Brothers Ondrej and Marek Spanel – who spent their childhood in communist Czechoslovakia playing Atari games “bought on the black market” – are the surprising originators behind a military-training game employed by the governments of at least five major nations. Among the brothers’ sources of inspiration: heavy metal music.
According to the New York Times, the Spanels endured a multitude of setbacks and disadvantages on the road to establishing their own development studio. The Bohemia Interactive Group – best known among PC gamers for Operation Flashpoint and ArmA – has expanded over the years from a team of eight developers into a robust company comprised of 140 employees.
When Operation Flashpoint was released in 2001, it contained a theme song by Australian heavy metal band Seventh. The lead singer, David Lagettie, “was obsessed with military simulators” and suggested that the brothers repurpose the Operation Flashpoint platform into a flexible “real-world application”. When Lagettie became co-founder of a Bohemia spin-off studio based in Australia, the musician demonstrated that his interest in software development was more than merely casual.
The collaboration between the Spanels and Legattie would result in a military-training suite called VBS – an acronym for “Virtual Battlespace”. VBS and its successor, VBS2, would go on to become the primary source of income for the Bohemia Interactive Group and its annex, and has been used by the armies of the United States, Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand and Canada.
The case of the Spanels is a lesson to independent developers struggling for relevance – it’s helpful to remember that there are markets outside the commercial games sector. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a tech-savvy rocker playing on your team either.