The Farm 51 and The Real Life Preservation of Chernobyl
Friday, April 22nd at 3 p.m. Eastern time. I had been in Boston for 3 days at that point. I was getting into the groove and routine of constant appointments to talk to developers about their upcoming releases, their DLC, and their hopes for the next year in game development. I was joined by my wife Ash, who is also a videographer and Editor for DreadXP, and Samuel Guglielmo; Managing Editor for DreadXP, and the third member of our little journalistic floor team at PAX. The All-In Games booth was hard to find. After the seeming success, we expected a sprawling booth espousing the upcoming post-release content for Chernobylite. Eventually, we were greeted by a small, nondescript booth jammed between a rhythm game and some metroidvania or another.
We were invited to sit in this cramped space on green glowing cubes positioned around a laptop. Our host for this appointment was The Farm 51 Producer Olga Slowiakowska. She invited us to gather around the laptop and check out some of the content coming to Chernobylite in the next year. There was some cool footage of the smoke stacks at Chernobyl; Large and imposing towers of concrete that have the strange ability to spiral an echo that originates from within their massive bodies. I was shown some footage of sound recordings in the area and how they would play into Chernobylite’s new content. I was shown the new Makarov pistol – a well-known Soviet workhorse looked upon fondly by gamers and actual firearm collectors.
Much was made about the upcoming next-gen versions of Chernobylite, which would take an already beautiful game and push it to the next level of graphical fidelity. This was all very interesting and exactly what I was there to see, but as we were wrapping up with the short features trailer, Olga – possibly sensing that we hadn’t used even a fraction of our time, asked if we’d like to see some footage taken by the team at The Farm 51 inside the actual Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Being a fan of the history of the area, I immediately agreed. Most of us know about Chernobyl in some form or another. It has been featured in our media for years. Whether you were a fan of HBO’s Chernobyl series, or maybe you even enjoyed The Chernobyl Diaries, there is something about The Zone that appeals to our sense of mystery.
Over the last 9 years, the team at The Farm 51 has returned to The Zone over and over. They’ve taken thousands of photos to provide the most realistic version of Chernobyl compiled by anyone. They became friendly with the locals and even donated to assistance efforts for the people still living in and around The Zone. It has become a place of comfort for them. Olga explained that she had only been once, in the Autumn of 2021. The Farm 51 could not have known that this would be their last visit. As we all know, in February of 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, cutting off foreign access to Chernobyl, Pripyat, and any other surrounding areas. Reports have come out that Russian forces were pushing through The Zone, foolishly digging trenches in the red forest.
The area, as it was observed in the Autumn of 2021, is now of an unknown quantity. The team at The Farm 51 was in the unenviable spot of holding the most accurate historical record of a place that, following the outcome of this ongoing invasion, may well be completely changed by the time any foreign visitors return. The point I’m getting at is that The Farm 51 isn’t just making a game. They are preserving a place that will more than likely emerge from the ongoing hostilities completely changed. The photos and videos they took last year will become some of, if not the last media gathered from The Zone before the war. Video games often show us fantastical places that don’t exist. Very rarely do they drop you into an area purpose-built from scans, photos, and videos. Enjoy the world of Chernobylite as a game of course, but also appreciate the place it is built around.
You can check out Chernobylite here