Stalker is my very favourite game based on a ponderous Tarkovsky film, and also one of my top five games of all time. I imagine a lot of people feel similarly, which is why the following news is rather exciting: Stalker (or, if you prefer, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) developers GSC Game World are back in business. They're working on an "old-fashioned, full price", unrevealed new game at the moment, though whether it's a Stalker type game or a Heroes of Annihilated Empires type game, or even a Cossacksy one is still unclear. It could also, obviously, be something completely different.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, GSC spokesperson Valentine Yeltyshev (it's not clear how many other devs have remained—many went on to form Metro's 4A, and Survarium's Vostok Games) had a lot of interesting things to say, not just about the sad demise of Stalker 2, but about the future of GSC, and about the persistently dodgy West Games, who have just reappeared with another shady crowdfunding project. Let's start with that, shall we?
When asked about the bizarre tale of West Games' Areal, Yeltyshev had the following to say.
"I don't really know enough about them, but the story is quite funny. These guys were basically promoting themselves as being the STALKER team, that they were working on STALKER, but that's not true. When we were working on STALKER 2, we were also planning on releasing a browser game based on STALKER so we could keep the audience engaged until released.
"That project was never finished. There were mistakes. But the guys at West Games, that was the STALKER project they were working on - a flash game. So when they promoted themselves as having worked on STALKER, I was quite surprised. We would definitely win the legal action against them, but we won't start it. They used a lot of the ideas from STALKER... I don't know what they were thinking, starting that. I haven't heard from them for quite a while."
The interview seems to have been conducted prior to West Games' return with the probably-trademark-flouting STALKER: Apocalypse—I'd imagine GSC might have something to say to them now.
As for the cancellation of Stalker 2:
"So there were a lot of complex reasons that led to the decision to stop development. We were never closing down forever, but at the time we were aware of some pretty obvious obstacles that we weren't going to be able to overcome. Maybe we needed more team leaders. Still, we'd built some levels, areas of the zone, some characters, a new engine. A completely new engine, written from scratch, which was already a next-gen engine at the time.
"The X-Ray engine was quite ahead of its time, but only in 2007, not 2010. The new engines in CoD and Battlefield had started to arrive so we needed to get better. It was maybe 70 to 80 per cent ready. It was a huge step up from X-Ray. It was oriented on PC and Xbox 360, and there were plans for it to work on PlayStation eventually.
"Everything is stored! We have all the assets, materials and engine."
That last part is very good news. As far as I can tell, GSC Game World still own the rights to Stalker, so there's still an X-Ray of hope for Stalker 2. (The rights situation, as impressively detailed here, is enormously confusing.) As for their new game, "we don't think free-to-play is the right model for the game we want to make. So we're making an old-fashioned, full price game, we think our audience will be happy about that. We're expecting a lot of our old audience!"
Read into that what you will. (And when you've done that, be sure to read the whole GamesIndustry.biz interview, as it's fab.)