Interview in the Russian magazine Igromania. Original version can be found here.
What? The game makes a prediction of what could have happened to the world if the Cuban Missile Crisis actually led to a Nuclear War between the USSR and the USA.
We got the first information about Nuclear Union in June of last year. The brief announcement revealed that Best Way (developers of the Men of War series) were making an RPG in a post-apocalyptic setting. The idea is that a 1962-ish USSR (according to plot, the Cuban Missile Crisis led to the nuclear war that devastated most of the population on Earth) that continued to develop till 2012, but in the way absolutely different from what you can read in history books. The Union survived, they built a huge underground city named Pobedograd (on the former site of Moscow), and it became the capital of the country. The problem of the Cold War has faded into the background and the main aim of the country became surviving in changing environmental conditions and a slow, step-by-step restoration of the former greatness.
The style of game is pseudo-historical futurism, very familiar to anyone who grew up in the Soviet Union, but also perfectly recognizable to people outside the country. From rampant fashion to the kitsch of retro Soviet-style in films, music, literature and even in cartoons and social games did the trick. Today’s young people, born after Perestroika, are often aware of the USSR attributes even better than their parents and immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the utopian totalitarianism of equality and fraternity.
However, Nuclear Union, despite the distinctive style and ambiance, is far from kitsch. This is characterized by the very careful attitude to details and an emphasis on the symbols of the era. Best Way is making a much deeper game than ever before, and has covered the Soviet attributes, to be precise, Moscow and the Moscow region.
For a very long time the developers have flatly refused to share information about the game, but on this New Year’s eve they agreed to meet with us for a big interview. Plot writer Alexander Zorich (these are actually two people - Dmitry Gordevskii and Yana Botsman) and producers Yuri Miroshnikov and Denis Maltsev revealed huge amount of information about the world of Nuclear Union, and even talked a bit about gameplay.
Did you volunteer?
Hello everyone. Prior to discussing the game world in detail let’s start with the protagonist. Who is this guy?
He is a soviet long-range pilot, radio-operator and gunner in a 3M bomber, who participated in the retaliation of the USSR against the USA on October 29, 1962. The bombers wing made a successful drop on the US Air Force base and Space Port at Cape Canaveral. Let’s us not reveal what happened thereafter, and what made the 1962 War veteran the protagonist of our game.
What were the reference points for you while developing the style of the game?
We were looking at the Soviet Union circa 1950-60s. We looked at the Stalin metro. At pre-war movies and songs. The romance of the Soviet Civil War of 1918-1920, if you like. We drew inspiration from the positive side of the atmosphere of the 1930s — the cult of the Arctic conquerors, worshiping of the war heroes, shock workers etc.
What happened to the world after the nuclear war? Which states are preserved? How many people are on the planet? Are there any areas that were not affected by the war?
Immediately after the 1962 war, in addition to a part of the USSR and a number of peripheral countries in Western Europe (e.g. Spain), a large area of Asia survived including China, Japan, Iran, and India. Nothing serious happened to Australia, Africa and South America. However the nuclear war was only the first in a series of global catastrophes. Huge masses of people died during the harsh winter of 1962-1963 from cold and hunger.
Further, over the years the Arctic ice was covered with soot from huge fires. The reflectivity of the surface decreased and the ice began to melt. This led to a fast rise of global sea levels and flooding of large areas. Floods, in turn, unevenly increased the pressure on the continental plates that led to a series of abnormally strong earthquakes in 1970.
As a result of these disasters, many parts of Eurasia have disappeared from the face of the Earth. In particular, it destroyed the remains of the public entities in China, Japan and India. The total number of people on Earth is estimated to be 250 million compared to today’s total of almost 7 billion.
In 2013 the official Soviet point of view states that the capitalist countries no longer exist. In reality it is not 100% true. There are small states even in the USA, for example, the Texas Directory. However, due to the almost complete cessation of flights, long range navigation and the destruction of the tropospheric Heaviside layer (which provides long range radio communications) there is no opportunity for regular contact.
How does the Union look like in 2012?
