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Poland and Horror Games

The video game industry can be a toxic place right now. There are numerous stories on overworked employees that had to work insane hours to make deadlines. Developers publishing unfinished and broken games for premium prices. Legal forces coming down on things like loot boxes. As well as general frustration from gamers that continue to mount with developers, publishers, and the industry as a whole. As all this toxicity boils in a single pot about to burst, there is one studio that being herald as an industry leader and what other studios should try to be like according to gamers.

That studio is CD Projekt Red. The studio’s claim to fame is the highly acclaimed video games series The Witcher. The focus is now on their new game CyberPunk 2077. The game has a massive hype train that was only made bigger at E3 this year when it was revealed that actor Keanu Reeves would be in the game. His appearance was one of the biggest moments of E3 and is still talked about to this day. It also became a really good meme.

What people might not know about the video game giant is that the company is Polish.  The company was founded all the way back in 1994 in Warsaw, Poland. They started off simply doing localizations of video games, but have now grown into one of the biggest game companies in the world. They are the leading company in a fast-growing Polish video game scene. You also can’t forget about People Can Fly, a studio that worked on the Gears of War series along with the extremely popular Fornite.

As a couple of studios in Poland continue to work on some of the largest games in the industry there is one genre where Poland maybe silently one of the leading countries. That genre is horror.

The genre of horror has undergone many changes since it’s inceptions. It is one that struggled to find it’s true identity. It was once just more composed of side scrollers, shooters, and beat them ups in spooky levels or against scary enemies like skeletons or monsters. Then came the game of Sweet Home. Sweet Home was based on a Japanese film of the same name. The game focused more actually surviving than overpowering an enemy. It had a lot of puzzle elements as well. It laid the groundwork for a sub-genre of horror games called survival horror.

Survival horror contains most of the games that most people think of when thinking about horror games. This genre includes games like Alone in the Dark, Clock Towe, Resident Evil, and Silent Hill. These games all focused more on the atmosphere in your setting. The concept of being unfamiliar whether with a location or enemy. With the exception of Resident Evil, you are not a suited up military trained soldier ready to fight enemies with ease, but you are a normal person and you can’t just overpower your enemy. You mainly looked for ways to hide or avoid them while studying and learning along the way. Puzzle solving was a key gameplay element. The games had psychological elements never seen in games before. The identity of the horror genre really started to form around these ideas. The market was relatively dominated by Japanese developers with many Western horror games attempting to mimic the Japanese style.

The genre changed forever though when one of the most popular horror game franchises, Resident Evil, switched from survival horror to more action based horror games starting with the release of Resident Evil 4.

The game was immensely popular and starked another change in the genre as now horror games were mostly geared to be more action-oriented. The horror landscape quickly switched from the Japanese style of horror games to a more Western-based one. It did end up killing off some legends of the horror genre or at least diminished their popularity. Silent Hill was probably the biggest of these. Konami published lackluster titles produced by Western studios after the original games were made by the Japanese based Team Silent. The change did give birth to series as well with new games like Dead Rising,  F.E.A.R., and Left 4 Dead. Another series that was born during this time was NecroVision.

NecroVision was developed by The Farm 51, a Polish studio based in Gliwice. The studio was started by former members of People Can Fly. They previously worked on a game called Painkiller, a shooter game versus demons. When starting off their own studio they kept the shooter element but went with a horror vide to create NecroVision. The game was released in February of 2009. The story takes place during World War 1. You play as a British soldier going up against the German army when during the war, your squad is ambushed. Our protagonist collapsed and when he re-awoke found the battlefield being rampant with zombies and creatures from hell. It was the first dive into the new horror genre by a Polish studio. The game did well enough to earn a prequel in NecroVision: The Lost Company. The Farm 51 has made other games since NecroVision including a sequel to PainKiller. They are now returning to their initial horror roots. This time with a survival style, instead of a shooter, in their new game Chernobylite. A game based around a person returning to the Chernobyl disaster site in order to find their former partner 30 years after the event. The game is set to release in Autumn of 2019.

