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Where General Arcade came from

Where General Arcade came from

If you think about it, the world is not really a big place… And the world of computer games is even less so. General Arcade founders Gennadii Potapov and Sergei Shubin, for example, first met long before the company was born.

It happened, unsurprisingly, in gaming cafe, which then, in 2006 or so, were damn popular. They exchanged a few words about software development and closed the topic, worrying more about how to upload their Quake configs to local computers. Sergei impressed Gennadii by showing him how to “hack” the local system to be able to upload your files without the help of administrator.

But it wasn’t until about a year later when Sergei and Gennadii really got to know each other, when it turned out that they worked for the same company. Around the same time, Gennadii bought his first iPod touch, and the press experienced another boom in articles about people making crazy money making apps in the App Store. It was when the first idea of going the same way and develop some own product appeared. Everybody wants “crazy money”, right?

The newly-minted developers didn’t have any Macs, because everything started from the scratch, without any investment, and Macs is something that cost a lot of money in Russia. So they had to work through hardware virtualization, using Hackintosh systems.

The author of the first idea was Sergei Shubin, who, in fact, wrote all the code for the first application of the future General Arcade. Outsource was used for graphics, and Gennadii Potapov did everything else so that the first game could be shoved into the App Store: he had to send faxes to the American IRS, persistently call “the right people”, work on a decent kind of instructions for the App Store itself, and the like.

It was the time when the name “General Arcade” appeared because the phrase “those guys over there” in the “developer” column looked rather controversial. Initially, the name “General Arcade” was a reference to all kinds of mega-corporations like General Electric and General Motors – the immediate idea came to Sergei Shubin when his gaze caught on the General Climate office air conditioner.

Work on the first General Arcade product lasted about three months – the application itself was ready for a long time, but the big problem was to launch it in the App Store. As a result, the guys managed to earn about $300 on the release… Well, or about $500, if you count for the entire “life” of this application at once. That’s when it was decided that it would take a long time to earn “crazy money”, and something else was needed. Like a game!

At that time, Wolfenstein 3D was officially released for iPhone. This project was handled by John Carmack himself, who then posted the source code of the game for everyone to see. This was one of the factors that pushed General Arcade to take over the port of the classic Doom – they really wanted to make it faster than id Software themselves. The resources of Freedoom, a free clone of Doom II: Hell on Earth, were used.

The main idea of the Freedoom project authors has always been to create a completely free game that other developers could use to create a wide variety of content on the Doom engine, and it should be noted that they have succeeded in this. In addition, combined with the engine, Freedoom was also compatible with game modifications (i.e. “mods”) for the original Doom games, made by Doom fans and artists over the decades. So it comes as no surprise that General Arcade programmers chose this variation of Doom for their project.

The General Arcade version of Doom even worked, but the performance wasn’t really good… And then Carmack himself released a new port of Doom, which made all the work in this direction completely useless.

But in addition to the game, Carmack released its sources, and at the same time the first iPad appeared. So Gennadii and Sergei immediately took the idea of ​​making Doom for iPad (fortunately, the source code was already open, remember?) – the original version from id Software was only made for iPhone, so our comrades were the authors of the first Doom port on iPad. Their version of the game was called “Doomsday” and had slightly improved graphics and minor changes in the gameplay (a little more health kits, slightly reworked maps to make it easier to play on the iPad, etc.). And by the way, dogs appeared in Doomsday – marine’s best friends, a forgotten feature that was in the original port by Lee Killough.

Doomsday

The game sell out quite well, and in the first month, General Arcade earned about $5,000 – now these numbers seem amusing, of course, but back in the day it was something like Gennadii salary for four months. Of course, Gennadii and Sergei liked the way everything went, and they even made another two games (Doomsday II and Doomsday III) on the same engine. The total profit from this project was about $30,000 or a bit more.

But the money wasn’t main thing. The main thing was a clear demonstration that with the help of computer games this same money can be made.

It was the time when Gennadii was laid off, and he decided to go somewhere abroad – the choice fell on Singapore. The guys already had five successful applications for iOS, so there were no problems finding a job. He pulled Sergei there as well, even the complete lack of knowledge of English didn’t become a problem (Sergei learned French at school, so he didn’t speak English at all). So for a while they worked together again, making mobile applications for one of the local banks.

