While Mundfish is preparing to release the first story DLC for Atomic Heart, we talked to the studio about the design of the game and its individual elements. In an interview with App2Top, the developers talked about creating a combat system, gloves and bosses, and also discussed controversial issues related to the open world.

Mundfish о гейм-дизайне Atomic Heart и структуре открытого мира — интервью для App2top

Since the material deals with the gameplay and design of various game aspects, we have accompanied some questions with small explanatory cards. We hope they will help to understand the context even for those readers who have not played Atomic Heart and are not familiar with its mechanics and structure.

All questions were answered by the Atomic Heart game design team.

Evgeny Obedkov, App2Top editor: First let’s talk about the gameplay. Why did you decide to focus on hand-to-hand combat and make it one of the core mechanics?

Hand-to-hand combat

  • There are several types of edged weapons in Atomic Heart. Initially, the basic axe is available to the player, and the rest of the blades and clubs can be crafted using recipes.
  • Each weapon has its own characteristics (damage, attack speed, etc.) that can be improved.
  • At the same time, hand—to-hand combat is an important part of combat; with proper pumping, Atomic Heart can be passed almost without using firearms.
  • Different types of cold weapons also have their own unique charged attacks that consume energy: a powerful circular strike, launching a rotating blade, etc.

Mundfish game design team: From the very beginning, we tried to create a non-standard shooter. Therefore, it was interesting for us to experiment and otherwise place emphasis on the usual mechanics.

Thus, we decided to bring melee to the fore in order to make it in the spirit of Soulslike-a genre that we initially focused on, thinking through the basic mechanics of the game. And from here the idea was born to introduce restrooms in which you can save, which is also a rather unusual element for first-person games. So, hopefully, we managed to cope with this task.

What games were you inspired by when working on the game itself and its combat system?

As we have already mentioned, during development we focused on representatives of the Soulslike genre. We were also inspired by shooters like Doom Eternal. In fact, it can be listed for a long time, but I would like to highlight Dead Space separately. The approach to creating sounds and musical environment in it is close to genius.

We were really inspired by this game a lot, in particular when working on the Theater. Maya Plisetskaya. By the way, the theater was the very first location assembled and tested in the game. As the development progressed, it practically did not change.

Another important gameplay element of Atomic Heart is polymers. Did you have to abandon some types during the development process, or did you initially focus on the abilities from the final version?

Polymer-based abilities

  • There are five types of combat skills in Atomic Heart: shock, freeze, telekinesis, jet and shield.
  • Each of them has a separate pumping branch. At the same time, only two active skills can be equipped at the same time.
  • The mechanics of using abilities are fairly standard — each polymer is effective against individual enemies, or gives advantages in certain situations.
  • In comparison with other games, the polymer jet stands out the most — with its help, you can apply a layer of pure polymer to the enemy or the surface, which passes through different types of energy damage and enhances their effect.

During the entire development period, we had a lot of different ideas of abilities for the glove. But at some point we realized that we needed to focus on the most interesting and combined with each other in order to bring at least some of them to a pre-release state.

As a result, we realized that the high dynamics of battles in our game greatly limits the buttons for abilities. For this reason, we decided to focus on an even number of them. But we assure you that players will be able to see several new abilities already in the upcoming first DLC.

Have you planned to add more combinations of abilities to enhance the interaction of different polymers with each other and increase the variability of the combat system?

Yes, of course! There is no room for guile. But we believe that the game has already turned out to be quite deep in terms of various combinations of abilities, so we decided to focus on the current set.

After all, this is our first game, and we will definitely expand the possibilities and variability in the future, but this time it was necessary to maintain a balance between ambition, common sense and the release date.

Pumping weapons and abilities is directly related to the collection of resources, for which the glove is responsible. At the same time, HRAZ regularly comments on what is happening and acts as a companion accompanying the player. How did this element appear in the game?

Polymer glove HRAZ

  • The main character, Major Nechaev (aka P-3), wears a talking polymer glove on his left hand, which allows him to interact with the game world.
  • For example, the player can scan locations, collect loot and apply special abilities based on polymers.
  • At the same time, HRAZ plays an important role in the plot of Atomic Heart, reveals ENT and details of the story, and also periodically gives advice for solving certain game situations.

The glove appeared on the P-3 hand back in 2019. It wasn’t in the early concepts.

In general, 2019 was really powerful for breakthroughs. Then the first iterations of the Twins and the glove appeared, and a general plot was formulated, which closed completely from beginning to end.

