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Today we would like to invite you to read a guest article by Ondřej Koch from the LEVEL magazine, one of the top video game periodicals in the Czech Republic.

Prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, people on the eastern side who wanted to make or even play games had very little opportunity to do so. The first generation of developers coming from the lands which used to form the federation of Czechoslovakia until 1992 didn’t get a chance to play most of the titles considered as classics or industry standards.

The console market was practically non-existent until the beginning of the millennium. This resulted in Czech and Slovak games being very different – believe it or not, mostly in a good way.

So how exactly do the games coming from studios based in the Czech Republic and Slovakia differ from your usual gaming experience? First, it is the unprecedented focus on realism and high, but fair difficulty, which triggered the success of series like Hidden & Dangerous, ArmA or truck simulators. Second, it is the artistic virtuosity of games coming from Amanita Design, Altar Interactive, Attu Games and many, many more. Whenever those two qualities manage to meet perfectly, major international success is born. That is the story of games like Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven or Kingdom Come: Deliverance.

All the aforementioned titles and talented creators have secured spot on a gaming map for Czech Republic and Slovakia. The rise of the indie scene followed quickly, without the historic burden which fundamentally affected the previous generation of developers. Tens of games are released every year, ranging from small platformers to ambitious FPS titles or serious experiences curated by the leading academics working for the game studio based at the historic Charles University.

Three or four titles coming from the Czech Republic within the list of best-sellers on any given platform were not an unusual sight during the past decade. That is an astonishing achievement by creators coming from a country with a population of North Carolina. If you haven’t played some of the Czech and Slovak classics yet, this is a chance you don’t want to miss.

The best of Czech gaming, curated by the kid of the Velvet Revolution
As a person born just a few months after the peaceful revolution in Czechoslovakia took place, I was lucky enough to see the rise of our gaming industry from humble beginnings. The games were scarce, therefore our generation spent months playing the favourite titles over and over again, extracting every tiny bit of content and sharing the experiences together. Here are 5 classics that formed the current generation of Czech (as well as Slovakian) players & developers:

The original title inspired by The Godfather trilogy ignited the spark of the Czech gaming industry back in 2002 and sold more than 3 million units, followed by two sequels and a 2020 remake. However, many would argue that the story and spirit of the first Mafia is something never accomplished again. Most of the Czechs who completed the story of Tommy Angelo and his sinister, yet hilarious accomplices, remember the entire street layout of the city of Lost Heaven until today.

Original War

This is not your regular real-time strategy, but I promise it is one of the best you will ever play. Imagine a substance filled with so much power it would light up a country. Good news – a bunch of American scientists found it in the fields of Siberia. The bad news is that you will need a group of soldiers, technicians, and scientists to be sent a few million years back in time to transport it to the United States. If anybody dies during the process, you will miss them for the rest of the campaign. You didn’t think that the Russians are allowing the transfer that easy, did you?

Samorost 1

A young, talented man called Jakub Dvorský handed over his diploma thesis about a little living deadwood at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague in 2003. Almost nobody expected this moment to be pivotal for the creation of one of the most successful studios in Czech history. Our word for deadwood is a “samorost”, and some of you may already know where this is heading. A little flash-based interactive story (which you can play for free!) was followed by the second and third instalment later on, as well as by many lovely, charming, touching and slightly disturbing (most of them all together) titles made by Amanita Design.

ARMA: Cold War Assault

I remember running through vast Czech forests and abandoned industrial buildings with a bunch of friends armed with airsoft guns dearly. When playing ArmA, the experience was quite similar, but we were somehow writing the history (though only virtually). The focus on realistic simulation was unprecedented at the time, as well as over 400 square kilometres of terrain and massive collection of equipment from both sides of the Cold War conflict. Be ready to die A LOT.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

The last title on the list was only released in 2018 but already made it to the list of instant classics. Daniel Vávra (director of the original Mafia game) and his team depicted a complicated story full of heroes and villains which takes place in 1403 around the Sázava river right in the heart of Bohemia. The adventures of Henry, son of a blacksmith, gained international attention and even brought crowds of new visitors to the actual Sázava Monastery, one of the centrepieces of the game.

We hope that you enjoyed reading this article. Check our Weekly Sale that features Czech and Slovak games for more interesting titles accompanied by cool discounts.
Mplath1: In any case I wanted to point out how lucky we are to have developers who lived behind the Iron Curtain.
igrok: Well, there were some games developed in USSR, Tetris being most notable. So I don't understand the Czech problem.
Fully aware of Tetris, which is a really interesting story given the collapse of the USSR, but that's kind of my point. I'm not sure Alexey would have made Tetris if he hadn't been in a bit of a vacuum away from arcades, Atari, Activision (the early days), Nintendo, etc. He was a computer researcher who by his own admission was more interested in making people happy with computers than hardware testing. As far as I know there wasn't really a games industry the way the West had though. So playing on a computer which was never intended for graphical output (or games) he created Tetris and got his coworkers hooked. Those hardware limitations and the need for a simplicity that could be understood by a team of coworkers of varying ages and interests were the perfect environment to produce Tetris. If Alexey or anyone had access to Pac-Man or Donkey Kong I'm not sure we would have ended up with Tetris.

I realize the Cold War has been over 30 years now but it drastically shaped millions of lives for decades and has a continued impact in some ways that continue to this day. Glad to be living in a time where I can enjoy games from a team who grew up with different ideas about technology and entertainment, because less then a lifetime ago we weren't even supposed to talk to one another.
Hey GOG...

... we need Vietcong! ;)
Mplath1: Fully aware of Tetris, which is a really interesting story given the collapse of the USSR, but that's kind of my point. I'm not sure Alexey would have made Tetris if he hadn't been in a bit of a vacuum away from arcades, Atari, Activision (the early days),
That's an interesting view and I think there is some truth behind it, although arcades were also popular in the USSR. I am not sure whether Pajitnov played on them though, since they were targeted at kids. I think what was more important was the scarcity of PCs, but this was not exclusive to Soviet block countries. For example, I don't know any notable games developed in Portugal, Ecuador, South Africa, New Zealand etc. during 1980ies-early 1990ies. It may be hard to imagine it now, but PCs were really expensive and rare a few decades ago, and this most likely explains why smaller and/or poorer countries picked on game development only recently.

Of course, the differences in game development culture (reflecting broad cultural and historic roots) are still there and quite real. I like French games a lot for that reason. They are just so different in a good way.
Crosmando: Legit question, what did the Czech Republic call itself before it was a Republic, Czechia?
hmm... Kingdom of Bohemia I guess. It was eventually integrated into the Austro-Hungarian empire so it wasn't really a state for some 300 years.
Post edited November 20, 2021 by eraser110cz
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