First of all, the USSR has expanded compared to its historical borders. It includes such exotic republics like the South Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) (due to the annexation of northern Iran), Eskimo SSR (the delicately renamed former American state of Alaska), the Catalan SSR, Aragon SSR, and Castile SSR (which are all that remains of Spain). There’s an underpublicized war against hordes of mutants at the remote borders (for example, near Madrid, and in Turkestan). Accordingly, the most largest part of the armed forces and, in particular, almost all the combat-ready tanks are stationed there.
Are there any relations between states and is it somehow reflected in the setting?
In the setting – certainly yes, but the storyline barely crosses these events. There are very irregular relations with Cuba. They are made using several airships specially built in the seventies and eighties. The sources of energy used in them are compact nuclear reactors, according to the official version, but in reality they use classified anomalous artifacts. Flights on these airships, however, are extremely dangerous because of the strong winds and almost continuous electrical storms over the Atlantic.
Other relations between states, if any, are highly classified.
Glory to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)
Is CPSU still active?
If it were not for the collapse of the Soviet Union, it would be active even nowadays, just look at the Communist Party of China as an example. But in the reality of Nuclear Union the Soviet Union led by the CPSU defeated the United States, and the entire aggressive NATO bloc, and crushed the exploitative capitalist system off the Earth.
So everything is alright with the CPSU and its Secretary-General, as expected, is the head of the Soviet Union ... But, do not think that the whole game will be riddled with deadening boredom, as in the early eighties in the USSR. Strictly metered doses of Communist phraseology will just decorate the game world and add some charm of a "good dystopia."
Pobedograd is an underground city. Tell us more about it. Where is it located, how many people, how do you live under the ground anyway?
Pobedograd is located under the central part of Moscow, in particular, under the current Lubyanka area. The city is so vast that the main character will not be able to get around all of it, but he still will see some areas.
To be more precise, the entire network of underground structures under the former Moscow is called Pobedograd. It was significantly enlarged and expanded over the decades by the system of shelters, bunkers, command posts and underground factories.
An enormous cavern was found in the vicinity of Dzerzhinsky Square and became a huge center that houses a large Victory Square, along with a complex of government buildings called the Kremlin-2 as well as cultural and recreation facilities.
UK and France receive nuclear air strikes as a part of the conflict escalation. They retaliate at Poland and USSR.
How big will locations be? Do you plan to add vast open territories?
The player will face both large and compact locations. Let’s say, some basements can be quite small, but in other places it will be possible to roam for a very long time.
There are plenty of monsters on the screenshots. Who are they and where did they come from?
Mutants, what else can you say!
Are there any normal animals left?
Yes, but not many, they lost in the process of natural selection. They are not involved in the game in any significant way. Who would be interested in "a dog that is a man's best friend", when we can attack the player with five monster hounds?
What habitats are in the game and what specific creature you can meet in them?
In our game the player will visit only the Moscow region. The main difference between the real one and ours is that a big part of the territory became swamps after the Great Floods of the 1970s. The swamps are the home for terrible swamp wolves and swamp wolverines.
The screenshots show some humanoid mutants. Who are they? From whom they originated?
They used to be people. Mainly they are so-called retrogenets. The main mechanism of the post-war mutations was "disinhibition" of some sections of the human genome in such a way that areas stored in it, that are common with other living creatures began to manage growth and development. So there are many chimeras: a man with gills, a man who can use webs (like a spider), a man that strikes with lightning (like an electric ray).
The game has a fundamentally different source of mutated creatures, but we will mysteriously keep silent about it for the time being.
Will we meet anomalies?
Yes, they are just called something different. As a writer I’m trying to make very scientific anomalies or, to be exact, scientifically substantiated. I’ve created a classification. For instance this one is a thermal anomaly, and that is the gravitational one, the one up there is leptonic, and another one is tachyonic.
And the developers want to fill the anomalies with gameplay sense. For example, to kill a particularly strong monster, one can lure it into an anomaly trap, or one can pass some passages only with the skillful use of anomalies... But there is so still much work ahead, they are in an intensive creative search.
