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Hollow Home by Ukrainian studio Twigames tells the story of how the war affects everyday life

As the Ukraine war enters its third year, the impact on the lives of everyday people is profound. The persistent threat of violent outbreaks and bombings draws a heavy toll on the mental well-being of those striving to navigate their daily lives in such dire circumstances. With the game Hollow Home, Ukrainian indie studio Twigames shows what it means to live in an occupied city. 

Valerii Minenko, Founder of Twigames studio, explains how his team came up with the idea of the game. “When the full-scale invasion began in February 2022 we decided to temporarily leave Kyiv. About half of the team, including myself, lived together with our families in a single house in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains for the next two months. In April, when all of the news was about the occupation of Mariupol, it was just impossible to think of anything else. We had plenty of time and opportunities to talk to each other, so we came up with an idea to make a game that tells a story of the occupation of a Ukrainian city.”

Twigames was founded in 2015 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The team consists of 20 people that provide full-cycle development for mobile, PC, consoles, VR/AR platforms, and porting services. The studio is mostly self-funded through contract work and they reinvest their profits back into the company. That way they’re able to develop their own projects, such as the upcoming Hollow Home. Unfortunately there’s not enough money to move the project into full production according to Valerii Minenko. “We’re actively looking for the right partner for this project now, and the opportunity to present it at various events.” 

Cruel and unfair

For the story of Hollow Home the team collected 600 pages of information and evidence, during the pre-production, about what happened at the start of the invasion. “Our goal was to create a fictional story that could have happened during the events that occured in Ukrainian cities”, says Minenko. “And I think that our story is great. It has interesting characters, it has drama, it has a message, and it also resonates with our personal experience. I’m really proud of it, but I’ve also learned that the world is a cruel and unfair place. There is a lot of evil in it, and it’s not always punished. Unfortunately. But that can’t be an excuse not to try to make it a bit better.”

With a dedicated game designer and a narrative designer on the project, most of the creative decisions and ideas come from them, but Minenko insists everyone pitches in. “We are a small team. People sit in the same office next to each other. Our communications are horizontal, anyone can talk to anyone. If we have great ideas their way to the backlog in task tracking is quite short. In the end, we all want to change the world with our project. At least a little bit. This War of Mine did it, and perhaps we’ll be able to do so as well.”

Air alarms

The game’s visuals were strongly inspired by Disco Elysium. “It was a compromise between our resources and possibilities, the mission of the project, and our personal preferences”, explains Minenko. “Our team is not very familiar with realistic 3D art and a casual style didn’t fit the idea of the project. So, we decided to create the project in low-poly 3D with many hand-painted textures. Our main inspirations for the visual style were Disco Elysium and the Arcane series.”

Part of the Twigames team with the award for the best game of the Games Gathering Conference earlier this year.

When asked about the impact of the war on him and his loved ones, Minenko shares the experiences of his 8 year old son, Roman. “My family decided not to go abroad but rather to stay with me in Kyiv. I discussed with him if I could share this with you, and he gave me his permission. He asked me to tell you how difficult it is for kids to live during wartime. That he is afraid of air alarms. When they happen at night, he has to go to sleep in the corridor because it is away from the windows. That after such a night it is very difficult to wake up and go to school in the morning. He got headaches because of the stress, and he had to deal with them. That weekends do not bring relief, only holidays if he travels somewhere with his mom. But he also specifically asked me to tell you that despite all of this, he grows into a strong and successful person. I think all the other changes in my everyday and work life seem insignificant.” 

Support the team

So, what can people do to support the work of Valerii Minenko and the Twigames team? “Wishlist Hollow Home on Steam, follow us on social media, and join our discord”, he says. “Vote for the game in the contests we participate in. Send us messages about what you like about the project, or what you think needs improving. That would be the best way to support the team’s motivation.”

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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