(1) I am not a journalist, just a NeoGAF member who is good on Google and reasonable at presenting my findings. All of the information I am going to present in my research is out there in the public domain, it just needed someone to compile it. I try to reason all my conclusions but make no assurances that I’m correct.
(2) I know text-embedded in images is frowned upon – with the amount of sources I was quoting from, it seemed the easiest way to present my evidence without running over NeoGAF’s character limit. In retrospect, as this OP spans multiple posts, I could have taken a different approach but it’s a bit too late now. To try and make it more bearable, each image will take you to the original source of the quote.
(3) Enjoy the thread.
Silicon Knights are close to dead, if not dead already. They owe Epic millions of dollars, and are legally obligated to destroy all of their unsold games and source code. They reportedly have five employees, maybe even less – even the company IT Manager
and Chief Operating Officer
They have ascended from a small indie Amiga developer, to a champion of cinematic games. They have transitioned from being a close ally of Nintendo’s most senior leadership, to being associated with a string of sub-par and cancelled games. They have gone from Eternal Darkness – developed with input from Shigeru Miyamoto himself – to secretly funnelling staff from a doomed game to desperately assemble a prototype for Eternal Darkness II.
This thread is to look at Silicon Knights’ many released and cancelled games. We’re going to look at the highs and lows of SK’s colourful history – and I’m going to present rare media that I’ve found along with obscure and buried quotes and tidbits. I hope you enjoy.
All studios prototype and cancel games. Whether Silicon Knights’ did this more than most is something we can’t establish without more data – but their ratio of released to cancelled projects is truly something to behold.
Released Projects are in white, cancelled or abandoned projects are in yellow/red
Fantasy Empires, Cyber Empires and Dark Legions
Partners: EA and Strategic Similations
Denis Dyack explains the humble origins of Silicon Knights, and their first three games:
There is little to add to this – the projects were successful and Silicon Knights became increasingly ambitious.
The Pillars of Nosgoth (Panasonic 3DO)
Partner: Crystal Dynamics
The title that would go on to be known as Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was originally conceived as a Panasonic 3DO game under the title “The Pillars of Nosgoth”:
The “document full of sketches and concepts” has never been released, but there is a good amount of the initial concept art out there to reconstruct it. The following black and white concept sketches are likely the initial artwork for The Pillars of Nosgoth. Next to each picture, I have included a screengrab from the final release of Blood Omen for comparison:
As you can see from the art, even at this early stage – Denis and Silicon Knights had a very clear vision of Nosgoth – the concept artwork greatly reflects what will eventually be the final form of this project. Another interesting difference is the names of the characters – you may notice that the concept piece of Malek’s Bastion is annotated as Guillaume’s Fortress. Research by TheLostWorlds.net
confirms that in The Pillars of Nosgoth, the cast were given names such as Adonathiel, Guillaume, Orzachm Nauzhingerm Hericusm Bridenal and Infernum.
It’s worth noting that in the final release of Blood Omen, the main data file is called pill.big
, a nod to its 3DO “Pillars” concept.
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (Sony Playstation)
Partners: Crystal Dynamics and Activision
The development of Blood Omen : Legacy of Kain is often alluded to, but rarely spoke about by either Silicon Knights or Crystal Dynamics –a consequence of the litigation surrounding the game. With Blood Omen, Silicon Knights began and ended their relationship with Crystal Dynamics – a one-game collaboration that would result in a critically-acclaimed product, a successful IP with a devoted following, and a bitter feud between the studios that was never fully understood to outside parties.
Both sides have refused to discuss what exactly happened. Through disparate sources, we can establish how the collaboration started and what went wrong. It all began with Silicon Knights sending their The Pillars of Nosgoth design document to a number of potential partners. Crystal Dynamics took interest:
The “Kain Development Agreement” is signed between the two parties. Silicon Knights alleges that after this agreement was put in place, their partner began to “take over”. The assertion made is that Crystal Dynamics exploited their position as publisher to take advantage of SK’s “financial duress” and extort the Legacy of Kain IP from them.
The allegations continue, stating that Crystal Dynamics’ misrepresented themselves as the developers of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – and tried to sell the franchise to Activision while Silicon Knights were still working on it.
Crystal Dynamics give a dramatically different account: Blood Omen was a game in trouble, in need of massive overhaul and reworking.
Silicon Knights do verify that a team of Crystal Dynamics’ staff ended up flying to Ontario to live for several months, to be on-site to give the project emergency assistance.
But even during this, tensions were so high that the police had to be called:
Crystal Dynamics involvement prompted a number of changes were made to the project. The planned 3DO title that was The Pillars of Nosgoth was reconceived as a Playstation title with a more approachable name.
An interesting change made was to the names of the characters, with The Pillars of Nosgoth writer Ken McCulloch alluding to a powerful “marketing censor” – presumably a reference to Crystal Dynamics’ influence:
The name changes, for those curious, are as follows. The first name in each image is from The Pillars of Nosgoth, while the second name is from the final release of Blood Omen:
There were many dialogue changes, with Crystal Dynamics’ Seth Carus adapting and amending the scripts of Silicon Knights’ Ken McCulloch – presumably to raise the story to Crystal’s standards.
