Finding Workarounds: Bosnian Video Games & Development

Finding Workarounds: Bosnian Video Games & Development


DREW VO: I’m Drew Scanlon. I’m exploring the world through the lens of
games, and I’m doing it with the support of people like you on Patreon. Help us out at Patreon.com/ClothMap. As we saw in the last video, the breakup of
Yugoslavia in the 1990s was crippling to the entire Balkan region. But industries like game development are slowly
growing there, and helping to turn things around. I asked Damir, the founder of a gaming conference
called Reboot, to characterize each country’s strength. DAMIR: That’s slowly changing, but originally,
Croatian developers were way more tech-inclined. They were really building great engines, they
were really great programmers. Versus Serbians who were initially much more focused on art. That’s of course slowly balancing out, but
that was one of the particularities. Bosnia doesn’t have a lot of game developers. There are some ambitious people, some really
great people there, who are trying to do cool things. Like Prime Time Studio, who just finished
a really beautiful cartoon with Hollywood actors. It’s called “Birds Like Us.” So they’re doing cool things, but other than
that I wouldn’t say that Bosnia has that big of a games industry at all. DREW VO: Prime Time’s office sits on a Sarajevo
hillside, and though they still have a render farm on site, further movie-making plans are
on hold. Due to lack of investment, dozens of animators
were laid off when the movie was finished. ANDREJ: Basically, when we started doing that
animated movie, we had to train all the people because nobody knew 3D back then in Bosnia.
Nobody did it. We trained 60-65 people. Right now we’re waiting for publisher investment
so we can call back those people and start working again. Each floor has computers and rooms just waiting
for people to come back. It was a great hit for us. Most of them were our actual friends, so
it wasn’t pretty. DREW VO: The team is now focused exclusively
on video games. DREW: How many other developers are in Bosnia? ANDREJ: Well, I know around 10 or 15 more
that are outside this company. DREW: Studios? ANDREJ: No, not studios. People. DREW: Oh! Okay. ANDREJ: The current team is this, what you
can see. DREW: Andrej is the studio’s creative director. Damir and his brother Nadim are the programmers. DAMIR: You basically put on the shoes that
are required at the moment, so if materials need to be done, I do materials. If sound has to be done, I do sound. DUSICA: I’m currently the only artist on the
team, so I’m basically doing everything from pixel art, digital painting, 3D modeling,
texturing, everything that’s considered art. So I had to learn a lot of stuff in a short
amount of time. DREW VO: Dusica has an architecture background
and taught herself 3D modeling using online tutorials. DUSICA: Yeah, it’s the only way, if you want
to achieve something. Because the school system isn’t that great
and jobs aren’t really available for young people, so you have to make them for yourself. NEDIM: The vast majority of the people living
here do not take game development as a serious industry. When somebody asks “what do you do?” and I
say “I’m a programmer for a video game development company,” they say “okay, but what do you
do for a living?” DAMIR: We are doing some outsource work to
fund our development and fund our team, but we did several prototypes for our own games. ANDREJ: We’re going to set most of our games
in Bosnia, so you’ll have a chance to experience a culture that you haven’t seen before. DREW: I can only think of one… ANDREJ: “This War of Mine,” right? DREW: “This War of Mine.” ANDREJ: Yeah. It’s an amazing game, and it tells the story
from a different perspective: tough choices. That’s what the war was about. But we’re going to go another route. It’s called “Wa The First Dream.” “Wa” in Japanese basically means “empathy” or
“helping others.” This is our main hero. He needs to fight
16 bosses in order to win. With game choices, you will be able to save
the bosses. You can kill them, of course, but if you prefer
to save them they will help you later on in the game and you will get a different ending. We kind of went crazy with creature design. He has this book that he invokes creatures
from. Okay, he is charging. I’ll create a wall and he’ll hit this wall. So this is the first boss we created just
to prove that we can. And of course we’ll polish everything; it’s
just a rough demo we did in… how long did we work on Wa? DAMIR: Overall, it was just a little under three
months of work. DREW: What was the reaction from people at
Reboot? ANDREJ: The reaction was really awesome. We actually won the Visual Excellence award
with this game. DAMIR: Nintey-nine percent of the time, we
use Unreal Engine. ANDREJ: And we’ve changed it a lot, to suit
our needs. We couldn’t do some stuff that we wanted,
so Damir had to go in and change it. DAMIR: Yeah, actually, the demo that we did
had a lot of trees, a lot of foliage. This “Foliage” option wasn’t there. We actually added that and submitted it back
to Epic Games and it’s part of the engine now. We needed that for that demo. That’s the first feature we added to the engine. ANDREJ: So we’re looking for investors or
publishers right now for this game, but meanwhile we’re working on other games. DAMIR: We’re trying to move away from war
themes with our games and touch upon some of the older culture of Bosnia, because when