Are there any vehicles in the game? Only the ones remained from before the war period or any industry is still operational?
The situation with the industry is very complicated. Let’s say the heavier the industry, the more it collapsed. But the Soviet industry suffered the main losses not just during the war (although the destruction of some industrial areas was horrifying), but during the post-war devolution in 1963-1983. Thus, for example, the production of heavy four-track T-12 tanks (Object 279), which are perfect for the post-nuclear world conditions, were carried out in 1963-1975, but then it died out because the stock for gun barrels and some engine components was exhausted...
In 2013 shipbuilding in the USSR is completely destroyed, as well as the aircraft industry. But, for example, an electronic industry successfully developed. Super-computers were created. Robotics has achieved notable success. It made it possible to start the construction of the unique Kubinka spaceport. It was constructed by robots under control of the Setun-2000 super-computer. However, there was another story with this computer... Players will see.
Brave New World
When and why people returned to surface?
I want to remind you that nuclear stockpiles in 1962, while substantial, where no match for the later arms race. Today one ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) can carry ten warheads of 0.5 Mt (megatons in TNT equivalent) each, which are spread using an advanced algorithm and are guaranteed to destroy Moscow completely. A hundred such missiles, carrying one thousand warheads in total, can make life impossible anywhere in the entire Moscow, Tula and Kaluga regions. Since the late 1970s it is possible to make large chunks of the Earth’s surface unsuitable for life in a matter of hours, whether it if the East Coast of the United States or Central Russia.
However, in 1962 a massive nuclear attack on the central part of the USSR was difficult to achieve (for example, there were very few ICBMs). Therefore, while the USA did drop hundreds of nuclear bombs and warheads on the European part of the USSR, completely destroying several big cities (Baku, Rostov, Volgograd), the Moscow region hasn’t been made completely uninhabitable because of radiation. Of course, many areas became too ‘hot’, including several of Moscow’s outskirts and Moscow itself. But there was no ‘day’ when people exited the vaults and started to live on the surface simply because most of them never did live underground in the first place. People went to bomb shelters only during the bombardment itself (those who managed to do so in time, of course).
Pobedograd, the new capital of USSR, is another matter – it’s located underground almost completely.
Are there any well-known landmarks left in Moscow?
Some of them are still standing. For example, there are the Kremlin ruins inside of a several kilometer wide crater. In some places these ruins look almost intact. In the game universe the USA managed to hit Moscow with four thermonuclear warheads (not the most powerful ones available). It is a well educated guess for 1962, because there were few ICBMs, so the main attack was carried out by strategic bombers – the B-52, B-47 and obsolete B-36. They were greeted by C-25 and C-75 air defense systems and interceptor planes. By the way, the massive air battle between US and USSR air forces in the skies of Moscow region is a big part of our scenario.
In spite of being mostly intact, almost all Moscow facilities were abandoned because of radioactive contamination.
Had the science been preserved as a whole?
The science and scientific data has been preserved, but many of its disciplines were lost. As you can guess, little was left of the arts. But life sciences such as Genetics, Zoology, Virology, Immunology, and Botany bloomed unbelievably, especially considering the rather primitive experimental means left.
Many technological advances were made in Cybernetics, Robotics, High Energy Physics and materials and components science. On the other hand, several applied sciences, such as Metallurgy, Agricultural Chemistry and Aerodynamics has seen better days.
Who the player’s opposition?
All possible enemies, organized or not: bandits, marauders, counter-revolutionaries, monsters and mutants. Since we’re making an RPG and not an FPS, players can get into a confrontation with relatively neutral creatures. He will also find himself in the middle of several detective stories, uncover spies and help good, but quick-tempered people to see and understand each other’s point of view.
Strike the Iron While It’s Hot
Please tell us about the weapons. What are they like, how many different weapons will be in the game, can we craft weapons ourselves?
