Ahead of the imminent release of the Indika third-person action game from Odd Meter, now based in Kazakhstan, we spoke with studio head Dmitry Svetlov.
Alexander Semenov, App2Top: Dima, hello! Let's start with a simple question. You're doing AA in the spirit of Hellblade about a crazy Russian nun. Should we wait until the summer for the release?
Dmitry Svetlov, Odd Meter: Hello! Yes, the release is still scheduled for April this year. There will be a demo and gameplay trailer on Steam Fest on February 5th!
By the way, it became known the other day that Hellblade 2 is coming out on May 21, aren't you afraid of competing with it?
SVETLOV: We have to get out earlier, so probably not. In general, the comparison is quite flattering, thank you.
What about the expectation itself? Is there already an understanding of which sales results to focus on?
I'm shaking from side to side, to be honest. Sometimes it seems that what we are doing is brilliant, sometimes it becomes a shame how bad everything is. There are no expectations about sales at all. Our project is still very authorial, not mainstream, initially there were no big sales among the goals, first of all I wanted to do something unique and do it my own way.
Steam experts, of course, will be upset if there is no main issue: What's with the Vishlists now?
Svetlov: Yesterday there were 32 thousand.
We're done with the simple questions, let's move on to the difficult ones. The story of Indika is unique in a sense. From the outside, it may seem that at some point a team appeared out of nowhere that is ready to create a very cool project. But it wasn't like that at all. The team definitely did not arise from scratch. Tell me, please, how was it?
I opened my first creative studio in 2009, at that time we were engaged in 3D graphics for architects (it still exists, called 3Dmode). And I made the first game at school on QBasic.
At some point, the studio decided to try to make a game and made a VR project Sacralith. Just as a trial run.
In general, as for the Indika team, for almost most of us, this is the first job in game development. But if there's anything I can be proud of, it's that I've gathered some incredibly talented people!
Speaking of Sacralith. You yourself mentioned a couple of years ago that the sales of the game amounted to 12 thousand copies. Have they grown much since then?
Svetlov: Oh, I haven't even checked for three years. Probably something has dripped since then, but I think it's already insignificant. As Steam was blocked in Russia, I stopped participating in promotions and resales, so I think they have completely forgotten about the game.
The cost of producing Sacralith (in the first column it is indicated "free of charge"), since Svetlov did not take into account his salary
It is believed that the VR market has come a long way in the four years that have passed since Sacralith. There are more VR devices now. They say that now you can earn a million dollars here. What do you think about it?
Svetlov: Nothing, really. I've completely stopped being interested in VR since we started working on Indika. Still, it's important for me to try to squeeze everything out of the picture in VR — it's difficult.
Sacralith sales for March 2020
Despite the relatively modest sales of Sacralith, the studio has repeatedly paid off the development of the game. Nevertheless, you didn't stay in VR, but started a very expensive genre — action-adventure from the third person. That is, for a niche dominated by The Last of Us and Resident Evil. Isn't it too risky?
Svetlov: It's risky. But I think that's why we've gathered so many cool people. Everyone is interested in trying to jump over their heads.
When the story with Indika was just beginning, how did you formulate it for yourself and for the team: What kind of game is this, what should it become?
Svetlov: I wanted to make an "adult" game. Not in the sense of eroticism, but in the sense of the complexity of presentation, drama and aesthetics. I am an architect myself, three marxists work in the studio, and architects, as you know, are quite snobby people, so I wanted to do something that could be proud of in the most snobby creative environment. So that it becomes unclear to someone, boring to someone, and someone could say: I haven't seen this yet, that's how it turns out you can make games…
How ambitious was the project for you at the start? I asked about ambitions for the reason that the nine minutes of gameplay that you published in 2021 suggested that the team was doing something at the level of almost Tomb Raider.
Svetlov: Well, of course! No one in our team has ever done anything like this. I think no one in Russia has ever done anything like this, we don't have games in this genre. And so we got together and started thinking, how can we do something no worse than Hellbalde? Is it better?
Those nine minutes of gameplay
By the way, how real was this fragment?
Svetlov: 90 percent real, we sent this piece to publishers as a demo. Of course, a lot has changed since then.
