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A Game 20 Years In the Making

Stephen Murphy | 26 Dec 2012 13:00
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When the first version of that world was released and offered over Finnish BBSes, Maaranen didn't know what to expect, but calculated that if he made 40 sales, he'd be able to avoid a summer job and continue development on the title. Those 40 buyers showed up, and sales soon started to expand beyond national borders.

"The game and my life are sometimes so tangled up that it's hard to distinguish whether my lifestyle has greater influence on the game or vice versa," Maaranen says.

"With early international distribution I needed to rely on a bunch of UrW-enthusiasts who could already access internet, or knew 'this or that guy who lives in the states and could put UrW on some big ftp archive of shareware programs if I'd send him a diskette via mail,'" Maaranen recounts. "This way UrW ended up on various internet-based software archives like The Simtel (one of the oldest and biggest ones). As I had no way to check the international availability of the game or even receive direct feedback from abroad I just thought 'Okay, thanks. That's cool.'"

The only contact information listed to purchase the game was Maaranen's postal address, which soon began to receive letters and money from across the globe. Upon receipt of payments for the game, the developer would mail back a registration diskette.

"Occasionally, some Finnish players could also just come knock on my door instead of sending a letter," Maaranen adds. "It was very different compared to modern times - and in some sense it was much more exciting."
Twenty years is a long time by any account. For Maaranen, it's been his entire adult life.

"When UnReal World version 1.00b was released in 1992, I considered it a somewhat finished game," he says. "I had no idea that I'd still be working on the same title after two decades."

There was something compelling about the game he'd created, something that wouldn't let him go.
"I actually spent some time working on other games and programs," he says. "But no other projects were as satisfying and interesting as UrW."

In part, that satisfaction is no doubt attributable to the overlap present between the game's setting and scope and the wild and storied life of its developer.

Between work making apple juice, repairing TVs, tracking elk, competing in archery competitions, hiking into the barren northern wilderness, playing in bands on streets and on stages, making newspaper comics, travelling "semi-homelessly" with UrW on a portable USB drive, farming, fishing, hosting a radio show, and enjoying primitive living, Maaranen shows a quick and decisive love for flexibility and freedom over the stability that some pursue.

"The game and my life are sometimes so tangled up that it's hard to distinguish whether my lifestyle has greater influence on the game or vice versa," he says. "My life and the life of the game have been closely linked all through these years.

"Over the years I've been offered long-term programming jobs that would have at least tripled my monthly income, but like for many indie game/roguelike developers it's not about the money at all. You just have that urge to stick with your beloved project. I do live on very low budget and like to say that 'scarcity is basic need of a man.'"

With over 20 years put into the project already, you might think Maaranen's just about wrapped up the work. Not quite.
"I've always got a head full of ideas for at least two years ahead," he says.

Right now, a big goal is complete moddability for the game. Because, he says, "If I'm working on the game when I'm 72 years old, with only one good eye and shaky hands, then I'd like to have it perfected up to the point where ... players can continue its life after I'm gone."

For now, 20 years is a pretty good run.

For more information about Sami Maaranen and UnReal World or to try or buy it, visit the game's official website here.

Stephen Murphy is a general assignments reporter at a small town newspaper and lover of games. He maintains the blog deepthinkingforfun.com, and is most known for not really being well-known.

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