Obsidian Entertainment

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Obsidian Entertainment
Private
Industry Interactive entertainment
Computer and video games
Founded 2003 (Irvine, California)
Headquarters Irvine, California[1], United States
Key people
Feargus Urquhart, CEO
Chris Parker, COO
Darren Monahan, CIO
Chris Jones, CTO
Products List of Obsidian Entertainment video games
Number of employees
135 (2008)
Website www.obsidian.net

Obsidian Entertainment is an American role-playing video game developer founded in 2003 after the disestablishment of Interplay Productions' Black Isle Studios. The companies was founded by Feargus Urquhart (CEO), Chris Avellone, Chris Parker (COO), Darren Monahan (CIO) and Chris Jones (CTO) in 2003.

Although it has created original intellectual property, Obsidian has mostly developed sequels to existing games, and many of their games are based on licensed properties. Early projects include sequels to BioWare's games, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Neverwinter Nights II. The team then developed their first original game with Alpha Protocol in 2010. Other notable works from Obsidian includes Fallout: New Vegas, Dungeon Siege III and South Park: The Stick of Truth

Starting from the company's establishment, many projects, including Futureblight, Dwarves, Alien: Crucible and North Carolina was cancelled, and in 2012, the company entered financial crisis. As a result, the team decided to crowdfund their next game, Project Eternity, which ultimately become a success and saved the studio from closure. The team's focus changes from developing license titles to original titles, and has a close relationship with a studio that was also founded by ex-Interplay employees, inXile Entertainment.

History[edit]

Prior to founding[edit]

Chris Avellone is one of the founders of the company.

Obsidian Entertainment was founded by Feargus Urquhart, Chris Avellone, Chris Parker, Darren Monahan and Chris Jones. Prior to the establishment of Obsidian, they were working in Interplay Entertainment's subsidiary Black Isle Studios, and had created several role-playing game franchises including Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, and Fallout 2, as well as collaborating with BioWare on Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate and its sequel, Baldur's Gate II. Most of these games are critical and commercial success, but Interplay financial situation was not great at that time, and the license to Dungeons & Dragons was lost.[2] This led Black Isle's project, Baldur's Gate III: The Black Hound, which was related to the license, to cancellation.[3] Urquhart and most staff members were dissatisfied with it and felt frustrated, as the game has already been well under development for one and a half year. Urquhart also thought that staying in Black Isle was no longer a "viable option" for the team, and had the intention of leaving the company. He was in his early thirties at that time, and he thought that if they did not start a new company, he may be too old for it after several years.[4] Urquhart officially left Interplay in 2003 with Avellone, Parker, Monahan and Jones and founded Obsidian Entertainment with them in the same year.[5]

2003–06[edit]

In 2003, right after the company's establishment, there are seven employees, in which five of them are the company's founders. Parker, Urquhart and Monahan invested $100,000 to $125,000 into their newly founded company.[2] When choosing the name of the company, they had prepared a short list of names for them to choose. The list includes names like 'Scorched Earth' and 'Three Clown Software'. The team eventually chose 'Obsidian Entertainment', which they thought was strong and easy for people to remember, as well as resembling Black Isle.[6]

Upon its establishment, the founders needs more capital in order to keep their company's operation running. They needed to gain support from various publishers. The company approached Electronic Arts for a project that Urquhart personally forgot about, and Ubisoft for a Might & Magic game. They ended up not making the game as Ubisoft contracted another company, Arkane Studios, to develop a Might & Magic game called Dark Messiah of Might & Magic. The company later turned to Take-Two Interactive to develop a game called Futureblight, which was described as a Fallout game powered by the Neverwinter Nights engine. Similar to the EA and Ubisoft projects, Futureblight was ultimately scrapped.[4]

The team was later contacted by Simon Jeffrey, a representative from LucasArts who requested them to work on a project set within the Star Wars universe. The team originally set to create an action role-playing game with first-person lightsaber melee combat and characters like R2D2. LucasArts rejected that ideas, and instead asked Obsidian to create a follow-up to the 2004's BioWare-developed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, as the team at Obsidian was familiar with the technology of it.[4] The partnership between the two companies finalized in late 2003, and the development of the game, which is called Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, began in October 2003.[7] Starting from the company's inception, the team's goal is to develop multiple projects simultaneously, and the decision led the company to expand very quickly.[2] Soon after the development of the game began, the team expanded to 20 employees. The team size grew to 27 staff members as of July 2004. Among them, 18 of them came from Black Isle, while others came from Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Taldren, Totally Games, Treyarch, and Troika.[8]