The next Polish studio to put make their mark on horror genre was Techland. Techland is a studio that was started all the way back in 1991 originally just distributing software. They would enter the video game market in 2000 and have been a growing developer since. They currently have headquarters in Warsaw and Wrocław. Their biggest break came in the horror genre with Dead Island. The game was announced in 2006, but we wouldn’t see anything of it till 2011. In 2011, the announcement trailer came out.

The announcement trailer took the gaming world by storm and is truly what an announcement trailer should be. It sets up the setting and world they are creating in a very intriguing way. I was so excited for Dead Island at the time. The game would release in early September of 2011. The game received generally solid reviews with most being in the range of 7 out of 10. It went on to sell over five million copies. It is still one of my favorite games to this day and I have played through it multiple times with each character. The game takes place on the fictional island of Banoi, a destination tourist Island. The island has now been overrun by a mysterious plague that has caused people to turn into the infected, which want nothing more than to eat and kill the living. The survivors now must battle their way off the Island to survive. Dead Island went on to become a franchise getting several spinoffs and other media properties like comics. Only one of the spinoff games was developed by Techland. This was Dead Island Riptide, a direct sequel to what happened after the story in Dead Island. Dead Island 2 was originally supposed to be developed by Techland but they became involved in a new horror project.

This new project was Dying Light. Dying Light is similar to Dead Island in a lot of ways, but also much different. The game is so fun to just move around in and there are so many ways to traverse the game’s world. The game’s combat feels wonderful and there are a lot of interesting concepts in the game like the Day-Night cycle. It was much dangerous to be out at night, so you better run. It really feels like the evolution that Dead Island would have needed. The game has an amazing story involving the survivors stuck inside the quarantine zone of a town called Harran. You play as Kyle Crane, an undercover agent, is sent into the city to retrieve some stolen information that is vital to the Global Relief Effort. The game received generally strong views mostly in the 7s and 8s when out of 10. I loved the game and I continue to replay it. Part of the reason I love the game is how well it has been supported by Techland with expansions and other things being adding to extend the life of the game. They really tried to create and care for the community. Dying Light 2 was announced at E3 2018 and is scheduled for a release in the first half of 2020.

Now Dead Island, Dying Light, and NecroVision are more on the side of action or shooter horror that really started to take over the horror genre in the mid to late 2000s. Most survival horror games during this time and the early 2010s were being done by indie or smaller developers. Poland saw quite a few studios trying the survival horror style during this time.

The first attempt at a survival horror game was done by the Nibris. Nibris, based in Krakow, was developing a Nintendo WII titled called Sadness. The game was in all black and white and used the WII’s motion controls to simulate running away from some kind of creature or evil. It had a fair amount of interest but was sadly canceled when the company was closed. When the company was active they had created a studio called Bloober Team SA. The studio had become independent from Nibris before Nibris shut down.

Bloober Team started out creating mobile and other smaller “cheap” games. Things did not look good for the studio. Their 2014 title Brawl, received really poor reviews. The game was so badly received that the Bloober Team promised to completely rebuild it from scratch. The team apologized to gamers and promised to try and rebuild trust within the gaming community. The first step they did to do this was giving the new version of Brawl free to anyone who originally bought the first game. Their next step was more impactful though.

In 2016, a game came out titled P.T. It was discovered the game was a playable teaser for the next game in the Silent Hill franchise. It was a return to the roots for Silent Hill and appeared to be the evolution that survival horror needed to reignite the glory days of the sub-genre. Unfortunately, Konami would cancel the game in a series of very controversial moves. P.T.  was still able to have an impact on the horror genre and that can be seen in a lot of games that came after it like the playable demo to Resident Evil 7 as well as Layers of Fear.

