Crime Boss: Rockay City and InGame Studios Jarek Kolář Talks the Games Redemption, Updates, Future and How Some Initial Criticism was Unfair (EXCLUSIVE)

Jarek Kolář doesn't mince his words when discussing some hard-hitting subjects.

Crime Boss Rockay City
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It’s no secret that Crime Boss: Rockay City got off to a ‘rockay’ start last year when it launched for consoles and GOG. However, in the time since, InGame Studios has put a lot of time and effort into making the game closer to its original vision, with constant updates, content, and more seemingly every week.

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We were lucky enough to talk with Jarek Kolář, the Managing Director of InGame Studios, about the original launch, the changes they’ve made, the recent Steam launch, and how they’re planning to win everyone back in the future, and much more besides.

[This was a written interview, so answers have been edited for clarity and brevity, as well as explaining a lack of follow-up questions.]

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For the readers of FandomWire who may not be aware of yourself, would you mind telling us who you are, your role with Crime Boss: Rockay City, and a little about yourself?

Hello, my name is Jarek Kolář, and since the end of 2020, I have been a Managing Director of IGS. But I have a lot of great and skilled people to help me manage the studio and the project, so I can dedicate a lot of time to my true love, game design.

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Chuck Norris never accepts defeat. Image Credit: INGAME Studios

And a good follow-up would be to ask exactly how you got started in the gaming industry, and what led you to where you are now?

It was June 1994 when my first game was officially released, it was point and click adventure called Secret of Donkey Island. What inspired that game is probably quite obvious. It was not very original, and not very good, but it catapulted my younger self onto the path of game development, which I have walked ever since. I had 8 in my own studio, where we have developed several games such as Flying Heroes or Vietcong. Then in 2015, we merged with Illusion Softworks and I participated in their games, ending up in the heart of 2K in California.

Well, we have learned a lot. But luckily, we may apply this learning to the live service of Crime Boss instead of waiting for a sequel. There is a lot that we can change, add and evolve.

When I left the USA in 2015 I started working for local simulation giant Bohemia Interactive and within 2 years I became the director of development there. Overseeing games like DayZ, Ylands or Vigor is nice, but I wanted to get back to game design with a much smaller team. And I have got a chance to join the team of Crime Boss. I managed to hire a lot of my ex-colleagues from my Pterodon, Illusion, and Bohemia era to create this dream team INGAME STUDIOS.

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Would you be so kind as to explain Crime Boss: Rockay City to our readers?

The singleplayer gives players the role of an ambitious crime boss, who leads his bang to gain control of the criminal underground of the fictional Rockay City. It’s done through war for the territories, simple straightforward gangster shootouts. But these gang wars cost money, so the player needs to send heisters, to do some robberies and heisting, to earn enough cash. That’s the basic loop.

What makes the game stand out, is the roguelite element with permadeath in each run. You fail the mission, you don’t manage to escape and your heisters are dead. You don’t have them and you have to deal with it. If you send the crime boss and he dies the campaign run is over. But every campaign run is randomized, with different territories, different heists, different events, and different characters.

Speaking of characters, we wanted to give the game the feel of some 90s crime movie. But went more for the craziness and humor of Pulp Fiction than the seriousness of Heat. We have created deep lore of Rockay City, and although the become-the-crime-king story of the game is very simple, there is plenty of events and situations that make the game fun to play.

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And what inspired the game?

I guess it’s no secret that 505 Games (who was the original publisher of Payday 2) wanted to have another crime-themed title in their portfolio. So, the project started as a work for hire, to create some kind of spiritual successor of Payday 2. Obviously, without the Payday IP, we needed to go a different way. The core idea was to add a management layer over the heisting, so you can feel like a crime boss.

We have looked at games such as X-Com, Total War, and Defender of the Crown. But we have also wanted to refresh the gameplay itself. That is exactly when we used our experience working on Vietcong, Hidden and Dangerous, and Mafia games. We wanted to have the game with more atmosphere, more immersion and more narrative. The shooting experience high bar was Call of Duty games, while with stealth we have looked at the style of Hitman.

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Michael Madsen was a king of 90s shooters. Image Credit: INGAME Studios

You’ve been very vocal and accountable for the game’s shortcomings over the last year since its initial release. How did the team deal with the poor reviews and reception at the time?

The bad reception was quite devastating for everyone on the team. We felt it was a bit unfair, but on the other hand, we had to agree with all the critical comments. The game was not perfect, and our attempt to make it unique and original was not accepted well by many. In projects that are being hated by the developers, such a bad reception is the final blow to the title.

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The update 9.0 is the new beginning for Crime Boss: Rockay City and for the IGS studio. With new players coming with the Steam release, it will be a pleasure to continue building this growing franchise.

