S.T.A.L.K.E.R's supposed successor Areal has been called out as fraudulent by Survarium developer Vostok Games. West Games has now suggested that the scandal between West Games, modder Misery and Vostok Games was created by the media.
UPDATE 15: We've been sent a link to an Imgur gallery that seems to contain an Areal pre-alpha screenshot, compared to a screen taken from the Unity post-apocalyptic tool pack. The similarities are clear:
The use of Unity is odd, considering West Games claimed it is building Areal in a new propitiatory game engine on Kickstarter. It could be using Unity to create a prototype of course, but we're yet to see evidence of the game running in this purpose-built engine, or at all for that matter.
What do you think?
UPDATE 14: Vostok Games has now responded to claims from West Games that the firm paid off press to purposely generate negative coverage surrounding the Areal project. (See updates 12 & 11)
Vostok's Oleg Yavorsky told me over email, "I think instead of blaming press, the Areal guys should really be grateful for all the hype the press helped them make for their yet non-existing project. If they are accusing press of non-professionalism, the best favour you could do for them is simply stop writing about them.
"As for this particular piece (in update 10 below) "The statement in question has been written by a moderator of the Survarium forum and was later deleted on our request.” We removed that statement from our forum not because West Games asked, but because the thread was growing and we believe our forum is not the place to discuss 3rd party projects like that. So we deleted it."
UPDATE 13: I just asked West Games to clarify who Leonid Kovtun is (last mentioned in update 12). Based in Las Vegas, this individual is believed to be the recipient of all funds generated by the Areal Kickstarter campaign. The shooter's Kickstarter page also lists West Games as based in Las Vegas.
I sent the West Games rep this email:
The rep then replied with the following statement:
"Actually this is not in my rights to speak about private investors. But I can sured you, that West Games don't work with any cheater, lier or criminal. We are clean in this all.
"We just have some support from the USA, other information I just haven't right to say. And all rumors about Leonid are lie and wrong information - that all what I can say.
"Forbes Magazine has been written such lie, that we even didn't know how to react on this. And I can asured you, we are honest people and we even don't say bad things about our haters and hurters. Because we are higher, than this all, we are intelligent and civil people, who just want to make an awesome game, in honest way."
We still don't know who Leonid Kotvun is or how he is related to the Areal project.
UPDATE 12: Another round of emails. Here's what I sent the West Games rep in response to Update 11 below:
I received a reply that states - again - that Survarium developer Vostok Games paid for press against the Areal project, and that this unnamed party is "very close to the company." The rep added that some individuals were paid to comment negatively on the game's Kickstarter and Facebook pages, but that despite this, the game has support from the "USA".
The reference to America could explain why West Games is listed as a Las Vegas firm on Kickstarter (See update 4 below), and could link to the firm to one Leonid Kovtun, who is receiving all of the funds generated by the Areal fundraising campaign. I've emailed them separately about this matter and will update if I hear more.
Here the new reply in full:
"You know, this information about that Vostok paid for publications appeared from some persons, that are a very close to that company. It was not honest from their side, and they have been asured, that no one will never know about this. But the truth has won. And also we had an information, that some people paid to other people, that they attack as with different things on a Kickstarter and Facebook.
"It was because of personal benifit of Vostok. When they have let to know, that West Games started a project Areal and got a support from USA - they didn't know what to do, that's why situation has turned against us - by all possibilities they tried and try to destroy us, and at the same time they deny this.
"But some people who close to them told to us everything. And this "puzzle" has been finished and everything unknown has became well known."
On the lack of Areal footage and the predominant use of old S.T.A.L.K.E.R footage and Unity mod footage seen in the game's Kickstarter pledge trailer, the rep continued:
"About video - there's nothing criminal. West Games used some phragments to show their work from the past, what they did and how they worked, we didn't cheat anyone - we just showed some phragments of the past work, to show to the people, that team can create a great game.
"New video with Areal gameplay, surely will be showen to people, when it will be finished. But it takes time. But of course one day it will be. Every day we show to people new updates on a Kickstarter page, we don't hide anything from anyone, we want the people to let to know everything what we do. West Games are in Ukraine now, and knowing situation in this country, it's very hard to work a very fast, but the team try.
"Now West Games, no matter of all work with different material, to proove and to show to people , that we are not lier, cheater or so. And, surely, we will make an awesome game - and that would be the best answer to our haters."
UPDATE 11: In response to claims that the press has fabricated the controversy surrounding Areal, Vostok Games and Misery, I sent West Games the following email:
West Games replied, stating that Vostok Games has paid publications and gamers to run negative stories about Areal and post negative comments about the game online.
