How the sausage is made
“We’re kind of like the Valve of Poland,” Artur Maksara tells me. In a way, he’s right. He’s referring to Flying Wild Hog’s flat structure, a sincere-seeming mentality that everyone in the company is just as important as any other. Quality assurance is treated the same as the artists who are treated the same as the top brass.
An hour earlier, we were shown the CEO’s office — a desk in a room full of identical desks. You’d be hard-pressed to say it’s superior in any identifiable way. If I’m not mistaken, his monitors were propped up inches higher by empty graphics cards boxes. He spends most of his day coding. It’s hard to imagine Gabe Newell’s digs are exactly the same.
If Flying Wild Hog is the Valve of Poland, it’s a Valve that takes itself much much much less seriously.
Of the three studios Zack and I visited in Warsaw, Flying Wild Hog was certainly the most interesting. CD Projekt Red has an air of pristine professionalism about its office. 11-bit was actually in the process of moving offices, so we met in a not-yet-finished space, one that we saw before 95 percent of its employees saw. And, Flying Wild Hog was like a frat house full of talented geeks.
Commander Shepard is the first thing anyone will see when they step out of the elevator at Flying Wild Hog. It’s quite clearly there because it’s some cool shit and the people at Flying Wild Hog like cool shit. Seconds later, beers are thrust at us. This is the Polish Hospitality we had encountered all week long, a country-wide initiative to make sure you always have a drink in your tummy and another in your hand.
We’re taken around the office and introduced to everyone. They’re all nice and some are delightfully awkward. One man walked quickly around a corner and reversed course in the opposite direction when he saw us. Another was startled and dropped his yogurt. It’s weirdly endearing. “They don’t get to interact with journalists basically ever,” we’re told.
As we made our way around the office, it becomes ever-clearer how this studio made Shadow Warrior. A dick and balls paper mache mobile hangs from the ceiling in one room. Some big tits are on a poster at the other end. These things are there because, like Commander Shepard, it’s some cool shit that someone wanted there. It’s starting to click. Shadow Warrior isn’t a game with a million dick jokes because that’s a focus-tested good idea; it’s a game with a million dick jokes because it’s made by people who want to tell a million dick jokes. Because, like it or not, that’s some cool shit to them.
We keep making the rounds. Developer after developer geeking out about the intricacies of what they do. Slow-motion procedural gore. Refined reflection systems. A trailer that couldn’t be given the green light because they couldn’t quite secure the license to the music that perfectly moves to the beat of the song. Half a dozen pictures of John Carmack plastered around a desk; an officemate wanted his coworker and Carmack to be friends.
It’s getting late. Rather than sticking to a rigid schedule like CD Projekt Red did, the people of Flying Wild Hog just seem like they want to hang out. We order pho, a perfect dish to offset the dreary Warsaw weather (every day in Poland was dreary). As we slurp down the soup, Artur pours shots of vodka. “Na zdrowie!” and the surprisingly smooth spirit goes down the hatch. Back to the soup, and, minutes later, another shot of vodka.
We finish eating and Zack asks how the Polish game community felt about concerns that The Witcher 3 was racist because it didn’t have any people of color. PR and marketing man Tadeusz Zielinski passionately chimes in. Long story short, almost everyone was pissed off because that allegation was a fundamental misunderstanding of what The Witcher and Poland is. Another shot of vodka. The conversation turns to CD Projekt Red and what it means to the country. Another shot of vodka. I’m losing the thread of talk but it’s something about Polish culture. Another shot of vodka.
I had a feeling this particular studio tour would take a turn in this direction. It’s either that Polish Hospitality or Flying Wild Hog’s creative way to try to kill Zack for giving Shadow Warrior 2 a seven out of 10, one of the lower scores it received. It’s probably the hospitality, though. Probably.
We have to bow out of the inebriation arms race. Early flights mercifully ensure that we can’t stay up all night drinking. “Why?” Artur asks only half jokingly. I don’t think I could keep up anyway. The man’s nickname is “massacre” for how often he has put the alcohol-related hurt on people in the Polish game dev scene. But, before we can leave, we have to take what is known as “the leaving shot.” That seems reasonable enough. Immediately afterward, we’re told we need to drink for the other leg. That seems less reasonable. I’m dubious but I drink anyway.
There were no interviews, no exclusives, and no schedule for our tour of Flying Wild Hog. In hindsight, it wasn’t necessary. It’s easy enough to peer behind the curtains and get a good feel for the mentality of this company. It’s just a bunch of folks doing what they think is fun with no delusions that their games will change the world. Suddenly, all those dick jokes make sense — it just took a bunch of shots of vodka to get it.