Jeff Gardiner, a Bethesda veteran of 15 years and most recently the project lead on Fallout 76, has announced a new studio and open-world occult RPG with it.
The studio is Something Wicked Games and the project is Wyrdsong, pronounced “weirdsong”, or at least thats how Gardiner pronounced it on a phone call to me. Its going to be set in Portugal around the forming of the Knights Templar.
Something Wicked was co-founded with Obsidian veteran Charles Staples in April this year, who led design on Outer Worlds. And the studio is funded by NetEase courtesy of a $13.2m “seed” investment, which means its not all the money Something Wicked will need but a wadge to get going with.
The aim is to go pretty big, then – to do the sort of single-player, open-world RPG youd expect from Gardiners and Staples backgrounds. Its a game Gardiner says will have around 70 people working on it, once they staff up from 13, and is still years away – theres no date attached to it nor do they want to put one on.
In other words, its super-early in the development process. This announcement is as much to alert people to the existence of Something Wicked Games, and attract talent there, as much as anything else. All there is to see of Wyrdsong is an animated trailer with a limited amount of artwork, but which exudes a dark and ominous atmosphere – the kind of thing theyre going for in the game.
“Wyrdsong is a preternatural, occult, historical fantasy game,” Gardiner explains to me. “Were setting it in Portugal around the 12th century. Portugal is the origin of the Knights Templar – a lot of people dont realise that. Theres a lot of discussion about where they actually originated. A lot of documentation seems to indicate that the Templars originated there.
“Were going to dig into that mythological history of the Templars, going into the creepy vibe of the trailer. Were going into the darker elements, the secret society and occult elements of Templar history.”
Without prompting, he adds: “Youre going to be able to play whatever you want, wherever gender identity, were not forcing- This is a fantasy setting based around Portugal just for the architecture and the sweeping landscapes and the coastline and the Arid mountains.”
The Templars, you see, can be a problematic symbol because of their associations with far-right and fascist groups, particularly in England. “It definitely is on our mind,” Gardiner says when I mention it. “We want to play into, again, the fantasy idea of what the Templars are. Again, you can play any gender Templar you want, any race Templar you want – were not getting into that. Were not a historically pure game … But I do agree that has been a tough conversation.”
The other tough conversation revolves around the game Gardiner previously led: Fallout 76. And its not so much that it wasnt ready to launch, at all, and shouldnt have, so much as the conditions under which people allegedly worked. A Kotaku report this summer painted a picture of mismanagement, crunch, and a project which burned people out – “ate them”, to borrow one quote.
If Gardiner was one of the people overseeing that, how can he expect people to want to work for his new outfit Something Wicked Games?
“My personal perspective….” he says when I ask about crunch: “I worked hard on 76 and it demanded a lot of us. At the same time, I was, again, very grateful and honoured for the time I had there.
“I think there was a difficult perspective on that game [launching] in a difficult state. So people sort of remember the harder times when things didnt come out as well, if that makes sense? Ive had several kids – obviously not me personally but my wife! – and you dont remember how hard they are. When you have the second, its like, What were we thinking? This is so hard! So its easier to remember when things didnt go well. Again, I just have nothing but good things to say about Bethesda and I appreciate my time there.”
Something Wicked Games will have “very narrow five-hour core hours”, Gardiner tells me, and “no-work Fridays” where staff get together to play games (theyre currently playing Valheim). And hes keen to encourage critical feedback through “open and honest conversations”, though whether junior members will feel confident enough to air their opinions there, I dont know.
To spell it out: “We are not a crunch studio,” he assures me.
“Let me just be clear: Im a big believer in staffing projects properly, scoping them appropriately to fit within the time and budget youve given them. And then if things get difficult, making smart cuts and decisions to prevent these problems. And also, NetEase and I agreed – we have set no hard milestones or timelines so that offers us the freedom to make smart decisions now to avoid these difficulties later. Im a big believer that scheduling is a tool, not a weapon.”
Everything else about Wyrdsong, such as who well be in the game and the adventure well be on, is under wraps.
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