Rummaging Through Obsidian's Drawer of Game Ideas

The latest Obsidian-related Eurogamer article is not about what is or what was, but about what could be. When the Stormlands deal fell through, Obsidian had to mobilize all their resources if they wanted to stay in business. This meant a lot of pitching, and a lot of rejection. This period for the studio is now known as the Summer of Proposals.

The standout proposals there were Obsidian's take on a Prey sequel, a Warhammer 40,000 RPG, and a KotOR-like Star Wars game set between Episode 3 and Episode 4. And while on the topic of Obsidian games that were never released, the article also mentions a thing or two about a potential Snow White and the Seven Dwarves prequel game.

A few snippets:

"We probably went through about 10 pitches that summer," Parker says. There was a Justice League game pitched to Warner Bros., there were two separate Might & Magic games pitched to Ubisoft, one smaller, one open-world. But the proposals Obsidian really remembers are Prey 2 and Warhammer 40K.

"Prey 2 everyone was really excited about," Parker says. This was before Dishonored developer Arkane set to work on a Prey reboot (released this year). This was in the aftermath of Bethesda shelving Human Head's Prey 2. "Ours had more ties to the old Prey," Parker says. "You're a human bounty hunter and you've gotten transplanted to where all the aliens are. You're a badass bounty hunter in this sci-fi setting."

Mechanically it was exactly what you would expect from Prey, a first-person shooter, married with what you would expect from Obsidian, a role-playing game. There was to be a big hub where you could interact with all sorts of different people, for example. On the surface it sounds a lot like where Human Head was going with Prey 2 - be a bounty hunter on an open alien planet and improve powers and gadgets along the way - but Obsidian was apparently never told much about that game. "[Bethesda] were very close-lipped about what was going on with Human Head," Feargus Urquhart, studio co-owner and CEO, says. "They had a specific 'what they wanted the game to be' - I don't actually know if that was what Human Head was working on or not."

The pitch Obsidian worked up had a lot to do with dealing with different aliens. "Usually in sci-fi games we humanise - we interpret aliens from how they would react if they were human - so we design a lot of aliens as humans in suits," Urquhart says. "What was important was having the aliens not just be aliens in suits. They have completely different desirous wants and needs, they react to different things they see, and they see things in different ways. How could we have aliens in this world really feel alien?"


The Warhammer 40,000 pitch, meanwhile, was ill-fated from the start, what with THQ owning the licence at the time, and THQ being down the swanny (THQ would go bankrupt in December 2012). But Obsidian remembers it fondly. "That was a cool pitch," Urquhart says.

"The Warhammer 40K pitch is 28 pages - I just looked at it a little while ago," Chris Parker says while Urquhart, in perfect synchronisation, finds and opens the pitch on his computer and scrolls through it. It's very decorative and detailed but I don't catch any detail as he whizzes through.

"We wrote a small novel about how awesome this game would be," Parker says. "The idea was: there's a pen and paper off-shoot of 40K about the Inquisition, and it's more individual character-based and you travel around different planets." He's referring to Inquisitor, the 2001 Warhammer 40K spin-off focused on a small group of characters: a shadowy Inquisitor with a couple of henchmen, and carte blanche to root out evil in the world (Games Workshop doesn't support Inquisitor any more but rulebooks are available online). A perfect set-up for an Obsidian RPG if ever I heard one. "We built this role-playing game about you being this new Inquisitor and having these crazy resources and going to all these planets," Parker says, "and there's nothing that's not at war in Warhammer 40K."

Obsidian even, for the umpteenth time, pitched another Star Wars game - hardly a rare occurrence, the two owners joke. "We pitch Star Wars every few years," Chris Parker says while Feargus Urquhart again whizzes through the associate pitch on his PC. It's titled Star Wars: Dark Times, referring to the Dark Horse comic series of the same name. "I'm pretty sure this is a 'between Episode 3 and Episode 4' game," he says. "In essence it was sort of how to reinterpret a modern KOTOR 3-like game within the Dark Times, that's really what that one was."


But to have a game pitch amount to nothing pales in comparison to having a game cancelled part-way through - and Stormlands isn't the only rug Obsidian has had whipped from under its feet. In 2006, Obsidian was making a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves role-playing game for Buena Vista, the game-making division of Disney. "The idea was a prequel," Urquhart says, "a far, far prequel of Snow White."

"It was supposed to be a much darker world," Parker says. "There's a lot of dark elements to Disney but it's kind of hard to see underneath all the flowery animations. They wanted to capitalise on that and say, 'Here's a story about the Seven Dwarves in a much earlier, earlier state.' The actual character you played was going to be more of a typical RPG character, called the Prince [or Princess, presumably], a young man or young girl, and you would end up bumping into those dwarves and going on this adventure and solving all of these things."

The dwarves themselves were going to act like different tools for different situations. "They had very specific powers and you would travel with two of them," he continues, "and their powers would combine in different ways, so based on who you were fighting against you might want to have, say, these two dwarves with you because they would combine and do these different things. You would also, in a similar fashion, use them to solve different puzzles in the world. For example, this dwarf was the blue key for blue doors, so to speak."

Obsidian worked on the Dwarves game for roughly a year - but then Disney changed its mind. "I don't think it was really that big of a surprise," says Parker. "There were some fundamental differences between what Disney had originally wanted to do and what we were doing. The project we were working on was more lighthearted than they had pitched. What they had pitched originally was very very dark: the dwarves were slaves of giants in mines, then they escaped from the mines and were living on their own, and you meet up with them and they are these hardened, angry dwarves. Ours was like, 'OK yeah all that's fine but we'll leave a slightly lighter pitch on all that's going on,' so there were some disagreements there. Also the way we had taken the mechanics: we were trying to be a little bit more revolutionary and I don't think that worked for them."

Officially, though, and this was a gut-punch for Obsidian, the project was terminated for 'cause'. "In other words," says Parker, "the game we were making was not good enough."