We analyze the trajectory of Obsidian Entertainment, a studio with 16 years of history and more than 15 games behind it, such as Fallout: New Vegas among others.
Back in 2003, four developers who used to work at Interplay (Black Isle Studios) called Chris Jones, Chris Avellone, Darren Monahan and Feargus Urquhart joined together to found a video game studio called Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California. They had just over 30 initial workers and their first project came shortly and was nothing more and nothing less than Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, sequel to the acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ( by BioWare), a role title for Xbox and Windows that was sponsored by Lucasarts.
Obsidian Entertainment team
In addition, throughout its 16-year history, Obsidian has reaped successes such as Fallout: New Vegas and The Outer Worlds, his most recent work. They currently have about 200 employees and their growth has been exponential. Therefore, and without further delay, we will review the history of Obsidian Entertainment.
Early years; a very promising first commission with the takeoff to the galaxy
The Obsidian team started in style, something that is not usual in video game studios that have just been created. His first assignment was to take over from the Star Wars: KOTOR saga, which started BioWare in 2003. The change of hands was due to the good relationship between the two studies. As Feargus Urquhart explains in a Q&A with GamesSpot (2004):
“We continue to work closely with BioWare and our editor on our current project (KOTOR II). We could not be happier with the support that BioWare has provided us and we hope we can collaborate on more projects in the future. ”
From the beginning, in Obsidian they were clear that they had an important game in hand and the sequel should be up to the original. As Chris Avellone details IGN (2004):
“We weren't looking to stand out from other RPGs; We just wanted a game with a great story. We wanted to have deep characters, many interactions with the inhabitants of the world, the feeling that your destiny and that of others was the most important thing in the galaxy and, above all, we wanted to play in the Star Wars universe and bring our own spin of events in that world. ”
Thanks to the relationship with BioWare, in Obsidian they took the Odyssey Engine system of the first installment and strived to improve the graphic and technical section, increase the number of NPCs and expand some areas of the game, in addition to maintaining a good plot level and good characters (which were the strengths of the first installment). All of this meant a great workload for a team that still did not have a large number of employees, so they ended up entering a crunch stage. As the Obsidian COO (Chief of Operations), Chris Parker explains to IGN (2004):
“We had an extremely aggressive calendar for The Sith Lords. We started talking to LucasArts about the title in June 2003, but by that time we still hadn't seen anything about the game beyond what was publicly known. We signed up for the project in August and started production, while we continued working on various pre-production tasks, in October 2003. At that time, the release date for all versions (Xbox and PC) and languages was November 2004 (…) In order to complete the project at that time we had to work on a series of very specific objectives and the most complex challenges were those of art and design. ”
Finally, the game was released on Xbox in early December 2003 and the rest (PC and international versions) in February 2005. Parker says they needed that time to polish and finish some of the hardest parts of the game, although after Launch came a series of official patches that finished fixing those parts that failed. As for the reception, it was quite positive and the title received an average of 85-86 / 100 in Metacritic.
With this first release, Obsidian Entertainment had a good start in the industry and could get to work with other titles that would gradually place them as the kings of RPG genre video games.
Neverwinter Nights and Alpha Protocol Saga
KOTOR was not the only license that BioWare gave to Obsidian. The role-playing video game based on the Dragons and Dungeons system, Neverwinter Nights, was another work that changed hands between one studio and another. The original came out in 2002 and its sequel in 2006, published by Atari and intended only for PC. In addition, the game was complemented by two DLCs: Mask of the Betrayer (2007) and Storm of Zehir (2008), which expanded the main story and destiny of his characters.
The role title had them occupied part of the team for some time until a new project emerged by Sega in 2006. The company chose Obsidian to develop a new IP encompassed in the genre of RPG and espionage. Even so, it was not until 2008 when the team that would lead the project was assigned. To create Alpha Protocol they were inspired by iconic spies like Jason Bourne, James Bond and Jack Bauer. In addition, they had the support of Sega at all times during the development, which allowed them to have constant quality controls in order to ensure that there were no holes in the script or any problem.
The reception of Alpha Protocol was varied and somewhat worse than the study had planned. His narrative was praised, while the gameplay was criticized due to not being too polished and having some failures. In the commercial field, it didn't work well either and that is why Sega decided that it would not have a sequel:
“If we talk commercially; the game has not sold what we expected, therefore we will not make a sequel, "said Sega West president Mike Hayes to the C&VG website.
