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Cossacks in a computer game conquer Europe


Ukrainian Cossacks made their first appearance in Europe in the seventeenth century, mostly as mercenaries. Their most recent invasion of Europe took the form of a computer game, Cossacks. Maksym PROTSKIV, WU Senior Editor, investigated who stood behind the computer Cossacks and reports the results of his journalistic investigation.


The Ukrainian economy, in its transitory phase, is developing along several lines; administrative mechanisms are being renovated, market-based relations are improved. At the same time, some processes are observed which do not fit in with the economic patterns typical of such transitory phases. One of the Ukrainian companies that is part of such processes is GSC Game World. It specializes in creating computer games. Some of its recent products, Cossacks: European Wars; Cossacks: The Last Argument of the Kings, and Alexander, have become hits at the European and world computer game markets.


When I found the building in a Kyiv suburb, which supposedly housed the GSC Game World, what I saw was not very encouraging  it looked like a neglected factory of the soviet times, huge and intimidating. I began having my doubts  I must have come to the wrong address. But there was someone waiting for me at the door who explained that there were several companies renting premises in the building that in the soviet times used to be a centre designing and making electronic devices for ballistic rockets. I could not help wondering whether the deadly SS-20s, nicknamed Satan, were among them. My guide led me up the stairs, in bad need of repair, to the fourth floor. No elevators or just out of order? My silent question remained unasked.

The corridor we entered made a sharp turn to the right and faced a metal door which looked quite modern and out of place in this grim remnant of the soviet era. My guide produced an electronic card, inserted it into the slot and a moment later we found ourselves in a twenty-first century office. Another corridor stretched for about three hundred feet, with rooms on both sides, packed with computers. The people working at the computers whom I saw through large glass panels were mostly young, in their late twenties or early thirties, informally dressed. I figured there were about 120 people, some working all by themselves, others in groups engaged in hot arguments. Most of them were wearing T-shirts with the companys logo rather than formal suits and ties. At the end of the corridor I discovered an excellent gym, a room for smokers and a spacious dining room. If any of the employees felt like having a workout, a smoke or a bite to eat, they were welcome to do it at any time.


The GSC Game World Company began as a group of four people united by the desire to create Ukrainian computer games. From 1998 to 2000, these enthusiasts whose number kept growing, were engaged in creating the Cossacks computer game which by now has come to 16 countries of the world; it is discussed at the chat websites, tournaments are held and fan clubs are set up. Cossacks is a strategic game, well designed and quite exciting, based on the historical events of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when wars, in which Cossacks were involved too, rocked Europe. The game is particularly popular in Germany and France. About 2,500,000 copies of the game have already been sold in Europe, and about 1,500,000 in the countries of the former Soviet Union. The number of pirated copies (electronic piracy, unfortunately, has not been properly dealt with  yet) can hardly be estimated.


Originally, Cossacks were designed for the Ukrainian market only. But the market success of the game has led to the game being released in German, Russian and other European languages, as the game spread across the continent. The average age of the Cossacks game players is about 28 which suggests that it is interesting not only for teenagers. Some of the Europeans doubted that an electronic game of such a high quality could have been created in Ukraine, a country about which so little was known. Electronic messages with enquiries and explanations were exchanged, questions were asked and answers were given. Ukraine emerged on the map of electronic games.

The popularity of the game brought new partners. New games were created, among them Alexander, based on the recent film directed by Oliver Stone. Alexander failed to become as popular as Cossacks, probably because the film itself did not stir much enthusiasm, but the Alexander computer game became another proof of the reliability of the GSC Game World Company as far as the quality of the product and reliability were concerned.

Ukrainian computer games fans have begun taking part in cyber-sports championships which are held in the USA, Europe, South Korea and other countries, and GSC young people are among them. The GSC Game World Company helped young Ukrainian computer games enthusiasts to establish fan clubs and promoted their participation in international contests.

The management of the company employ people who prove they are qualified enough to do the work even if they have not been educated in the fields directly related to the work they do. It is not only the result that is important, it is the desire to improve, to create, to achieve that matters too, says Anna Zinchenko, the companys PR manager. Creative and intellectual potential are the main criteria in hiring new personnel.

She informed me that in addition to a new version of the Cossacks game, a new game was being created, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, a thriller which will take the players to the Chornobyl No-Go Zone to fight their way to safety among all kinds of zombies, monsters and mutants who have come to populate the Zone after a nuclear disaster. I expressed my doubts as to the moral aspects of such a game, but after a discussion we all agreed that such fantasies are the realm of the cyber space that are played out only on the screens of the monitors, never becoming a horrible reality. All the same I was impressed by the quality of the pictures of the new game which was shown to me on a demo copy. The designers and artists of the game had visited the real Chornobyl Zone to get all the things right. There is something uncanny in the way the real abandoned buildings and structures in the Zone reflect the mood of the game  they seem to have been erected for a specific purpose of providing an impressive setting for a horror-story computer game that unfolds in an area devastated by a nuclear explosion.


As I emerged from the land of computer games with its sophisticated offices and equipment into the reality of the place where the company was situated, the incongruity and the incompatibility of the two worlds  the world of the past and of the future  struck me by its stark contrast. The grim, dilapidating interior hid the high-tech interior which, I am sure, sooner or later will change the exterior beyond recognition.


The illustrations have been provided by GSC Game World Company.



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