There are several types of weapons: - Weapons already obsolete in 1962, but still available in stockpiles in large quantities (PPSh, DP-27, Mosin carbine, SKS auto-loading carbine) - Weapons that were modern in 1962 (AK assault rifle, RPD machine gun) - Homemade alterations of various weapons (sawed off for example) - Rare and exotic, but real, weapons of that time (for example, Czech Scorpion sub-machine gun) - Experimental weapons that in the game universe went into mass production after 1962 (three-barreled machine gun ‘Appliance 3B’, TKB-022 assault rifle, etc.) - Fictiontional weapons created in post-war USSR, including those based on artifacts and the newest technologies.
Add to this, various cold arms, sidearms, hunting rifles, grenades, Molotov cocktails and other stuff. You can’t create weapons yourself.
You mentioned artifact-based weaponry. Could you give us a few examples? And what are these artifacts?
We can’t give an example of such weaponry at the moment, but the idea of it is simple. There are a lot of anogens (sometimes they are called the more common word ‘artifact’) of an unknown nature in the game world. Some of them are used in industry, including weapon production. For example, a temporal anogen of low frequency can dramatically change performance of a weapon mechanism.
We plan to allow players to collect and use some anogens.
What equipment a player can use besides weapons? Any useful gadgets?
Sure, there will be useful items; however there is no word ‘gadget’ in Russian language in the game universe. We can’t reveal more at the moment, unfortunately.
What remained of culture? How the survivors’ mentality changed compared to pre-war times?
It depends on what survivors we’re talking about. Most Soviet people have a Soviet mentality, of course. Keep in mind that in the game universe there were no Khrushchev thaw (and Khrushchev, who defeated USA and NATO, retained his power for a lot longer and wasn’t superseded by Brezhnev like in reality). There was no Brezhnev stagnation (Brezhnev didn’t become the First Secretary), no Gorbachev ‘Perestroika’ reforms which brought the USSR down. Morale and politics in the post-nuclear war USSR could be called moderate Stalinism. There were no ‘large cleansings’ like in 1937-1938, but there is a strict discipline everywhere. A special organization called KPVT (Committee of Overcoming Temporary Difficulties) has significant power, there is a personality cult of the First Secretary Elganin, a former military pilot who himself participated in bombing Washington D.C. in 1962.
On the other hand, the mentality of isolated or partially isolated groups may significantly differ from the main ‘Pobedograd’ mentality. A game where all the civilians sing optimistic songs and march to their workplaces would be bland, that’s why we created a number of micro societies and bright personalities. Someone behaves like a bandit from 1940s, another one is like a savage, another one has a serious personality disorder and thinks he hears American 1950s rock-n-roll songs on the radio…
We can speak about Nuclear Union culture a lot, but let’s leave it for the next interview.
From a first glance, the game looks a lot like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and the Fallout series. Are there similarities?
There are no similarities, at least in the most important things. First, usually a state and its basic parts (army, police, scientific institutions) are the main reason for the end of the world in post-apocalyptic games (either actions of its military led to the war or scientists made a doomsday virus on purpose, or something along these lines). Secondly, even if some state institutions remain in the game, they are usually hostile to the main hero (for example, government special forces hunting down Gordon Freeman in Black Mesa).
On the other hand, we’re making a ‘positive anti-utopia’. We show a world that is hostile, that is not funny and that contains numerous dangers. But state ‘stalkers’ (‘special scouts’ in the terminology of the game), scientists, the state government itself – they all are ‘our people’, they are allied to the player in game terms. The same is true for a number of isolated communities that are loyal to the central power.
Sure, players can choose to go and help bandits, for example, and thus inflict harm to the state. Nevertheless, the state as a whole is a good thing in our game. We don’t do this for propaganda purposes (my personal feelings towards the Soviet state of late 1980s are mixed, I can’t describe them as positive), but for creating a fresh, new, original setting.
The last question then – what is the main goal of our protagonist and the game?
The main goal of our protagonist is to save the Motherland. Why the country that prevailed in the nuclear war is in need to be saved (and from what or from whom) – we want to keep this a secret for now.
Thank you all for a very interesting interview, but we won’t say ‘goodbye’. We’ll meet again very soon.