Interview with Ukrainian Studio SignSine

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I’m always interested in the designers working outside of our North American centered industry. You almost never read about the game development scene outside of America, the US and UK. I don’t think I’ve ever read about the game dev scene in Eastern Europe and especially not the Ukraine. It’s important to understand we’re in a global industry, and in an age of the internet, we can collaborate with and learn from developers across the globe. So when I found the opportunity to talk to SignSine, a Ukrainian game studio working on their first project, I was super thankful. SignSine is making PROZE, an immersive 3D adventure game focused on telling a compelling story “about friendship with massive Cold War conspiracy background” and providing an immersive experience.

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SignSine is composed of three friends: Andrew “Sound King” Shcherbak, Arthur Kazakov  who is the tech director and programmer and Dmytro “Garik” Yarynych who does the graphic design and runs a successful branding agency in Kyiv. These three minds came together late last year to begin working on PROZE. I reached out to SignSine to ask some questions about their studio, their design process, the game dev scene in the Ukraine as well as what exactly PROZE is and why they’re bringing it to VR.

[Stephan] How did SignSine come together?

[Dmytro] In August 2016, we went to a countryside house (dacha) nearby Kyiv with a company of old friends. After getting lost in the woods we were very inspired telling the story to each other from a different perspective. Some time after we decided to turn our memories of that evening into a game screenplay, that’s how the initial team came together.

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[Andrew] Then we were searching for an experienced developer that would join our team and take lead in the development process. I called my college mate Arthur from tech university and invited him for a meeting. That’s how the core of SignSine was formed.

[Arthur] I totally loved the idea and the concept, and we decided to give it a try.

[Dmytro] Why SignSine? The name was born when we were working on the PROZE logo it is, actually a whole other story.

[Arthur] The logo is made of looped sine wave based on the Fibonacci numbers – quantity of nodes, relative proportions of internal and external radii and animation formula. After that, we realized that we are completely nuts and definitely should make it together and have to take this name same as our game logo.

[Stephan] What motivates you to make games?

[Dmytro] What is our motivation? Well, perhaps, it’s nostalgia in the first place. We all grew up on the classic titles of late 90s, that kind of games, in terms of scale and freshness, which are rare these days. We are used to unique stories, massive background, characters, which you love, hate and empathize. We don’t get kicks from most of modern AAA blockbusters.

[Andrew] Yeah, of course, they are high-quality products and there are exceptions, of course, but generally they lack, I don’t know, a backbone?

[Arthur] Second, but not any less important: game dev as an industry requires a huge amount of different skills and each and every one of us leaves his very own imprint in the project. There are a lot of things to be learned but all the things you already know will have their role in the project as well.

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Early concept for PROZE.

[Stephan] Why is your approach to game design effective and interesting?

[Arthur] Well, the question itself suggests that it is indeed effective 🙂 To be honest, we will now as soon as the game is released and we have feedback from players. But if we talk a bit about the process, we spent a lot of time working on documentation — design document, technical sheets, screenplay and global draft of the game world.

[Dmytro] We were quite exhausted by this process, but it is clear that it was a right thing to do — each of us has a whole picture of how our game will feel, look and work, regardless of our field of responsibilities.

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[Andrew] We also have a huge reference base for virtually everything in the game, we travel a lot, visit interesting locations, photograph, record, and document everything — for every question we have an answer from the documentation, a photo, a drawing.

[Arthur] Talking about productivity, we use the agile methodology, and effectively break down and distribute tasks, and cover each other, not only as co-workers but as friends. As for instruments, we use hacknplan.com game dev management platform as our HQ.

[Stephan] Why did you guys decide to make PROZE?

[Dmytro] Why PROZE? Probably, that’s because we believed in the project from the first second. That we have an interesting story to tell, which players will like. Last but not least, we took on the idea in the bar, and a friend of ours dared us — she said that we won’t last a week working together. Well, it’s 8 months already and a huge amount of work done and we are fine 🙂

[Stephan] As the focus is on story and characters, will PROZE be an adventure game similar to Wales Interactive’s The Bunker?

[Andrew] PROZE will be an Action/Adventure game, with first-person control settings and realistic interactions. Actually, it will be nothing nearly like the Bunker, more like traditional action/adventure, in full 3D etc.

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More concept for PROZE.

[Stephan] Why did you decide to develop for VR?

[Dmytro] We consider VR as a way to approach player’s maximum immersion in the atmosphere, which is essential for our game. Simply put, everyone develops games expecting that gamers will be playing on hi-res monitors,  quality headphones and in the dark quiet room. Unfortunately, in most cases, most people is playing on their laptops in the living room with TV switched on.

[Andrew] In Virtual reality, we can be confident that the player will experience the game in the way we designed it to be played. Besides that, VR allows unfolding the principle of audio immersion, which we are using for the atmosphere creation. In addition, VR lets us implement unique methods of the game world interaction.

[Stephan] Have you encountered any difficulties in developing for VR that you’ve had to solve?

[Arthur] Plenty of problems.

First of all, there is a so-called problem of “Head in the wall,” which happens when players tend to get stuck or peek inside the walls, insert hands into the solid environment and other interaction lags. Ikinema – software partially helps to solve it, while the other part is solved with various smart decisions.

Second – issues related to system requirements – VR is resource intensive by itself, and the addition of the photorealistic graphics is a huge challenge for optimization.

[Stephan] What is the game development scene like in the Ukraine? Have you received any support?

[Andrew] These days game developing industry in Ukraine is far from it’s the best shape excluding outsource and mobile. Local investors do not rush to support game projects as they do not understand this industry completely. At this particular stage of the development we are self-funded, however, we are open for any form of support, not only financial, but help from the specialists, talents, and advice.

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[Stephan] Is English the native language of the team? If it’s not, why did you decide to present your site and social media in English?

[Dmytro] English is not our native language, but we are fluent speakers. English is a global language and native language of the industry in particular. Last but not least we are targeting western markets, so English is the first choice.

[Stephan] Do you have any idea what platforms you will be launching on yet?

[Andrew] We are testing stuff on Oculus, however, we have not made a decision yet wich platform we will be building for, as VR is changing every week. And you never know what will happen in a year or two. Nevertheless, our fist platform will be PC.

[Stephan] Is there anything about game design and development you wish you’d known at the start of making PROZE?

[Arthur] It may sound like known fact, but it’s not. In every job, you have to believe and commit. As for game design — important thing to know, that you have to start from a good story. In our case, we got lucky and had it from the very beginning.

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[Andrew] I think, that you have to be patient, basically, you have to answer a lot of questions before you start actually doing anything like drawing, modeling, recording, whatever.

[Dmytro] And the most important thing — don’t ever start designing a game from the main menu 🙂

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PROZE is being developed by SignSine (@SignSineGames ) which is composed of Andrew “Sound King” Shcherbak (@PencilBxx), Arthur Kazakov and Dmytro “Garik” Yarynych. It’s coming to PC and VR! Check out the site for more info.
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