Layers of Fear was a really drastic change in the type of games from Bloober Team. It was a physiological horror game. It is a really amazing experience and the story of the self-torture of a deranged creative mind. It came out of nowhere from Bloober Team and I think that adds to the experience if you know their history.  Bloober team has now stayed in the psychological horror lane. Just a year later they would release Observer. A more futuristic psychological horror game that is also set in Poland. It has a lot of cool concepts and I am currently just starting my playthrough of it, I haven’t been able to put it down since I started.

Bloober team also released a sequel to Layers of Fear in May of 2018. Layers of Fear 2 again focuses on another creative person and the twisted way they see the world. The team also announced their newest project at E3 this year with Blair Witch. This game is based on the cinematic series of horror films of the same name. The game earned a fair bit of hype and trailer was well received. The studio has now become one of the top psychological horror game studios after such humble and different beginnings. I applaud their work and what they have turned their studio into.

In 2014, another studio made up of former employees from People Can Fly jumped into the horror genre with their first game as well. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter developed by, Warsaw-based studio, The Astronauts came out of nowhere. It is a beautiful game with amazing environments to explore and challenging puzzles as you try to figure out the disappearance of a missing boy. The game is regarded as very good earning many high scores and praise. The game also won Best Game Innovation at the 2015 British Academy Games Awards. The Astronauts are currently working on a shooter for their next project titled the Witchfire.

A newer face in the scene is Madmind Studio. They are made up of many former employees from various Polish game studios. They released Agony in 2018 to generally poor reviews. While many survival horror games feature plenty of gore and sexual content it is usually done in more subtle ways or used in moments to stress the severity of the situation. Agony immediately goes to these big moments and never comes down from them, which did not resonate well with most people. The game has generated a niche fanbase though. They are scheduled to be releasing a new trailer for their next game Paranoid soon.

The Polish video game industry is growing and thriving. That is especially true in the horror genre as there are numerous new games coming from Polish studios including  Dying Light 2, Blair Witch, and Paranoid. So many of these studios started at such small scales and worked their way up to now producing large international titles. As well as not just making good horror games, but starting horror franchises. In a genre that has sometimes been know as Japan dominated, I think Poland is starting to really start making themselves known as one of the leading countries in the horror genre, as well as one of the leaders in the video games industry in general.

Three Polish National Teams to Play In Foreign Leagues.

The PZHL has made some big moves this offseason. There is always a need for more Polish players to develop and test their skills aboard and now more than 60 plus players will be doing that. This is due to the fact that three national teams will be playing in foreign leagues next season. These teams are the Women’s Senior National team,  Men’s U18 team, and Men’s U16 team.

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The Women’s senior team will be playing in the Elite Women’s Hockey League. They will be playing under the name of Silesia Brackens. The Elite Women’s Hockey League, or EWHL, is mostly comprised of women’s teams from various countries. Two countries have multiple teams as Austria has three and Hungary has two. Denmark, Italy, Kazakhstan, and Slovenia will also have a team in the competition. All of the other countries involved are ranked higher than Poland’s women team in the IIHF, besides Slovenia. A majority of every country’s national team plays in the EWHL.

This is a great move by the PZHL. Right now a big part of the growth in women’s hockey has been the ability to grow top stars like Kamila Wieczorek or Karolina Pozniewska. There has been a lack of depth though that has been the falling point for Polish teams. This is a great way for Poland to develop depth as players will be facing tougher competition. The team will also be playing together for an entire season and that could help build chemistry. This league could be a stepping stone for younger Polish players to reach higher leagues. Poland will also be playing some of their international opponents quite a few times, which will allow them to gameplan better for the World Championships.

I have been a big supporter of the job Ivan Bednar has done as the head coach of the national team and look forward to this being another great tool in his chest. Praise must also be given to Marta Zawadzka in her work to get a Polish team in the league. Overall women’s hockey has a really bright future in Poland.

The Men’s U18 team will be playing in the Czech Republic U20 junior league. There are two divisions of the Czech U20 league a top league and a second tier. Though it has not been announced which league Poland will be playing in I have a strong belief that it will be the second league. The Men’s U16 team will be playing in the Czech Republic’s U17 league.

