FNE Film Meets Games: Q&A with Vladislav Polgar, Chief Operating Officer of Keen Software House

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    Vladislav Polgar Vladislav Polgar photo: private archive

    PRAGUE: FNE spoke to Vladislav Polgar, chief operating officer of Keen Software House, about their current activities, as well as the state of the Czech game development industry.

    Central and Eastern Europe is one of the most important locations for global games developers and studios, and artists in the region are increasingly working for both film and games. FNE looks at how these two sectors of the entertainment industry are converging and why this trend is important for the future development of both.

    FNE: When was the Keen Software House founded and what have been your main missions and strategic projects so far?

    Vladislav Polgar: Keen Software House is an independent video game developing company based in Prague and founded by Marek Rosa in 2010.

    Keen Software House's technological know-how and proprietary VRAGE game engine has allowed the company to create games that leverage elements of science into the gameplay. The studio's first game, Miner Wars 2081, focused on an open world with destructible terrain, while the second game, Space Engineers, presents volumetric physics as gameplay in a space-based environment focused on engineering, construction, and maintenance of space ships and stations.

    The company's proprietary VRAGE game engine powers both these titles, and is currently in iteration 2.0. Additionally, they have created a separate team charged with the development of Medieval Engineers, which is utilising similar rendering styles, while adding in weight and block based destruction/deformation with physics based calculations set in medieval times.

    We are currently in the research and development phase, exploring new features of the VRAGE3 engine! Our goal is to support extremely large and fully dynamic and destructible environments, including planets, large spaceships, and any other creations built by the players.

    FNE: Film and games convergence is a hot topic now. What can you tell us about the relationship between the games industry and film in your experience? Do you have any experience using VFX in terms of games?

    Vladislav Polgar: Our game films and trailers are created in our VRAGE engine, which is designed to support extremely large and fully dynamic and destructible environments, including planets with up to 120 km in diameter and a surface area of 45 238 square metres, large spaceships and any other creations built by the players. VRAGE empowers our community to build everything they want in space and on planets!

    Due to Medieval Engineers development, VRAGE received a fresh upgrade: structural integrity and DirectX 11 rendering. With the addition of planets to Space Engineers, the engine went through a major upgrade to support large scale volumetric entities.

    FNE: Medieval Engineers, a game created by GoodAI’s sister company, Keen Software House, featured in the Hollywood film The War with Grandpa (2021) starring Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman and Christopher Walken. Please, tell us something about it.

    Vladislav Polgar: We were contacted by the production company because Medieval Engineers was exactly the game that was fitting the theme and story of the film. When recently widowed Ed Marino (Robert De Niro) moves in with his family, his grandson’s Peter is forced to share a room with his grandpa. Peter's only respite is his sacred room, where he's spent years building a video game castle on his computer. After a miserable first night in his new room, Peter decides to declare war. Ed agrees, as long as they follow the rules of engagement: they cannot damage other people's belongings and cannot tell the family about their arrangement. Then they start pulling a series of pranks.

    Medieval Engineers was the perfect choice, fitting the screenplay nicely; it allows creative building of amazing medieval era castles on one hand and on the other destroying them using realistic mechanical contraptions such as catapults to damage structures in real-time.

    FNE: Are there any films from the Czech Republic or other FNE countries that are being turned into games or games that are being turned into films or TV series?

    Vladislav Polgar: Games and films/TV series have one thing in common: they are both mediums for storytelling purposes. We had radio plays, books, theatre and fireside stories in our history before that. The main difference is that games allow more agency, not just passive listening to or watching a story. It allows you to shape and influence the story by your actions, to pull you in, to experience it straight.

    And then there are sandbox oriented games such as Space Engineers. Games that channel human creativity. In our case the game is really only a medium for your own imagination, stories and campaigns. There is no concrete story you would adapt as a film or series, but there are thousands of stories our game is inspiring every day. Players are creating their own worlds, stories, fictional characters and space companies or empires. And who knows, maybe one of those players will get the perfect inspirational moment for their film while playing our game.

    FNE: Which Czech games would you single out that have had international success, on which did you work?

    Vladislav Polgar: Space Engineers. In 2013, the initial developmental release of the game joined the Steam early access programme. The game was released in 2019 and due to the overwhelming interest and demand of our playerbase we are still developing and adding more and more features with every update.

    Our community is amazing; our players are real life fighter pilots and aerospace engineers, sometimes directly thanks to our game and its features: to programme and script right inside the game.

    FNE: How much is the turnover and how much is the percentage of expected growth in the region? What can you tell us specifically about your company's numbers?

    Vladislav Polgar: Space Engineers has close to 5 million copies sold and has the 4th largest Workshop on Steam with over 500,000 mods, ships, stations, worlds, and more!

    FNE: Are games going to IPO on the Czech stock market and do the companies going to IPO include a film person or film projects?

    Vladislav Polgar: Not in our case.

    FNE: How do you see the development of the relationship between the film and games industries?

    Vladislav Polgar: As an enrichment for both sides. It can be very beneficial to cooperate on projects together. We see a lot of overlap between both areas, which gives a perfect baseline for a successful title.

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