you dig deeper, you find such a wealth of myths, untold stories, mythology. By and large, it’s a very unique setting that’s
woefully left unexplored, not just by the world, but by the local people here as well. ANDREJ: For example, we recorded a song in
Bosnian and when we played it for investors they thought that it was Elvish. DREW VO: Wa has other Bosnian touches too,
like these ornate tombstones called stećci, which are common throughout the country. ANDREJ: When you publish a game, the media
always calls it “the first Bosnian game.” We personally have made three “first Bosnian
games.” There are around 15. ANDREJ: Here’s the trailer for our recent
game. It’s called “Ragtag Adventurers.” Four-player co-op against bosses. You can play it multiplayer. We made this just to test out if we can make
an online multiplayer game without problems and we did. It was fun for us because this game was picked
up by Sodapoppin, a Twitch streamer that has around two million subscribers. We were so nervous: “please don’t crash, please
don’t crash, please don’t crash.” And it didn’t! DREW: Did you see a boost from that? ANDREJ: Yeah. A lot. That was the biggest boost that we ever received. We cannot do a Kickstarter from Bosnia, of
course. DREW: Why not? ANDREJ: We’re from Bosnia. They don’t allow it. ADNAN: Bosnia is not wealthy. We had a bloody war, and we have a big bureaucracy
in our country. We’re the only country with three presidents. DAMIR: We have plans to do a Nintendo Switch
version but we can’t get development kits. They only do European Union markets. We had to go through a subsidiary European
country so we could actually have development kits shipped to us. You just have to kind of find workarounds. DREW VO: It’s not just video game developers
that have to find workarounds, of course. As Joe explained, there are also quirks to
buying games in Bosnia. JOE: These are all digital redemption codes. You have to set up an account like you’re
in a different country, because Bosnia isn’t even listed on PlayStation. And you have to use codes from that different
country. Everybody here would love to be able to buy
with their cards, but they can’t because they’ve set it up like that. You have to have a card from the country that
you’ve set your account to. DREW: A credit card. JOE: Yeah, so your credit card must be from
Croatia or Germany or the UK, if you have that account. You cannot use a local credit card. It tells you that it’s not for your region. DREW: So their only option, then, is… JOE: It’s just the codes. DREW: So when a customer comes in here, do
they say “I would like…” JOE: He tells me, yeah, “for German account,”
“for English account,” “for American account,” “for Croatian account.” DREW: And you’ve got all those? JOE: Yeah. DREW: Wow. JOE: We went to Gamescom and we found a crap-load
of people from America to sell us codes, so we get in touch with them and that’s how we
do it. We buy from them. I mean, you’re not getting 50 dollars for
50 dollars, you’re getting 50 dollars for like 53 dollars. And therefore it’s much more expensive than
when you buy it normally, like when you go to Walmart or Amazon. But you cannot buy from those places because
you’re limited to the country you’re from. Amazon doesn’t accept credit cards from here,
Sony doesn’t accept credit cards from here, so that’s it. You’re stuck with the codes. NEDIM: I think the Wii-U didn’t allow it either,
but you had to register as being from Croatia or… ANDREJ: Yeah, I was always from Italy. DAMIR: Yeah, I am from Italy as well. You can’t actually change the store language,
so I have an Italian store. I kind of had to memorize it. ANDREJ: We’re mostly Nintendo fans here. I remember you could register your Nintendo
products to receive some free gifts on the internet and I registered all my things. Then I wrote them an email: “I cannot do this,
this, and this. Can you help me?” and they banned me. They said “this is not an answer you expected. We are sorry but we have to ban you.” It was soul-crushing. DREW: Wait, why? ANDREJ: Well, because “you’re from Bosnia.” They don’t allow this country because they
don’t have any agreements with them. I don’t know. DAMIR: But the 3DS and the Switch do allow
you do download digitally, and there are no restrictions, actually. They only problem is, as I said earlier, the
phone app. The phone app for the online service isn’t
allowed in Bosnia, so you can’t download it. Not officially, I mean. You can find unofficial rips online and use
it. Really, the whole motto is “find workarounds.” Make it work any way possible. ANDREJ: We couldn’t buy Maya or Max for our
studio because we were from Bosnia, so we had to make a special deal. We called people from Croatia to get licensing
and everything. So money wasn’t the problem, we couldn’t get
the software. DREW VO: And when you do manage to make a
game, the challenges aren’t over. ANDREJ: People in Bosnia don’t buy games that
much. Piracy rampaged through Bosnia after the war
ended and now, so this is not our market. DAMIR: Based on the average salary of a person
in Bosnia, paying 60 dollars for a full-priced isn’t really an option for a vast majority
of people. So that’s why, in a weird sort of way, piracy
is what keeps video games alive in this country. ANDREJ: During the war, people were robbed
of the chance to watch movies and play games. Mostly, not all of them. Then, after the war ended, piracy gave us
a chance to catch up. Games were two dollars and you could buy them
