As the publisher of highly acclaimed titles such as Arise: A Simple Story and Golf Club: Wasteland, Untold Tales has certainly carved out a respectable name for itself amongst indie gaming fans. And with a focus on games that have a strong narrative aspect, the publisher’s portfolio certainly verges towards the cinematic. I spoke to Maciej Łączny (CEO of Untold Tales) to find out more about his company, and to also find out as to where he intends to take it next. Enjoy!
You’re the CEO of Untold Tales. Can you tell me a little bit about your publishing company?
Sure… We started the company two years ago exactly. We specialize in narrative experiences in games, but we focus on games that have a narrator, basically. That’s the most important part for us. We tend to publish 4-5 games a year. We specialize on PC and consoles within our group – Capital Group. We have teams that specialize in mobile or porting, but we basically go PC and console – premium, indie, and premium indie. That’s our main target. We number 20 people and are coming out of the AAA development industry. We’re spread across Ukraine, Poland, US… That’s where the team is located. Quite an interesting group of people with 10+ years of experience in gaming, who are looking for good partnerships and a clean healthy approach and co-operation between developers and publishers. We have a little hashtag called “Cut The Crap”, and that’s how we co-operate with our partners.
You mentioned that you publish 4-5 games per year that are focused on narrative. If I were a developer who would be looking to approach Untold Tales, what is it that you would be looking for?
Emotional connection with the game. A certain deepness that’s described one way or another – it doesn’t have to be in a narrative style directly, but maybe the art style. Some of our games have breadcrumbs of a pure narrative, where there’s not much text and there’s not much said. But I’m a fan of games where there’s not even one word spoken, and where you create your own narrative. That’s not going to be something super original, but we’re looking for this original aspect of the game. It can be gameplay, it can be visuals, it can even be the fact that the team behind the game is amazing. So there is no one common denominator for what kind of games we’re looking for. They need to have some special hook. Golf Club: Wasteland has an amazing soundtrack, and an amazing backstory to the game. Arise has amazing deepness, very interesting time maneuvering control features, beautiful desolation, spectacular art style with a deep story, spectacular cinematics that triggered us to pay attention to the title. Probably the one that sticks out the most is Hong Kong Massacre. It has very interesting gameplay with time maneuvering, that “Woo” style of movies, and has the least amount of narrative, but in fact, the motivation of the player is revenge. It’s one of the deepest narrative motivations for the player to play. So all of these games have something unique and special, but not many have the same common thing in them.
How did the company start? I know that you said you have a 20 strong team located in Ukraine, Poland, and the USA, and that they have many years of experience within the games industry. But how did you, as the CEO, start Untold Tales? What was the journey like, and what trials and tribulations did you have to encounter in the early years?
It was an interesting journey. In fact, half of the team is coming from the Polish AAA environment… Techland, CD Projekt, CI Games, and a couple more of the big brands in Poland. We’ve been working with 80% of the team members, we knew them before we started the company. But the three founders that got together, we once upon a time met in Techland. And then once our journeys separated, we had this common dream of starting the company. We were standing at a cross-road of, “do we go back into development or do we focus on publishing?” And the team that we had around us were more about the publishing itself. We knew how to support, and we decided to go with the publishing part. That’s where our talents and our passion found its way. But it was a journey that lasted over a year since we started growing from three to five people. Then we extended our own QA, and then we got on board our internal video asset management, 2D, 3D creation… We got more games into our portfolio and we started growing. That’s how we got to the level where we are today.
Where is your team based?
We’re based in Poland in several locations. Our head office is in Wrocław, that’s southwest of Poland. There’s a big gaming community around that one. The second part of the team is coming mostly from the Warsaw area. That’s also the second hub that is gaming-strong. But we have one person working in Ukraine, and one person working in USA.
So it’s mainly Poland?
Mainly Poland, yes. Probably 15 in Poland, and a couple more Polish and non-Polish outside.
Eastern Europe, including Poland and Ukraine, has really started to emerge as a game development superpower. 20 years ago, it was mostly about Japan, England, and the USA. But recently, a lot of development has shifted to Eastern Europe. A lot of the big international companies from Japan, England, and the USA are also now looking towards Eastern Europe. In what way do you think companies in Eastern Europe can benefit from international investment? At the same time, what makes you think that countries like Poland are great for the games industry as a whole?
Generally Poland benefits on every single initiative. It’s not only Poland, it’s also Eastern Europe. We were coming out of a black hole in history where there was only vinegar in the ‘80s on the shelves. So Polish people… It’s a cross of ambition, of catching up with the rest of the world, and then there’s ambition where we’re catching up very quickly… A good level of education, ambition, and ego all together create these superpowers that gives us a nice kickstart into the world. The benefit from around the globe? We learn a lot from the experiences of others. Not only Polish, but Eastern Europeans as well. We tend to observe quite closely of what the path of the big guys was, and try not to make the same mistakes. We are always trying to be proactive, and we’re also cautious, and we’re ambitious at the same time. That comes from the heavy backpacks in our history, and from our location on the globe. So that’s why I think that Polish people are the way they are today, and that’s why they’ve become… Maybe not superpowers yet… But the Dying Light series, or The Witcher series, or Cyberpunk… These are all based on Polish books, Polish history, Polish writers, Polish everything. So there is much more to it, and there will be more coming, definitely. And I want to see how it grows.
Last question…. Untold Tales has been going for two years. Where do you see the company going from here in the next 2-5 years? And what is it that you’d like to achieve with Untold Tales?
We would like to scale and move towards projects that are more demanding of the team. The team, as I said, is coming from AAA, and is ready to do bigger projects and to focus on bigger releases. So that’s the long term vision – to scale up a bit in that direction. But the core vision of the company is the same. We want to deliver good quality narrative games to the communities, build our own reputation, and have fun doing it. Those are the basics.
Thank you so much.