Sergei and Gennadii tried to work in parallel on their own projects, but they didn’t get lots of success – after all, there was no full return in this case, and they still wanted to go back to full-fledged games, without staying on the level of mobile applications. The guys never stop looking at the products around them, choosing which one can be ported to iOS.

The priority genre for them was the first-person shooter, and as a result, the choice fell on the classic Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior – the first game was already released on iOS, but the port couldn’t really satisfy the needs of the players, and the second one was never released on this platform. Sergei started working on the porting of Shadow Warrior. As they say, “without leaving the checkout” – that is, right in that very Singapore bank, during lunch breaks. Porting the Build Engine itself, by the way, took only a couple of days… Porting the game, of course, took much more time.

Sergei was the one who took care of the engine, and all the other tasks (like design, operation of the game itself, UI, sound, game options, everything about iOS, etc.) were split between both guys. First of all, the guys made a demo – it didn’t take too much time, about a couple of weeks or so. After that Gennadii wrote a letter to 3D Realms, the authors of the original game. And indeed everywhere and to everyone who was somehow connected with the rights for Shadow Warrior and its development.

The answer wasn’t long in coming, the letter came from 3D Realms. The company, actually, was going through the hard times at the time – the staff of 3D Realms had only two people, one of whom was its founder Scott Miller. The creators of Duke Nukem, Max Payne, and Rise of the Triad lived off the sale of old titles and small royalties from collectors’ purchases of old games. But, nevertheless, the studio got interested in mobile version of Shadow Warrior. And why not, when 3D Realms themselves were only required to share the rights on the brand?

The work went on as usual, and everyone was happy with what it turned out. It was even decided to add two DLC’s, which were never released (only “semi-officially”), to the original game. And at some point, Scott added a guy called Nigel Lowrie to the business correspondence – as they all found out later, he was one of the founders of the Devolver Digital studio, which Gennadii and Sergei had never heard of at that time.

This flaw was quickly corrected by search engines: Devolver Digital was founded in Austin, Texas, in 2009 by Mike Wilson, Harry Miller, Graeme Struthers, Nigel Lowrie, Rick Stults and other non-recent people in gaming industry. And although at that time the company could only boast of publishing a couple of Serious Sam games and spin-offs and the announcement of Hotline Miami, it was immediately clear that they were talking about serious matters. Among other things, 3D Realms already sold Shadow Warrior to Devolver Digital, so that is why they followed the progress of a new and very, as should be noted, unexpected project.

At the release, Shadow Warrior for iOS was offered to users in the same shareware form as the original game – the first four levels were free for everyone, and those who wanted to see what was next had to pay cash. But according to Gennadii, this was a very bad decision, since the main reason for buying Shadow Warrior for iOS was nostalgia, and four free levels were enough for most to shed a tear for the past. Selling the entire game for $1 would make much more money, Gennadii supposed.

Well, General Arcade had to be satisfied with about $5,000 in profit, so this project cannot be called commercially successful for sure. But the experience of working with 3D Realms, Devolver Digital and a truly cult game in any case went to the benefit of General Arcade. And acquaintance with old-school fans was great as well – one of the ardent players of the new version of Shadow Warrior sometimes collaborates with General Arcade to this day, and while working on Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition he was a community manager.

The next step towards working with Devolver Digital, however, was far from easy. The company acquired the rights to publish Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior on Steam, but when General Arcade made suggestions for improving the games, none of them were accepted. Probably, because the pitch wasn’t good, since Gennadii and Sergei had no experience in pitching the project. So basically, the one who convinced the new publisher to give the new project to General Arcade was Brian Turner of 3D Realms – a guy who produced Shadow Warrior for iOS.

It is worth making a small caveat that the founders of General Arcade worked very, very hard with Linux. And given the legendary variety of resources offered by this system, both Sergei and Gennadii never worried that “suddenly something will not work out with this or that platform”. We can say that confidence – and not unfounded confidence, as should be noted! – in the fact that they are ready to work with any task has been a “trademark” of General Arcade since the very first days of the studio’s existence.