At a lecture at the HSE in 2020, you said that the main problem of developers is optimism. You even mentioned a story about a partner who left the team after the release of Sacralith, when it became clear that the game would not earn millions of dollars. Considering Indika's ambitions, didn't you feel that both you and the team were very optimistic?
Svetlov: It seems to me that optimism and ambition are different things. In a way, I'm ready to fail. Even if no one likes what we have created, in any case we have gained tremendous experience, and the next project will be done by a completely "different" team — experienced and with a bunch of the right scars and bumps. But, in fact, we have implemented everything we had in mind.… I just wrote it and thought to myself: wow!
Lecture at the HSE
Has vision changed much over the years of development? From the first sketches, to the prototypes and now to the inexorably approaching release?
Svetlov: Not very much, oddly enough. Although, of course, many cool things appeared in the development process.
Indika has been under development since 2019. That is, the work on it fell on a whole series of trials and challenges. First the pandemic, the removal, then... crises, relocation. How many times in these five years have you wanted to give up everything?
Svetlov: I never wanted to give up everything. It's not like that for me. Despite the shit that's going on, I still have the feeling that we're lucky all the time. Somehow everything is working out.
Was there a moment when it became clear that everything would work out now, that the game would be brought to an end? What was that moment?
Svetlov: Yes, it was clear from the very beginning that we would bring it. The right question here is not whether we will bring it, but how high-quality the result will be. In this regard, of course, there were many doubts and sufferings. By the way, I can no longer objectively assess how well it turned out in the end. But so far, everyone who played the game was very satisfied.
Sketch for Indika
Do you think that without the experience of running your own business, without an architectural backup, without three years of work on the browser, would it have been possible to reach the stage where Indika is today?
Svetlov: I think that probably not, 90% that not. If we do not take the situation of success unintentionally, then it is still very important to have managerial experience. I remember myself 10 years ago, and I wouldn't trust this person to run the studio.
Two years ago, when you talked to House of the Dev, you said that the most difficult thing was polishing. It seemed that you were at the finish line. As a result, what had to be revised and what is the status of the team and the project now?
Svetlov: I'm still sure that polishing is the most important part. Now it feels like it can be polished for at least another couple of years. But the release is already close, and compromises have to be made all the time. I really hope we can stop at the right moment.
Where is the development going on now? I remember that you seemed to be considering Serbia and Portugal.
Svetlov: A year and a half ago, we moved most of the studio to Kazakhstan. Now we have partially dismissed people, some have left for other countries, some have returned to Moscow, but the main team is now in Almaty. After the release, we plan to move to Spain if nothing changes politically in Russia.
Have you moved completely?
Svetlov: What do you mean? Irrevocably? I hope not. I would really like to come back, but not before something changes.
What was the hardest part of the move?
Svetlov: Bureaucracy. Now we have all received a residence permit, but it was a very painful and long process.
In Kazakhstan, you have become a resident of a local hub, how much does it help?
Svetlov: We pay less taxes, it's cool. The events do not really reach us, we are still in Almaty, and the Hub is in Astana.
You are one of the few Russian indies with a Polish publisher, 11 bit studios. Why did you choose him? Between whom and whom did you choose? And how difficult was it to sign up with him at all?
Svetlov: After winning the Unreal Contest, we had a lot of offers, 11 bit studios were chosen because they somehow immediately found a common language in terms of values. Their CEO, Przemek, is also an architect, they are trying to become a kind of A24 from the world of games, to become the Polish Annapurna Interactive. To release, as they put it, meaningfull games. It wasn't difficult to subscribe, but it took a long time. We talked for six months before moving on to signing. In general, I advise everyone who is looking for a publisher: start doing this a year before the date of the proposed signing!
Did you have to change the project much for the publisher (and what exactly did he ask to correct), and how does it work with him in general?
Svetlov: I didn't have to at all. It seemed to me that they trusted us. They're super nice guys. Sometimes I don't understand how they even manage to be such a successful company when the employees are so nice.
I have more than five years of development behind me. How is your sense of self?
Svetlov: I feel old. Although, perhaps, this is not only related to development (laughs).
We are looking forward to the release and wish you great sales!
Svetlov: Thank you!
The latest Indika trailer