kind of founded Croteam–ofcourse, with my guys–but it was my dream even in late elementary school.
I have been with Roman, which is our CEO, since first grade of elementary school.
That means from seven years old, so now almost40 years together.
That's a long, long time.
One of our friends had a brother, and thatbrother, Robert Zeljko, created with two friends from ex-Yugoslavia, the first game in thisarea.
It was called Sbugetti Junction.
It was a ZX Spectrum game.
An ancient machine, the ZX Spectrum.
NARRATION: In fact, the Spectrum was popularin Yugoslavia for one very specific reason.
DAMIR: The fact about it was, it was supercommon because it was super easy to smuggle it over the border, through the taxation office, because it was so small.
It was super small.
So it was pretty casually taken from Austria, Italy, or other countries nearby.
NARRATION: Of course, it was around that timethat war broke out.
DREW: Do you think games can provide an escapefrom things like that? DAVOR: Of course.
I wasn't aware because we were all livingin fantasy worlds, sci-fi books and movies and stuff.
That's what we were thinking about.
If you didn't have that, maybe you would gointo politics, maybe you would end up in the army, or stuff like that.
Our minds were always occupied by things thatwere not down-to-earth.
Like all geeks do, right? The government decided that people who goto university should not go to the army.
That was the rule.
So we went to universities.
Well, we would otherwise go to universityto learn stuff, but it prevented us from going to the war.
It was a hard time here because there wasno financing.
The country was in ruins.
Even today, we are trying today to catch upwith more advanced European countries.
DREW: There was no game industry here.
DAVOR: No no no.
Actually, we had so many issues with our parents.
It was always the question, “OK, Davor, you'remaking games, but what will you do for a living?” There was no idea, not nearly, that you couldlive by making games.
That was like 10 years ahead of the time.
But we hoped that we could do it.
Our first game was a football game that wedid because we loved playing football, soccer.
It was during the European championship–we always had fun watching that stuff– and so we made a football game.
We like football, right? Then there was Doom and Duke and all kindsof first-person stuff that blew our minds, and we did Serious Sam as something that wewould like to play.
We liked open, bright spaces.
We were inspired by ancient civilizationslike Egypt and stuff like that.
So it's an expression of what we think about, live, talk about every day.
The same with Talos.
When we lunch, we have discussions about thefuture, A.
, religion, culture, humanity.
DISEMBODIED VOICE: You are risen from thedust and you walk in my garden.
Hear now my voice, and know that I am yourmaker.
DAVOR: When we created the first footballgame, it gave us a little bit of money, but more than money, it showed us that itcan be done.
After that we spent five years making thefirst Serious Sam game.
At that time it was really, really hard.
There was no money.
Unreal was there, but it was like a milliondollars or something.
It was really expensive.
So there was no way.
We couldn't afford coffee, right? So we couldn't afford anything like that.
So we had to create our own engines.
We worked every day, 12, 13 hours.
We almost didn't sleep.
Our will, our desire to do that, it was so, so huge.
And we almost failed.
We sent our demo to many publishers.
I think that demo was really great.
And common sense would be to take it becausewe were cheap, completely new engine, completely new design style.
It was such an easy call for “yes, ” but everybodysaid no.
We made a free demo for the internet, andthat demo was the most played thing of the year–or of the summer–and people startedconstantly poking publishers: “What's going on? Why is nobody taking this awesome game?” And then they started calling back.
SAM: Uh oh.
DAVOR: Since those times, we always try todo as much as we can for our fans.
You do games so you can have people havingfun enjoying them, and when you see such warm expressions in their comments, it gives youso much power.
Whenever I am kind of sad or I need some, I don't know, encouragement or filling up of my reservoir, then I just go to Steam tosee some new comments on Serious Sam or, especially, Talos.
And that's good for six months of goodwill.
And you know why you're doing it.
Croteam's DNA is a very strange thing, butI think that's also what people love.
I don't know.
DREW: Why do you say it's strange? DAVOR: Well, we are not always motivated bybusiness success.