This is the full reply I received:
"This situation is a very terrible. Vostok Games and Misery LTD try to destroy us at fully program! They buy some "publication" in some pressa, they told lie about us, wrong information... Why? Because they clearly understand, that when Areal will be released - it will be more successful, than their project...
"And also, the most sad this - some people give money to other people for they write bad comments on our Kickstarter page. We don't answer by evil on evil, because we are intelligent people, that would never fight in not honest way with our opponents.
"Our team work day and night to show wo people something interesting, we have a new members in our team, we work till death. And at several time they by all possibilities try to desturb tp us to make our game and to show to the people really great game!
"We are in a terrible situation! There're many lie, wrong information around us... we try to defend our project, but we must work and go ahead! If to look at situation more clearly - we desturb to them, they don't want that we create a great game, or in other way they will lose.
"Honestly, with all my heart, I would love to stop this war. But they will not stop to attack us by all chances. We stay on our position - to never answer by evil on evil; the best answer will be - when we will create a great game, that will be loved by many people around the world."
In an odd turn of events, West Games' Igor Buryak has claimed that the controversy surrounding Areal, Survarium developer Vostok Games, modder Misery and other parties has been fabricated by the games press, despite there being solid evidence that all the related parties have disagreed or disputed each other these past few weeks.
Here's the interview:
Buryak's translated quote reads, "As a matter of fact, this scandal between Vostok Games and West Games is not a scandal at all, but some nonsense that many media outlets published without doing any research, thus becoming the victims of this deceit."
He claims the media has its facts wrong, despite the fact we (and others) did a lot of research into this, and received actual written statements (further down the page) from Vostok Games representatives who took grievance with the actions of West Games.
Buryak added, "We requested an official response from Vostok Games and received one from their PR Director Oleg Yavorsky: "Vostok Games can't make any legal claim against West Games because Vostok Games owns no rights for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R brand and franchise. The statement in question has been written by a moderatior of the Survarium forum and was later deleted on our request."
That last part about the comment might be true, but what about the actual, written statement (also further down this page) sent to VG247 by Yavorsky himself calling out the Areal project? Was that a figment of the media's imagination too? Was it also a mistake?
We think not.
On Vostok's claims that West Games is not comprised of true S.T.A.L.K.E.R creators, Buryak continued "Oleg Yavorsky says we have no former GSC employees. He points out high staff turnover in GSC. Well, this wasn't addressed to West Games. He can't make such a statement because it would simply be a lie. Since we're at the very beginning of our work we can't (and should not) make our whole team public, because as soon as we do that they'll get caught up in gossip and accusations made by our competitors."
What do you make of this?
Areal developer West games has sent us an update, explaining that it has just hired Alexey Sytyanov as video game development consultant. Its odd, seeing as he was always listed as a core team member on the game's Kickstarter page from day one.
What do you think?
This one might be a translation error, but this Areal Kickstarter post reads, "Also, regarding Union Studio, we had a preliminary project that was supposed to be a generic shooter, and we didn't agree with that vision. That project became Survarium from Vostok Games and we founded West Games. Now, as you know, we have Areal in development."
It appears that West Games is now claiming responsibility for Survarium's creation, as well as S.T.A.L.K.E.R - a claim that has been heavily disputed by the former GSC World developers now at Vostok Games.
When asked by Eurogamer to respond to this fresh claim, Vostok's Oleg Yavorsky said, "We never had anything in common with Union Studio. I do hope it's a translation mistake."
Since the Areal Kickstarter began, its most vocal critic has been S.T.A.L.K.E.R modder team Misery Development, which was responsible for the successfully Kickstarted post-apocalyptic shooter The Seed.
Areal developer West Games has since threatened the team with legal action, prompting the following retraction on Misery Development's Facebook page:
"Misery Development Ltd. has been formally asked to resign from commenting on West Games and their Kickstarter project Areal. Misery Development Ltd. would like to state that whether or not to pledge on a Kickstarter campaign is for the community to decide, and an individual choice."
West Games has also updated its Kickstarter feed with a post called "let's make games, not war...", in which it attempted to divert attention away from controversy to the game itself, despite failing to show any of the game or discuss it in great detail.
There was, however, some concept art of a tank that can only be used in the shooter's green zone:
The jury is still out on the project's legitimacy.
VG247 has been sent a statement penned by West Games founder Eugene Kim, who lists himself as GSC World's former Software Architect, Teamlead on LinkedIn. He worked there for one year and eight months, and it is this short tenure that has caused Vostok Games - a team comprised of S.T.A.L.K.E.R creators - to call out claims that Areal is being developed by the creators of that game, and that it is the shooter's true successor.
