Monday, August 09, 2004

Consulting on S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

GSC Game World, Kiev, Ukraine

The view from GSC Game World's window.
The nearby trees can be found in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
[When I first posted this, I wasn't allowed to talk about what I was doing there, but now I can: I was consulting for THQ, the publishers of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. They wanted me to go with them to Kiev for a visit to GSC Game World.  I ended up with a credit on the game, although it didn't show up in the manual. -- EWA, December 2011]

I spent most of a work week, counting travel time, in the city of Kiev, in the Ukraine. I can't talk about why I went or who for, unfortunately, but I can tell you a little about what it was like. By the time I left I think I had about half the Cyrillic alphabet figured out, and was able to work out a few things from context.

Consider yourself warned.
Ukraine is now very much Ukrainian -- they tolerate the Russians, but don't like 'em much, and the Ukrainian language (did you know there was one?) is on the rise again, albeit slowly. Capitalism is storming along in its inimitable fashion: there were loads of shops, designer boutiques, and so on. I would say that 90-95% of all the cars on the road are now post-Soviet, either from western Europe or Japan. I was only in Kiev, and the nicest bits of Kiev at that, though, so it's a bit like judging England on the basis of what you see on Oxford Street. However, the Soviet-era phenomenon of restaurants with long menus but only one thing actually available is gone: the food was good and plentiful, if a trifle heavy. I tried such native dishes as there were. I also had an opportunity to drink absinthe, which is now illegal in the US, but passed it up in favor of beer. I now regret it; it has to be worth a try at least once, if only to see what all the Paris jazz musicians of the 1920s were on about.

I was afraid I would have to engage in prolonged drinking bouts complete with singing and vomiting (not necessarily in that order), but although I did imbibe freely it never led to anything TOO embarrassing. I found that really good vodka is, if not actually tasty, certainly not unpleasant to drink. (I'm a whiskey man by inclination.) I also discovered Ukrainian honey & pepper flavored vodka which, while it sounds dubious indeed, is very nice. More like a very strong cordial. I brought some home, God bless duty-free. It cost me $5 American. American currency is acceptable anywhere.

Snapshot of Lenin from the back of a taxi.
What else? Loads of monuments to this and that, mostly either pre- or post-Soviet although of course there was a huge one to the Great Patriotic War (World War II to us in the West). Big churches, their onion domes covered with gold leaf, but I never got inside one, alas. There was also a statue of Lenin, still in place. It's not too ostentatious. Wide streets in good condition, lots of trees. Very much a European city, I would say. Some tallish buildings but no out-and-out skyscrapers.

I hope I'll get a chance to go back someday, and do some more looking around. I'd like to see what some of those amazing churches look like on the inside.