We wanted to give the player some kind of live instrument that will always be with him and at the same time will not be just something magical, like in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or something genetic, like in BioShock. We wanted our game to still have a technological foundation — a scientific foundation.

First we made the glove itself, after which we drilled a hole in it and decided that it would be in the shape of a star. Then we created a 3D model, and someone in the team suggested making it so that the doors could open. It dawned on us that something might come out of there – that’s how the very wires were invented, which later became the manipulators of the HRAZ.

As a result, we decided that the glove will become a universal device in the world of Atomic Heart, which can be used not only by the Argentum squad, but also by all Sechenov’s combat robots. So it got on the Twins’ forehead and turned out to be in the “Thought” device. In the world of the game, everything is interconnected.

Many players liked the concept of the glove itself, which sucks in all the nearest loot. How did the idea to implement this mechanics come about?

She was born relatively spontaneously. Evaluating the ability of telekinesis, which allows us to attract, for example, a large box, we began to ask additional questions arising from each other.

And why doesn’t telekinesis attract a small spare part? Indeed, why not? And then why not be able to attract several at once?

And according to this chain, we came to the decision to give players the opportunity to calmly attract all the items they want, including loot. Not only does it save time, it also looks super cool!

Source: Reddit

There are a lot of resource types in Atomic Heart. Does this devalue their value? In other words, aren’t there situations when a player, instead of a meaningful search, just routinely “vacuums” locations?

Resource management

  • At the locations, the player can find various consumables that restore health or give certain buffs, ammunition for weapons and materials needed for crafting.
  • Different resources fall out of certain enemies (you can find out about this in the menu) or are hidden in cabinets and chests.
  • Materials (nine types in total) are needed both for leveling abilities, and for crafting items and improving weapons. All resources are automatically added to the inventory using a glove.
  • At the same time, the player can return the materials spent on the upgrade for free, in order, for example, to pump other abilities.
  • Resources can be accumulated indefinitely, and space for consumables and other items is limited. Therefore, it will not be possible to carry all the weapons and an infinite number of cartridges and first—aid kits with you at the same time – everything superfluous gets to the warehouse, which can be accessed through the remshkaf terminal.

Of course, situations with devaluation of the importance of resources due to their large number happen. But we didn’t want to make completely empty corridors without loot or, for example, a huge file cabinet with only one cartridge. So the number of collected items and their types began to grow gradually.

It cannot be said that the amount of resources eventually devalues the overall value, because in fact, many players faced a shortage of materials if they did not loot every nook.

In the process of research, Major Nechaev not only communicates with HRAZ, but also regularly sarcastically comments on the need to search for keys and other plot items, often as if voicing the player’s thoughts. What task did you want to solve using this mechanics?

When we played Atomic Heart ourselves, we were swearing under our breath all the time, and sometimes it turned out to be so much fun that at some point I wanted to transfer some jokes into the game. We decided to test the reaction of people with a fresh perception who have not tried the game yet, and received an unexpected feedback — it turned out to be really fun!

Therefore, we subsequently decided to scale this mechanic for the entire game. In fact, it’s not even mechanics at all, but just a narrative approach.

What pitfalls did you encounter when implementing this element?

Speaking specifically about this narrative aspect, the problem is that any, even the best joke is funny only once. When you hear it for the hundredth time, checking the operation of certain systems, it already seems inappropriate and stupid.

This is the problem that comedy directors face. At some point, they already become not just unfunny from their work, but even a little sad, but this is what professionalism is all about — self-confidence and the final result.

Are you satisfied with the final implementation?

In general, yes. It’s great to watch the reaction of players or streamers to such phrases. While watching various streams, we noticed that, for example, Alina Rin laughed very hard and said that the developers were taking her bread, because P-3 managed to make a joke a second before her, literally reading her thoughts.

Speaking of Atomic Heart gameplay, it’s impossible not to discuss bosses. Although everyone can be defeated head-on, they still require different tactics (especially at high difficulty levels). Can you tell us about Mundfish’s approach to boss design?


  • In total, Atomic Heart has five major bosses, not counting three more reinforced opponents, who later become ordinary enemies.
  • Boss robot battles usually take place in arenas, and some of them have several phases.
  • Each major enemy has its own vulnerabilities, attack patterns and features, on the basis of which it is necessary to build battle tactics and combine various abilities, weapons and consumables.