But since all the team members understood the potential and the vision, and enjoyed the game at the release, it was not a problem to dive into further work to make the game better. Also, we had the advantage of great support from our owner Digital Bros, we couldn’t continue without them.

The updates over the last 12 months have been nothing short of revolutionary – were these always planned, or were they reactive to the community’s comments and feedback?

That’s a problem with original and unique projects. They need time to tune and tweak. We have desperately needed an outsider look, at the feedback from players. We were not sure or wrong in some areas. The vision for the game was always there, but some aspects were not finished at the time of release, and some aspects needed to be adjusted or replaced. We couldn’t be where we are now, without the feedback of our community.

The latest update, Update 8.0, is huge. Changes the game arguably so much it’s unrecognizable from what I reviewed 12 months ago. Would you mind explaining the content of Update 8.0, and the broader strokes of what it has changed/improved?

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Our internal roadmap was guiding us to the console release and the first expansion (Gold Cup). But the project was still not good enough. So, in October we have laid a new plan for how to restructure the game. The first step was better onboarding. We have thrown away the linear narrative start of the game in favor of a faster explanation of the roguelike nature of the game. The next step was an overhaul of the multiplayer.

The rogue-lite element did not work for the multiplayer game, so we went for a bit more traditional approach where players build their MP crew and boss over time, without fear of losing anything. And the final step was the introduction of a progression system that would motivate players to just play. Under the hood, we have been improving the stealth gameplay, AI, and economy of the game.

And for that matter, Update 9.0 dropped with the Steam release on June 18th. Is it as big/game-changing as 8.0? What has changed with the latest update?

Update 9 is not as revolutionary as Update 8, but we have spent a lot more time fixing bugs, working on optimizations, and tweaking details. All are sorely needed, as all players can confirm. But update 9 comes with a massive content drop via the second expansion…

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Cagnali’s Order Expansion drops on the same day as the above. What does that include that fans should be excited about?

The expansion itself comes with a new story plotline where desperate Sheriff Norris, agrees to get robots to reinforce the police units. But the megacorporation providing the robots have their own plans. Players can look forward to breaking those plans. This involves two big missions and one small one. They are playable in standalone story campaigns, inside the Roguelite campaign.

The theme and content of the expansion may surprise some OG players who were used to the 80s/90s Miami-esque, arcade-like shooter, seeing as they’ll soon be coming up against robots. What was the reason behind this stark shift in theme?

Robots helping police is a very 80s/90s theme, so it has landed exactly as planned, in the non-serious tone of the game. Rockay City is plagued with crime more than it can bear, so no wonder the Sheriff agreed to get robots.

A lot of players cried about the lack of enemy archetypes, feeling that gangsters, cops, SWAT, shields, heavies, and snipers were not enough. So, now we have added police robots, PMC units, and robots in the service of one of the city gangs. And that happens also in the base game, even if you don’t have the expansion.

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Shoot, or stealth. You decide. Image Credit: INGAME Studios

One of my criticisms of the first launch was the odd choice to have different rewards and progression throughout the modes, rather than a unified approach like there is now. What prompted that change?

Unlocking multiplayer big heists and characters through single-player, was a very bad idea. The roguelike element in the multiplayer did not work either. We were observing the game and players and come to the conclusion, that the game needs to change. So, admitting, that we have not been right, we have changed it. Thanks goes to our players (and journalists), for helping us realize that.

Another was the fact that I felt no matter what I did, or how well I’d been stealth-wise, every mission ended in a guns-blazing shoot-out. Have you implemented anything to stop that being the case, or is it intentional to the themes and inspirations of the games?

It was never our intention to have every encounter end in a gunfight. The only thing that needed fixing was the stealth – tweak it a bit and also teach players how it works. And now we have players enjoying stealth. Maybe it’s a bit too easy, for some players, but that’s why we have introduced difficulty settings.

You’ve obviously seen the life that roguelikes like Hades has, and the longevity and community participation that Helldivers 2 has. How do you plan on capitalizing on your roguelike and live Service elements to tap into the same vein of fun and success?

The original concept was to create a relatively short single-player game that you can and want to play again. With the small, bite-size missions, randomization, different stories, and a lot of drama and tension.

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That’s a problem with original and unique projects. They need time to tune and tweak. We have desperately needed an outsider look, at the feedback from players. We were not sure or wrong in some areas.

Without knowing it, we ended up with a roguelite game. Our short, randomized single-player campaign is a perfect base for adding new events, stories, missions, and characters. Which is the essence of live service games. There is so much more to tell and experience in the future of Rockay City. The cooking pot of the 80s/90s tropes and cliches is almost endless.

Given that hindsight is always 20/20, do you wish you’d delayed the game and implemented all these changes before the original launch, and potentially saved a lot of heartache?

