Georgian Gaming: From the Cradle to Virtual Reality
28 March, 2015
Georgian Gaming: From the Cradle to Virtual Reality
Merely five years ago, the phrase “Georgian gaming” would have made anyone, including this author, chuckle. Back then the concept itself was so unrealistic that it was considered a hopeless pipedream. However, upon entering the tidy, comfy office of Storm Bringer Studios and being greeted by its staff, I began thinking that I might need to change my mind about that very soon. Seeing people sitting at their workstations, busily working on 3D models and concept art, exchanging ideas and insight or simply bantering and laughing made me feel something I hadn’t felt in years: inspiration.

“‘MagiCraft’ will allow all players involved to influence the game world by choosing the light or dark side... We are going to introduce a lot of Georgian mythology-themed elements to it."

“We’ve been around for quite some time, actually,” explains Irakli Kokrashvili, CEO and founder of the game-developing studio. Reclining on a couch, he goes on to describe the projects they have created or helped create, “Some time ago, the United Nations Development Program commissioned us create a game that would be neutral in content, but propagate an end to hostilities between Georgians and Ossetians. We came up with Peace Park, a simple game where a player has to make several different families living around a playground get along. All family members have their unique traits and preferences and the player needs to accommodate them all. Over time, the families grow larger and keeping the peace becomes harder. It’s simple in concept, but not that easy in practice. This is just one of the many games that we have created for mobile devices.”
“At the moment,” Irakli continues, “we are working on a very interesting project. Called MagiCraft, it will allow all involved players to influence the game world by choosing the light or dark side. The entire mood of the game world and many details will change depending on which side predominates. The first part of the game will feature simple gameplay involving puzzles, but the sequel will be far more complex, allowing users to create and cast their own spells. These two will be mobile device games, but the third one, the main part, will be a PC release and will utilize virtual reality (VR) and devices such as Oculus Rift. So, imagine this: on your way from work, you solve a puzzle or two, improve your in-game character and craft
several spells, and upon arriving home you put on a VR device and square off against other players, casting these very spells using your own hands. The global light/dark shift will be influenced by players across all three games. We are also going to introduce a lot of Georgian mythology-themed elements. We pin very high hopes on this game.”
geotv.geIrakli also mentions Steameria, a steampunk-themed first-person shooter that his studio has an on-again, off-again relationship with. “It works on Unreal Engine and with it, we are planning to introduce a concept of betting on the outcome of a match using real money. You are a successful player, others bet on you winning, you win and also get a share. This has worked pretty well on some small mobile games, so why not try it on something larger?”

“The future of Georgian gaming lies in virtual reality; I am certain of it.”

When asked what the main impediment to their work is, Irakli replies that a lot of their creativity is hampered by a lack of funding and marketing as well as the need to prepare qualified developers. “There are a lot of talented people out there, but there is a difference between having talent and using it. It takes from two to six months to provide basic training to an artist or an animator, and then several years for them to develop to the level of professionals. I am a programmer and I teach whomever is willing to learn, but there is only so much that I can do. Still, we own licenses from Sony and Microsoft – getting them was quite an achievement – and given proper funding and advertising, we can go big. Actually, currently Georgia is on the verge of a game-developing explosion, much like the one Poland and Finland had. We live in a time when virtual reality technology is making a dramatic entry into the market, and I think we would only profit from being among the first who pioneered it. The future of Georgian gaming lies in virtual reality; I am certain of it.”
Irakli’s colleague and a founding member of IGDA Georgia, Nika Rostomashvili, however, has a far more critical outlook on things: “To succeed, we need to keep in mind both the benefits and drawbacks of our situation. The advantage of the gaming industry in general is that it has no national barriers, unlike other businesses – and it is also absolutely insatiable. In gaming, demand always exceeds supply, because gamers can never get enough. Thus, there is no point for us to compete with our compatriots. Instead, we should pool our efforts because our product goes international anyway and is bound to have its playerbase. Another advantage lies in our heritage. Irakli mentioned Georgian mythology and was completely right – with generic elves and orcs becoming stale and developers aching for new ideas, our folklore will be like a breath of fresh air. It has successfully passed a millennia-long test of time, after all.”
“But despite all the immense potential Georgia has, we do not acknowledge it and thus cannot utilize it,” muses Nika. “How are we supposed to export it if we cannot use it ourselves? Foreign investors ask us the same question: you folks want us to put money into your cultural heritage, but why haven’t you put money into it first? Why haven’t you spun it into a form that is easy to use and can bring profit? That’s pretty much how it goes. No investor is going to touch such a volatile and risky venture if we do not show that we can tame it.”
“Then, we also should distinguish between investors and so-called predators. The former want to put money into something you have and make even more money from it. The latter come hunting for your skills, your ideas, your people; they come to find out all the great things you can do and then take them from you – appropriate your ideas and tempt your best and brightest with greener pastures abroad. They do not care about what happens to Georgia in the slightest, and this constant brain drain is quite damaging for the country. Our entire gig is founded on a diametrically opposed principle – to create a suitable environment here, an anchor that would keep people from leaving the country and urge them to utilize their skills and talents here instead.”

“We need to create a great game based on Georgian mythology – or anything Georgian – using our geotv.geown resources, like the Poles did with ‘The Witcher’.”

Nika holds out three fingers: “There are three things we can do to improve the situation. The first one is to popularize video games through various events, such as Game Jam. We need to let people know that video games are a serious business: they are high-tech, they develop quickly and they are an art form. The second one is capacity building. Through getting people involved, through enlightening them about games, we create groups of enthusiasts that lead to the formation of both a new generation of game developers and a community. Gamers here lack like-minded people, they lack the environment to share their ideas and to use the skills they have. Many of them also feel ostracized, like freaks; this is unacceptable. The third thing we can and must do is get local investors interested in the whole deal. We need to create a great game based on Georgian mythology – or anything Georgian – using our own resources, like the Poles did with The Witcher. This game was a breakthrough and nowadays Polish game developers are no longer sitting ducks for predators masquerading as investors. We need to follow this example, to break the ice so that the water starts flowing.”
“Georgian game developing is left without a choice nowadays,” Nika concludes. “Either we make a massive leap forward or we stagnate completely and forever. Maybe we will tear a tendon or two in the leap, but we need this gulp of fresh air to finally get going, and we need it soon.”

Author: Zura Amiranashvili
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