So when the agreement was reached, the work started almost immediately, and the projects were originally called “Duke Nukem 3D+” and “Shadow Warrior+”. Moreover, the guys already had experience with Build Engine. And by the way, they still call this engine “brilliant and terrible at the same time”…

If you look back, you will find that the original Duke Nukem 3D has hardly ever been released digitally since 1996, so there was plenty of room to work with. You can even call it a luck: the ability to make something right away and make it well, without having to look back at what someone else has already done.

The concept when working on Duke Nukem 3D+ was established immediately: to make everything as simple as possible, without forcing the players to spend hours digging through the options in an attempt to customize the game for themselves. “Double-click and you can play” – this is how the new version was supposed to be released. However, as practice shows, not everyone is pleased with the changes, even if those changes are made in the right direction… Therefore, the old-school fans of the shooter took the idea of simplicity, one might say, with hostility, appealing that “it would be better not to simplify, but to officially release the additions” (by that time no Duke Nukem 3D additions had ever been released digitally).

And of course, General Arcade jumped at that idea right away. After all, if a client wants something, you got to give it to him, right? So after discussing the issue (well, mostly legal details, to be honest) with Nigel of Devolver Digital, it was decided that the new version will officially get all the possible additions. By the way, that was the moment when the name “Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition” appeared – it was a nod to extended version of Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition, which, unlike the original, had the fourth episode of the campaign.

Working on videogames at that time had not yet become the main business for Gennadii and Sergei, so they had to work ’till “worn out” – the main job during the day and Duke Nukem in the evenings. But the result was worth it. When Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition finally came out, the game became an incredible hit! In the first week, this shooter brought General Arcade really impressive sum. And you can imagine for yourself how much the total profit was.

No one expected such a success, including Nigel. However, the age of Duke Nukem 3D was never canceled, and although there was a lot of new things in Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition, in fact it was the same game from 1996. But the facts are clear, and Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition is still considered the most successful digital release of Duke Nukem 3D in the history of the franchise. And even the Gearbox version, which was later released on three different platforms, didn’t break the General Arcade record for the number of sales. Moreover, the Gearbox version got lots of comments like “Give us back the Megaton Edition!” (well, why should we be shy?).

Work with the Megaton Edition continued for quite a while – support for multiplayer games appeared, a workshop was made, the most interesting requests of fans were fulfilled, and the like. And of course, thanks to the workshop, a huge number of custom maps appeared, which sometimes could be called much better than those that the creators of the game themselves made. But that seems to be true for any shooter that is given away to the gaming community.

The idea of the workshop also made users happy with the fact that it was finally possible to share their creativity. Some authors even shared their joy that after the workshop appeared, their maps were downloaded in a matter of days more than 10 years before, while those maps were hanging out across the net alone… So the community appreciated the idea very highly. And in those days it really was a rarity, so the very fact of the existence of such an option gave a huge plus to the released version. Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition sold very well even after many years.

But one way or another, despite all the revelations, Sergei and Gennadii have already realized that they could make serious money by doing something they really love. And we can say that it was the moment when General Arcade company actually appeared: its founders quit their jobs and decided to devote themselves entirely and completely to a new project, a computer games studio. Sergei left Singapore, Gennadii stayed there, and it was decided to work remotely – fortunately, the 21st century allows this perfectly.

At the start, there were only three people in the company – the already mentioned Gennadii and Sergei, as well as the artist Anton, who was involved in the graphic side of projects (he still works for the company, many years later). General Arcade still works with Devolver Digital, and, by the way, it was Devolver Digital who recommended General Arcade to other big companies, with some of which we have also been cooperating for many years. The first employee, Yura, was hired by General Arcade in 2015 – and yes, he is still in the team.

This is how it all began… By 2021, our team consists of more than 30 professionals, and over the years we’ve worked with a huge number of famous and talented developers. But trust us, there is more to come!

Alexander Kurikh

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    Devolver Digital, Doomsday, Duke Nukem 3D, Freedoom, General Arcade, Shadow Warrior