A leaked Stalker port is a strange new front in the war in Ukraine

If you’ve recently lured the Stalker subreddit, you’ve almost certainly come across a curious anomaly: a leaked build of a supposed console port of the original Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. Rumored to be out shortly before Stalker 2, images of the build show the well-known classic in a slightly modified state: there’s no cursor in sight, there are controller prompts everywhere, and if that’s a mouse look, I’ll eat my hat on. It all looks very legit and while GSC declined to comment when PCG asked, this feels like too much work for even the most determined of mud.

But it’s not this alien version of Stalker that’s interesting, it’s the document that goes with it. Written by a Russian streamer who goes by the names “Nevazhno, Kto” and “Velichaishii” (meaning “It Doesn’t Matter Who” and “The Greatest” respectively), the five-page pamphlet is part confession, part manifesto and outlines the how and why of its leaking harbor.

“[GSC] impeach everyone who has supported their game for 15 years and kept it alive,” Nevazhno writes, referring to what he sees as mistreatment of Stalker’s Russian fans by GSC Game World – a Ukrainian company – since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Feb. Violations consists of eight incidents, ranging from things like “Constant discrimination against Russians in” [GSC’s] Discord server,” to get mad about the money the company has raised (opens in new tab) for the Come Back Alive Foundation, which helps train and equip Ukrainian troops. “The purchase of weapons and military equipment is not a charity event,” he writes, claiming that the equipment provided by the Foundation was used in Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod. (opens in new tab).

Nevazhno’s first complaint, however, is that the GSC tried to solicit donations for the Ukrainian army from Russian players – a crime in the Russian Federation – without informing them of the potential legal ramifications. “This was an attempt to turn the Russians into bargaining chips,” he writes, “The only report of crime came when people started complaining about this shit to Roskomnadzor” (the Russian agency responsible for controlling the mass media).

I contacted GSC Game World to ask them about it, and they told me: “We have published pleas to help Ukraine on our social media and on our web resources – just like thousands of other Ukrainian companies… Nevertheless, an important to mention is that later on we also added a clarification about the donations from Russia. We think we might be in the absolute minority – if not the only one – to do that”.

I was curious about Nevazhno’s reasons for targeting GSC in particular – rather than any other Ukrainian game company that has raised money for the country’s military – and hoped I could get him to expand on where to get the leaked build of Stalker’s console port.

As for the build’s provenance, Nevazhno didn’t have much more to say beyond what he wrote in the original document, where he hinted that it came from GSC employees who were angry about the company’s attitude toward Russian players. However, GSC vehemently denied this in my correspondence with them, pointing out that a plethora of personal employee information had been leaked by the same group of Russian bloggers who circulated this build: it seems unlikely anyone in their office would be comfortable with that kind of leaking material.

But Nevazhno wrote extensively and in depth about his motivations, and they reflect the feelings of isolation and fraternal betrayal now common among Russians regarding the conflict in Ukraine. “My whole [YouTube] channel is built on Stalker… working with audio, with video, my interest in game development – it all started with this game,” Nevazhno told me. But when he felt that Russian players were being unfairly mistreated – especially the attempts of GSC to ask for donations from Russian fans – he felt that “it was not possible to maintain neutrality” weapons, did not kill anyone and did not march to a foreign country… but [GSC] seems to have a different opinion”.

In our communications, Nevazhno presents himself more as a heartbroken fan than a foaming nationalist, but GSC’s Zakhar Bocharov reminds me that leaks like this – both of Stalker’s console port and GSC staff information – “accompanied by calls for bullying and death threats” that have been a constant for the people of the GSC since the beginning of the war. Regardless of Nevazhno’s disappointment with the treatment of Russian Stalker fans, it’s an inevitable fact that leaks like this one – in which he feels completely justified – add to an already intense mental burden on game developers in a country at war. Intended or not, Nevazhno has turned GSC’s own work into a cudgel that can be used against them in a conflict they didn’t ask for.

I asked Nevazhno if he planned to leak more information from GSC, or if this would be his last act regarding the company. “Hope this all ends with this,” he wrote, “no matter how I got it, the important thing is I didn’t lie, and this isn’t some fan mod…this leak was made out of a desire to achieve justice, which in any way I saw in vengeance. This was a cry of the soul”.

It’s grandiose rhetoric, so much so that you might inadvertently forget that the subject under discussion is a leaked console port of a 2007 PC game, and that the people affected and affected by it are not enemy combatants, but rather a team of developers. I have no doubt that Nevazhno’s feelings of heartbreak and betrayal are genuine, but they hardly seem to justify his later actions. He concluded his email to me with a plea to GSC Game World to change their attitude towards Russian players to a more positive one: I’m not convinced this leak was the best way to achieve that.

As for GSC, those developers who don’t fight keep working on Stalker 2 (opens in new tab) in offices removed from the war zone. Bocharov tells me that the thrill of working at war, and confronting the consequences of leaks like this one, are now an “inherent part” of the developer’s life. Nevertheless “We still believe in the best – for our game, our country and the whole world”.

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