Video game development is a staple of Poland’s national identity, and it is perhaps one of the most prominent game development sectors in all of Europe. It is home to some great development teams such as CD Projekt Red (The Witcher series), Techland (Dying Light & Dead Island), People Can Fly (Bulletstorm & Gears of War series) and Flying Wild Hog (Shadow Warrior series). Other household names include The Farm 51 (Get Even), 11 bit studios (This War of Mine), The Astronauts (The Vanishing of Ethan Carter) and Reality Pump (Two Worlds series).
However, one development and publishing company that is truly entrenched in Poland’s video game history is CI Games, which was founded in 2002 as City Interactive (the company rebranded to CI Games in 2013). Since the company’s inception they have gone from strength to strength developing and publishing over 80 games and separately publishing almost 50 third-party developed games.
One of CI Games’ biggest claims to fame is its 2014 release, Lords of the Fallen, which it co-developed with German team Deck13. The title received mostly positive reviews and its success lead to a sequel being commissioned. However, the company’s most successful IP is its Sniper: Ghost Warrior series, which has amassed a cult following despite the series’ mostly mixed critical response.
In April this year CI Games released the third iteration in the Sniper: Ghost Warrior series, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3, which despite its improved production levels launched with a host of technical and performance issues that hampered the overall experience. Marek Tymiński, CEO of CI Games, admitted that the game’s AAA vision was perhaps a little too ambitious for the size of the studio and that they intend to focus on smaller, more focused titles in the future.
I recently got the opportunity to speak to Daniel Slawinski, a Senior Level Designer on Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, about the game’s disappointing launch, the difficulties of developing a AAA game for the first time, how CI Games have used it as motivation and all things encompassing SGW3.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 released this year to a mixed reception
The first thing I notice when speaking to Slawinski is the amount of passion and pride he has for the SGW3 project, even Slawinski admits the game’s reception at launch ‘was not easy to swallow’ for the team given the amount of hard work everyone put in. But instead of throwing in the towel, the team at CI Games worked hard to address the early issues. ‘We made the commitment to improve those early issues’ Slawinski says, ‘and, though it cost us another couple of months of really hard work, we did it. As for today, we are happy from what we have finally achieved with SGW3.’
When questioned with why the game’s launch suffered from issues Slawinski is frank, ‘SGW3 was the largest project we have ever been involved in’, he says. ‘It is a big game set in an open world and the amount of testing and polishing, due to that fact, came out to be much more than we ever expected.’
SGW3 was the company’s first attempt at developing a game with AAA levels of production. The team hoped the title and its new open-world setting would lift the franchise into the upper echelons of first-person shooters alongside some of the industry’s juggernauts. SGW3’s road to release wasn’t smooth either, with the game suffering multiple delays so the team could capitalise on their vision. I decided to push my luck a little, and I asked Slawinski if he believed the game what have been better served with another delay or if they just had to get the game into people’s hands. ‘From a time perspective, I have to say yes. We should have postponed the game one more time’, Slawinski admits. ‘On the other hand, we will have a better QA process over our next games than we had over SGW3’, he follows up.
We’re able to solve some problems very quickly. We help each other and it makes our team really strong, especially in rough times
In a pre-launch interview with Tomasz Pruski, another Senior Level Designer on SGW3, he informed me that there was always more optimisation that can be done for consoles. I asked Slawinski if he believed that optimisation was the most important element of a game’s development given the number of games launching with technical issues. ‘In our opinion everything is very important’, he answers, ‘Without all the components, hitting the mark is almost impossible. We concentrated on gameplay, as well as on the story and optimisation.’
Despite the game’s lofty vision and disappointing launch, Slawinski doesn’t believe SGW3 was too ambitious for the studio, ‘No, we wanted to do something complex and unique, which is why we decided to make SGW3 a challenging and ambitious project.’
With such a small team it was always going to be a challenge to deliver a AAA open-world experience. Slawinski reveals that the most challenging aspect was the scale of the maps. ‘We had a clear vision for the gameplay that we wanted to deliver – and those maps were part of that’, he says. ‘We made the game that has most of the missions being really open-ended, where there are many different ways to accomplish the objectives, not just 2 or 3.’
Slawinksi is full of praise for his CI compatriots, ‘We are a good team, we spend a lot of time together and know each other very well’, he proclaims. ‘We’re able to solve some problems very quickly. We help each other and it makes our team really strong, especially in rough times.’ When asked what he believes the team’s strengths are his answer is short and sweet, ‘It is our team and experience. We play a lot of games ourselves and we make them with a lot of passion.’ Perhaps the most admirable trait of CI Games is the togetherness and camaraderie of the team, something that often gets lost in the bigger AAA studios.
