Hey, Ivan. Please, tell us a bit about yourself...
Hello! I’m Czech, slightly over 40 (and only slightly overweight!), husband, father of three awesome kids, and passionate Interactive Bohemian. I grew up in Ústí nad Labem in North Bohemia in a family of keen tourists, which left me with a love for nature and landscapes and a soft spot for industrial architecture and aesthetics of decay. After failing entry exams to several philosophical faculties (mostly because I was more into video games and pen-and-paper RPGs than into proper work), I ended up achieving an MSc in Environmental Sciences at the local university (which was great fun), followed by a futile attempt to get a PhD in Ecology. I went through a diverse curriculum with some really cool subjects like Geoinformatics, and experienced some interesting field work.
During my studies, I became interested in Operation Flashpoint* (later rebranded as Arma: Cold War Assault) and its modification and contributed to two of the most awesome OFP mods: FDF Mod and ČSLA (Czechoslovak People's Army) Mod. In the end, Operation Flashpoint modding activities prevailed and after ČSLA Mod team's participation on some VBS1 terrains, I found myself in Marek Španěl's office on a gloomy winter day, and got an offer I couldn't refuse. Since then, I worked mostly on the Arma series in various roles.
Can you tell us a random fact about yourself...
Despite being tone-deaf, I can play the recorder.
What was your first positive interaction with video games, that you can remember?
It was in the second half of the 1980s, when I was around 8 or 9. My uncle had an Atari 800 XL, and he let me play on it during a family visit. I was hooked immediately, spent hours playing River Raid, later tried everything my uncle had on the tapes.
And your most memorable video game moment?
Beating the "After Montignac" mission in the Operation Flashpoint campaign. Finishing it after several days of trying brought me a huge sense of accomplishment.
What's your favorite movie, TV show, and/or book?
I like to watch the sci-fi and fantasy classics (Blade Runner, Alien, the old Star Wars flicks, Dune, Conan the Barbarian) as well as spy and war movies (Black Hawk Down, Platoon, Dunkirk, Spy Game, Hunt for Red October, Bourne trilogy, Unknown Soldier). I also love Peculiarities of the National Hunt.
Not sure how much it counts as a TV show, but I really like Twin Peaks, and I like watching documentaries - especially those about history, biology or geography.
Speaking of books, I'm a voracious reader with a broad taste for fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I regularly return to the books of Neal Stephenson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, William Gibson and Andrzej Sapkowski. And when it comes to poetry, it's mostly older Czech authors I find interesting, e.g. Jan Skácel and Vladimír Holan, and I like Líman's translations of Japanese poetry. Recently I've been discovering the fantastic universes of Iain McBanks's and Charles Stross's novels.
And your go-to music playlist is...?
It's difficult to point out particular items, as there are many genres I enjoy, depending on the mood and momentary taste. A wide range of classical from medieval religious music to the intricate realm of impressionists and modernists, even some contemporary artificial music. Then jazz, preferably but not exclusively 1960s smooth jazz and bop, as well as some contemporary albums of similar style. Metal, mostly the melodic kind of it. Electronic and experimental. Movie and video game soundtracks... I just love music, probably couldn't live and make games without it.
So, as a Creative Director, what do you do?
As the person responsible for the final look and feel of the product, I cooperate mainly with art, design and environment departments, balancing a fairly firm direction whilst still allowing room for people's own interpretation of the vision. The real work depends on the phase of the project: In the beginning, it's the initial research, brainstorm and formulation of my vision of various aspects of a game. Once a game's production commences, I try to turn myself into a service, be in touch with the team, providing feedback and showing direction whenever needed. There's no set process to this and I've been learning a lot and changing the working pattern over the years, gradually moving to non-executive and non-production role, supporting the real developers rather than trying to randomly act in their roles.
I plan some enrichment activities for the team, organize field trips and reference gathering as part of my "service". I'm also in touch with our marketing and media departments to assist with public relations. Where my skills are useful and welcome, I often do a variety of other things to help other teams or the company based on what's needed, e.g. the Make Arma Not War community contest.
As I believe it's good to pass on experience and to give a spotlight to the amazing work of my colleagues, I represent the company at developer conferences and occasionally talk at universities. I remain grateful to Jarek Kolář, who worked with us in a Development Director role, for his help in fine-tuning my role and motivating me to start scouting the dangerous territory of public talks.
What do you think are the most important skills/traits to have for someone in your position?
Probably a lot of skills and traits I lack.
I believe a good creative lead should, above all, be creative and knowledgeable about how to use their creativity as a positive force, helping products and people to be better and to succeed. Also, consistency is required: there are many influences and compromises emerging during development, but the team expects a creative lead to maintain the vision and keep the core intact even if major changes are required. Naturally, it's important to be empathetic both towards the customer and the team, understand how and why people think and act, and respect the different opinions. This goes hand in hand with communication skills, useful both in articulating the vision and in convincing fellow developers to follow it. Also, a good taste and "artistic eye" are useful talents.
