Earlier this year, I wrote that Silicon Knights’ action-horror game Eternal Darkness was the best GameCube title ever made. I was actually indifferent to the game when I started playing it, but when my roommate became an observer, my appreciation went through the roof. There was something about its crafty gameplay and incredible narrative that won me over. “These guys are on to something,” I thought. Now nearly a decade later, it seems that the only thing that the Canadian game developer is on to is losing a lawsuit that has consumed most of the company’s essence for the past four years. Should they lose entirely, how much farther can founder Denis Dyack pull the company?
Everything revolves around Too Human. When Silicon Knights unveiled a super early version of the techno-Viking slaher game at E3 2006, it was universally panned. Company lead and outspoken game developer Denis Dyack came out against the crowd by claiming they were put in a bad place by the early state of the game they showed it off in, but also Epic’s Unreal engine, which was used to power the Gears of War titles, Mass Effect, etc. I had high hopes that they’d bounce back from this because Eternal Darkness had been so great and, to that point, they’d had a relatively spotless track record. Unfortunately, Too Human released and bombed immediately, halting any progress on the second and third title of the series, which is a shame because I loved the story and dreaded every moment I had to play the game.
Now three years after its release, a judge is finding Silicon Knights’ case against Epic, one totaling $58 million in damage, lacks much merit by dismissing key evidence presented by the Canadian developer. The company had stated that because of Epic’s lack of documentation and support for the Unreal engine, Too Human became unworkable. As a result, Silicon Knights had to create their own engine from scratch, the game suffered as a result, and Microsoft called off negotiations with Silicon Knights regarding the series’ future. All of this comes after several infusions by the Canadian government that were ultimately funneled into the dismal failure of their X-Men: Destiny game for Activision. The company laid off 75% of its workers not long afterward.
There’s obviously some great talent left at Dyack’s outpost, but who knows if they’re going to be able to pull off a master work like Eternal Darkness ever again. A Silicon Knights tradition was to give each employee a sword after ten years of service, but it appears that’s going to be a tradition put on the backburner.