Talk with our creative director Ivan Buchta
Passionate, experienced, and with a keen eye for detail, our Creative Director is responsible for the vision of Arma Reforger. Meet Ivan Buchta whose job is to channel the team's creativity and create an immersive world.
Hi, Ivan! Tell us about yourself!
I am just an Arma developer! [Laughing]
Aha! A humble one! Go on, give us a bit more...
Okay - okay. I am one of the many people at Bohemia Interactive who have contributed to the development of the Arma franchise.
After some modding on Operation Flashpoint, I joined the ranks of Bohemia Interactive. That was in 2006. Since then, I have taken part in developing a lot of the titles in the Arma series - from Arma: Cold War Assault to Arma 3. I've also worked on some of the expansions in varying roles. Mostly I've been involved with the settings, environments, and sandbox features of these games. Thanks to my background in environmental sciences, I've been able to assist in making them more authentic and interesting.
You are now in the role of Creative Director - what does that job entail?
Being a creative lead for an Arma game encompasses setting up the vision, as well as expectations of quality, and promoting them throughout the team while simultaneously providing a good service in directing the content - the 'look' and 'feel' of the game - towards our intended goals. I have to rely on the contribution of many departments and individuals of various specializations and must do my best to keep their particular efforts concerted during the whole development process. Sometimes it means being strict and even going against the team's general opinion. And sometimes it's about humility, and letting other people's creativity shine and work its magic.
What did you do to make Arma Reforger feel authentic and to convey the feeling of 'being there' for players?
The most obvious areas we focused on relate to the game's art and environment. These were carefully crafted based on our team's huge experience with authentic landscapes and realistic art, supported by extensive research. We also paid special attention to an elaborate soundscape and the implementation of all of the great assets, attempting to capture the 'feel' of particular weapons, vehicles, tools, and so on.
We also wanted to avoid excessive guidance for players. Our intention was to keep interfaces clear and minimalist, and to provide players with practical tools (e.g., compass, map, radio) instead of extra helpers. I hope this will leave more room for players to roleplay as soldiers and encourage them to pay attention to where they are, what they see, and what their objective is.
Arma Reforger's Everon has been reimagined based on the original terrain featured in Arma: Cold War Assault. How did you approach recreating Everon in the brand new Enfusion engine?
Enfusion technology and the accumulated knowledge of making authentic landscapes in meticulous detail allowed us to create a spectacular and immersive virtual world. This greater fidelity called for a richer definition of our goals. There was simply many more things to define and design for the terrain to feel as authentic as we wanted. We had to interpret the original design and to make sure all of the newly introduced features played well together.
Our current approach to making virtual landscapes is very different from the pioneering work of the original Arma: Cold War Assault team, and there's a lot more to address these days too: narrative design and 'flavor' aspects, arising from the setting - much more fidelity which brings in many must-have features - light sources, a 'nightscape', sound design, toponyms, and things like signage.
What would you say is the most important part of this new Everon?
The most important goal was to maintain the 'soul' and atmosphere of the original Everon - to preserve the general topology and to make sure the iconic places, remembered by players from the original, were present. Veterans will certainly recognize the terrain and its many landmarks, from the airfield in the north to the castle ruins in the south.
But on the other hand, we didn't hesitate to add or make changes - especially where they would contribute to the world's general usability. The major enrichments are the mountain pass with the road connecting Durras and Régina, the brand new village of Villeneuve north of Le Moule, and Pinewood Lake, which occupies the formerly flat area south of Montignac.
What is your favorite place on Everon?
There are a couple of seemingly common-looking spots which I keep coming back to, mainly because they look so real. But I have to admit, there are too many stunningly beautiful and memorable places on Everon to name them all. It often seems to me that our artists and environment designers achieved something truly special with the island, adding to every place something lifelike and special.
Were there any differences in the process of creating a world for Arma Reforger compared to prior Arma installments?
It was probably not very different from the later phases of Arma 3's development, in which we adopted a more deliberate and controlled process with clear goals. In Arma Reforger, we've leveraged our past experience and sought more opportunities to present players with hints regarding the background of the game world, as the sandbox-orientated Conflict and Game Master game modes don't provide much room to tell Everon's story.
I also have to add that compared to the past, Everon is more of a collaborative effort. These days I rely on many other people, who have done their parts tremendously well - be it research, design, or art. I advise and talk to people, rather than taking a direct and firmer role in the creative process. This allowed me to enrich the creation of Everon at a higher level, employing Concept Artist, Josef Surý, as well as inviting our game urbanist, Konstantinos Dimopoulos, for consultations.
As a keen player of Arma games, do you feel there's anything in Arma Reforger you didn't manage to address well as a developer?
I am happy to say there are no real showstoppers. I appreciate everyone's efforts to bring their best to the project, and while there are areas I would love to see improved or reworked in the future, I regard their current state as a necessary step to discovering the right way forward.
What was the greatest challenge for you as a Creative Director when working on Arma Reforger?
My role is chiefly about influencing and convincing colleagues to follow the game's vision. Therefore the greatest challenges were those relating to communication.
Everon is inspired by the reality of 1980s Czechoslovakia with plenty of Czech signs, while there are French local names and some French and even English signage. Why and how did you combine them?
We intended to preserve the legacy of the original terrain from Arma: Cold War Assault - all we knew was that the village names were French and the locals had Czech names, suggesting they spoke Czech. From there, we attempted to create a plausible explanation for a Czech-speaking diaspora with French roots on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, which is exactly as hard as it sounds!