Yes, we could have done some things differently, or worked longer on some things, to get them in better shape before release. But, we were not sure about many things. We could have not made the decisions that we have made without the help of our community. Thus I think, the release (and failure) in 2023 was inevitable. The events of 2023 made us stronger and we have a better game now.

Is Update 9.0 for the studio, or are you planning more updates, more content, and more changes?

Quite the opposite. The update 9.0 is the new beginning for Crime Boss: Rockay City and for the IGS studio. With new players coming with the Steam release, it will be a pleasure to continue building this growing franchise.

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“The long-term goal is to turn the scripted flow of objectives into a more freeform, immersive sim experience.” – When we spoke in March last year, you said this in response to asking after player-controlled/designed missions. How far along that particular road would you say you are, or has the plan changed?

The freeform, immersive simheisting experience is still our long-term goal. But it’s not an easy task. Only a few studios in the world are capable of doing this. We have achieved some partial success in this area with the Gold Cup heist and also with a small hit Compound (released in Update 8).

The bad reception was quite devastating for everyone on the team. We felt it was a bit unfair, but on the other hand, we had to agree with all the critical comments. The game was not perfect, and our attempt to make it unique and original was not accepted well by many.

Cagnali’s Order is still quite linear, but it has other qualities. The most important thing is that the development team is gaining experience and skills to bring immersive sim-level design into the game. It may take us some time to get amongst the world’s best, but the ambition is there, and Crime Boss is a great training ground for that.

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Michael Rooker was all in. Image Credit: INGAME Studios

The decision to sell the game on Steam at the price you have came as a surprise to many. Even more so touting the DLC as free for a limited time with it. What prompted this decision?

Honestly speaking, we need to repair our reputation for the failed launch in 2023. It takes a lot of effort to get redemption. But with our core community, success with Update 8 and free weekends we are ready to persuade the world, that Crime Boss is worth playing. The lower price point and gift of all DLCs should underline that point. I personally believe that Crime Boss is the most fun game of the year.

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Perhaps the biggest question of all of these. Why should gamers be excited about Crime Boss: Rockay City now, compared to 12 months ago?

We have fixed all the shortcomings and issues that polluted the experience the game at launch and now you have a great, original, and unique game to play. It’s now in the shape and quality, where it should have been at launch. And we were not short of ambitions.

I still see a lot of players asking for crossplay. Is that something the future holds for the game? If not, how come? If so, when can we expect it?

Crossplay is a feature that consists of technical solutions and political decisions of the platform holders. We are in the middle of tackling the technical part. How long will it take to have crossplay in the game I don’t know. Some things in this process are beyond us. But we are working on this.

After Cagnali’s Order, what is the next step expansion-wise? Any saucy details you can tell us?

We would like to concentrate on events/missions evolving other gang bosses. Hielo and Khan are probably most likely adversaries. We hear, that the game lacks some more traditional heists – banks, casinos. Well, these might be the next adventures that await us.

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What does the future hold for you and Ingame Studios?

Well, this question is more for players. We have done all we can do, to make Crime Boss great. If the players approve that, we have a great future in Rockay City. If players don’t approve, we might need to find some other way.

What makes the game stand out, is the roguelite element with permadeath in each run.

If you were to make Crime Boss: Rockay City 2, how would you look to make it different and evolve it?

Well, we have learned a lot. But luckily, we may apply this learning to the live service of Crime Boss instead of waiting for a sequel. There is a lot that we can change, add and evolve.

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There are multiple weapons to choose from during your stint in Rockay City. Image Credit: INGAME Studios

And what lessons has Crime Boss: Rockay City taught you for the future, be it a sequel, or an entirely different project?

Right now, there is only Crime Boss: Rockay City on the horizon. We have postponed all other plans and ideas. We are still busy in Rockay City.

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For fans of the game that sit back and think “This has inspired me to get into game dev”, what advice (or warnings) would you want to give them?

It’s hard to get advice from someone who has 30 years only game dev. I don’t know what else exists in the world. But creative new worlds, filled with exploration, adventures, and challenges are such a joy, that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Game dev has evolved a lot, there are a lot of skilled people and great tools. It’s almost too easy to do games. My advice is to go and make your game. Never give up. When you are beaten on the floor, just stand up and continue, chasing your dream.

Lastly, is there anything about the game you want to tell us that you simply never get to talk about, whether it’s something no one asks or you couldn’t disclose previously?

I think those all were great questions, so I have managed to put everything that I wanted to say, into my answers. Thanks.

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Written by Luke Addison

Articles Published: 441

Luke Addison is the Lead Video Game Critic and Gaming Editor. As likely to be caught listening to noughties rock as he is watching the latest blockbuster cinema release, Luke is the quintessential millennial wistfully wishing after a forgotten era of entertainment. Also a diehard Chelsea fan, for his sins.

Twitter: @callmeafilmnerd