The high point of the study with Fallout: New Vegas
Logic invited us to think that a new title of the Fallout saga would end up coming from Obsidian because its founders were some of the former key employees of Black Isle Studios, a study that created the saga in 1997. In addition, Fallout was in the mouth of many due to having left the third numbered installment, Fallout 3, in 2008 (developed and published by Bethesda Game Studios). Obsidian also wanted to participate in the resurgence of the saga and he did so with Fallout: New Vegas (also published by Bethesda), a spin-off that today is considered by many fans of the franchise as the best Fallout of all.
The title puts us in the skin of the Messenger and places us in the year 2281 in the New Vegas area, the Mojave Desert and the rest of the elements that make up that area of a new post-apocalyptic California. The lore of the game tells us that there was a Great War in 2077 between the United States and China on the occasion of wanting to obtain the scarce natural resources that were left on Earth. Due to the use of large nuclear warheads, the world was ravaged by radiation and only a few hundred humans survived who were able to take refuge in shelters built by the Government in the face of the impending catastrophe.
The protagonist wakes up in this chaotic world after rising from the dead, almost literally. Due to his condition as a messenger, he carries a very important package when he is intercepted by a group of thugs who shoot him between eyebrows and eyebrows and bury him alive. The person in charge of digging it up and taking it to the nearest clinic is Victor, a mysterious robot with a cowboy face on his screen. For all this, there will be many mysteries that we must unveil, in addition to having as its main mission to recover the package and decide what to do with its content.
Throughout the entire development of the game we will meet a large number of interesting characters that belong to different factions of this new world. Depending on our decisions, we will opt more for one or the other type of alliances and enemies. This was one of the points most praised by critics, in addition to its missions and its narrative. On the other hand, his large bugs and launch errors were forgiven to some extent due to the improved gameplay over previous titles.
Without a doubt, Fallout: New Vegas was a success in sales and harvested about 12 million copies sold around the world. In addition, the title also received the Golden Joystick Award as RPG of the year in 2011. Therefore, in 2010 Bethesda announced that they were going to get a series of DLC and extra downloadable content. The number totaled 6: "Dead Money", "Honest Hearts", "Old World Blues", "Lonesome Road", "Gun Runners Arsenal", and "Courier's Stash" and half of them were expansions in which it was expanded history and you could visit new areas and meet new characters.
A series of varied titles encompassed in the RPG genre
Only one year after Fallout: New Vegas came Dungeon Siege 3, the third numbered installment of the saga that started Gas Powered Studios in 2002. On this occasion the change of hands was not due to the direct relations between both studies , but the decision was from Square Enix. The company acquired the rights of the saga in 2010 and in June of that same year it was announced that a new installment of the Dungeon Siege saga by Obsidian would arrive, being the first one that was not developed by the original creators. Even so, the new team had the advice of Chris Taylor, the inventor of the franchise, in order to check that the title went well.
The title received notable reviews that ranged from 72, 71 and 73 on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Windows versions respectively. As for extra content, Dungeons Siege III received “Treasures of the Sun” on October 25, 2011.
A few years later, specifically in 2014, Obsidian Entertainment brought to light a title somewhat different from the tone we were accustomed to: South Park: The rod of truth. In collaboration with the creative studio of the animated series with the same name and published by Ubisoft, the game began to develop after the creators of the series, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, went to Obsidian with the idea of creating a game role that looked exactly like the television series at hand. Both creators were immersed in the production process, as they wrote the script, offered design advice and provided their voices to bring many of the game's characters to life (as they do in the series).
Even so, the production of the title was turbulent due to the bankruptcy of the original editor, THQ. It was not until Ubisoft acquired the rights to the game at the beginning of 2013 when the development began to take a good path. Its release date was postponed several times from its initial date in March 2013 to the final date in March 2014, for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The work garnered a good success in criticism and was best-seller during its launch .
In Obsidian they had little time to rest until they got their next development: Pillars of Eternity, published by Paradox Interactive. In this case the project arose as a result of a crowdfunding campaign in Kickstarter that Obsidian started in September 2012. The desire for the proposed idea to be carried out was reflected when the campaign achieved the collection record at that time, with a figure that reached 4 million dollars.