Besides the personal traits, I believe education and experience (especially outside game development) help greatly. Creative leads are expected to create with intent, breathe some depth, additional dimensions and contexts into the game, and a rich background offers a perfect natural source. Of course, whatever hard skills you possess come in handy, especially in the area of providing good references of creative lead's ideas: writing, drawing or 3D modelling. Some technical knowledge is very useful for maintaining contact with the development team, and it's certainly important to understand the basics of each department's trade.
What do you enjoy about your job, and game development in general?
It's an unusual and creative field where I can witness and enjoy my ideas being materialized, which is immensely fulfilling. I do enjoy the freedom and ever-changing nature of the work. Also, I appreciate being in a company interested in creating interesting experiences with more value than just entertainment, and I'm very proud of the positive impact of our games.
What's been your most memorable moment at Bohemia Interactive?
Arma 2 release party. Just kidding - there have been many memorable moments I recall, ranging from anecdotes to some strong experiences. Speaking of anecdotes, the particularly juicy ones are handing over an Arma 2 1.0 master to our German publisher at a fuel station on a Monday morning preceded by a weekend of emergency crunch, or "capturing a flag", when a bunch of Arma 2 devs seized a traditional maypole in Mníšek pod Brdy during a particularly adventurous night. I will never forget the welcome myself and Martin Pezlar got from our colleagues after getting back from our unfortunate Greek trip.
What's been your greatest personal accomplishment at Bohemia Interactive?
We've certainly made a couple of cool games I still enjoy playing, and we probably did something good based on the outcome of my meeting with Christian Rouffaer, a great man and ICRC representative in 2011. However, as I look back, it's probably the fact that I was around assisting with the hiring of some great and talented people and helping them when they started working at Bohemia.
What do you think has been the most important change/shift in the industry since you first started?
Game development matured, it has become more respected and structured over the years, with academia interested in various aspects in the subject and a broad acceptance of video games as a mainstream source of entertainment and as a means for artistic expression. Also, digital distribution was a huge change: suddenly, more people could take part in the business, leading to a plurality of genres and establishing viable business conditions for small teams and individuals, as opposed to the rather rigid model of publisher-sanctioned development.
With years of experience in the industry, what advice would you give people looking to work in video game development?
Be diligent and patient, start small and stay focused on your goals. There are many paths which can lead to game development, but generally, think of what you can contribute with, and always be ready to learn and change. Hands-on experience with modding or making simple games can teach you more than a ton of game design tomes.
Which game has had the biggest influence on you during your life?
If we look into the consequences of the influence, it's probably Doom and Operation Flashpoint. Making levels for Doom sparked my interest in spatial compositions and the way they can steer the gameplay experience and establish narratives, and also introduced me into the video game modifications. Then it's Operation Flashpoint, the concept of which lured me to sink an enormous amount of time and effort into modding it, which eventually led to me joining Bohemia Interactive.
Of course, there are many great games I've played and enjoyed, which further formed the way I perceive video games as a medium or product and provided me with many memorable experiences. They include Lucas Arts adventures, Ishar 2 and 3, Half-Life and Half-Life 2 (all expansions included!), Mafia, Hidden & Dangerous 2, Vietcong, Oblivion, Morrowind, Witcher series, Steel Panthers, Close Combat series, Silent Hunter III, Eurofighter 2000, Sturmovik, Ms Flight Simulator, Elite: Dangerous and the GTA series. From the recent ones, I adored Subnautica, enjoyed Talos Principle, The Witness, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Death Stranding, and was amazed by the medieval open world of Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
Recently I've become slightly addicted to Zelda: Breath of the Wild, watching and learning while enjoying the ride.
Are you playing any Bohemia Interactive games from time to time or do you consider the games as work related stuff - so you avoid them in your free time?
I love playing Arma 3, be it just fooling around in the editor, replaying some of the single-player content, joining a proper multiplayer game or having an after-lunch Combat Patrol with a couple of colleagues. I play Ylands with the older kids (my youngest still enjoys driving a tractor across Livonia the most).
What's your all-time favorite video game? And what sort of game do you like to play generally?
I tend to enjoy the games with a more realistic approach and depth, I like first-person games (be it shooter or an RPG), and I appreciate being let out into a game's world to explore and do the things I wouldn't be able to do in real life. I probably spent most time with Operation Flashpoint and Arma.
Who's your all-time favorite video game character, and why?
There are a few distinct main protagonists and NPCs I really liked: Gordon Freeman from Half-Life, many NPCs in Witcher (Geralt himself, Bloody Baron, Dandelion to name a few) or the team of US Special Forces in Vietcong. Also, Indiana Jones (LucasArts adventures) and of course, Guybrush Threepwood and the whole bunch of peculiar personalities of the Secret of Monkey Island. Recently I was really amused watching Dan Vávra playing himself in Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
I generally appreciate the characters who have some background, who develop with the story, who act plausibly and dare to stand out in some way.
