Among several Ukrainian games, demonstrated as part of the Future Games Show, we were interested in the project Zero Losses, which was apparently developed after the beginning of a full-scale military invasion.
The game was developed by an indie team Marevo Collective, in the portfolio of which there is already one game released in 2020, and quite successful, sold about 40 thousand copies. It’s a horror game No one lives under the lighthouse. In addition, the team is working on two more projects – horror Hollowsk 1999 3D and a stylish neon-adventure game Kargo. The latter was supposed to be released on Steam Access in 2022, but the war made adjustments to these plans.
In a new project Zero Losses, which Marevo Collective started after the invasion, you play as a soldier of the occupying army… Do not rush to stop reading, everything is not so simple. You play as an auxiliary soldier who does not take a direct part in hostilities but follows the troops and already sees the consequences of the war. Their task is to minimize losses, i.e. to find and burn the corpses of Russian soldiers in the infamous mobile crematoria.
Quite a controversial concept, so we asked the authors of the game for explanations. Game designer and director of Marevo Collective Vitalii Zubkov answers our questions.
Good afternoon, Vitali Do I understand right that you started developing Zero Losses sometime in March 2022, and are going to release the game this summer?
Yes, the idea of the game appeared in early March, with the first news about mobile crematoria appeared. The development began sometime in early April. We plan to release the game in the summer, we would want to dedicate more time to Zero Losses, to make it “deeper”, but for most team members, the release is the only source of income, so we can’t wait.
As I understand it, this is more of a parable game than even a horror movie. Who are you trying to reach? To the Russians? To western players? Because it’s hard for me to imagine that Ukrainians will want to play for the occupier.
The parable game is probably a very good definition for this project. But really – for whom is it? When we started development, I didn’t think about it. I thought I could die without leaving anything behind. The eerie reflection on the invasion seemed like a good option, more relevant than the project we were doing before the war. The whole team supported this idea.
This is our “exhausted” response, a sublimation of the fear, panic, tears, and trauma we have heard of, read of or experienced ourselves. It’s not horror in the usual sense, but war is the worst horror, and now it’s hard for me to imagine any other genre for war games. I would not be able to make a shooter or strategy about these events, I would not have enough spirit.
Try to reach out to the Russians? No, they have their own problems, their own mass militaristic psychosis, a different context of events. For many of them, this war is unpleasant or even painful, but it is not in their home, it is “somewhere out there.” I don’t think the players from Russia will understand, I don’t expect that.
Rather, I expect massive negative reviews with some “Ziga”(Nazi salute), as I often see lately from Russian players on Steam. There is even a constant internal dilemma: on one hand, you can ban the sale of the game in Russia, and on the other – maybe it’s better that they play, try, “stew” in this topic? Maybe the game will really change someone’s point of view. But I think it will soon be on the federal list of extremist materials.
If we want to knock on someone’s door, it’s probably the West. I don’t think they understand what is really going on here, despite a large amount of news. Because we are inside these events and most people “outside” do not have a tenth of the context that every Ukrainian has. They know about Bucha, about Mariupol, about Azov – but they do not see all the news and horrible details that we see. They do not hear the aggressive and fascist rhetoric of Russia, they do not hear sirens every day, they probably have not seen or read speeches by putin, medvedev’s, or other cannibals’ posts, they are unaware of the situation in the occupied regions, and at the front. I confess, I can’t even imagine what this war looks like from the outside, but I guess so. Because I remember, for example, how far the conflict between Israel and Palestine or the war in Afghanistan seemed. And I find it interesting to share with them this context, this horror, in the form of interactive media. Nobody has done that yet.
In addition, in the game itself, we are going to draw attention to fundraising for the Armed Forces (not in the middle of the gameplay, of course), and part of our profits from the project will be sent to support the army. That’s why it makes sense to “reach” anywhere to be heard. Because it is very embarrassing that you are experiencing an apocalypse today while the whole world is living normally.
For Ukrainians, this game may also be interesting, although I understand that it is an open wound. And not just open, but the one in which the knife was inserted and pushed deeper every day. I also constantly think about it and therefore, for example, in the game, there are no Ukrainian soldiers, there is no reflection of violence against civilians, there are no civilians. I simply refuse to involve even “images” of people who are now giving their lives so that we can communicate about games or people in the occupied territories. This seems immoral to me. Instead, there are “losses” in the game that need to be “minimized.” It is also immoral and horrible, but I feel entitled to it because it is the enemy who came to destroy my lands and my country. Therefore, it is a parable in the horror genre. In Zero Losses, those who bring with them horror become its hostages themselves.
You recently changed your name from Sowoke Entertainment Bureau to Marevo Collective. Is this related to the association with the “Soviet” (Sovok) in the title?
Both, with “sovok” and “so woke”, with the expansion of the team and a little different feelings from working in it. There was a feeling that the name did not reflect us correctly as a studio, and for some, it could be a label that we are fans of the “sovok”, although from the beginning this name was ironic title of the USSR. My team and I thought about “rebranding” last year, but all could not come to a single name.
With the beginning of the war, we understood that the “sovok” must go, and a decision must be made as soon as possible. If before you could afford some inaccuracies and associations and play games without thinking so much about the “sign”, now no way. When a necrophiliac parade of images of the past, a dead state, is broadcast in the neighborhood, there is a desire to move as far away from the smallest associations with the like.
Instead, we wanted to have the Ukrainian word in the title, we chose “marevo” because it is about ghosts, about something imaginary, ephemeral, a little scary, which fits well with our projects, our mood.
Am I right that you now have three games in development?
No, only Zero Losses. We do one project at a time, all the others are now on pause. When we finish minimizing losses, we will rest for a couple of weeks and return to the others. Fans are waiting.
How many people are working on Marevo Collective games?
There were three of us in the Bureau, now there are six. Two developers, two sound designers, one artist, and me, a game designer/director. We all work remotely, but we often visit each other or go somewhere together, because now almost all the staff is in one city.
How did the beginning of a full-scale war affect your team? Did you evacuate? Do you work from bomb shelters? How are you holding up?
On the night of the invasion, I was in Kyiv, working until the morning to “de-russify” store signs and advertisements in the purchased building assemblies that we used in the demo of our previous game, Hollowsk 1999 3D. And did not finish. I was evacuated with a girlfriend and a cat a few days later.
In February and March, the work stopped almost completely, all except Ksiu, our artist, who made several models for the playground in Hollowsk, while hiding from the shelling in the Kharkiv underground to distract herself. Together with Ruslan, our developer, she spent a week there before evacuation from the city by train. They reached the station through tunnels of the underground, as the surface was shelled without interruption in any part of the city.
Sasha, a sound designer, was evacuated from Kharkiv a month later after living in a shelter for that month.
But Taras, our other developer, left Kherson on the first day, together with his mother and younger brother, who later left for Europe. His father was able to leave the occupation zone only a few weeks ago.
Until the beginning of May, Taras, Ksiu, and Ruslan lived with Ivan, our second sound designer, who hosted them in a small one-room apartment in Ivano-Frankivsk.
At the moment, we are all in Western Ukraine, we have all managed to move our belongings, rent separate apartments and live in comfortable working conditions. We hold on, we do our job, we donate, and believe in Ukraine, victory, and the Armed Forces.
Thanks for the answers, Vitalii. Good luck to your team trying to reach an audience with such a complex and important topic. Hold on! Everything will be Ukraine!