In a restaurant somewhere in sunny Los Angeles County, 13 years ago, two old friends were having lunch. Wine and conversation were flowing. They remembered how they'd met at LucasArts in the 90s. They weren't there to talk business but they did because video games were their bread and butter. One of the men, Jack Sorensen, was reeling-off job opportunities he knew of - he being executive vice president of worldwide studios at games publisher THQ. "THQ Australia?" he enquired. But the other man, Dean Sharpe, didn't seem interested. He had closed his own studio Big Ape Productions a couple of years earlier, dropped off the radar and taken a break, and now he was ready for something new. But Sharpe wanted a challenge.

Sorensen dangled the bait. "It was somewhere during the second bottle of wine he mentioned he had this crazy thing in Ukraine," Dean Sharpe tells me over Skype now (he never did get fully back on the radar and he's a hard man to find). "Wow Ukraine," he thought to himself, "that sounds interesting."

Sorensen outlined his problem: THQ had a team making a fascinating game in Ukraine called Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. The game was dark and massive, set around the twisted disaster zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. It was part shooter, part role-playing game, part eerie open-world sandbox adventure. But Stalker was overdue, long overdue, and Sorensen needed someone on the ground out there to finish it - someone in Ukraine to be THQ personified, day in day out, doing whatever it took to get the game done.

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