This money helped Obisidian recover from a pothole he had entered at that time and for which they had to lay off 30 employees and cancel a project called Stormlands. Later this title would end up becoming Tyranny, of which we speak a few lines below.
Thanks to the Kickstarter campaign mentioned, Obsidian was able to get to work and the title came to PC (Windows, OS X and Linux) in 2015, reaping a series of excellent in most of his criticisms. In addition, it eventually reached the consoles of this generation: PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
The trajectory of the title was not there, but in 2016 Obsidian said they were working on a sequel: Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. Their development story is similar to that of the original, since they also had a crowfunding campaign (in this case in Fig) and came out first on PC (May 2018) rather than on consoles (2019). In this case they achieved an even greater amount than in the original, with 4.4 million dollars at the close of the campaign.
Due to this success they were able to resurrect the aforementioned Tyranny in 2016, published by Paradox Entertainment. Despite not being a sequel, it was built with the same engine and from the gameplay of Pillars of Eternity, so developers could create a work from the fragments of ideas that had to be discarded at the beginning.
With the growth Obsidian had experienced at that point in its history, they could allow themselves to divide the bulk of the team into various projects. That is how they were able to collaborate with Allods Team to develop Skyforge, a massive and free-to-play online RPG published on My.com. The project began to develop in 2010 and was launched in open for PC (Windows) in July 2015; later on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (2017). The latest major content update, New Horizons, was released on all platforms in April 2019.
In addition to Skyforge, Obsidian also worked on Pathfinder Adventures, a strategy title published by Asmodee North America for Android, iOS and PC (Windows and macOS). It was the first title of the company for mobile devices and its approach is based on being the digital adaptation of the card game Pathfinder Adventure Card Game by Paizo Inc.
Acquisition by Microsoft, The Outer Worlds and the future of Obsidian
As we have read in the previous lines, there have been many companies that have chosen Obsidian Entertainment to develop their games throughout its history. All of them were clear that the study at hand is the king of the RPG and that everything he touches turns it into gold. Therefore, when Microsoft announced the purchase of the studio (along with others such as Playground Studios, Ninja Theory and more) during the past XO18, it became clear that Obsidian still has a long history ahead. In addition, in several interviews they said that Microsoft's financial support will come in handy so they can develop their games with greater peace of mind and be able to aim high on the productions that are to come.
In addition to the purchase of various studios, Microsoft developed a series of strategies in order to offer a good service to the players of both their consoles and PC. This is something we have seen thanks to the Xbox Game Pass, a video game download service in exchange for a monthly subscription with a competitive price and a great willingness to expand. One of the facts that makes the Game Pass stand out from other competing services is the fact that it has several triple A games since its launch. An example is The Outer Worlds, the new Obsidian.
The title was announced in the last edition of The Game Awards and in FreeGameTips we were the first Spanish media to see the game firsthand. In Obsidian studios, we were able to meet the founders of it and see how they were developing the game. It became clear to us that The Outer Worlds is an ambitious title, since during the presentation Feargus Urquhart declared that it is a combination of what they have been working on for 15 years, that is, throughout their history.
The title is based on the genre of science fiction, something that had not yet been done in Obsidian, and in it we can visit different planets with particular biomes. That is why the RPG essence that characterizes all the games in the studio will be sacrificed, since in The Outer Worlds there will be a huge amount of customization options for our protagonist in terms of skills, characteristics and traits.
Although it won't be as big as Fallout: New Vegas was, we can't help feeling that both titles share more than the studio that created them. We will be able to verify it next 25 of this month of October, at which time the title will be published by Private Division to PC, PS4 (because it began to be developed before the exclusivity agreement with Microsoft) and Xbox One, in addition to Nintendo Switch later.
With the launch of The Outer Worlds and the agreement with Microsoft, we know that Obsidian Entertainment still has a lot to tell us. And the best way to do it is through the stories that they capture in their games. We have been able to see how we have already had a large number of titles that have gone down in history as references of the RPG genre and we hope that future deliveries from Obsidian will be equally brilliant and will give us fascinating adventures to discover and live.
- Obsidian Entertainment
- Wikipedia – Obsidian Entertainment
- Youtube: Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire – Backer Update19