Ukrainian game developer in Kyiv on maintaining optimism amid oppression – The Hollywood Reporter

“It’s surprisingly calm around us.”

Those words come from game developer Alex Molodkin, who is sheltering in the hallway of his Kiev apartment amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He attributes the calm to the fact that there were no explosions right next to him.

“People always avoid panic and besides, our government is great at keeping panic at bay,” Molodkin said. He talks to The Hollywood Reporter via Zoom on his phone, while his laptop is safely stored in a bug out bag.

The game developer, 27, is currently with his partner, Tay Kuznetsova, an artist and animator; and his mother and grandmother. They are all coping with the circumstances as best they can, he explains. “We still have food, and we can still go to some stores and also get additional supplies of medicine and food; it’s manageable. He adds that they try to be aware of all the information concerning the war and listen to the speeches of President Volodymyr Zelensky every day. The most weighted words Molodkin uses to describe his situation is that it’s “rather awkward.”

The first week of the invasion was just racing the news, says Molodkin. He was born in Kiev and has friends and relatives all over Ukraine. “You just want to keep in touch with everyone in case something happens,” he said evenly. The second week was a bit easier as he got used to the whole situation and found some relaxation in other activities, he adds. He started reading manga, for example, but “it’s hard to concentrate on something for a long time”.

Molodkin and his family sleep in shifts “because someone always has to be awake in the event of an air danger alert or other major news, so at least one person stays awake and is always ready to wake others”. But alerts happen “almost all the time,” he says. “If we reacted to every single one of them, we just wouldn’t get any sleep.” It is therefore a question of “analyzing” each alert for the potential risk it could entail.

Along with his partner, Molodkin formed the independent game company Weasel Token in 2016. The company, which has worked on mobile games, including a puzzle experience Stained glass, is currently in development on a 2D adventure called Puzzles for Key, which will be released on Steam. Molodkin describes the project as a “peaceful exploration game” where players solve various tasks in a global treasure hunt. “It’s very peaceful and risk-free, so we just wanted to create that kind of experience for people to ease their minds and have shelter from all the violence outside,” he says.

Molodkin’s interest in games began when he was a toddler and grew when he came to the internet at the age of 6. re so variable in terms of experience they could give you and all the headaches they could provide. He also likes the idea that there is a specific solution to pursue because while many game genres focus on the freedom to solve tasks, he says it’s great when there’s a concrete goal to achieve. .

Work on Puzzles for Key is currently suspended due to current circumstances. “Nobody prepares you to be at war in the 21st century,” says Molodkin. “It’s just very oppressive.” He adds that he tries to remain optimistic and that he believes in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. “We know we can get the win and that’s a very common view here, but it’s not exactly an atmosphere that produces work efficiency.”

Puzzles for Key
Courtesy of Weasel Token/Freedom Games

Molodkin explains that video games are a “popular career line” in Ukraine, especially mobile game production, but most people try to work in studios rather than start independent companies due to the difficulty of the industry. modern game development environment. He goes on to say that the Ukrainian gaming industry was quite interconnected with the Russian and Belarusian communities, “but of course I’m pretty sure that even after the war is over we will be much more isolated.”

And while Molodkin was able to connect with other game developers in Kyiv, he says most have now moved to the western part of Ukraine. For Molodkin, the plan is to stay for the time being for logistical reasons: “Plus it’s a matter of principle, honestly, because you just don’t want to leave until you absolutely have to. When someone invades your country, you don’t really want to run until you absolutely have to.

For those looking to support the people of Ukraine, Molodkin points to the Come Back Alive foundation and the National Bank of Ukraine account to support the armed forces.

Before parting with the call, Molodkin asked to speak to players who might read this interview, as it’s the community he knows best.

“I just want to say that game developers are generally great people who want to enrich people’s worlds and help their players through difficult experiences,” says Molodkin. “It would be great in this kind of situation where Ukrainian developers are also going through this difficult time, if players could pay a little more attention or donate to some charity – even just sharing items from Ukrainian studios helps a lot. Hopefully any kind of attention wouldn’t be too much to ask and would still help us a lot.

It’s not too much to ask. But that may not be enough.