Obsidian was given 15 months to develop The Sith Lords. Originally set to be released in 2005, the game's release date was moved up to Christmas 2004 after that year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. As a result, they had to speed up the game's development, and cut lots of planned features so as to shorten its production time.[9] According to Urquhart, they tended to satisfy the publisher's demand so as to open up the possibility of future collaborations, and that they would get into troubles if they failed to complete the game prior to its launch date. Due to the truncated game development, Obsidian did not have enough time to polish the game, which led The Sith Lords to suffer from great launch issues when the game was released in December 2004.[10] Despite that, The Sith Lords was released to positive critical reception.[4]

Prior to the official launch of The Sith Lords, the company was approached by another company, Atari Inc., the owner to the Neverwinter Nights to develop a sequel called Neverwinter Nights II. Development of the game began in July 2005[11] by a team of ten people.[12] The development of the game was headed by Monahan and Avellone. They were the game's lead developer, creating its story and gameplay and quests, while the franchise creator BioWare provided technical assistance.[13] While they are developing the game, the team's size grew to about 50 people.[2] The team were given sufficient time for the game's development, and Atari was willing to delay the project from its targeted Christmas 2005 release window to October 31, 2006.[11] It was also a critical success for Obsidian. Two expansions, Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir was released in 2007 and 2008.

During the game's development, the team approached other publishers to work on more projects. Disney Interactive Studios later appointed Obsidian to develop a prequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves called Dwarves, which was set to be a third-person action for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox One.[14] The team developed a prototype for it, and its development lasted for approximately one year, until the CEO of Disney changed. The change of CEO led Disney to head to a completely different direction, not only making the franchise "untouchable", as well as cancelling the project.[15] According to Urquhart, the team loved the game, and that its cancellation was a "heartbreaking" experience for them.[4]

2007–15[edit]

With the development of Neverwinter Nights II coming to an end, the team was contacted by three different publishers. Electronic Arts hoped that they can develop a role-playing video game that can compete with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, while another unnamed publisher requested them to make a fantasy RPG.[4] Sega was the third publisher, and they hoped that the team can develop an action role-playing game set within the Aliens series. The name of the game was Aliens: Crucible, and it features base-building, dialogue choices and character customization.[14][16] In February 2009, soon after the completion of the demo, it was pitched to Sega. Sega decided to cancel the game three weeks later without inspecting the demo.[4] The cancellation was officially confirmed in June that year.[17] Atari Inc. approached Obsidian again for a revival of Baldur's Gate III.[18] The team at Obsidian requested a big budget which Atari cannot afforded, and the deals between the two companies fell apart when Atari Europe was sold to Namco Bandai Games.[19]

While the Alien role-playing game was cancelled, Sega requested Obsidian to develop another project. Instead of developing a sequel, they were tasked to develop an original role-playing game that is an original intellectual property. The team came up with an idea of a "spy RPG".[20] Sega liked the idea a lot since they considered it a unique concept, and decided to help with the game's funding, acting as publisher. The game's name was Alpha Protocol. However, the game's development was troubled, as the team found that the concept and direction was blurred. The team did not have a precise vision for Alpha Protocol, as they are not sure what gameplay elements it should have. In addition, the team lacked guidelines and requirements when developing the game, and they did not know what is the target market and audience of the game, leading the game to suffer from an identity crisis and feature elements from multiple genres.[21] Sega was also unable to make decisions quickly and the publisher often cut features from the game after their completion. This resulted in the game's numerous delays and excessively long production time. Alpha Protocol took four years to develop, and was released on June 2010.[4]

As their first original game, Alpha Protocol received mostly mixed reviews from critics. It was also an commercial failure for Sega, and they decided to put all the plans for a sequel on hold.[22] After the game's launch, Urquhart admitted that there is still rooms for improvements.[23] Even though the game was a failure, it was well received by the community, that often demanded Obsidian to make a sequel. Urquhart responded by saying that the team hoped that they can develop Alpha Protocol 2, and "do better" with it.[24] Avellone later added that they were unable to develop it because the rights to the game was owned by Sega, and crowdfunding would not be a suitable option for them.[25]

