We recently published an article Games I want to play after the victory in which the issue of the lack of Ukrainian-themed games from Ukrainian developers was discussed. One such game mentioned in that article was the strategy Sloboda 2, which is currently being prepared for release. Recently, the game’s author, Dmytro Gladkyi, talked about the final stage of the project’s development and his future plans. In addition, in his blog, he expressed thoughts very close to those that concern us. We contacted Dmytro and asked him a few questions about Sloboda 2 and his path to game development.
Good afternoon, Dmytro. Tell us a little about yourself, who are you, what city are you from, how old are you, and how long have you been developing games? As I understand, in ordinary life you are a respected SAP software engineer, and game development is a hobby you devote your free time to.
I live and work in Kyiv. I’ve worked in the software development industry since 2006. I started making my first game for iOS in 2012 but gave up because I had to draw art, and I had neither the talent nor the desire for it. This game was a covert multiplayer, similar to a game of chess and already had the basic gameplay programmed… I still regret leaving this project. But sometime in 2018, I remembered that game and decided to make games and bring them to the App Store release. This is how the continuation of my universe Wild Field was born.
All my projects use the setting of the 17th-18th centuries, namely the Cossack period. I started developing games “for real” about a year ago – in the fall of 2021. I began to remake my first “Sloboda” on the Unity engine because before that I used Flutter, which is not very suitable for games. I conduct all development publicly on my Telegram channel.
Are you a single developer, or have you already gathered a team around you? Were there any thoughts of joining other teams? For example, Yevhen and Island or Oleksii Horbachyk, who is developing a game very similar to your projects, called Hetmanshchyna?
Only my wife and I are involved in development. Some art was done by other people, but sometime in the summer we completely switched from Voxel to Low-poly art style. It was at this moment that my wife began to help. 95% of the art in the game is her work in Blender. I have my own vision and goal of the games I want to make, so I don’t want to join anyone. I also don’t think anyone else will join us at the moment. After all, my wife and I work, so to speak, at our own expense, and hiring someone else means increasing the time for development, communication, correction, ping-pong, etc. Although the music was created by a girl performer. But everything was simple there – I sent her the songs that had to be played on the bandura. She sent wav to me – I gave her money.
All your games are free on the App Store and Google Play. What’s more, they don’t even have any advertising. That is, games for you are not an attempt to earn money. Then what?
All my past games: the first Sloboda, Chumaks, Interactive Stories, and Hex are free because I understood that these are very specific games, besides, they do not look like mobile games. I make enough money from my main job, so I didn’t add any ads, coins, draining user data, or other ways of monetizing popular mobile games in today’s market. But Sloboda 2 will be paid – about 100 hryvnias. This is a full-fledged game, only the main campaign takes 3-4 hours. There are long-term plans to make a remake of Gothic 1 but on the territory of Sich. The game is called Sich. I am already working on it, the first 2 chapters are ready. But currently, there is not enough strength and experience for this. Unless you do it for 16 hours a day, but then you have to quit your job… That’s why Sloboda 2 is paid.
My purely personal opinion: modern free-to-play mobile games are full of ads, and manipulative gameplay mechanics (such as waiting 3 hours or paying 20 coins). They don’t really have a game as such. Everything will revolve around making the player spend money. But when you buy a game, it’s most likely a real game, not a money-grubbing device. The maximum you’l need to purchase is DLC with new maps. A good example is Kingdom of Two Crowns.
You wrote that the Island is a rather niche and rather complex game, and we need Ukrainian games for a wider audience and for children. But your games can’t be called simple either. They have a rather unintuitive interface in the spirit of the projects of the 90s, there is almost no training. To start playing, you need to read the manual or watch a video on YouTube. This is not a very modern approach. Will Sloboda already have a full training of players?
I believe that games should not hold the player’s hand. If a game has a tutorial that can’t be skipped, I immediately delete that game. Clicking for 15 minutes just to determine the place on the screen is not a game. Moreover, this is often done so that it is not possible to make a refund, and Google or Apple register this download as a full download and launch of the game. That is why the tutorials are so long.
But let’s take for example my favorites The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Gothic. There is no training there. The player is simply thrown into the open world. Then you are on your own. The first 10-15 minutes of the game involve you into the gameplay themselves. In my first playthrough of Morrowind, I missed the very first quest and returned a couple of days later to find out what kind of agent lives in Baltimore.
