It turns out that The Medium’s dual-world mechanic isn’t just a neat way to portray a horrific spirit world, it’s a key component of another goal that Krakow-based Bloober Team had when making the first Xbox Series X/S exclusive: telling a specific story about life in Poland as it transitioned out of the Cold War from the late ‘80s to the late ‘90s.
In case that fact is news to you, don’t worry, it’s not something the developers heavily touted in the game’s marketing. But once you boot up The Medium, you’re greeted with some artifacts of late-‘90s Poland, including a newspaper article about former US President Bill Clinton making a speech about the state of Eastern Europe.
The Medium only doubles down on its Polish story when it sends the player off to the game’s principle location: Niwa resort, a Soviet-era “worker’s resort” where, to put it bluntly, some real bad shit happened.
During a chat about the making of The Medium The Poland-based Bloober Team discussed with Gamasutra how they pursued telling a local story for a global audience—and how the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with part of their plans to allow an authentic Polish experience.
“We chose Poland as a setting to support the notion of duality, of the dual world’s different points of view,” said lead designer Wojciech Piejko. “The game is set in the ‘90s, in post-communist Poland, and the mystery that the protagonist Marianne is trying to solve connects events from the two eras.”
Piejko said also that Bloober Team took inspiration from Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski for The Medium’s haunting spirit worlds. The game’s core setting, the Soviet-era Niwa resort, is also the kind of facility that many American players probably aren’t familiar with.
For all these Polish mainstays, there’s one notable contradiction in how the country is presented to the player: Most of the voice acting is done in American English with a mid-Atlantic accent.
There were apparently two driving forces behind this choice. According to producer Jacek Ziaba, there was a desire to make sure The Medium was still “approachable” to global audiences, and on some level this meant going with American English for the broadest possible appeal.
But another major complicating factor in producing the game’s voice acting and motion capture sessions was the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had to record the mocap sessions and then record the voiceover actors like it was the old days,” explained Piejko. “That’s instead of doing everything in seamless mocap sessions.”
There apparently was at one point a plan in production for The Medium to allow players to switch to Polish dialogue while allowing English subtitles to play, a move would have been similar to one of Sucker Punch’s approaches with its Japan-set game Ghost of Tsushima.
But Ziaba said the pandemic nixed that plan as well. The two developers still expressed satisfaction with how The Medium’s Polish setting played out, and that they got the chance to tell a story about their part of the world to a global audience.
One of the reasons they felt confident in taking this approach was that after releasing Observer in 2017, and noticing that players took an interest in the game’s Krakow setting. Piejko said that Bloober Team management was also paying attention to the growing popularity of TV shows including HBO’s Chernobyl (set in Soviet Russia), and Netflix’s Dark (set in a small German town).
“They told us ‘okay, guys, don’t be afraid,’” Piejko said. “We’ve got our own culture, and we can [tell] a story set there and still be appealing to other players.”