Michał Marcinkowski had his first big success in the video game industry when he was still in high school. Since then, he has been considered the first Polish indie game developer.
He was a fan of Liero – a free game based on the popular Worms series. Like in the original, the players controlled worms fighting each other, equipped with a wide array of weapons. However, the gameplay did not play out in turns, but in real time. Marcinowski decided to supplement Liero's formula with a key element – network gameplay. Soldat, a game released by Marcinkowski in 2002, based on swift and spectacular clashes between miniature soldiers, quickly became an internet phenomenon and won over a big community of gamers. It had exceptionally modest audio and visuals, but offered a highly dynamic gameplay, continuously improved and enriched with new elements.
Soldat was completely different from other games being developed in Poland at the time. It was the first Polish release fuelled by the principles characteristic of early independent games, which were on the lookout for distribution channels different from traditional ones and based on dynamic, growing gamer communities. The basic version of Soldat was free, but many fans decided to back the creator by buying the paid version – there were so many of them that the game became a key source of income for him. In 2009, Marcinkowski stopped working on Soldat and since then the game has been developed by its community.
In 2011, Marcinkowski established Transhuman Design. Its first project was King Arthur’s Gold, which, like Soldat, was based on multiplayer network gameplay, however, it had a medieval setting. It focused on team battles, adding the possibility of constructing one’s own fortifications. The physics, which were fairly advanced as far as this type of game goes, and the diverse elements of environment, allowed players to show off their creativity. An impressed Rock Paper Shotgun reviewer described the gameplay as follows:
Launch yourself from catapult. [...] Hover to the map’s central lake using your shield as a glider. Meet a shark. Ride the shark across the lake. [...] Plant a mine outside the enemy’s front door. Escape! Don’t escape. You have been killed by a falling longboat.
The game, released in 2013, was rather little known in the beginning, but quickly gained a big following and became very popular, not only thanks to dynamic action, but also – or maybe first and foremost – thanks to the absurd sense of humour of its creators, allowing the player to realise even the craziest ideas.
Trench Run – the next game developed by Marcinkowski’s Transhuman Design studio – had a lukewarm reception. Its simple and repetitive formula was not able to compete with the baroque complexity of the duels in King Arthur’s Gold. However, Marcinkowski and his team got back in shape with its single-player action game Butcher, requiring grand precision and toying with the connotations of the extremely brutal video games from the 1990s. Another branch of Marcinkowski’s activity – active promotion of the indie games movement – was equally important to creating games. Soldat’s creator became one of its icons and regularly gives lectures which encourage small studios brimming with creative ideas.
Originally written by Paweł Schreiber in Polish, August 2017, translated by Patryk Grabowski, October 2017.
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