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North Korea’s First Computer Game: Pyongyang Racer (techinasia.com)
86 points by danielhitome on Dec 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

Heroic officers of the army, members of the Worker-peasant red guards, compatriots, comrades and friends. Today we have achieved great victory of technical excellence in honor of our Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have, who has returned to Heaven from where he first descended.

We have proved to the world our superior technical and scientific achievements, for which we are now envied. The technology that powers Pyongyang Racer is the same divine and glorious codebase that sent Unha-3 into the heavens that was gifted upon us by the Highest incarnation of the revolutionary comradely love.

The sun flag of the great Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il will forever flutter in the van of our revolutionary ranks that display only victory and honor and will always encourage and drive us toward a new victory.

Move forward toward the final victory, Pyongyang Racer.

I know this is not supposed to be the kind of comment HN encourages, but... whatever, you had me at "technical excellence" and it only got better from there :)

not supposed to be the kind of comment HN encourages

Yet, its what we may perceive as the best representation of what the populace is having to deal with / parrot. Like most ironies, sadness and hilarity ensue.

Dear Leader is dead, long live the Supreme Leader!

Next in line: "Incredible Leader of Total Awesomeness. Bee's Knees"

This article is incorrect - this is not North Korea's first video game, they have been producing video games for quite a while, there are a number of companies which even outsource production there. From an article in 2010 (http://www.pcworld.com/article/198555/the_worlds_most_unusua...) :

The outsourcer with the highest profile is probably Nosotek. The company, established in 2007, is also one of the few Western IT ventures in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

Nosotek's main work revolves around development of Flash games and games for mobile phones. It's had some success and claims that one iPhone title made the Apple Store Germany's top 10 for at least a week, though it wouldn't say which one.

Several Nosotek-developed games are distributed by Germany's Exozet Games, including one block-based game called "Bobby's Blocks."

Nope. North Koreans made "The Big Lebowski Bowling" back in 2007: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-06/kim-jong-il-bowls-f...

Last summer I had the pleasure of visiting North Korea (with Koryo Tours). I think it's worth noting that the company is not North Korean -- it's based in Beijing and run by British expats.

So it's all the more puzzling it's this bad then?

No no no, Koryo Tours is a tour company run by Brits. They're just a tour company. They don't do programming. The programmers are with NovoTek in North Korea. Koryo Tours paid NovoTek to make the game.

The only thing stopping this from being really funny is how awful the life of the average North Korean is.

Actually the average life of North Korea is not that different from those in rural China, Phillipines, Thailand and arguably some parts of the US.

Umm... that's quite simply false. Between 1994 and 1998, somewhere between 240K and 3.5M people died from famine in North Korea (of a total population of ~20M).[1] And while it's possible that there are similarly arduous conditions in China, the Philippines, Thailand, and (even) the US, the average citizen is certainly better off in all of those places.

To put those famine figures in perspective, that's roughly the equivalent of half of California perishing from starvation during the mid-1990s (at a national scale -- if you prefer to think at a more regional scale it's like losing SF from the Bay Area).

[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korean_famine for a quick overview

We desperately need a Poe's Law or a Godwin's law to describe this common scenario. In any sufficiently-long comment thread, the probability of someone falsely equating the USA and $DICTATORSHIP, or invoking moral relativism to achieve the same end, approaches 1.

To be fair,

In any sufficiently-long comment thread, the probability of someone making $STATEMENT, approaches 1.

Ah, yes, Borges' Law.

Do they really send people to reeducation camps for disrespecting the president in the US?

Sorry I should have clarified. I meant in terms of the basics: food, shelter, water etc.

My point was that North Korea is borderline third world on par with other countries in the region.

Your comparison is still off. North Koreans will risk their lives to escape to rural China. In China and Philippines there might be poor sanitation and malnutrition but you won't find a lot of people actually starving to death.

North korea is not borderline third world, they are much, much worse - indeed they can't even feed their own army anymore.

In all parts of the US they have fridges (ones that freeze food) and electricity to run these.

In NK, they never had many fridges (except for the most lucky) and the electricity is reliably unreliable.

And it kind of goes downhill from this point.

What does it say about a tech news website when the writer cannot be bothered to google "open source screen capture" before posting a story.

Nothing, since the writer is a freelancer and doesn't represent said website.

So they went ahead and posted his story?

Yes, if the story is hot, no news site would care about capture quality anyway.

And it's not like it's some high class news outlet anyway. Complaining about some random web news site?

Are you the guy that complains about "try hards" in games?

I wonder if the people who developed the game inside NK had the opportunity to play games made from the outside?