It's kind of a family thing, I don't know.
We never plan what will sell well, we alwaysdo what we would like to play.
You don't do first-person puzzle games.
They don't sell.
You have Portal and that's it.
I clearly remember how, on one side, if itdoesn't go well, we will probably have financial issues.
That's for sure.
But on the other side, we were so sure thatit was such a great game, and we couldn't wait for people to try it.
DISEMBODIED VOICE: My temple awaits you, child.
DAVOR: We believe that if we enjoy makingit, we hope that people will enjoy playing it.
You could say the opportunity cost is huge, right? We could make flight games and make much moremoney.
But I don't know, that's what I'm talkingabout.
We sometimes go by heart.
We always go by heart.
We're confident we can do any type of gamethat we want because we have quality in programming and design.
Feeling and passion is there for all kindsof stuff.
NARRATION: There's also a strong passion tohelp others in the region, which Croteam does with their incubator.
Elsewhere in the building, at least four otherteams were working on projects like Serious Sam: Tormental, a top-down cooperativeversion of Croteam's long-running series.
DEVELOPER: All rooms are, of course, procedurallygenerated.
DREW: I am now a geyser of blood.
NARRATION: A turn-based tactics game calledBattle Bolts.
DEVELOPER: You need to put in four commandshere, and after you put your four in, I put in mine, and everything plays out at the sametime.
DREW: Oh, got it.
NARRATION: A Serious Sam-themed endless shootercalled I Hate Running Backwards.
DEVELOPER: We flipped the shooter upside down.
You have to watch out for the enemies at thebottom and also the traps that can come at you from the top side.
NARRATION: And Hand of Merlin, a squad-basedtactical game.
DEVELOPER: We basically combined two of thegames that we personally enjoy playing the most, that we are really passionate about, which are FTL and XCOM, and I think we have something really exciting.
DAVOR: The first game is really the hardestone to do, right? So that's why Roman and Croteam try help theyoung ones, the indie ones, to get them on their feet and maybe get over the first gameand hopefully become game developers that can sustain themselves over a longer periodof time.
We feel a moral obligation, as Croteam, to be, I don'tknow, a cornerstone of Croatian game development.
We want to help out, that's it.
We feel morally responsible for helping people.
NARRATION: As it turns out, even with help, some of the challenges here can be difficult to overcome.
DAMIR: Croatia, for some weird reason, andthe United States don't have a mutual law that says we can skip double taxation.
You end up paying 30 percent in the UnitedStates, and when the money comes here, you end up paying the tax again.
So you end upwith only half of the money.
That's one of the huge, huge practical hindrancesright now.
The other thing is, or was before, was thelack of investment.
But that slowly is changing.
A lot of big-time investors from the Westare actually seeing this as an amazing opportunity because, for a 10 million investment here, you can get five times the size of the studio you would get in, I don't know, the U.
, France, or wherever.
And the talent is as good as there.
DAVOR: It's a really fast environment, right? Look at stuff from three years ago and askwhat will be in three years.
I really don't know.
We started before the internet.
For our first game, we went to record disksand sent them out in the post.
Now we're in VR.
Who knows what will be next, right? People, when they get older, they kind ofgrow up and become not as good as they were as kids.
I don't like that.
I don't think that should be happening.
But somehow it happens around me and I'm gladthat I'm not a part of it.
You can learn skills and become very skillfulat something that you do, but in your heart, it never changes.
I am 18 all the time, frozen then.
NARRATION: War in the Balkans fractured morethan just Yugoslavia, but Croteam and others are trying to reverse that and find ways tocome together.
It’s a slow process, but one Davor seemscommitted to.
DAVOR: As many people as we can get into thegame development world, the better.
We will help as much as we can, really.
You need to be pleasant and a good personto everybody else to enjoy life, because life is kind of short.
It passes in a second, and you should notspend one single minute being nervous or in a bad mood or stuff like that.
There is so much good, so much amazing, creativestuff in the world that you can dream just from that and not from problems, issues, whatever.
I don't do that.
Makes no sense to me.
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