On February 11, 2010, Red Eagle Games and Obsidian announced that they would co-develop game(s) based on the Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels by author Robert Jordan,[26][27] however on April 25, 2014, CEO Fergus Urquhart told Computer & Video Games in an interview that the agreement between the companies had dissolved after Red Eagle had failed to secure the necessary funding.[28]

Another project that was in parallel development with Alpha Protocol is Fallout: New Vegas, the team's return to the Fallout franchise. Prior to that, they were contacted by Bethesda Softworks to develop a Star Trek game which did not ended up happening. When developing New Vegas, the team looked at fan requests and refocused the game's ideas. When the concept was pitched to Bethesda, it was immediately approved and the project was green-lit. The development of New Vegas began soon after the cancellation of Aliens: Crucible, and it was released in October 2010.[4] It received generally positive reviews, with some critics saying that the game's quality exceeded the critically acclaimed Fallout 3.[4] However, the development time of the game was short, and the team did not have enough time to check the game to look for unwanted bugs and glitches. It suffered from launch issues upon release, with players unable to play the game due to numerous crashes.[29] These problems were later patched and fixed. Obsidian considered New Vegas a learning lesson for them, in which the team has learnt the methods of developing a triple AAAs game, and how to manage quality assurance.[4] According to Obsidian, these problems occurred because they are not familiar with the game's engine, and hence has the intention of building their own in-house technology.[30]

With The Sith Lords and New Vegas, the team has built a reputation of building buggy games. The team was not happy about that and has the determination of changing it. They bring new improvements to their bugs-tracking system,[4] and applied their lessons to a new game, Dungeon Siege III, a sequel to the Gas Powered Games-developed Dungeon Siege.[31] The game received mixed reviews upon release, but it enjoyed a stable launch.[4] Dungeon Siege III is the first game that uses Obsidian's own in-house Onyx engine.[32]

In 2011, the company began working on a project called North Carolina, a third-person open world game. It was once rumored to be code-named Durango and published by Microsoft Studios for the Xbox One.[4] The title was ultimately cancelled, and led 20-30 people to get laid off.[33]

There is one more project that was in parallel development. In October 2009, the team was approached by another company for a licensed project. They are directly contacted by South Park Digital Studios to develop a game set within the South Park universe.[34] The team originally thought the phone call from South Park Digital Studios a prank carried out by another company that is located in the same building.[35] When creating the game, they met with the franchise creator, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and decided that they should make a game that is true to its root. Funding was directly provided by Viacom, until Viacom decided to let a traditional publisher THQ to help with the game's funding.[4] However, THQ at that time has entered a financial crisis, and it eventually went bankrupt in late 2011. With THQ unable to continue its publishing and funding roles, an auction was held for other publishers to acquire these titles. The team at Obsidian was worried about that, and they cannot risk another project to get cancelled, or they would get into severe financial difficulties. Eventually Ubisoft acquired the game,[36] The game's name is South Park: The Stick of Truth, and it was launched in March 2014.[37]

We said look, somebody is gonna try to Kickstart a game like this. Somebody is going to try to Kickstart an ‘isometric 2D background with 3D characters, real-time with pause, fantasy role-playing game.’ There’s no way that this is going to go untapped for that long. There are enough other ex-Black Isle and Bioware developers out there, that if we don’t do it, we’re just gonna miss a perfect opportunity.”

— Josh Sawyer on crowdfunding Project Eternity

While Obsidian still managed to develop South Park: The Stick of Truth, the company struggle to survive in early 2012. With the cancellation of their next-gen project, the team only get a small "kill fee",[4] as well as missing out a bonus for New Vegas, the team lacked sufficient resources to keep the company's operation running. According to Adam Brennecke, a representative from Obsidian, if they failed to pitch a project to a publisher in time, they would have used all their money and went bankrupted.[38] At that time, Kickstarter grew to become popular, and Josh Sawyer, creative director of New Vegas, proposed to put their axed game on Kickstarter and to let people fund it. Some team members were skeptical about the idea and thought that they may not even be able to raise $100,000 for their project. This led to numerous debates and conflicts between key members of the company. The debate ended between them ended when Double Fine Adventure was launched on Kickstarter and saw huge success.[39] Learning that Kickstarter can help achieve success, the team decided to make use of this opportunity to develop a game they wanted to make for a very long time: a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. The crowdfunding campaign for Project Eternity was launched in September 2012, requesting $1.1 million to make an isometric role-playing game.[40] The team thought that if they can successfully kickstarted its development, it will turn into a franchise. If the crowdfunding failed, they would attempt to refine their ideas and relaunched its campaign again later in the future.[41] Project Eternity was a success for them, as the company raised 4 million for the project, breaking the record set by Double Fine Adventure.[42] The game was later renamed into Pillars of Eternity and was released in March 2015. It received a generally positive reception. Chris Avellone, co-founder of Obsidian also left the studio in the same year.[43]

