Atomic Heart Developer Interview – Distilling 6 Years of Development, Mystery, and Hype


Atomic Heart is a brand new FPS RPG title developed by Mundfish, and also happens to be the developer’s breakout title.

Taking place in an alternate 1955, the advancements in robotics technology have allowed the USSR to become the forefront of machine technology, creating an idyllic utopia where humans can be freed from manual labor, while work is handled by an artificial intelligence called the Kollektiv. One day Major Comrade Sergei Nechaev is sent to facility 3826, a science hub researching the latest in robot technology until catastrophe strikes and it’s up to you to bring Facility 3826 back in order, and put an end to the chaos threatening thousands of lives.

After nearly 6 years of development delays, mystery, and hype, we got to interview the developers behind Atomic Heart to get the team’s insight onto many aspects of development, from the team got inspired when it came to its story, what kind of things didn’t make the cut, the team’s design goals, what it was like working with Mick Gordon, and how they managed to release one of the most hyped shooters of 2023.

So whether you’ve bought Atomic Heart or you’re still itching to play the game this weekend, read on to learn a little more about the game’s inception, spoiler free!

▼ Pictured Below: Mundfish’s Artem Galeev, Robert Bagratuni, and Evgenia Sedova

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Why is it Called Atomic Heart?

Q. What were the inspirations behind Atomic Heart’s story and setting?

A: Our inspirations were retro-futuristic settings and stories created by such famous authors as Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and brothers Strugatsky.

Playing Atomic Heart, you can spot some details and style of particular architecture that reflects those depicted in their dystopian worlds, but nevertheless, our primary goal was to create something completely new, unique, and fresh, that won’t resemble anything that has been already seen before. We truly think that we succeeded in it and hope that players will feel the same!

Q. How did the team land “Atomic Heart” as the game’s title?

A: Thinking about the name of the game, on July 6, 2017, the team and I sat down and held a vote. Yes, it was really that simple! Everyone brainstormed and suggested various variants of the name, among which were such as “Percieval”, “Bipolarity”, “Merium”, “Feeling of the death” and “The last Polymer”.

We had a heated debate, and at first, sifted out some of them and chose those that sound more or less pleasant to our ears. The next step was to check through the search engines what we get for these queries, and, oddly enough, in the end, the clearest result was for the name “Atomic Heart” – zero matches. Overall, it seemed to us a good choice, and in order not to have coincidences with existing titles on the web, it was decided to call the game “Atomic Heart”!

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“We’re Happy With the Game the Way it is Now”

Q. In previous interviews, you mentioned multiplayer being cut from the game during development. Are there any other major features you had to cut from the game?

A: To be honest, we do not believe that multiplayer is one of the major features that was cut out, because, in the process of developing the concept, it began to grow into another separate game. Realizing this, we decided to cut it out in order to fully focus on the main game. Of course, it was difficult to go against our original plans and promises, but in the end, we are sure that it was the right decision.

After all, you should not mix everything that comes to mind into one pile, no matter how cool it may seem. And speaking of other features that were cut out – to be honest, I would not want to expand on this topic, so, you know, not to cause a FOMO feeling! We’re happy with the game the way it is now, and reflecting on the cut features now would mean being unsure of the result, which isn’t true because we’re actually very happy with it!

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Q. In the game’s combat trailer, Major P3 is seen using a variety of abilities using Charles, freezing enemies, and lifting them up. How did the team go about designing these abilities from scratch and what challenges cropped up from developing these skills?

A: In fact, we were just thinking, inventing, and experimenting – probably like all other game developers. First of all, we wanted to make such a set of skills that would work and perfectly combine with all other systems and aspects of the game. This was the main challenge, which, I think, we eventually coped with perfectly!

Q. Was there a power the team was really adamant about keeping but had to be cut or did everything make it to the final release?

A: We really wanted to add a flamethrower as one of the glove’s abilities, but during the discussion, we realized that it would be almost impossible to support this function globally throughout the game.

First of all, this is due to the size of the tech-art team, and the fact that it has been busy for the last year and a half optimizing the game for the consoles of the last generation. Imagine the possibility of setting fire to the frames of all doors, fire spreading from one surface to another, burning chairs, tables, floors, etc. Or imagine having the ability to break down all the windows, destroy benches, curbs, pull out bushes, or cut down and set fire to trees… Sounds so cool that you would like to try it all out, right?

But, unfortunately, in order to implement all these awesome mechanics, we would have to sacrifice something incredibly important such as, for example, optimizing the game for the consoles of the last generation. And that would be wrong for several reasons.

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Firstly, a significant number of players are still playing on consoles of the last generation, including in terms of the Game Pass as well, so our task is to give as many players as possible the opportunity to dive into the world of the “Atomic Heart”, which is the first installment of our franchise, meaning that it’s future directly depends on how wide the overall coverage will be.

And secondly, after realizing the number of problems we might encounter during the development of all those mechanics, the most logical step would be to switch to the UE5 engine in order to make everything of the highest level of quality possible.

But this transition, in addition to the fact that it would mean complete disposal of the last generation consoles, would also lead to an increase in the development period by at least six months due to the refactoring of many systems associated with the transition to the next version of the engine. So, we’ll have to wait for the next game to get everything described above and, hopefully, much more!

