The Mirror Men of Arkane Studios

28 Jun 2012

We haven't been following Bethesda Softworks and Arkane Studios' Dishonored (even though it looks fantastic) simply because there has been no indication that it's an RPG hybrid, but given Arkane's track record, the crowning achievement that was Arx Fatalis, their contributions to the BioShock franchise, the importance of Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith to video game history, and the fact that it confirms that Arx Fatalis 2 eventually became Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, I thought I'd point you to this lengthy but excellent article on The Verge. And I think you'll be glad I did, after I go a little quote crazy to justify it:
There are some problems, though, that QA can't fix, and when Ultima VIII is released, it has a lot of them. One hundred, by Smith's counting.

Smith is so frustrated by the state of this game that he writes a list detailing the reasons why he didn't like it. All 100 of them.

"I literally said it was a slap in the face to Ultima fans and RPG fans," Harvey said. "And I sent it to my boss. I don't know why I did it, but it was the kind of thing I did back then."

Where the list goes after that is anyone's guess, but it eventually comes to the attention of Richard Garriott himself. Also known as Lord British. Also known as the co-founder of Origin and the creator of Ultima. Garriott stops by Smith's work area, sits down on his desk, and asks him about the list.

"He was super gracious," Smith said. "He was like: 'This is very insightful and I regret that we didn't do these [things]. We disappointed people.'"

Then Garriott makes Smith an associate producer on the spot, gives him a small team, and puts him in charge of fixing the game.

"We fixed probably 60 of the 100 things. We fixed story holes, and gameplay mechanics. QA was so fluid at the time, whereas if you were a senior programmer you were locked into your role; you were optimizing the compression algorithm for getting it on floppy disk. Whereas I was running around like mad doing things like this."

...

"The very first time that we let an outside person into the office to play Deus Ex, she ran around on the dock for a while and she would do things like pick up the trash can, pick it up, throw it down, go pick up a crate and throw it into the water, dive into the water next to it, try to chase some fish. Then [she] got on top of the crate as it got out of the water, broke it, then swam back down to pick the things up, swam under the dock, tried to get the bird from the dock.

"We were sitting in agony thinking that we failed. 'She's miserable! Like, she's just running around the dock. The first 30 meters; she hasn't even left it yet. She hasn't gone on the mission. She hasn't gotten her gun yet. Like, what the fuck?' And then she kept on playing and she was like, 'This is fantastic! I fucking love this! I can do this all day!'"

Deus Ex will be remembered as a seminal role-playing game and, like System Shock, will inspire and captivate gamers and game developers around the world. For Smith, it is the realization of an ambition: "Underworld with guns."

It will be a brief moment of glory.

...

At GDC, Colantonio is approached by the game makers at Valve. Valve is showing off Half-Life 2 and looking for customers for their brand-new Source engine. An agreement is reached. Development on Arx Fatalis 2 begins, using Source.

It will be the beginning of a tortured partnership between Arkane and Valve — the start of two major game projects that will never come to fruition. The second will become a game industry legend: a game called The Crossing, which many in the industry doubt actually exists. (Spoiler: It does.) The first will be Arx Fatalis 2.

Although Arx Fatalis had been critically well-received, it was a commercial failure. No publisher will touch a sequel. The only interest in the game comes from Ubisoft, who doesn't so much want an Arx Fatalis sequel as the engine underneath the game strapped onto one of their own IPs — Might and Magic.

With the bruising from sticking to his guns on Arx Fatalis still fresh on his mind, Colantonio agrees to give Ubisoft what they want. He believes that trying to build the sequel to Arx Fatalis will be the death of his company. This time, he sides with business. Arx Fatalis 2 becomes Dark Messiah.
 
 

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