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Serious Cro

Allen Varney | 25 Oct 2005 12:00
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In an unprecedented display of actual journalism, Wolpaw interviewed Croteam CEO Roman Ribaric in June 2000 and April 2001:

Erik: We contacted a very famous pampered American webmaster and asked him for his thoughts on Serious Sam. He was pretty dismissive, and he said that Serious Sam seemed "unprofessional". Do you have assholes like that in Croatia?

Roman: First, something about Croatian mentality. There is a saying here: "It's not important that my cow is dying, as long as my neighbour's cow dies, too." [...] Explaining that, majority over here in Croatia think that Sam is okay, but it's nowhere near [Unreal Tournament] or [Quake III]. Also, they think engine is not so good. In our newsgroups we are losing to the Daikatana.

OMM's publicity helped Serious Sam secure an American distribution deal through On Deck Interactive. In gratitude, Croteam stuck Erik in Sam's Hatshepsut level and put an in-joke in the Sacred Yards level. In honor of OMM's famous diatribe against one particular shooter cliche, the Crate Review System ("Games can be rated and compared based on the shortest amount of time it takes a player to reach the first crate, which represents the point where the developers ran out of ideas"), Croteam installed a switch that transforms an ancient pyramid into an immense stack of crates.

Croatia?
You could say Serious Sam put Croatia on the gaming map, except most American gamers probably still can't find it. The Balkan state, formerly part of Yugoslavia, lies on the Adriatic coast of the Mediterranean, opposite Italy. (Can American gamers locate Italy on a map? Don't ask.) The country is beautiful and lushly forested, a big European tourist destination whenever it's not embroiled in bloodshed.

Croatia last hit the headlines in 1991-1995, during the "ethnic cleansing" genocides and relocations after Yugoslavia's breakup. Today, as a sort-of-industrialized, sort-of-democracy, Croatia is peaceful and making news as a candidate for the European Union. Artist Admir Elezovic commented in a 2001 interview that the difficulty of working in Croatia has to do with perception: "We are coming from a country that was at war a few years ago. People had a hard time believing that someone from a small European country could make anything good (some people even thought there were no computers in Croatia)."

Pish tosh. Robert Westmoreland, who made the original deal with Croteam for American distribution of Serious Sam, said in a GameSlice interview, "The office they [Croteam] have is very much like that you would find for a developer of their size in the States, and the equipment they use is updated. Money is money no matter where you are."

Manpower and equipment are readily available, but Croteam programmer Dean Sekulic highlights the real barrier for growth, "The problem in Croatia is not lack of talent or knowledge. Quite the opposite - we do have lots of talented people who are capable of making excellent games, but it's impossible to find the financing."

So Croteam found some of their own money. They financed the new Serious Sam 2 partly through licensing of the Serious Engine. It went for $20-$100,000, about 10-20% of the price of the Quake III engine at the time. Of 14 licensees, only two made it to the shelves, both in 2004: the mediocre Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol, created by Dutch studio Khaeon and published by Playlogic; and Nitro Family, by short-lived Korean studio Delphieye, published (for about five minutes) by Valusoft. Croteam hasn't yet announced licensing terms for its new Serious Engine 2.0.

So that's the how, but that leaves us with why? Is there any reason why Croats, in particular, would devise Serious Sam?

It is unrewarding to search the game for Rosebud-like antecedents in Croatian history or culture. Granted, the Croats' gory 13-century history is a chronicle of bitter struggle against their blood enemies, the Serbs - also the Bosniaks, Montenegrins, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, Hungarians, Austrians, Jews, Gorani, and Roma, but above all the Serbs. Yet it would be asinine to compare that tragic chronicle to Sam's onrushing waves of Beheaded rocketeers, Kleer skeletons, Sirian werebulls, Scythian witch-harpies, Aludrian reptiloid-highlanders, Zumb'uls from planet Ras'Ad'Nyk, incredibly annoying Reeban Electro-Fish, and Santa Claus. To expect any given game to reflect some putative national character is like expecting one individual to conform to the stereotypical traits of a whole race.

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