This is a really good thing for a lot of young players in Poland. This provides them the chance to develop their skills against tougher teams without having to leave Poland. As much as Poland needs players to leave Poland and develop, it is not an easy task. It is a lot of weight to put on a teenager’s shoulder in having to move to new a country away from their family. The teams in the Czech leagues will provide a lot of the same benefits as Poland’s EWHL team. This will create stronger depth, be a stepping stone, and further develop chemistry.

These are the kind moves that PZHL needs to make to keep developing hockey in Poland. It is an instant boost to all of Poland’s national teams. It may also help continue to remove some of the doubts about Polish hockey players that some players are facing. If the Polish players do well in stronger leagues it helps the credibility of Polish hockey. When you add in the expected improved IIHF results this may create a quick fix to a problem that appeared it was going to take much longer to fix.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

Tomek Valtonen To Stay With The Polish National Team

Tomek Valtonen will remain with the Poland national team as head coach.

Tomek Valtonen came to Poland with a lot of fanfare. The former Liiga player had Polish blood and spoke the language. He also was to be the head coach of Podhale, meaning he would be in Poland year round. He was also relatively young for a coach of his experience at 38-years-old. He had a long coaching career in Finland, serving as an assistant on Jokerier U20 team and Finland’s World Junior team before taking over as the head coach of Sport (Liiga) from 2014-18.

Valtonen’s lone season in Poland started with a bunch of potential. Poland did well in a big test at the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge facing off against Austria, Denmark, and Norway with a depleted roster. The rest of the season saw controversy after controversy arise some involving Valtonen others not and out of his control. This includes Valtonen taking a job in Germany and players retiring from the Polish national team. This would all come to the head where at the World Championships, Poland came in with a somewhat lackluster roster and would lose one game in overtime to Romania causing the team to the stay in Division 1B for 2020.

Valtonen staying is a huge boost for Poland. While he had consistency problems that other coaches in Poland have suffered through there was a lot that Valtonen did right. He incorporated more youth into the lineup. When the players fought for better conditions, he stood by them. I have to imagine that situation between players and the PZHL would have been worse without him. Valtonen also made some necessary line up changes that benefited Poland tremendously like moving Marcin Kolusz to defense.

This will be the first season in 2 years that Poland will not be looking for a new head coach. The expectation is that Risto Dufva will also be taking more of a larger role with the Polish national team. Dufva served as a consultant last year for team Poland. This season he will be the head coach for GKS Katowice and assistant for the national team. Tommi Satosaari will stay on as the goaltending coach. The team also announced that Jacek Szopinski and Marek Zietara would not be behind the bench next year making it an all Finnish staff.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

 

Two Polish Players in College Hockey. Two Different Tales.

Both Wojciech Stachowiak and Kamil Sadlocha will be competing in the NCAA, the top college hockey league in the world, this season. The two will also be going head to head quite a few times as their respective schools, Ohio State (Sadlocha) and Michigan State (Stachowiak) are in the same conference. They also battled it out multiple times in the United States Hockey League (USHL) last year. They’re also both Freshman this year for their respective Universities. They actually have a lot of similarities, another being both players will not represent Poland nationally, despite being born in Poland. There is one big difference between them though and that is their relationship with Poland.

Kamil Sadlocha was born in Poland but moved across the pond to the United States at a young age. He excelled at hockey and was one of the best players in the Chicago Mission system. This lead to him getting chances with US National development team. In 2016, he would join the Madison Capitals of the USHL, putting up 22 points in his rookie season. He would return to the Capitals in 2017 and put up new career highs in goals (16), assists (21), and points (37). During this time, he also committed to play hockey at the Ohio State University. Ohio State hockey had been on the decline for years, but their stock has been rising the past few seasons, making the Frozen Four last year. Kamil Sadlocha could have played for Poland, but the opportunity with Team USA was one he could not turn down. When I interviewed Sadlocha during last season, he had this to say on his Polish heritage, ” Most of my family still lives in Poland so I am very proud of my heritage. My dad played professional hockey in Poland and my uncle still plays. So we cheer for him. We also enjoy watching Lewandowski. My dad follows him a good amount.”