Future[edit]

Obsidian Entertainment is currently working on three projects, including the westernization of Skyforge and a free-to-play military MMORPG Armored Warfare, as well as the two expansion packs for Pillars of Eternity.[44][45] On August 13, 2014, Obsidian announced that they had licensed the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to make electronic games, starting with a tablet adaptation of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens also confirmed plans for an Obsidian-developed computer role-playing game.[46]

Games[edit]

Year Title Publisher Platform(s)
2004 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords LucasArts Xbox, Win
2006 Neverwinter Nights 2 Atari Win, Mac
2007 Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer Atari Win
2008 Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir Atari Win
2010 Alpha Protocol Sega Win, PS3, X360
2010 Fallout: New Vegas Bethesda Softworks Win, PS3, X360
2011 Dungeon Siege III Square Enix Win, PS3, X360
2014 South Park: The Stick of Truth Ubisoft Win, PS3, X360
2014 Wasteland 2 inXile Entertainment Win, Mac, Lin
2015 Pillars of Eternity Paradox Interactive Win, Mac, Lin
2015 Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 1 Paradox Interactive WIN, Mac, Lin
2015 Skyforge My.com Win
TBA Armored Warfare My.com Win

Philosophy[edit]

We have to answer to players, no matter what. When you work for a publisher, you have to answer to both, and the two of them may not see eye-to-eye. I'd rather the player pay me directly for something they want, and I'd rather talk with them throughout the process to make sure I'm delivering something they want as well.

— Chris Avellone, founder of Obsidian Entertainment on Kickstarter

Obsidian has built a reputation of building sequels for well-established franchises including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Fallout and Dungeon Siege. Urquhart thought that the company is fine with developing sequels, as these sequels are often fun to make, since they can "get to go play in someone else's world" and further explore and expand upon their ideas.[47] They also thought that these licensed projects are more easier to be developed.[48] Obsidian also considered making these sequels a stepping stone for them to eventually make their own original project, a path for them to create their own intellectual properties.[47] Their focus later shifted to developing their own games, which allow them to maximize their creative freedom and be free from constraints from publishers. [49] They also thought that through Kickstarter, they can use that as an indicator to see whether a game or genre is popular or not.[14] As an independent developer, the team thought it was "fantastic" for them to have their own projects, not to be limited and to create a game even without support from publishers.[50]

As an independent company, Obsidian thought that they must act and react quickly to the market changes and must not stagnate on certain point. While the core focus of Obsidian was still developing character-driven role-playing games, the team are willing to try out projects that are smaller and are of different genres, modes and schemes. Armored Warfare is the result of this kind of strategy.[45]

A dungeon crawler game based on the story of the company's five founders was made. The game was housed in an arcade cabinet inside Obsidian.[51]

Related companies[edit]

Obsidian Entertainment has once partnered with LucasArts, Atari Inc., Sega, Square Enix, THQ, Ubisoft and Paradox Interactive to publish their games.[52][53] Due to early collaborations, Feargus Urquhart has a very close relationship with the founder of BioWare, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk.[8] Urquhart also hoped that he can help the opportunity to collaborate with BioWare again on a new Star Wars game.[54] Besides BioWare, the company also maintained a friendly relationship with inXile Entertainment. Similar to Obsidian, inXile originated from Interplay Entertainment. The two companies signed an agreement to share their technology to each other.[55] Obsidian helped to develop Wasteland 2 when its Kickstarter campaign raised $2.1 million,[56] and Avellone become a stratech goal for another inXile game, The Bard's Tale IV.[57] Obsidian Entertainment was also located in the same building as Red 5 Studios.[35]

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External link[edit]