everywhere. It was our chance to catch up with the rest
of the world who left us behind, because we didn’t know about Mario or things like that. The good thing, I mean “good thing,” is that
the consoles that came here were direct copies of Japanese consoles. So we played Japanese games mostly, and those
were the best games ever. I brought some–it’s called “Famiclone.” It’s a direct copy of the Famicom. DAMIR: The games were one or two euros. They were always like “9000 in one,” “a million
in one,” which were just ROM hacks from the NES. DUSICA: The people who had consoles usually
got them from their relatives outside of the country. People who didn’t have those played PC games
mostly. ANDREJ: It was an amazing experience to go
out as a kid and buy those games. We would always take them apart, switch the
actual game with some crappy one and return it to the shop. Everybody did that. DREW: Did you ever then buy one of those? ANDREJ: Yeah! We understand people. When we published our smaller game on Steam,
after three or four days there were instructions, on YouTube, how to play it online for free. And it was kind of awesome to see that coming
full circle.Piracy doesn’t harm our sales, let’s face
it. If people want to buy it, they’ll buy it,
as a collector’s edition or just to support the publisher. So we really don’t think that piracy harms
anything. We’re kind of catching up with all the titles
that we pirated, because we’ve bought a lot of games. I wouldn’t be in this industry if there wasn’t
any piracy. I wouldn’t play games, I wouldn’t love games, I
wouldn’t connect them with a part of childhood that I love. So, piracy kind of helped us. DREW VO: As Prime Time’s founder, Adnan, explained,
the studio’s video game roots run deep. ADNAN: You know, after four years of siege,
people living in basements, in houses that were destroyed… For many kids, for many people, there was no chance to ever buy, in that period, a Sony PlayStation. I bought it because I was working for the
U.N. and I had a very good salary at that point. And I bought it– DREW: From where? ADNAN: I bought it from a guy who– ANDREJ: He knew people. It “fell off a truck.” ADNAN: They were real consoles. It was the first gaming center, and the name
of the center was “Warp.” I bought like 200 games–very good, high-quality
pirated copies–and it was like “oh my God, I need to open every single copy.” To test it, to see how it worked, and see
what the game was about to make a summary to have for kids and people who come, to see
what game they’re playing. And you would just see the [gasps] “my God! We’re playing Sony PlayStation!” The kids were so happy about that. ANDREJ: Some new studios will open, surely. There are some smaller groups of people working
on smaller games and we help them with game development meet-ups. They have a chance to present their game,
and we tell everybody to buy that game. When you publish a game from Bosnia, all the
gamers will rush to help you, if your game is two dollars on Steam, or three, five, 10. Let’s build a base so Steam recognizes you. Because Steam right now is a mess. There are around 10,000 games coming out every
year, so it’s really hard. When we published a game, in a day we were
on page seven or eight. Without marketing you’re not able to promote
your game. That’s why we plan to make a community that
will help those games. DREW: And how do you do that? ANDREJ: Well, basically calling everybody
you know. Because everybody knows everybody here. We get contacted five times per month by random
people just wanting to come to the studio and start learning. And everybody has that opportunity here. They can even freelance for a much higher
salary than they can get doing any regular job here. So that’s a good thing. DREW VO: But the challenges Prime Time has faced don’t seem to have dampened their spirits in the slightest. ANDREJ: It’s not something that we find bad
or tragic or anything. As you can see, we’re not depressed or anything. We want our work to speak for us. We have so much to offer. ADNAN: I was 18 when the war started. I served for four years as a soldier, and
I was shot at once. And, you know, I’m so happy for
every single day I live. Every new morning I’m just happy that I’m
alive. DREW VO: Cloth Map is possible only because
of our supporters on Patreon. If you liked this video, and want to keep
seeing more like it, we’d love to have you with us.

17 thoughts on “Finding Workarounds: Bosnian Video Games & Development”

  1. Man, what a great video! Those developers were such lovely people and were as down to earth as possible and yet optimistic considering their countries bloody past. Good luck to them and I hope they get the support necessary to get that game funded and published!

  2. 13:20 I can relate to that so much. My friends did that all the time back in Brazil on at the snes era. I remember it was always a pain to rent a snes game 'cause the odds of getting the actual game that was on the cartridge label were so slim

  3. Great video Drew! Loved the in depth look at a development scene that would otherwise have gotten little to no representation.

  4. What a great video! 

    Myself being from Croatia, I can relate to a lot of the stories told by Bosnian developers here. Things are a bit better here in regards of being included as a country in games publishers' and platform owners' services, but the stories about having to pirate games in 90s sound very familiar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *