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Russian studio fled country to finish game

‘After this announcement and my statements, it’s better not to come back [to Russia]’

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Russian video game studio Odd Meter was one year into the development of Indika, a game set in an alternate 19th-century Russia, when the Russian government launched a devastating attack on Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Russians fled the country, many of whom opposed the war on Ukraine — including the majority of Odd Meter’s developers, according to studio founder Dmitry Svetlow.

“You’re living in some kind of nightmare,” Svetlow said. “Something happened that should have never happened.”

Ten of 14 Odd Meter workers left Russia together to continue work on the game, facing the reality that they might not ever be able to return to their home. (The other developers were unable to leave Russia for various reasons, including family ties.) Indika as an “arthouse-style” adventure game about a seditious nun, called Indika, who gets expelled from the monastery and sets out into the world; it’s not hard to see it as a criticism of the Russian Orthodox church. Odd Meter describes Indika as a blend of third-person adventure, puzzles, and platforming with a strong focus on storytelling. In the surreal trailer published alongside the announcement, Odd Meter makes it clear that Indika won’t necessarily follow traditional game conventions. Svetlow himself is an architect by trade, along with several other members of the studio; along with Russian literature, architecture has influenced Svetlow’s beliefs on art.

Odd Meter started work on the game before the war, but Svetlow said Indika’s themes are connected to it: “The Russian Orthodox church is one of the weapons of Russian propaganda,” he said. “From the church, they said to people, ‘You should go to Ukraine and kill them, to die for your country.’ Can you believe it? A church — a Christian church.”

Polish publisher 11 bit studios signed on to publish the game, and has continued to support Odd Meter throughout Indika’s development — something Svetlow expected to be pulled at the start of the war, both because the studio is Russian and because this is a game inspired by Russian culture and history. Svetlow also described his initial feelings of guilt surrounding the situation: “I had that feeling that they should do it [pull out of the partnership],” Svetlow said. “I spent the last year getting rid of that guilt, because rationally I understood I shouldn’t feel it. I’m the person who should call myself a patriot, not those who kill Ukranians, or send Russians to die.”

He continued: “After this announcement and my statements, it’s better not to come back [to Russia]. Many people have said, when I show them my statements, that I’m crazy — because I’ve already spoken about things that are against a few laws, the most dangerous of which is being a traitor of the homeland. It could cost you 20 years in prison.”

Odd Meter’s announcement of Indika comes as Russia launches a “renewed offensive” in the war on Ukraine. This recent escalation comes as the war heads into its second year, during which time hundreds of thousands of people have been injured or killed, per a New York Times report.

Svetlow and the majority of Odd Meter are continuing to work on Indika from a new location in Almaty, Kazakhstan. When the game is released, Odd Meter will donate “part of the revenue” to children impacted by the war in Ukraine.

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