Ivan, what is your favorite part of Chernarus? (Interpret however you'd like!) (@Iceman_NWG)
It's the hidden corner in the hilly south-eastern corner of Chernarus's land mass, spanning between Tulga and Msta. I've only been there a few times in real life, as it's difficult to reach, but I like its vertical variety and picturesque scenery. I also like how the DayZ map team expanded the playable area by the northern valley with some of my favorite real-life places.
What were some of the ideas for Arma 3 that never came to fruition? For example, the prototype Australian Outback terrain (if I remember correctly) before a Pacific setting was decided for Apex. Cheers! :) (@Arma3Aegis)
It's hard to name them all, but we were very ambitious about the near-future setting and wanted to bring in a variety of modest and plausible bits of military technology which would let us see how combat would truly evolve. We were discussing adaptive camouflage, there were ideas about very small drones, more underwater stuff, railguns and numerous awesome vehicles which never made it past the stage of wishlist due to production constraints. On the other hand, some ideas matured over the years and made it to various DLCs and expansions.
Australia was one of the settings considered for the Apex expansion, along with the Pacific and Scandinavian areas. I was a huge fan of it as it would be truly exotic in terms of visual as well as varied landscape features, but we decided to abandon it in favor of the Pacific archipelago as the map team was really passionate about it. We never regretted letting the guys led by Martin "Maxell" Pezlar follow their vision of "green hell".
I would ask you to walk us through the thought process of dropping women from Arma 3 and if there were any regrets within the company in doing so. (@1stairassault)
In the beginning of development, Arma 3 was meant to contain some RPG elements and focus on Captain Miller's adventures; fully functional women characters were part of the plans. The story was later reworked and adapted to the more conventional approach of a tactical military game, and priorities shifted. Unfortunately, technical limitations and production costs unfortunately led us to abandon this complex task in favor of other features crucial for the updated concept.
Are there any terrains or their concepts for the Arma series you worked on, that have not been contained in a game? (@Qinetix_csec)
A few years ago, I made a barren "taiga & tundra" terrain as a part of our experiments, in which Chernarus’s terrain mesh was covered by various vegetation depending on the vector layers generated in GIS, reflecting an utterly simplified set of rules according to which land cover would develop in real nature. The first prototype was done as an Arma 3 mod and it was pretty interesting: large areas of forested and deforested areas were combined into an open wilderness which definitely had its charm.
Livonia was preceded by a similar experimental terrain. The original 5x5 km sample of geographic data eventually fructified into the released map - we made this little predecessor of Contact DLC's terrain as a test bed for Terrain Processor development and some of us liked it so much we decided to enlarge the area of interest and give it a chance.
There were also a couple of interesting concepts worked on by my colleagues, either as proof of concept, learning tasks or test beds.
What makes a great game terrain? (@ELahti)
In short, a great team of dedicated developers, a decent theme, a dash of passion and a hearty dose of perseverance.
Ivan, I know you like to explore the world around you and find inspiration in it. Is there one particular place that inspired you so much you would eventually want to create a game world out of it, but haven't had the chance yet? (@RaptorM60)
There are some places in the Czech Republic that I would like to see in a game one day, but let me keep them to myself. The visit to Iceland was fascinating, as well as some of the cities I visited (Saint Petersburg, Los Angeles, and Prague of course). I really enjoyed the short opportunities to explore the Baltic coast, but it would probably be way too flat and monotonous for an Arma terrain. Some parts of North America are also intriguing, and I know about a couple of mountainous spots in the Alps which would be worth a try, provided such environment would match the rest of a game they would be part of.
Cats or dogs?
I’m not much of a pet person.
Is there anything else you're currently working on in your spare time?
I’m desperately trying to stay away from work and relax, but some gardening occasionally gets in the way. I'm also gathering material for a little book project.
To finish, tell us one of Ivan's Top Tips...
I'm afraid it'll sounds like clichés, but I learned most of these the hard way and I often fail to follow them myself: Focus on the customer, be it your colleague or a player of your game. Actively seek ways to be a better person, don't forget to be humble and grateful, set positive examples and don't burden people without reason. Keep your word. Act and create with intent and decide based on facts. Fail fast and be candid about mistakes. Value your family. Work with passion. Reminder: Don't forget about having life and fun!
Our next Featured Bohemian is right around the corner, so keep an eye on our social media pages for the latest updates. But until then, feel free to learn more about working at Bohemia Interactive by checking out our Careers Page – we may just have the perfect job opening for you. Until next time...
*Operation Flashpoint® is a registered trademark of Codemasters