In Sloboda 2 I did integrated training. There will be no text or some fairy with tits taking half the screen, who will tell you where to press what.
At the starting location there is an NPC with an exclamation mark. I think everyone already knows that this is the quest giver 🙂 Approach them and a scene opens with a task. All the tasks they give introduce the player to the course of affairs. But it is integrated into the game. You do not fall out of the context of the otaman of the Sloboda. You are the otaman who is told by the advisor what to do next in order to advance in the game.
To make it easier to understand what is interactive in the game and what is not, I added small butterfly particles. They unobtrusively animate and show the player that you can approach them and perform some action. The same is done in Zelda – the game launches butterflies on mushrooms, fish, or other food that can be picked up. But there are no “pick me up” arrows.
At the very end, there are NPC assistants in the game. Which will tell the basics of the mechanics of production, fishing, or primitive resources. This is if at all a person has not played such games.
My games are not aimed at the audience of the genres “three in a row” or “a fairy with tits shows something on the screen”. These are chewing gum games and are intended to kill time in the subway or in the toilet. Turn off your brain and just follow the commands to move through the Excel gamepad file. I focus on those who want real desktop games but made them simpler and for mobile devices.
To make life easier for players, the loading screens always show some kind of advice with a picture from the game. That’s how it’s done in Skyrim.
Tell us about Sloboda, or is it more correct to say Sloboda 2? How was it created, why exactly the strategy, why exactly that historical period? What difficulties did you encounter during development?
All my games are about the days of the Cossacks, that is, about the XVI-XVIII centuries. For 14 years, I was involved in the reconstruction of the Cossacks of Khmelnychchyna times. Therefore, all of this is familiar to me: the calluses on my feet, my neck rubbed by home-spun cloth, my tongue feling wooden from 3 days of thirst on the Kholodny Yar hike, and my eyes burned by an unsuccessful shot from a self-made gun. I know why they did it that way, and what were the peculiarities of life in those times. All this time I was constantly reading literature, written references, and descriptions of Ukraine. For me, Cossacks are not guys in wide trousers with leather armbands. They were the best dragoons (infantry on horses), sharp shooters, “men of fire”, masters of fighting in the steppes, masters of farming and development of new lands. Did you know that the Cossacks made the best gunpowder? And they had 80 sheep, 20 cows, and 50 horses? And they were not drunkards and beggars.
This is exactly what I want to show in Sloboda. The tasks that you will receive in the game, as well as the achievements in the Game Center, will gradually dispel your ideas about the Cossacks of the Wild Field.
Sloboda 2 is a remake of Sloboda 1, but in a way that could not be done three years ago on Flutter. I was very inspired by Unrailed! on Switch. If you play Sloboda and Unrailed, you will notice that even the interaction of the player with the game is the same: you approach a tree with an ax and the player starts chopping the tree himself. You approach the stone with a pickaxe and he splits stones. There are no separate UI interfaces, non-stop button clicking.
And also, Sloboda 2 is kind. No wars, murders, no action. My education and profession are production systems. During the day, I develop software for huge plants, factories, and industries. In the evening, I code production chains in the Cossack Sloboda. I wouldn’t even call it a strategy. It’s more of a build-a-village-collect-resources-seize-territory game. Unrailed + Minecraft + Settlers. By the way, it is a big problem for me in the App/Play Store to determine the genre of the game from all those combo boxes 🙂
How many people are currently involved in the project? As I understand it, at least also a composer. Who else?
The main developer, idea, implementation – it’s all me. All the art is done by my wife. We made music to order. I accidentally found a girl Vikuletka on tiktok, who plays any track on the bandura to order.
How much do you estimate the cost of development of Sloboda 2? Will the game be released only on mobile platforms or on Steam as well?
We currently only plan to launch on Apple and Google mobile stores. It seems to me that the Sloboda 2 game mode is not very suitable for Steam. Unless for Steam Deck.
In general, current costs are $400-500. I bought the system of particles, water, animals, and sounds. Some assets from the Unity Store did not fit, maybe they will be needed in the next games. Add here translation into 5 languages.
All the art we made is available in free access under a very good license. Use it if you want. There are more than 400 voxel and low-poly arts. ALL art of Sloboda 1 and Sloboda 2. The lack of art is exactly what stopped me in 2012. I don’t want it to stop anyone else from developing games about our state. For strategies, the creation of settlements, etc. – there is more than enough art in this pack.
