Obsidian: The Gamer's Marmite
The mere mention of Obsidian Entertainment will spark a wave of controversy in any group of gamers. Praises as pure as the sun will rain from some, sharp prickles of disappointment from others. Since its creation, Obsidian has always been the underdog of the gaming industry that could do no wrong in your eyes one day, and should burn in a bitter hell the next.
But by whatever god you believe in, when they do something right, they really do it right.
Alright folks, history lesson time. Back in the early 2000s, a rather successful company called Black Isle closed its shops forever (well, ‘ish’, there is a revival coming up--haven’t you heard?). It had left many a fabled beauty behind in its wake - Fallout 2, both Baldur’s Gate games (in conjunction with Bioware of course) and, their greatest achievement, Planescape Torment.
It was sad to see them go, and even sadder to see their writing staff without a game to work on. So when Chris Avellone announced that he was going to be forming a new company called Obsidian Entertainment, the gaming world rejoiced. It was a miracle! The games the company would make could only be rated incredible, as they had such a strong and incredible track record.
...That’s where the problems started.
Their first game was the sequel to KOTOR - Knights of the the Old Republic 2, The Sith Lords. The tale of the first game was nothing compared to the plot line, the characterisation, the conversations, the options. Everything was good.
The game also shipped far too early and was littered with terrible bugs all the way through. It marred what would have been a fantastic release, and was a promise of things to come.
They announced they were going to do yet another sequel of a Bioware game - Neverwinter Nights 2. Once again, the plot of the game and its additional expansion packs were beyond compare. The dialogue felt real, and conversations worked out. It was also the second game that players could build their own persistent online worlds to roleplay in. It looked pretty in all the right places.
It played like a falling ton of bricks, and also managed to single-handedly kill the persistent world market all by itself.
For a long, long time, Obsidian was doomed to this fact. They had started with well established games and made sequels out of them, but they just couldn’t get them to not... Well.. Suck. They needed to try something different. Something special. Something incredible that was their own.
They needed to release their own game.
In 2010, the world (and by the world, I mean everyone on Steam) was treated to Alpha Protocol, the world’s first (and currently only) Espionage RPG. It boasted a deep and and intriguing storyline with multiple paths and options that would dramatically change how your game played through. It told of how your style of gaming did not matter, as long as you had fun with it and stuck with a style that worked for you. It showed that games did not have to be linear or restrictive in what the player can do, and that letting them have a bit more than just choosing a good or bad option is not how to write a conflicting storyline.
It told the world that Obsidian Entertainment could write the living daylights out of of a plot.
It also told the world that Obsidian Entertainment could not program a game.
I am not going to lie to you people. Alpha Protocol is easily the greatest game ever created. Take every single mass effect game and its branching storylines and interesting lore. Hell, take every single plotline Bioware has ever done that you have enjoyed. Add them all together with a touch of salt, and maybe even decent dialogue.
Your result will be beaten within one hour of playing Alpha Protocol.
Obsidian would have had a goldmine had the game not been riddled with bugs. Characters would randomly disappear during a mission, including vital ones you needed to progress. The mini-games would randomly stop loading, forcing you to have to use one of your expendables to get it to work. I once had a fantastic glitch where the menu buttons on the starting screen made fighting noises when I selected them. The game play itself wasn’t as strong, and could be cheesed quite easily if you knew how.
But then again, this is the only game I know where you could instakill the hardest boss in the game by talking about conspiracy theories with some dude in Taiwan.
Tell me that isn't awesome.
Sales of Alpha protocol were not as high as hoped, sadly, and the game does not seem to be working its way to a sequel. It would be glorious if it did, but sometimes, the world does not work the way you wish it to. As was the case for Obsidian Entertainment.
They were undaunted though, because there were games to be made, plots to write, and Bethesda had given them a call to tell them they had a new license to play with.
Fallout New Vegas also came out in 2010, a sequel to Fallout 3. This was the golden dream of any gamer - the game was mostly already made: its was the same engine as Fallout 3 without too many changes. True, it still had bugs, but they weren’t Obsidian Level Bugs. All they had to do is use it, design the plot, and it’s an instant winning formula. It worked...
...To an extent.
Fallout New Vegas can best be described as ‘Like Fallout 3... but good’. A game designed to simply walk up to the player after the initial phase of the game and go ‘here are six different choices of how things can go. Feel free to pick anyone you like. Or say screw the lot and rule this land yourself. Doesn’t matter either way, it’s going to be a ride’.
There has yet to be a game that has stifled you for choice as well as New Vegas. Practically every action you take has a consequence down the line, and by choice--it is not always just a simple good vs. evil choice either. Options upon options are piled on top of each other suffocating you until you break free by climbing to the top and declaring that you are no gutter trash, that you are a man of your own right and if your own right told you that the Enclave were the most hip thing since The Great Gatsby then you go get yourself buried deep in that bosom until you scream for air.
And yet, it just wasn’t good enough for Bethesda: Obsidian had a chance to make a bonus on the game, if they got their Metacritic score above 85%. They got as far as 84% on the PC. It hurt. A lot. Like a sledgehammer to the face for doing something you thought would please him, which hurts. It really hurts.
The controversy formed from such a venture may have hurt Obsidian more than they realised. After Fallout New Vegas, they went back to doing sequels again, releasing Dungeon Siege 3. A game that boasted of having a co-op mode, that was so terribly designed fans attempted a petition to get the words Co-Op removed from its Steam page. Plot was pretty alright though.
Things would have probably continued that way and we may have had them working on the new version of Thief, had Kickstarter not gotten in the way.
So, as the world is beginning to find out, Kickstarter is a way to go for crowdsourcing your hobbies. Be it making a video, writing a tabletop game, or a video game that normal publishers just won’t do for some crazy reason. Like, say, oh I don’t know, that your lead character is a girl.
Obsidian jumped on the bandwagon when Double Fine started up funding for their own, and it worked! Wasteland 2 is looking fantastic, mostly because Obsidian’s Chris Avellone is only writing the plot, and Obsidian has nothing to do with the programming. Project Eternity had a fantastic Kickstarter, and already players are salivating over the screenshots that have been released. And let’s not even talk about the monster that will be Torrent: Planes of Numeria when it comes out.
Of course, Project Eternity is the only thing that will actually be produced by Obsidian Entertainment, so that will be what the fans will be hoping to support, keep it going.
The future is even brighter, now that there is an official release that for South Park: The Stick of Truth, which sounds almost about as absurd as it did writing this down. But it is true - Obsidian is going to release a South Park Game this year. It’s going to be brilliant.
Obsidian Entertainment has seen a lot of ups and downs in its time. Gamers are always two ways about it. It’s run by some of the most brilliant minds in the industry, and will never cease to stop releasing incredible games. It’s only real fault has been funding and release times - something we are hoping Kickstarter and Project Eternity will put a stop to.
A lot lies on the release of that game: As a crowd sourced creation, the world will be watching to see just how good such a venture can be (I’m looking at you Banner Factions Saga), and where a company could go from here. It would be exactly the same as with New Vegas, metacritic scores and game sales may easily make or break Obsidian forever. Will they actually managed to release the next Baldur’s Gate and take a Bioware-Esque step into becoming a household name? Or will they have to be bought by a gaming company by EA just to keep themselves going?
I love you Obsidian, and I hope you never change.
Now give me ALPHA PROTOCOL 2, YOU BASTARDS!