As the original architecture and signage were inspired by Czechoslovakia (or Czech countryside of the 1990s), we decided to keep borrowing from 1980s Czechoslovakia, which was also consistent with the rural landscape we aimed to recreate.
Parts of the team went for several field trips, there was a lot of research and gathering references in the field. How was this research used in making the game?
This had been addressed on several levels; landscape and natural authenticity, era-specific architecture and props, and by the definition of a general aesthetic for the fictional visuals - e.g., various in-game brands.
The landscape had to be understood and interpreted by the environment designers, who were gradually exposed to Bohemian landscapes on dedicated field trips. Particular items like houses or props were researched, and the art researchers worked hard to find out as much as possible and to accurately describe them.
These are steps in the process of creating assets to make sure they are correct for the setting. But success depends a lot on communication of the vision to the team and the general understanding of goals.
What do you regard as the greatest feature of Arma Reforger?
It's very hard to say, as there's simply too many things which make the Arma player in me very excited. I'm very happy with our designers' work on making the core infantry experience more authentic (climbing obstacles, radio communication) and I'm equally happy with the new environment technology (e.g., rain and wetness, streams and lakes, vegetation movement in the wind), and I appreciate the effort put into the more ambitious aspects of the multiplayer gameplay.
I also believe the usability of our Enfusion tools should receive some praise, as they're a blessing for us and a great feature for the Arma modding community.
Everon is full of elaborate details which will look familiar to Czech and Slovak players who remember the end of the 1980s. Do you also intend to share a bit of the historical reality of your homeland with the world through this?
The primary goal is to present the setting of a fictional world and the Armaverse as a whole, and to base it on a solid historical background. But I'd be very glad if this would spur some interest in modern history among the players of Arma Reforger.
You've said before that your degree in Environmental Sciences and passion for nature and hiking help you in your work - were there any particular instances where these helped you for Arma Reforger?
My background certainly helps me to cope with the high demand for authenticity, as well as the depth of the game's rules - to understand and interpret the reality in a way that's beneficial for the project. I particularly regard the broader context and understanding of the relationship of natural science and the humanities as useful for inventing plausible environments and gameplay. My education also helps me to find and interpret facts and to provide particular types of expertise to the team.
In Arma Reforger, it allowed me to suggest the basic natural features of Everon and to assist with the research of a variety of topics, related to both the environment and the gameplay.
I'm not alone though. Most team members have either hobbies or educational backgrounds, allowing them to contribute beyond their development roles, and I support this synergy. We have flying geeks designing airfields, urbexers and military history enthusiasts contributing to the environments, a colleague with an MSc in History adding insights, and even a Norwegian in the company, to design the Atlantic coastline properly.
As a keen reader who focuses on a variety of game genres, did you use some of your reading experiences to enrich the story of Arma Reforger?
Arma Reforger's initial release doesn't contain any 'flavor' items. or books scattered around houses, but I would like to introduce items in the future, hinting at a vibrant Everonian literary culture and the island's strong national identity. We have invented several fictional authors, one of them inspired by my favorite Czech-German writer, Karel Klostermann.
Scott Alsworth, our Narrative Designer (with degrees in Classical History and Literature), has an interest in Jan Neruda, which also permeated into Reforger's narrative. And indeed, Neruda's state even appears on Everon.
When we design ficitonal brands, I often feel inspired by the specific Czech humor of the Theater of Jára Cimrman - a fine blend of language jokes with a dash of black or absurd humor; it's something which has occasionally emerged in Bohemia's games since Arma: Cold War Assault.
You often say that empathy is an important trait to have as a game developer, and to be able to get into a player's shoes. How does this relate to Arma Reforger?
I think a lot about the user's experience when playing games, be it Arma or some other title. As a player, I often get confused or lost, and I try to understand and remember those moments, in order to avoid them in our own work. One of our mantras is 'keep the player informed', and I believe no matter how complex a game situation may be, we should always hint to the player about the opportunities available, or directions they can take to overcome particular challenges.
Mind you, it's not about holding the players' hands though, either. It's about treating players fairly. If Arma delivers a gritty combat experience, it's our duty to make sure the player is able to figure out how to fight efficiently. If players lose, it must not be because they're battling controls or interfaces, or because we failed to tell them about an important gameplay mechanic. We want players to eventually be rewarded by beating fairly complex situations based on their experience and skill.
Thank you for all the great insights, Ivan! One last thing; what did you enjoy most during Arma Reforger's development?
Being involved with a single project for several years means you come away with a lot of stories. Some of them are good, some of them are quite amusing, and some are a bit more sobering or not entirely enjoyable. It's probably too early for my favorite memories to materialize. But I can say that Arma Reforger has been a rare experience of team synergy and cooperation. There are many 'development heroes' who have contributed to the game, a lot of talent - and although this may sound like the usual PR speel, I really do mean it. After years of working in close cooperation. it's my colleagues that have left the lasting impression.
Besides this personal aspect, there's a lot of cool things we did as part of the development process. Research, field trips, teambuilding. There's one moment which truly stands out though, and resonates with those good ol' Operation Flashpoint vibes... during the photoshoot for our key art, I arrived at our first location, walked through some forest on a dirt road, and then, suddenly, a scene opened up in front of me - a vision, straight from how I imagined our game. I saw a column of US vehicles, surrounded by American troops, all in their woodland uniforms, veiled by the a low-lying mist. I didn't care that the mist was artificial, or that there was a photographer and his crew, with a backstage, and a bunch of fellow Bohemians. For that moment, I was just amazed by the atmosphere, which was so close to what I'd always wanted to achieve in Arma!