By the way, about Steam. Sloboda 2 could be your first game to be released on PC. Why so? Are mobile platforms easier to publish or more important in terms of player engagement?
Everyone has mobile phones. Children in the first grade are already using androids (so that it’s not too expensive if the phone breaks 😀 ). I communicate with children. Around the age of 15… they don’t need a desktop at all. They have everything in their mobile phone. Same as I didn’t need a set-top box in 1990-2000, but I needed a PC. It’s the same for them – PC is a kind of coffin, you have to sit, bend over it… And a mobile phone is always at hand. Therefore, the release on Steam is in question. On the desktop, I believe, it is necessary to make a little more complex games and already with the involvement of the mouse. In my game, everything is tied to the controller. Unless it is released on Steam Deck, the game would be 100% here.
And also, mobile phones work even without electricity. All my games are 100% offline. There is not even a single request to the server. Power is turned off – you open the game and play. Game Center Achievements will load later.
We saw that your plans for the next games are quite ambitious. An addition to Sloboda, a sea game (by the way, the first Ukrainian game that was published in the West, it is a naval turn-based tactics Admiral Sea Battles (1996) by Meridian’93)? Tell us about these future projects. As I understood, the events of the sea game will take place in the Black Sea?
Sloboda 2 will be released as soon as December 2022. And in January 2023, we plan to release a content patch for Sloboda 2 with finished buildings that we did not have time to make, with bug fixes, etc.
But in December, that is, right after the release, I’ll start working on a big DLC. This will be a new map of Khadzhibey-Odesa. Where we will land on the coast of Odessa (Khadzhibey) and establish a Cossack settlement there. But without the production of guns and other military equipment. Purely a light industry. We will add more than 8 new production chains: linen, wax, silk, robes, cloth, boots, and horseshoes. Accordingly, 24 new buildings. There is a lot of work, but we already know how to do it.
The next game in the plans is Cossacks: Storm of the Black Sea. I want to dispel the fog that surrounds this heroic time. Again, a Cossack is not a guy who eats dumplings from Gogol’s books. At the beginning of the 17th century, it was a terror for the whole of Asia Minor. Two Ottoman defense ministers were executed because they could not do anything against the Cossacks. Is this something to be proud of? Among the English, pirates and captains received the titles of sirs and entered the parliament. Pirates from Holland formed the first global megacorporation – the West India Company and became governors of huge colonies.
And why shouldn’t we be proud of Sahaidachny, who conducted a series of victorious sea raids. The legendary raid on Kafa with the release of a thousand prisoners is his work. In addition, it was a combined attack from sea and land, which the Tatars did not expect. And he also knocked the Moscow voivode off his horse with a pernach in a duel during the siege of Moscow and won the Battle of Khotyn.
In Cossacks: Storm of the Black Sea we will play as the crew of a Cossack boat, which stirs things up along the coast of Crimea and Asia Minor. Both naval battles and boardings with the capture of slaves and goods are planned. Yes, the Cossacks were also slave traders. Add to this the capture of fortresses and villages with the construction of naval bases. Let’s start with Ochakiv! I really want the game to be like Corsairs: Conquest at Seas, but about the Cossacks. This is my ideal of pirate-themed games.
After the sea, I am planning my first attempt to make an RPG. This will be the beginning of my work on the remake of Gothic – Sich. Maybe I will make a small map from the first chapter of the game, where you will have to get to Sich. Such a starter game.
Didn’t you have a desire to make the game in a more modern setting? First or second War of Independence, modern events?
My whole head and 14 years of my life were occupied with the events of the Khmelnytskyi War of Liberation. World War I, World War II, and Modern War… I don’t know enough about them to design a game. Games about the Russian-Ukrainian war are now being made by other teams – Glory to Heroes, Bayraktar. Although they are not for mobile phones, there is already someone to do about it. But the Cossacks… so far, only I make games about them (GSC Game World felt sad now – ed. note). Will be my feature.
Why do you think Ukrainian games about Ukraine are important?
Thanks to mobile phones, almost all children and teenagers play games. But what do they have to choose from? Soviet-gloryfying games with tanks, moronic “three-balls-in-a-row”, a wet elf girl, bearded Vikings… But this is all foreign. If we had such a range of games about the Cossacks as we did about the Vikings, it would be a significant contribution to our culture.
