While there have been plenty of video games which explore serious themes like war, torture, the consequences of nuclear warfare and whatnot, there aren’t a lot that centre on an actual, honest to goodness tragedy, the aftermath of which enveloped the world for years. Jujubee Games Studio’s Kursk purports to offer that kind of experience, focusing on the 2000 disaster of the Kursk submarine that sunk during a Russian naval exercise and saw numerous investigations and controversies into its occurrence. Scheduled for PS4, Xbox One and PC, Kursk will attempt to offer a serious experience that will deliver a strong emotional impact while confronting the controversy of the subject straight on.
GamingBolt spoke to CEO and Creative Director of Jujubee Games Studio Michal Stepien on the development of Kursk, the process of developing for current gen consoles and PC, how the story will be presented and what kind of gameplay players can expect.
"In such a game, in which the atmosphere plays an important role, the quality of sound design is top priority. This is why we want to work with the best in the industry and in the case of KURSK you will hear music created by the very same composer who did the original score for The Witcher 3."
Rashid K. Sayed: The Kursk submarine disaster is one that not many people may be aware but which had enormous political implications at the time. What motivated you to pursue this story for a video game?
Michal Stepien: There are many reasons why we have chosen this topic. We wanted to make a story-driven game, limited mainly to one location. This way, with a smaller team – and let’s not forget that we’re not a big studio, we can deliver AAA graphics and content. We thought that a submarine would be a perfect choice because it is a closed environment, but also because there weren’t many games, or any, allowing you to explore such a ship and get a taste of what it feels to be a sailor on such a vessel. So on one hand it was a pure strategic choice, but on the other, we also wanted to have a big focus on the story.
Many games are all about mechanics, while times change and we think there are players willing to get a mature and serious game. This is why KURSK is about a real event. It has a bigger emotional impact and we believe, that the time has come for games to talk about real events. Personally I think that 20 years from now such games won’t be anything extraordinary. It’s time for games to be like movies, let’s not avoid important topics and controversial stories, let’s give people something to think about.
Rashid K. Sayed: Jujubee is composed of members from various studios well versed in mature and cinematic adventure titles. How did this experience come into play for Kursk?
Michal Stepien: You are right, even though we are a young studio and til now we were present mainly on the mobile market, we had the chance to work on much bigger projects in the past, such as The Witcher 2. We believe that this experience shouldn’t go to waste and with our knowledge we want to convert this specific story to the language of video games. Actually this is something we wanted to do from the very beginning, but because we have founded our studio with our own savings, we simply didn’t have the budgets to make bigger and more serious games.
Rashid K. Sayed: We’re curious about the audio aspect of Kursk, since the right music and sound effects have proven to create the most compelling atmosphere for a game. What steps were taken with the sound design to properly immerse players?
Michal Stepien: In such a game, in which the atmosphere plays an important role, the quality of sound design is top priority. This is why we want to work with the best in the industry and in the case of KURSK you will hear music created by the very same composer who did the original score for The Witcher 3. This will be a game in which sound will be a feature – it will influence your emotions, we want this game to be as real as it gets. Just imagine the atmosphere of walking around in darkness, with your flashlight turned on, hearing some weird sounds produced by the increasing pressure on the hull of the ship… this can be a very interesting experience.
Rashid K. Sayed: Could you tell us a bit more about the visuals and the effects you’ve added to properly convey the underwater, claustrophobic environment of Kursk?
Michal Stepien: As you already know, KURSK will be a first person perspective game. If you want to show the environment from such an angle, the graphics must be of top quality. Besides, in our game, the atmosphere will play an important part of the experience, so we want the graphics and effects to be as realistic as possible. But graphics are one thing. We want players to immerse themselves fully in the game, we don’t want to put anything between them and the virtual world, so during the whole game you will observe everything from first person perspective, even during cutscenes, just like in Metro 2033 Redux. Actually KURSK could be a perfect game for Oculus Rift in this aspect, even though we don’t have plans to support this device, at least not yet.
"The game will be divided into two parts - one before the disaster and one after. The first part will be more like an adventure or spy game, you will try to find information on unique technologies, try to break locks, get useful information, you will walk around the ship and talk to the crew, perform specific tasks and so on. "
Rashid K. Sayed: You stated that you hoped to “raise and answer some questions” with Kursk. Could you expand on this a bit more?
Michal Stepien: Well, we found out that many people didn’t have the opportunity to learn about this tragedy. They know that something happened, but they don’t know the details. With the game we want to describe these events and try to find out what were the events from the perspective of someone inside the ship. Of course there are many theories about what really happened and still some experts believe that the official report is far from truth, but we want to focus our attention not on politics or theories, but mainly on the actions on the ship. We believe that sailors aboard Kursk were not fully aware of the chain of events. But we also believe that they had their own theories.
Rashid K. Sayed: On that note, how faithful will Kursk be to the original story considering the various accounts and long-winding series of political developments that surrounded the incident?
Michal Stepien: This is a very good question and as I said we want to show the whole event from inside the ship. Many theories emerged after this tragic event and our goal is to do it right. Nevertheless we want this game to be mature and very serious. This is why we will be as close to the real story as possible. No paranormal activities, no running with a gun and killing people. We hope that KURSK will prove that games can be like movies and are not pure entertainment. Maybe thanks to our game some players will go deeper into this topic and will try to investigate it a bit more. In general we want this game to be an ambitious project for a mature audience, looking for something different on the market.