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Q. During playtesting what was the most surprising thing you learned about the game?

A: Basically, we were most surprised by the fact how often we saw very strange ways to play our game! For example, some users very skillfully combined different abilities and weapons with each other, getting completely ridiculous combinations, resulting in some very strange gameplay. Of course, there were few of them, but, nevertheless, if you scale the numbers to the amount of all people playing after the release of the game, they will significantly increase.

We always counted that if, for example, out of 20 playtesters 1 does something strange, then this is 5% of the players, and 5% of a million players turn out to be 50.000 of players. When this thought comes to mind, it becomes really scary! So, the main goals of the last 3 months of playtests were related to increasing the comfort of playing, navigation, and, most importantly, perfecting the balance. We managed to redo the balance 6 or 7 times until we got the maximum level of user ratings – about 9 points!

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“We Didn’t Want to Make a Standard Shooter”

Q. Many people compare Atomic Heart to the Bioshock series. However, it seems like Atomic Heart is opting to create a more RPG-like experience with damage numbers on weapons. Why did the team decide on this direction, rather than have weapons instantly kill enemies on headshots?

Actually, we have the functionality of headshots! For example, an upgraded PM has a shot, which hitting in the head of the robot makes a 100% headshot. Kalash also can perform headshots while aiming. We didn’t want to make a standard shooter, in which the game boils down to the “aim and press the button” process – there are much more tactics in the “Atomic Heart”. The variety of the arsenal literally pushes you to explore all the possibilities and select your favorite style of playing.

In my opinion, for a game like “Atomic Heart”, this is an integral part of the narrative. Just imagine – you are Major Nechaev and found yourself in these strange, terrible circumstances with a need not just to survive, but also to deal with all these unusual weapons along the way and combine all the skills with each other in such a way that it could lead to success. Self–study and experiments are an important part of the game. I can’t imagine that the “Atomic Heart” could end up being different and simpler in terms of shooting.

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Q. Atomic Heart used to be listed for Steam and PSVR as well in its earlier trailers and has since been cut. What happened to the VR aspect of the game, and was it tough cutting that portion out of the game after spending development time on it?

We wanted the game to be compatible with VR, but as the project progressed, it became clear to us that we can make the project much larger than what would be possible with VR integration! The team showed absolutely fantastic development speed and efficiency, and it was these internal ambitions that influenced the decision to completely shift their focus.

But we will certainly take a serious look at the VR market after the release of the game and think about what work we can do in this direction.

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Q. How long will it take for an average player to complete Atomic Heart and its optional content?

A: The world of Atomic Heart is quite huge and filled with various activities and to complete the main story campaign, players will need to spend approximately 20-25 hours. It’s a bit difficult to tell how much it will take players to fully complete the game including all the side activities, so on average they will spend around 35-40 hours on that.

Q. Will Atomic Heart have multiple paths/outcomes for events for replayability, and will it have a New game plus + mode on launch?

A: The game won’t have a New game + mode on launch and won’t feature a multiple outcomes system for events. However, you will have a big combat variety and ways to upgrade your skills and combine them with weapons, so you will have an opportunity to replay the game using a completely different build and loadout to receive a new gameplay experience – maybe even on a higher difficulty, for example!

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On Development, Mick Gordon, and COVID

Q. Mick Gordon is the composer for Atomic Heart, but the earliest news of his involvement in the game was in 2020 however the game was in development since 2017. When did he join the project, and what was it like working with him?

Indeed, Mick Gordon started to collaborate with us on the “Atomic Heart” in 2020. We were very excited and intrigued to work with him, he is an incredible and very talented musician, and the whole world knows that! He loves Soviet-era synthesizers as much as we do, so he perfectly felt the mood of “Atomic Heart” and the end results of our collaboration are beyond praise! We are very happy to have been working with him and are looking forward to players hearing his works while playing the game.

Q. Atomic Heart’s been in development for more than half a decade and especially worked through COVID. Did the pandemic heavily affect the game’s development, and is that why it took so long to be released?

A: Development of the game started in 2017 and it was a long and amazing path. So long, that we even have an internal joke that this game should be actually called “Atomic Heart 3”! We had a few turning points in development when we were seriously rethinking some key things and implementing the corresponding improvements. In general, the overall vision has not changed much and has only become more cohesive.

And of course, having a great worldwide team of talented professionals consisting of more than 130 employees, we were influenced by the COVID pandemic as much as every other developer in the world. Our primary focus was the safety and security of our talents at all our locations, so we implemented the structure of remote work, which was a common practice in the world.

It’s a well-known fact that some of the game development companies suffered from development pacing issues, so our challenge was to maintain it, control the workload of our talents and, of course, keep them safe at the same time. And I think that we’ve managed to succeed in that, I’m very happy with the results!

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Q. Anything you’d like to say to the readers and fans?

A: Of course – I wish everyone an amazing gaming experience! I am sure that players have not seen anything like this before and will get a lot of new and, most importantly, fresh impressions. “Atomic Heart” was designed in a way so that players never feel bored and constantly be excited and immersed, so I hope that our game will make their experience and carry such emotions from the start till the very end!

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Atomic Heart is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam.

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