Developing the design of boss battles, we primarily started from the models created by Artem Galeev [art director of the Mundfish studio and ideological inspirer of the Atomic Heart visual style – approx. App2Top], and the first prototype animations for them.

Initially, we set ourselves the task of maximally maintaining the same good old, “round” Soviet design in the images and characters of robots. The team selected animations for each model and gave them a certain style to breathe life into them. After that, we already moved on to developing the design of battles, taking into account all the nuances.

For example, the design of the MA-9 “Belyash” was inspired by an orangutan, and therefore during the battle it behaves appropriately on the battlefield.

How many iterations did each boss fight usually go through before getting into the final version?

This is a rather complicated and interesting question. On average, it took about two months to develop one boss battle, taking into account the time spent on the optimization process.

However, thanks to the accumulated experience, we approached each next boss with greater understanding. For example, the fight with the Hedgehog-7 “Hedgehog” was the last in the queue that we started, so it turned out to be the most effective in terms of development processes.

Perhaps I will express the “pain” of many players — was the fight planned with a Drill? And if so, why didn’t she get into the final version of the game?

We think that the battle with the Drill seems to be more suited to Limbo [the world of the subconscious, into which the main character periodically enters the plot — approx. App2Top], and not to the real world of the game. After all, it’s a mining robot, you know! And fighting in Limbo is still prohibited for us, so we did not see a fight with a Drill.

Let’s talk about exploring the world. Why did you decide to place such a strong emphasis on enemy respawn, especially considering that in open locations you can almost always just run away from them?

Open world and its structure

  • Atomic Heart can be clearly divided into plot sections, which usually take place in closed locations, and the territory of “Enterprise 3826” open for research.
  • Most of the time, the player moves around the map on foot. The “Muscovites” located on the map act as a vehicle, but due to their low strength, it will not be possible to choose them as an ultimatum transport to overcome distances.
  • The design and structure of the open world have just become the subject of the greatest controversy among the players.
  • The main non—plot points of interest here are polygons, penetrating into which and solving puzzles, the player can find valuable resources and unique upgrades.
  • At the same time, there are many cameras on the territory of the Enterprise that notice the player and call for help, and robot enemies that are regularly revived with the help of Bee drones arriving at the battle site.
  • Therefore, it will not be possible to calmly explore the open world or permanently clear the location from enemies — you will either have to simply run past opponents from one plot point to another, or engage in battles, search for terminals and hack cameras to open the necessary paths and access to polygons.

In fact, it is not always possible to escape from enemies. Besides, it is justified from the point of view of Lore. When you read the notes, that’s one thing, but when the game is literally consistent everywhere, then even with this mechanics of respawning opponents, a completely different level of immersion in the world turns out.

In the vast majority of games, enemies appear somewhere behind the back, behind the door, or even behind the camera, i.e. where the player does not see them, and in our game they just naturally arrive in a box from a car factory. From the one that the player flies past in the car at the beginning.

Do you have a feeling that because of the chosen concept, some players perceive open locations as running between story sections, and not as a full-fledged world to explore?

We don’t know if it’s bad or good, but we can speculate how it would look without this mechanics. It would turn out that there is a global failure of the “Collective” network, mass human casualties occur, and the Major at the same time calmly walks through fields and meadows, sniffs flowers and performs side quests.

Probably, if we had done so, there would still have been players who did not like this contradiction. Although, on the other hand, this is basically the meaning of the open world.

So, yes, such a feeling arises, but it is subjective and justified from the point of view of Lore. Is it bad or good — that’s the question worth asking here. But in any case, it seems that we would not have pulled out the open world of the Witcher level or the Horizon series in the first Atomic Heart.

Again, we deliberately sought to introduce the mechanics of Soulslike, a genre whose players tend to simply run past ordinary opponents from boss to boss. For those players who decide to linger, open locations are an excellent way to farm polymer for pumping abilities and resources to create consumables, cassettes and weapons pumping. And those who do not need it, even though they try to walk by, still see the world around them alive, because opponents react very quickly to the actions of the player and the destruction of someone nearby.

Did you realize during development that such an approach, among other things, could negatively affect the motivation of players to explore the world of Atomic Heart?

We believe that the world and ENT games have already turned out to be quite deep and consistent. So we did not set ourselves the task of motivating players to get into literally every corner of the open world, so not all such places can find anything of value. We wanted the players to determine their own needs.

Let’s see what happens in the second part — it’s very interesting for us. We have scrupulously read absolutely the entire feedback, so we are going to improve what the players came in and fix what, on the contrary, they did not like.