The Rise And Fall Of Poland’s First Great Video Game Company
One of Poland’s most successful cultural exports in recent years has been in the form of computer games, with series such as The Witcher, This War of Mine, The Medium and Layers of Fear receiving critical acclaim and commercial success.
However, three decades ago, the video game market did not exist at all, with Poland having only transitioned to a market-based economy at the start of the 1990s.
Video games were only available through a mix of independent Polish translation efforts and software piracy, but the first video game company to push against this was Metropolis Software, founded in 1992 by Adrian Chmielarz to sell a type of game that hitherto had been unavailable in Poland.
Working with childhood friends Grzegorz Miechowski and Andrzej Michalak, Mr Chmielarz planned to make a graphical adventure game of the type that had not been sold in Poland due to the amount of text that would need to be translated.
The result was Tajemnica Statuetki (aka The Mystery of The Statuette), the story of an Interpol agent who tries to solve a worldwide spate of artefact thefts, with the graphics being digitised photographs of a holiday in Cote d’Azur.
It was made on a shoestring budget using pictures from a sunny holiday with a spy thriller plot written around it, and when Mr Chmielarz pitched the game to distributors they believed that the game would sell only 100 copies. It ultimately sold 6,000.
There were a few reasons for this. The first was that even other Polish game studios of the era, such as X-Land, were not selling any games like it, the game sold cheaper than other western imports of the time and featured a copy of a fictional newspaper that doubled as the game’s copy protection.
The success led to the internationally successful follow-up Teen Agent in 1995, and additional success with games such as The Prince And The Coward, a cross-production with Broken Sword developers Revolution Software.
As well as this there was the turn-based RPG Gorky 17 and the action game Archangel. However, personal problems between Mr Chmielarz and Mr Miechowski, as well as the ultimate failure of their attempt to bring The Witcher book series to the video game medium led to an acrimonious split.
The former went on to form People Can Fly, a studio based known for developing Painkiller, Bulletstorm and Outriders, whilst Metropolis struggled after their founder left, with the last straw being the poorly reviewed game Infernal.
After Infernal underwhelmed, the company was bought by CD Projekt in 2009, who had risen to prominence after the international success of their own game based on The Witcher, and many Metropolis games have since been released for free on the website Good Old Games.