Interview: Morteshka’s Vladimir Beletskiy Talks ‘The Mooseman’

Following a well-received release on Steam last year, Russian indie studio Morteshka recently brought their debut title The Mooseman (out now, free) to mobile. To find out more about the team and story behind this stunning mythology-inspired adventure game, I got in touch with Morteshka’s Vladimir Beletskiy for a chat. Check out the interview below!

Thanks so much for joining me for this interview, Vladimir. To start, could you please introduce yourself and chat a bit about how you got into game development?

Thank you for inviting us for the interview! My name is Vladimir Beletsky, I am the game designer, programmer and artist of our small team. I started working in game dev around 2012 in flash gaming. After several small games, I joined Alternativa Games to work on Tanki X as a programmer and later as a product manager. As a side project, I started the Morteshka gaming company and not long ago I decided to fully immerse myself into this startup to work full-time on our post-Mooseman project.

‘Morteshka’ is a lovely word. What does it mean, and why did you choose it as the name of your studio?

“Morteshka” is a play on the word “Matreshka.” It is a famous Russian toy that consists of doll layers. We combined it with the word “Mort” because it means “death” in old slavic languages — and nowadays French — and also means “human” in Komi language.

What is Morteshka’s key philosophy or mission statement as a company?

As you’ve correctly assumed, our name ties tightly with our philosophy. As I’ve mentioned we love grim themes in video games, and we want to explore this further. We want to talk about unconventional things in games, including “serious” stuff. Our first game shows us working with Finno-Ugric mythology. We also are strong believers in taking an artistic approach to video game creation. That is the “human” part. We want to make what Johnathan Blow called “deep games” — games that have deep meaning and leave a lasting impression on our players.

Your debut game, The Mooseman, recently arrived on iOS and Android. How long was it in development for prior to release, and how many people worked on it?

The development started around May of 2015. In 2017 we released on Steam and then a year later on mobile. Two people were mainly involved in the primary version: myself and Mikhail Shvachko, who did sound and music. For mobile porting and optimization we got help from our friend Andrey Khudozhidkov. We also had many other people helping us with aspects of the game like the amazing choral music, which was provided by the student choir of Perm State College of Arts and Culture.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell me (and my readers) about The Mooseman’s premise, story and gameplay?

The player finds himself in the midst of long-forgotten Finno-Ugric myth while playing as a character called The Mooseman. He has the ability to see the world of spirits and gods that is generally hidden from the mortal eye. This ability provides the main gameplay mechanic: by manipulating spirits you can control the world of the living. Later in the game the Mooseman receives new abilities but that is for the player to discover.

Where did the inspiration come from for The Mooseman’s darkly beautiful art style and character designs? 

The art style and character design is heavily inspired by something called the Perm animal style. It is a style of metal casting that existed around the middle ages in the Perm region of Russia. These metal artefacts depict gods and spirits of beliefs of Komi people, the native inhabitants. But with the coming of Russian colonizers, these beliefs were mostly forgotten, and are now nonexistent. Our game is an attempt to reconstruct these beliefs in a uniform mythology. It is an artistic reconstruction, that gives a glimpse into what ancestors of modern Komi people could’ve believed.

Do you have any advice for other companies or individuals who may be trying to break into or succeed in the mobile games industry?

There are now so many great startups that are trying to make it in the indie market, and we have several friends who have games in a very early stage. We do know about a great indie game from our friends that just released, called OVIVO. Please check it out!

What’s next for Morteshka? Are you guys planning to port The Mooseman to more platforms? And do you have any upcoming projects in the works that you can tell me about?

Yes, right now we are working in two directions. First is porting The Mooseman to consoles. The second one is working on the new project. We have yet to announce it and can’t give many specifics. Also the project is in a very early stage. The only thing that is certain is that we will make an atmospheric game that will also explore dark and mysterious corners of mythology, although not Finno-Ugric this time.

That’s a wrap! Thanks for such an interesting chat, Vladimir. ?

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