Wojciech Stachowiak is not as straightforward and his situation with Poland is one to this day I don’t really understand fully. Stachowiak was born in Gdansk, Poland. He moved to the German development system in 2011, playing in the German u16 league with ES Weißwasser, with him later moving to the Krefelder EV 1981 junior system. During this time, he represented Poland at some non-IIHF junior events. In 2015, he represented Poland at the Riga Cup.

A year later, he would start to represent Germany at some more non-IIHF international events. In 2017, Stachowiak gave an interview to Hokej.net, during the interview, Stachowiak claimed he had never received an offer from the PZHL, the controlling body of the national team, to play for team Poland. This was disputed by some members of the PZHL at the time.  During the 2017 NHL draft, rumors started circulating that the Vancouver Canucks were interested in him. Stachowiak would go undrafted and has yet to be invited to a Canucks development camp. A source told me, these rumors came from Stachowiak’s father. Stachowiak’s father had also gone on various Facebook rants about his son’s situation with the PZHL around the time the interview was published. After going undrafted, Stachowiak would return to Germany only to leave halfway through the 2017-18 season to play for the Central Illinois Flying Aces in the USHL. He would have strong year posting 19 points in 38 games while committing to play hockey at Michigan State. At the end of the season, Poland’s former head junior coach, David Leger, tried to contact Stachowiak with no luck. His IIHF status remains unclear, but he is likely German property. There appears to be no relationship between him and the PZHL.

Krzysztof Oliwa’s Mess of a Junior Team Folds Midseason.

Kryzystof Oliwa is the Owner, General Manager, and Head Coach of the Kalkaska Rhinos.  The Rhinos are a junior hockey team that competes in the USPHL Premier, that is until yesterday. According to TheJuniorHockeyNews.com, the team has folded. Folding midseason is terrible as many players will now be unable to join a new team for the rest of the season, as the transfer period has ended. 

Oliwa is popular among Polish American and Canadian fans as he is only one of two Polish players to ever play in the NHL. He is also the only Polish-born player to the win the Stanley Cup. Oliwa was an enforcer and the earned the nickname, “The Polish Hammer”. Most in North America don’t about know him being charged with domestic abuse, him reportedly beating up members of the Polish national team, his dismissal from his coaching job with the national team after players complaints, and his disturbing CIHL suspension.

When you look at his history, I actually have to ask how could a league could actually let him have a team. The Rhinos did not field a full roster in either of the last two seasons. The organization is a mess. The Rhinos were originally in the Canadian International Hockey League but left to be an independent team. After Oliwa announced the Rhinos were leaving, he was indefinitely suspended for altercations with a referee and rival team staff member.  He also refused to pull an injured goalie and did not allow the CIHL medical staff to tend to him.

One of the players who played for Oliwa was Tomasz Skokan. Skokan is a defenseman on the Polish national team. He played parts of three seasons putting up 50 points in 50 games. He recently returned to Poland, signing with GKS Katowice. When asked for a comment about the team or coach, Skokan replied “I am very thankful to coach Oliwa. I think he was a demanding coach but I am sure he has never had any bad intentions towards his players. He is a great person as well as a coach. He knew how to inspire his team to get them above their dreams and never give up. Coach Oliwa has helped me a lot in developing my skills and I’m really glad that I had an opportunity to cooperate with him and be part of his team”

Another Rhino’s player who chose to remain anonymous said, “Oliwa was fake. He lied to players, families, and everyone. I never had a coach like him. A coach must be the best friend, must be like a dad for his players, he was none of that for us.” He also confirmed the team didn’t have a full roster, “We would play with a max of 12 players versus 20 to 25 guys.” When asked if Oliwa ever physically harmed players, the player responded Yes, but did not provide further details.

We have reached out to former Rhinos players and will update with quotes.