In general, games are new books. If it’s really games. You have a story, the main character, and their development, failures, and victories. Ukrainians who could play something “their own” would be less likely to climb into tanks, Escape from Tarkov and other “vatnik” universes where everything is full of propaganda.
Muscovites invest huge funds in the development of games. Take Tarkov, some new BioShock about the USSR (Atomic Heart – ed.), Metro 2033 (it’s a Ukrainian game and even anti-Russian – ed.), World of Tanks, War Thunder. Yes, the studios are like in Malta and Cyprus, but… we understand everything. The main consumer is vatnik with the slogan “our grandfathers fought”.
Would some of our Little Russians want Russia if they or the people around them played a game about Kruty or storming Moscow? This would distance their internal ecumene from the Russian contagion. That is why Russia invests in it because it understands that games are a tool of propaganda. With extremely deep penetration into the brain.
Imagine, you played “tanks-grandfathers-fought” for 7 years, burned the fascists, and here they tell you from the TV that there are fascists in Ukraine again, you need to kill them. And the unconditional reflex works. Now with this BioShock about the USSR (Atomic Heart – ed.), players are shown – Soviet means Gagarin, space, robots! It would be cool if the damn Americans didn’t make it fall apart!! Oooh! And they captured Ukraine! It must be freed for the sake of this future…
Add to this the development of the domestic market. Here I was hiring a bandurist for “Sloboda 2”. She made money. And now we add art, sound… Ukrainians could make money from Ukrainian games. When everything moves in the market, then money moves too. When everything is ready… Well, we have a Ubisoft office in Odesa. Have you seen anything from them? Do 1,000 workers not have time in the evening to draw the same models for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the Russian-Ukrainian war, Kruty or the liquidation of Vatutin near Kyiv, or the fight between Sahaidachny and Baturlin, as a background for a Ukrainian ambient track. No, they’re making another pair of boots for Assassin’s Creed or a dagger in CS:GO. Brain and energy drain.
Let’s go on. There was The Witcher. Book. No one needs a book (but now it was insulting – ed. note). The Witcher is out. The book became a bestseller translated into 100 languages. There is an immediate boost to other writers. Now they too can earn. We take Maks Kidruk…we make a game based on his books. The development of the ecosystem immediately appears. Let’s add merch here: figurines, toy weapons, clothes, cross settings from other games or books… Americans know how to do it, and they start making money instantly. We still need to learn this. I have plans to make figurines from Sloboda, but that’s later.
Do you think that now, against the background of growing national self-awareness and interest in Ukrainian content, after the surge of interest in Ukraine from foreigners, the number of games about Ukraine will increase? If so, why didn’t it happen earlier?
Now we have a unique chance to bring our history to the same level of interest as Vikings, pirates, ancient Romans or Egyptians. Everyone knows about them, everyone likes to play it. It is a recognized brand. (interestingly, Dmytro repeats almost word for word what Serhii Hryhorovych said 20 years ago – ed. )
We need to make and release games about Cossacks, Slavs, and modern Ukrainians who are fighting. But there is one big problem here. Many studios are controlled by the Russians, they are the ones who give the money. And they need roulettes, elf girls and “grandfathers fought.” Of course, we have Cossacks, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but they are already a hundred years old… The Cossacks could be reissued on mobile phones, slightly change the gameplay, DLC with additional nations, and new maps.
I believe that indie developers should start this crusade to promote Ukraine as a brand in games. The big studios aren’t interested and won’t do it unless it’s profitable. But they are even afraid to change something in their own franchises. Ubisoft… has been doing the same thing for 10 years non-stop. Blizzard… They definitely won’t make a game about the Cossacks or the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. But our indie developers can.
We start small, simple games, small in volume. Without manipulative mechanics and the style of bayraktar in sprite. Or, if you even do this, it’s for the purpose of gaining experience and taking the next game to the next level. So that every next game is better. Mobile hardware is evolving, the iPhone 14 is like a 2015 PC. You can already make A-class games. And AAA will come soon. But for God’s sake, don’t make a game with 5 SDK ads and a “perfect” advertising funnel. Telegram channels on Unity only ask this… no one even thinks about games or gameplay. Better find a job that covers all your needs and then make a game.
Thank you for the answers, Dmytro. Good luck with finishing Sloboda 2 and working on new projects. Well, we are waiting for the release!