I wonder if they even had access to unblocked internet.

My wild guess is: they might not have had any internet connection at all. But it really depends whether the Koryo Tours guys thought the extra cost would be worth it. I don't have any updated pricelist from Nosotek (the North Korean/Dutch joint venture outsourcing firm which wrote Pyongyang Racer), but back in 2010 they charged an extra €40 to €60 per day surcharge to clients if they wanted their team of two outsourced Pyongyang programmers to have direct internet access; otherwise the team would work "in a cleanroom environment and can not connect to the internet" and all email contact would be with the Nosotek managers only. http://www.nkeconwatch.com/nk-uploads/nosotek-pricelist.pdf

To put this in perspective, that charge is almost the same as the charge for one of the programmers themselves. My guess is, Nosotek most likely have to pay for a third guy from the government to watch the browsing habits of the first two, and that third guy has to belong to both the set of political reliables and the set of internet-savvy people --- two sets which are already small in North Korea and whose intersection is even smaller. Not to mention the cost of the extra computer and internet connection itself

More links about Nosotek:




Very interesting contract. Did you use them for a project?

4. Communication

Communication between the engineers and the customer will only take place by email or Nosotek's bug tracking server. Phone calls are not possible. Chatting is only possible with members of Online Programming teams.

Emails exchange will only take place once pay day, answers to questions will be giving on the following day, sometimes two days later. The customer accepts that it might happen that email communication is interrupted for one or two days for technical or administrative reasons.

In case the customer sends political propaganda or agitation, Nosotek has the right to cancel the project without returning the prepaid fees.

They have an internal intranet with bulletin boards and even dating sites that a few select have access to. I think it's mostly there to make rich kids feel like they're not missing out. A very, very small number of people even have access to the "real" Internet.

Kim Jong Il once (around a decade ago) famously asked Madeleine Albright for her email address.

Oops -- looks like the bourgeous running dogs of HN have just DOS'd the North Korean video game industry. Here's hoping Kim Jong Un doesn't consider this a declaration of war and transform the Web into a sea of fire...

From the name, I was really hoping this would be a re-branded Tux Racer.

Wonder whether the game has somesecret subliminal message in the executable? Something like the Trolls game for PC http://www.mobygames.com/game/trolls/trivia

The instructions read "don't hit other cars or vans!" but I think I counted around only 6 of them in the entire city.

Is it because it's on DEMO MODE?

No, it just adds a lot of realism. I'm not being snarky, NK roads are mostly devoid of cars most of the time from what I've seen (on the Internet, didn't have the privilegue to visit yet).

I've read on a blog belonging to a Russian foreign exchange student that's currently living in the country, that they're actually having traffic problems in Pyongyang this year.

> Or just watch this video of me playing a little bit of the game (apologies for the hideous “demo mode” watermark; my usual screencapture software is broken but this should do until I can fix it)

For those of you who want to skip the site and check out the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3...

How to get backdoor into North Korea...

Convince the game designers to be on your team.


if it was from NK then why does the game use english?

It was commissioned by Koryo, the NK tourist agency as a promotional tool. It's not for Koreans to play, but for foreigners who might want to visit North Korea.

Because it's a promotional tool made by the travel agency Koryo. As a foreigner you can travel through North Korea and see a truly strange country.

It's probably going to do the job quite well just because it will pique the curiosity of a few and they might end up going.

As an American, you can only visit during the Mass games unless they've changed that. I've been thinking about a weekend trip one of these days (but probably October given that's the only time I can go).

They've changed it. You can go at certain periods during the year often coinciding with key events.

And you can only go as part of a set tour which is usually over a week. So no weekend tours and certainly not by yourself.

IIRC, the last person to individually book a tour to North Korea decided to shirk his appointment with the state ministry in charge of chaperones and took advantage of the fact that a Trans-Siberian railway crossing was listed as a valid port of entry on the standard tourist visa... it's not often you get to play with (if only mentally now) the technicalities of international transit. It makes you grin like hell.

seems like the site (of the game) is down from my end

North Korea's goverment will report the website outage as a CIA plot carried by an elite group of hackers called "Hacker_News".

Complete with realistic Pyongyang traffic!

I hope they'll release an iOS version soon.

i think the site is down. Did anyone have a chance to mirror it?

Now the NK citizens will be arrested if they don't play this game day and night...

On ~what~?

On my last tour I was assured by our (frankly gorgeous) guide that EVERY family has a PC. Or at least that's the plan.

We drew our own conclusions :)

For some reason I was expecting it to be written in Python.

You kidding or what, c'mon ? Python is too good for them. They still be in 70's, python was made in 90's.....

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