Years ago, there was a plucky game company in Saint Catharines, Ontario by the name of Silicon Knights. It started out making PC games, then moved into the console market.
Their first big break was launching the seminal Legacy of Kain IP with the release of 1996′s Blood Omen. This put them on the map, and should have put them on the path to bigger and better things. But, instead they sued Crystal Dynamics, their publisher and patron for Blood Omen, when Crystal Dynamics moved to do the next game themselves. It was settled out of court, but enough interviews were done in the meantime that gave the impression that something was a little different about how Silicon Knights did business.
After their break with Crystal Dynamics, Silicon Knights announced a new, original sci-fi game dealing with the cybernetic alteration of humans in the 25th century. The game will be called Too Human, and they tease it at the 1999 E3.
Too Human is intended to be released on the original Playstation, but before work gets too far along, Silicon Knights is locked into an exclusive deal with Nintendo, every developer’s dream gig. Nintendo is tough, but fair, and their pockets are near limitless.
Silicon Knights was able to snag this deal because of the impressive work they showed Nintendo on an in-development game for the N64, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Nintendo had realized that they were losing audience to the more mature titles on the Playstation, and Eternal Darkness’s esoteric insanity-focused horror would help bring that audience back.
Nintendo bumps up Eternal Darkness up to the GameCube, and it is released in 2002 to critical fanfare. Two years later, Silicon Knights follows that up with a remake of Metal Gear Solid, which is also well received. Development on Too Human has also continued, behind the scenes.
Soon after the Metal Gear Solid remake is released, Nintendo and Silicon Knights end their relationship. There are lots of rumors as to why this happens, namely that both sides found the other hard to work with, and these rumors probably have a fair bit of truth to them.
Regardless, Silicon Knights next found itself partnering up with Microsoft in 2005. The goal of this partnership? To complete the nearly decade-old Too Human, now a Diablo-esque action RPG based around Norse mythology that replaces magic with technology. The game is released three years later and is one of the biggest disasters in video games history.
It is a disaster so severe that it leads Silicon Knights’ founder and head, Dennis Dyack, to the bizarre conclusion that the software vendor that licensed Silicon Knights the game engine for Too Human must be to blame. So, Dennis Dyack directs his lawyers to sue that vendor: Epic, one of the most powerful software companies in the video game industry.
The basis of the suit was that Epic withheld advancements in their software until Epic used those advancements to release their own games, at which point they would release the new features to their software customers. This wasn’t some dark secret, or even something Epic tried to hide. The new shiny in their games was a marketing tool used to sell companies on licensing their game engine. But, for Dennis Dyack, that practice was malicious and willful harm to his company.
Silicon Knights lost their lawsuit, and they also lost the counter-suit that Epic brought against them. They lost it so hard that the judge ruled all copies of Too Human had to be collected and destroyed.
At this point, the only thing keeping Silicon Knights afloat was the generosity of the Canadian government, and that they already had Activision on the hook for an in development X-Men game, X-Men: Destiny. When it finally sees the light of day in 2011, X-Men: Destiny is even more of a disaster than Too Human. I’ll let Kotaku explain why.
With two back-to-back bombs and nothing to follow it up, Silicon Knights was doomed and within a few months all but a handful of employees were gone. Not long after, the twenty year-old company was nothing more than a legal entity on a piece of paper, unable to close because of legal proceedings.
This brings us to the present, the birth of Precursor Games, and a much talked about Kickstarter for an Eternal Darkness “spiritual sequel”.
Precursor Games is a new studio that has scavenged people, software and hardware from the ruins of Silicon Knights. Nearly all (of the less than 10) employees are formers at Silicon Knights, with Dennis Dyack is acting as the creative director for the studio. Their first big initiative is a crowd-funded, episodic game they’re calling Shadow of the Eternals, the “spiritual sequel” Eternal Darkness.
To say the crowd-funding initiative has been met with a tepid response would be…overly kind. For example, their Kickstarter ask is for $1.5 million, and they’ve raised barely $88k so far. Expectations are low that they are going to even be able to break a tenth of what they are asking for.
Why is that? Well, not to put a fine point on it, but: Dennis Dyack. For the last half decade the sort of people who would fund a Kickstarter like that have watched Dyack destroy one of those most interesting developers in the industry for entirely personal reasons. They know that he hasn’t been able to repeat the success of Eternal Darkness because he hasn’t had the tight control that Nintendo used put on him. They know that he’s just going to screw it up, so why should they give him any money?
Apparently the team at Precursor are as aware of this as everyone else. The other day, they posted a video of him responding to that Kotaku article and some other comments that have been floating around in various Internet cesspools.
Warning, this is long, it is awkward, and it never should have seen the light of day.
I have a theory about that video.
I think that the two business shirts at the end of it told Dyack that he was going to do this video or find himself unemployed. I also don’t think it is about Dyack apologizing, or bringing facts to the table, or clearing the air, or anything like that. I think it is about making him seem weak, confused, old and awkward. Traits that evoke pity, traits that allow us to forgive him. I think that’s why they didn’t edit him, why they let him stumble over words, why they made him say those stupid usernames.
I think they turned Dennis Dyack into a public sacrifice to the god of crowdfunding.
And I don’t think it worked.