Kim said in his statement, "Almost immediately after we launched on Kickstarter however, Misery LTD and Vostok Games started accusing us of fraud and of being scammers. Misery LTD in particular has aggressively perpetuated this fallacy.
"We contacted an official representative of Vostok Games about their comments and they replied that they do not have any legal accusations against us and do not have any allegations of fraud against us. The forum topic on Vostok Games, wherein a moderator accused us, among other things, of not being former GSC employees has since been deleted.
”It’s very hard to see people associated with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise perpetuating lies and biased misinformation, with the purpose of attracting people to their own post apocalyptic video games.”
"Misery LTD has actively been spreading misinformation and outright lies. They have hijacked our Kickstarter comments section by posting under various aliases and promoting their own post apocalyptic video game, called Project Seed. They have even posted a whole page on their website claiming that we are not who we say we are and are scammers. We have posted a video of our team in the updates section to disprove that (See update five below)
"It's very hard to see people associated with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise perpetuating lies and biased misinformation, with the purpose of attracting people to their own post apocalyptic video games. It's even harder for us to see that misinformation posted as fact.
"People are even mad that we are releasing on consoles in addition to PC (PS4, Xbox One and Wii U). All that we really want to do is make Areal an awesome game, and we know that we can do it because of our past experience in the video game industry."
Questions still remain. How can West Games, a new firm, produce a multi-format title on a shoestring budget of $50,000? Is it using this fee to make a prototype then use it to secure additional capital or partnership? If this is being made in a proprietary engine, then why show largely Unity and X-Ray footage on Kickstarter? Why does the clip contain so many shots of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R?
There are many questions, but few answers, and just the same counter-claims that Vostok Games and Misery are needlessly attacking the project. We cannot say for certain if this is a scam, as we have not received any personalised email reply from Kim or West Games representatives, despite emailing the team. GSC World's site lists Oleg Yavorsky as its point of contact. He now works at Survarium studio Vostok Games.
We'll keep an eye on this matter as it transpires, but for now, there are still several holes in the evidence, and not enough us to report, ultimately, that Areal is either legitimate or a scam.
What do you think?
Areal developer West Games has posted a minute-long clip introducing members of the game's team, including founder Eugene Kim, to prove that they are real.
In a statement sent to VG247 last night, the team said of its clip, "People in the Kickstarter comments section have been saying that our team is fake, and that our Kickstarter is a scam. Hopefully the video shows that we're real... We fully understand that Misery LTD and people associated with them are flaming a witch hunt against us, and trying to discredit us at every chance that they get, whilst promoting their own post apocalyptic video game.
"They say that they are not doing this, but multiple accounts have repeatedly posted misleading information about us, and then directed commentators to Misery's site, which features a project that's exceedingly similar to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. They are spreading lies and misinformation to various news outlets, who are unknowingly posting said lies and misinformation."
In a Kickstarter updated entitled 'Addressing Vostok Games,' Eugene Kim, head of Areal developer West Games wrote, "We have contacted Vostok Games about their supposed claim that we are fraudulent.
"They say that they have no relation to that claim and have since deleted the forum topic wherein a moderator accused us of being fake. The Kickstarter comments section has been completely hijacked by a couple of people, and even if we comment there, our posts will be ignored and buried.
"Misery LTD in particular is developing another post apocalyptic video game and is stirring controversy to attract people to his Kickstarter project. I hope that you, our supporters, can see through this deliberate negativity and help us make an awesome game with Areal. Update 2 is coming later today, and will clarify things even further."
Misery LTD has penned their own blog entitled 'Areal is a Scam,' in which the S.T.A.L.K.E.R mod creator has raised several questions regarding the game's development.
For starters, he notes that West Games is said to be based in Las Vegas, Nevada, according to the Kickstarter page. It is a Russian firm.
Misery adds, "Any Kickstarter pledge to AREAL is directed towards a ‘Leonid Kovtun’. Who is Leonid Kovtun? What is his role in the project? and why is his name not listed on the main page? All these questions are relevant and important, because Amazon Payments authorized the future pay in benefit of that person, Leonid Kovtun, a natural person and not a company or brand.
"Additionally, West Games is based in… Las Vegas?! How far from claimed team nationality can we possibly get here? West games was only reserved as a company name on May 20 2014 and will expire 20th of August 2014 by Leonid Kovtun of Nevada."
Continuing, Misery theorised that if Areal development only requires $50,000 in funding, then one would assume the shooter is already far on in development. He asks, "So why base a Kickstarter video on 90% old S.T.A.L.KE.R. cut scenes? It is irrelevant and this campaign is about AREAL (which is not a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. title)."
