Saturday, 31 March 2012

Former Black Isle personnel reunite for WASTELAND 2

Brian Fargo and his company, inXile, have been crowd-funding a new, old-school RPG called Wasteland 2 for the past couple of weeks. Rather than going through a publisher, they've been raising funds themselves via the 'Kickstarter' programme. Their original goal was $900,000, but they have recently passed $1,800,000. This has prompted Fargo to make another offer: if funding passes $2,100,000, they will be able to hire Obsidian Entertainment Studios to work on the game with them.

A little bit of back-history to explain why this is significant. Fargo is the founder of Interplay, one of the most well-known publishers in gaming history (Interplay survives today, but only really to re-print copies of their old games as various budget and compilation formats; Fargo left them in the early 2000s). Interplay as a whole worked on everything from Battle Chess to the mighty Freespace series of space combat games, but it's their RPGs which are mostly fondly remembered. In particular, Fargo created the original Wasteland (published in 1988) and funded the Bard's Tale series of RPGs. In the late 1990s Interplay reorganised their RPG division into Black Isle Studios, employing such notable designers as Tim Cain and Chris Avellone. Cain created the Fallout franchise and worked on the first two games in the series, before departing mid-way through Fallout 2 (Avellone took over). Black Isle also partnered a new Canadian company called BioWare in the creation of the Baldur's Gate franchise. Black Isle then created Planescape: Torment (widely hailed as the greatest Western CRPG of all time, with the first two Fallout games generally held as its strongest rivals) and the Icewind Dale series of games.

Cain, meanwhile, departed to form Troika Studios, which produced the critically-acclaimed Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura and the Vampire: The Masquerade RPG, Bloodlines, which has become a cult success despite its flawed release. Troika subsequently closed and Black Isle also shut down in the early 2000s (at the same time Fargo departed the sinking Interplay). Black Isle reformed as Obsidian Entertainment (more or less the same team) and produced Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights II (and its well-received expansions), Fallout: New Vegas, Dungeon Siege III and Alpha Protocol (oddly released in an unfinished state at the insistence of the publisher Sega, who refused to fund any bug-fixing or developer QA on the game). Tim Cain then joined Obsidian just a few months ago to work on new projects.

Fargo's hiring of Obsidian means that effectively the same 'supergroup' of RPG developers who created the Fallout franchise and helped work on the Baldur's Gate games is now back working together on Wasteland 2. Fargo's own team will work on programming whilst Obsidian will supply writers and designers (including definitely Avellone and potentially Cain).

This move will help Obsidian smooth over their own problems. An unannounced game for Microsoft's next-generation X-Box was recently canned, leading to several personnel losing their jobs, leaving the South Park RPG as their only announced project in active development (the Wheel of Time RPG was announced more than two years ago, but there has been zero word on it since, leading some to assume it's on hiatus). Wasteland 2 will hopefully keep them ticking over until other new projects come online.

1 comment:

Scott Harrigan said...

This is actually extremely exciting news. Some would consider Wasteland the predecessor to the Fallout game series. With the explosion of post apocalyptic games in recent years, it might be very nice for the genre to return to its roots. There was a game last year that returned to a retro isometric look. Though I never played the original Wasteland, something like Wasteland Angel, but less hectic would be cool.