Rashid K. Sayed: What will the gameplay of Kursk be like? We know it will be a first person title with survival elements but could you talk about any particular scenarios to give us a better idea about the gameplay?
Michal Stepien: The game will be divided into two parts – one before the disaster and one after. The first part will be more like an adventure or spy game, you will try to find information on unique technologies, try to break locks, get useful information, you will walk around the ship and talk to the crew, perform specific tasks and so on. The gameplay will be a bit similar to Heavy Rain, but with much more freedom given to the player.
But this part will be heavily focused on the story, dialogues, exploration and stuff like that. I don’t want to reveal too much, because I don’t want to spoil the experience. Anyway, after the explosion, the focus will change a bit and your goal will be to survive, so you will be running with a flashlight in darkness, you will be looking for air, you will be closing specific departments of the ship, running away from the water and the fire, diving, and so on. The sound and atmosphere will play a very important role, we want you to feel it on your skin.
Rashid K. Sayed: What are your thoughts on developing for the Xbox One and PS4?
Michal Stepien: Luckily our technology supports both machines, so it’s mainly a matter of optimization and of course we need to follow all the guidelines and make sure that the game passes positively the certification process. This is why the version for consoles will be out a few months later.
Rashid K. Sayed: How do feel audiences on consoles will react to the cinematic tones of Kursk, especially given the success of games like The Walking Dead on consoles?
Michal Stepien: I think that consoles are quite amazing not only because you know what you get in matter of hardware, but also because console players are ready to try new things. Besides most players connect their consoles to their TV sets and amplifiers – for us it’s great because this strengthens the cinematic experience and you can dive deeper into the story and the atmosphere of the game. There is room for such games as KURSK and the game will be an amazing experience not only if you play it on the keyboard, but also if you use a gamepad. So yeah, we are quite confident that the game will be a great addition to current console’s portfolio.
"We don't want to revolutionize the way people play games, but we want to prove that our industry can talk about serious and real topics. I guess this will be one of the first, if not the first, game, that will focus on a real tragic event."
Rashid K. Sayed: During development, did you notice any benefits of working on consoles versus PC (and vice versa)?
Michal Stepien: There’s no doubt that PC gives you much more freedom as the developer. It’s easier to make your game and it’s easier to publish it. On the other hand you have much more control over the quality of your product on consoles. The hardware is always the same, so you are 100% sure what kind of experience the player will get. In the case of PC the situation is a bit different. I won’t be going into which platform is better or why. Generally it doesn’t make a big difference for us – our goal is to deliver the highest quality, no matter the platform.
Rashid K. Sayed: Developers tell us that they love the GDDR5 in the PS4, they love the bandwidth but there are questions on latency. Do you think GDDR5 adds latency?
Michal Stepien: I think latency is not a problem. The PS4 chip is quite interesting and because the CPU and GPU are in reality one single chip, the performance is not affected. It seems that DDR3 has a better CAS latency, but it’s really hard to tell and the bandwidth also plays a role, so I think that even programmers will have different opinions. For me what matters is the whole performance of the hardware and thus the framerate in the game.
Rashid K. Sayed: The game will also release on the PC. I am sure you must be aware that Microsoft recently announced DX 12. What are your thoughts on the same and how it can possibly impact games development on PC and Xbox One?
Michal Stepien: We’re really excited about DirectX 12 and all the new effects that you will get. But just like everybody – we’re waiting. Good thing is that most graphic cards are already DirectX 12 compatible. And will DX12 affect development of Xbox One games? Hope so.
Rashid K. Sayed: How difficult is it going to achieve 1080p and 60fps on the Xbox One compared to say, the PS4 and PC?
Michal Stepien: It’s more difficult but it can be done. PC is out of the question because you can always put a GTX 980 into your computer, or if you live in Bahrain you can put 2 or 3 GTX 980 in SLi mode and you’ll be able to play your PC games in 4K. Of course in the case of KURSK we want to achieve great graphics on much more affordable hardware, but you get the point. Anyway most games show that PS4 offers a bit more power than the Xbox One, but I think that with a bit of tweaking and if you spend more time to optimize everything, you will be able to get the same or almost the same level of graphics on the Xbox One.
But this is also why you need to have more time for the consoles version – the optimization process can be quite long, because you know that players won’t be able to put more RAM or a new chip into their machines to improve performance. This is why you need to put all your efforts to offer them the best experience possible. All I can say is that our goal is support Full HD on both consoles, but of course we will see how it goes.
Rashid K. Sayed: When can we look forward to Kursk’s release?
Michal Stepien: In the case of PC, including Windows and Linux, and Mac, we plan to release the game by the end of 2016. And in the case of consoles you can expect the game to be out in the first half of 2017.
Rashid K. Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the game before we let you go?
Michal Stepien: I can tell you that KURSK is going to be something quite different. We don’t want to revolutionize the way people play games, but we want to prove that our industry can talk about serious and real topics. I guess this will be one of the first, if not the first, game, that will focus on a real tragic event. This is something that can change the industry but also something that can be a great experience for the players. So if you’re interested in good stories, narration and stuff like that, keep an eye on KURSK!