There are further accusations over on Misery's blog. Check them out and decide for yourself what's going on until we an gain further clarity.
A subsequent post delves into the actions of Misery LTD a little further, in which West Games championed passing 760 backers. At the time of writing Areal has made $29,522 of its $50,000 goal.
The team wrote, "As we've mentioned before, a former S.T.A.L.K.E.R. modder and current creator of a similar post apocalyptic Kickstarter project has been flooding our comments with negativity and misinformation, and then using various accounts to promote his game, called Project Seed. This is what we in the industry call guerrilla PR... We are taking appropriate measures to combat this.
"We hope that this negativity stops, and we want to be supportive as well as constructive towards our peers and colleagues. Stay tuned for the video update!"
We have contacted West Games directly, but we've yet to hear back. Stay tuned for more updates.
Vostok Games PR and Marketing Manager Oleg Yavorsky has sent a statement to VG247. The studio is comprised largely of former GSC World and ex-S.T.A.L.K.E.R developers, and finds West Games' claim that Areal is being developed by the creators of the classic shooter fraudulent.
Yavorsky told us over email, "So that you understand, over the years of development of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and then Metro series, there have been literally hundreds of people involved in working on various bits and pieces, starting from beta-testers up to modellers responsible for certain weapon models.
"Many people came to the studio to work for a few months just for the sake of adding “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. development” to their portfolio. Frequently they claimed afterwards to be the 'core' developers behind the game (you wouldn't know anyway, right?).
"Yet, my biggest concern is that West Games are using the footage and assets of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and representing them as their own, which is not only illegal, but simply just not right. I guess it's all made for the sake of getting extra publicity (which unfortunately works), but guys on Kickstarter should probably pay attention."
As you can see below, we found that West Games is using old S.T.A.L.K.E.R concept art and claiming it to be art for its new game Areal.
Make of that what you will.
We've reached out to West Games to get its side of the story as well. We'll update you if we hear back.
Members of the Survarium forum have also discovered that one piece of art used on the Areal Kickstarter campaign has come from a novel called 'Areal' penned by fantasy writer Sergej Tarmashev.
The forum users claim that the art is being used fraudulently, but Tarmashev himself is listed as a member of West Games. It appears that the game is an adaptation of his book series, as the descriptor linked above does contain mention of mutants, along with references to The Dark Lord, The Group of the Bear and more. Tarmashev's direct involvement lends weight to Areal being an adaptation of his novels.
This piece of art also appears on the Areal Kickstarter, and is claimed to have been stolen by West Games:
However, the piece above was originally posted online in 2011 by artist Eugene Cherenkov, who is listed as a West Games concept artist.
This all seems fine to a point, until you watch the Areal Kickstarter pitch video, which can be seen here. It includes various S.T.A.L.K.E.R scenes, still concept art and if you look closely, you'll catch a glimpse of this Unity3D tech demo:
It's odd that a Unity3D demo should feature, because West Games states that Areal is being created in a proprietary engine for multiple formats, all on a $50,000 budget. While outside capital may have been secured elsewhere, this low sum for such a grand concept does raise several questions.
We'll have more as it comes.
We reported on the Areal Kickstarter this morning, which currently sits at $19,776 of developer West Games' $50,000 goal.
It appears to share many traits with the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R, such as mutants, apocalyptic decline and more, and is being dubbed, "The definitive spiritual successor to the cult hit S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series."
On the game's background, West Games writes, "The core people that developed the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series have come together to create a new team called West Games. Together, we're developing a game called Areal, which continues the spirit of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and adds an engrossing story, unique game-play and innovative features.
"With that said, Areal is not S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but a game developed by the people who made S.T.AL.K.E.R.. Most of our team is composed of former senior GSC Game World staff members, and now that we have our own fully independent studio, we can create the ultimate post apocalyptic video game."
It has since been claimed that the team behind Areal are not original GSC Game World developers and were not the creators of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Over on the Survarium forums, Vostok games' Joe Mullin wrote, "We have contacted GSC's lawyers regarding this fraudulent claim of being the developers of Stalker and Metro Last Light. Please do all you can do ensure people know these claims are false."
Interestingly, we had a look at the Areal homepage, which includes several pieces of concept art, such as this drawing of a soldier:
The same image appears on the official S.T.A.L.K.E.R Wiki page:
The Areal page has used several pieces of artwork from the official wiki, which initially raised some questions about their use. We've since learned that the images were originally penned by Alexei Moseichuk, who is listed as a member of the West Games development team over on the Areal Kickstarter page.
However, it is believed the images were originally created for the development of S.T.A.L.K.E.R, so it's unclear where the legal lines are drawn regarding their use in Areal.