The CI team in action
We touch on the game’s critical response for a moment, which currently sits on 53 on aggregate review site OpenCritic. Yours truly gave it 6/10, praising the sniping mechanics and saying it was a step forward for the series, however the game’s launch issues refrained it from breaking its predecessors’ shackles. I often wonder how much emphasis developers and publishers put on reviews and I posed this question to Slawinski who replies, ‘Opinions and feedback help us in developing the game further and adding more cool features, which benefits everyone in our awesome community!’
Slawinski doesn’t shy away from SGW3’s disappointing launch; both he and the CI team know the game should have launched in a more stable state. However, while he doesn’t offer excuses, Slawinski does find solace in the fact that the team has ironed out most of the launch kinks. ‘Right now the game is in a very good state, and we are still providing constant support for the game’, he says.
The game recently got its first single-player DLC, titled The Sabotage, which released on September 5. The Sabotage has received positive user reviews, which is a testament to the team’s hard work on improving the quality of the game. The DLC takes place before the events of SGW3’s main campaign and sees players sport the military boots of Robert North (lead protagonist Jon North’s brother). While the gameplay and mission design are fairly similar to SGW3, it is interesting to see how the events unfold from a different perspective. Furthermore, the game’s technical performance is substantially better than when it first launched.
Play as Robert North in The Sabotage DLC
The Sabotage is one of two major single-player DLC instalments that season pass owners are entitled to, which is predominately most SGW3 owners as CI Games bundled the game’s season pass as a pre-order and day one bonus (you can still find Season Pass Editions at most retailers). The move, which was an industry first, was a generous one by the company and one that Slawinski puts down to wanting to offer the game’s fans something new instead of standard pre-order DLC bonuses. Slawinski hopes that other publishers adopt this approach in the future and as someone who believes DLC practices in general have gotten out of hand, I completely agree.
I squeeze for some information on the game’s upcoming DLC but Slawinski keeps his cards close to his chest. The only admission he makes is that any future DLC will not expand on Lydia’s story. Our conversation turns to the game’s multiplayer modes, which didn’t ship with the game on launch so the team could focus on the single-player campaign. Prior to SGW3’s launch, CI Games revealed that game would contain multiplayer with Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch modes confirmed for the game. However, further unannounced modes were kept a secret until we exclusively revealed these two weeks ago. With a myriad of players still holding out for the game’s multiplayer mode, this news was met with excitement and from Slawinski’s breakdown of the new modes it’s not hard to see why. Personally, I am keen to test my skills against some of the best online deadeye dicks out there. If all goes to plan the game’s multiplayer modes will be available for players by the end of 2017.
During the production of SGW3 we learned a lot. We have a strong, well-qualified and experienced team and we will want to use this knowledge to create future projects
Our chat drifts from SGW3 and moves toward what is in store for the future of CI Games. I ask whether we will see a fourth entry in the SGW series, Slawinski remains coy, stating ‘We cannot confirm that right now, it is too early.’ If we do, it’s unlikely we will see another open-world game given CEO Marek Tyminski’s comments about leaving AAA development. ‘We’re planning to make a great tactical shooter where we can focus on exciting gameplay, some key mechanics, and missions that have depth without all of the trappings of a large open-world setting’, Tyminski says. When quizzed about the new tactical shooter Slawinski politely says that is still too early to talk about it. Slawinski also gives the same answer when asked about the sequel to Lords of the Fallen, which lost its director earlier this year.
As a parting gift, I ask Slawinksi my hardest-hitting question, one that I wasn’t sure I was going to get a response for. I ask whether he believes there is a stigma attached to CI Games’ name because of SGW3’s poor launch, and if so, how do they earn back the trust of gamers. Slawinski is surprisingly candid. ‘Over the last fifteen years CI Games have published and developed plenty of games and a lot of them were highly enjoyed by players and received very positive reviews from the media’, Slawinski states. ‘I think this means one game should not indicate a major change. At the same time, everything recent regarding Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is a great example of how much we care for the community. We clearly see that through their positive feedback, especially lately.’
So what does the future hold for CI Games? Tyminski revealed that he would love for the studio to release yearly games from different development teams (this doesn’t mean one-year development cycles). I asked Slawinski whether he believed this was a viable option. ‘In our opinion, yes, and more games will not mean lower quality. Each dev team will concentrate on their part and will provide a polished product. It will be their main goal’, he replies.
Could we see yearly releases from CI Games in the future?
While their foray into AAA gaming was short-lived, CI Games appear to be heading in the right direction; they have a passionate and dedicated team that want to make the best games they possibly can, even if they will be smaller experiences. It is obvious from my chat with Slawinski that the entire CI team have learnt from the mistakes of the past and to their credit they have been upfront and honest about where they need to improve. I look forward to what comes next from the studio, whether it is SGW4 or another title, and I believe that moving forward the studio will be better served from the SGW3 affair.
See you on the SGW3 multiplayer maps, snipers.