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Areal adds key S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Survarium designer

But serious questions about the Kickstarter still remain.

There's been a noteworthy update to the controversial Areal Kickstarter (beyond what I dug into last week): the full-time hiring of Alexey Sytyanov, the lead game designer of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and the lead game designer of Survarium.

He's confirmed his role as producer (exactly what that entails, it's unclear) in a video update, and his hiring adds weight and credibility to the project as a whole.

(It's worth pointing out that Vostok Games, creator of Survarium, explained that he left the Survarium project because his design work had been completed. Sytyanov is credited as part of the design team for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. rather than one of the key people leading development of the game. Vostok confirmed to Eurogamer that Sytyanov was "at the origins of the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game".)

In a video, Sytyanov - positioned apparently 200km away from "a war against Russian terrorists" - explained: "Nobody is right now developing a game that is as close to the concept of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as Areal. This is a shooter about surviving in the apocalypse. Imagine a mix of DayZ and Metroid Prime.

"You start the game all alone, but there are meetings with future friends, enemies, discoveries and mysteries ahead.

"I see a lot of promise with this project and offered the guys from West-Games a couple of innovations that would give Areal something that was missing from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Survarium. For example, a combination of multiplayer with a deep story."

More importantly, he announced: "In the next couple of days we're going to show footage from Areal and talk about a few game features."

Cover image for YouTube video

A show of game footage is what the Areal Kickstarter campaign has sorely lacked since it begun. Backers simply don't believe there's an actual game there, so many have lowered their pledges to $1. That's why, with 16 days to go, the project has stalled at around $35,000 of the $50,000 it needs to raise.

I quizzed West-Games a few days ago about whether there would be any footage released at all throughout the campaign, because I wasn't convinced.

"West-Games are working about a lot of the things," I was told by a person called Valeria who works there. "The work is going. And we will show everything what we will have.

"They are working in Ukraine, where situation is terrible, and they do all what they can. We never hide anything from the people, and in every update we show everything what we have."

I presume Valeria meant "the work is ongoing" and that if footage was ready, we'd see it. But Valeria's message didn't fill me with confidence to say the least.

Art that's been added to the Areal Kickstarter page.

There's still a big question mark hanging over the game's apparently minuscule budget - $50,000 - too. 'That can't be all of it,' we assumed. 'It must be a sum to pay for a demo to show investors or a publisher.'

Eurogamer Germany asked West-Games boss Eugene Kim some questions of its own, and shared the relevant answers with me.

"First off," Kim said, "we have pooled together a set sum to cover salaries. Second of all, marketing takes a large chunk of the budget, and we are relying on word of mouth instead. So when you take that into account, $50,000 doesn't seem so low.

"If you take a look at Misery LTD's Kickstarter, (the team that first stated that our base goal is too low) then you'll see that their budget is even smaller, with roughly €20,000. And I have heard that Survarium has a relatively small budget too."

That seems to suggest that Kim intends to make Areal with $50,000, plus whatever money the team invested.

But in the comments section of the Areal Kickstarter there's a quote from a Russian website supposedly handling PR for Areal, which (reportedly - this is not verified) reads: "The game's producer explicitly told us that the success of reaching the 50,000 mark is meant entirely to show off in front of investors. Factually, that money is needed only to attract the 'real' big cash, because the development of this game of such a game would cost much more than a million dollars."

They are conflicting statements.

Eurogamer Germany also quizzed Kim about the ambitious - given the lack of game evidence so far - September 2015 release date for Areal.

"There is nothing insane about a two-plus year total development cycle," answered Kim. "Some games take longer to make, and others don't. We feel that our dev cycle is reasonable as is."

Backers are also still concerned about the identity of Leonid Kovtun, the man who pledges are going through to. "Leo Kovtun is a partner," was West-Games' previous description of him. An artist elaborated that "he handles some legal and financial aspects of our game".

Leonid Kovtun lives in the US and it could be that his location made him a perfect partner to set up a US company address for West-Games - something that's required to run a US Kickstarter campaign (usually the most successful).

Whether the County Court cases he appears to have been involved in have any bearing on his legitimacy - or the Areal Kickstarter's legitimacy - is unclear. Extra clarification would certainly help.

Meanwhile, the Areal Kickstarter comments section is full of mistrust on one hand and over-the-top excitement on the other. The enthusiasm is uncharacteristic and somewhat out of place, and has led to accusations that the people posting are involved with the project.