Two documents were released within the last year – the first is a copy of an early Silicon Knights’ script for Blood Omen. The second is the NPC recorded script, which credits Crystal Dynamics’ staff. Click on each of the pages to be taken to Ben Lincoln’s website where they can be downloaded in their entirety:
Another sample of the script from before Crystal’s amendments comes from the website of former Silicon Knights’ writer McCulloch:
Both of these excerpts are different to the script used in the final release – I leave it up to the reader to establish whether they were improvements or not.
There is also ambiguity as to the role of Carol Wolf – fantasy novelist. Carol is acknowledged with a writing credit in the later Legacy of Kain game Defiance
, but has no credit at all in Blood Omen. Her own website describes a significant ghost contribution to the project:
There is certainly an open question regarding how much of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain’s story was conceived by Dyack and McCulloch, and how much was ghost-written externally by Carol Wolf.
As the project came to a close, another complication arose: Crystal Dynamics had decided to leave the publishing and distribution business – and had apparently not informed Silicon Knights.
This led to a complicated situation that haunts the franchise to this day. Silicon Knights conceived the game, Crystal Dynamics supported, funded and owns the game, and Activision published and distributed the game. At the time of writing, Blood Omen is the only game in the Legacy of Kain series not to be released on GOG – with a representative stating that “licensing issues” are the cause
Despite the fallout during and after the Blood Omen’s release – see “Kain 2” for more details – the game was released to considerable success. Crystal Dynamics’ and Silicon Knights’ collaboration produced a gothic Zelda-style overhead adventure in a world that avoided genre convention. The story was unlike anything that had appeared in gaming of its era – with Shakespearean voice actors delivery intense monologues over the on-screen exploration.
The games’ major flaw is colossal – the loading times are utterly abysmal. There are loading screens to enter the inventory menu, loading screens to enter different rooms of the same house, loading screens to equip a spell or change a sword, loading screens to access the most basic options of the game. That neither party prioritised resolving these loading difficulties is an intensely confusing detail.
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (PC)
Partners: Crystal Dynamics and Activision
The PC release of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain followed, though it is unclear whether Silicon Knights, Crystal Dynamics, Activision or another developer is responsible for the port. All three are credited in the game.
The PC release improved on a number of the deficiencies in the original PlayStation release, including a considerable increase in resolution and field-of-view. The loading times that plagued the original release, are greatly reduced. The FMV sequences however, seem somewhat faded and are crossed with distracting scanlines, and are decidedly inferior to the original.
The PC version is notable as being the easiest in which to access the HMCS Bitter
, the Pirate Ship that managed to remain hidden in the game for fourteen years
Due to complications regarding the ownership of the PC release, the game has yet to be ever re-released in any form.
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (Sega Saturn)
Partners: Crystal Dynamics and Activision
Status: Unreleased or Cancelled, depending on who you ask
Blood Omen for the Sega Saturn was advertised alongside the PlayStation release.
The game never materialised. There are two contradictory statements regarding what happened. Silicon Knights is adamant that the game was discontinued early in development.
Next Generation Magazine offered a different take, explaining that the game was definitely “100% complete”, with their story seemingly backed up by a Crystal Dynamics staffer:
Regardless, the lack of a Saturn release was unfortunate. Given the Saturn’s superior 2D capabilities, this release of Blood Omen could have been the definitive version of the game.
Very little media of this version exists. Three screenshots show Kain in faded environments, with changes to the game UI
A few seconds of footage can be seen of the game here
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain did not end on a cliff-hanger, but did invite a sequel. During the final hour of the game, a menace known as Hash’ak’gik announces his presence, and tells the player that he orchestrated all of the events of the game for some unknown purpose. He invites Kain to “play on little vampire” - the FMV sequence can be seen here
. This final boss summarises all the events of Blood Omen with a single declaration: “The First Act in my theatre of Grand Guignol!”
With the financial success of the game, Activision wanted a sequel. At this point in time, the publisher had control of the IP – and commissioned Crystal Dynamics to work on a sequel under the working title Kain II
. This project was not the same game as Crystal’s later concept Shifter – that became Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. Kain II was a cancelled game that only documented in one place – this Silicon Knights v Crystal Dynamics legal document I have been able to unearth from 1997:
This document reveals many things: The first is that when Silicon Knights (developer) and Crystal Dynamics (then-publisher) agreed to co-develop Blood Omen, SK was promised in the “Kain Development Agreement” the right of first-refusal on any sequel:
Silicon Knights’ allege that Crystal Dynamics did not inform them of their intent to exit the publishing business – and in making a deal with Activision to publish Blood Omen – SK’s “right of first-refusal” was dismissed. A sequel could be made with, or without Silicon Knights’ involvement.
After Blood Omen’s release, Activision funded Crystal Dynamics to come up with a concept and provisional concept artwork for Kain II. This artwork was apparently sub-par, and Activision approached Silicon Knights to return to the Legacy of Kain universe.
At this point in Kain II’s development, both Silicon Knights and Crystal Dynamics were working on competing proposals and artwork, and the document alleges that Activision were leaning towards SK’s bid. The document further alleges that in response to this, Crystal Dynamics pulled out all the stops to discredit and dismantle Silicon Knights.
In poaching employees, discrediting SK, minimising their contribution to the first Legacy of Kain and encouraging breaches of non-disclosure agreements, Silicon Knights’ allege that Crystal Dynamics’ behaviour went well “beyond the acceptable bounds of conduct in business rivalry”.
What happened next is very unclear. Crystal Dynamics are purchased by Eidos, and somehow the rights to the Legacy of Kain IP were abandoned or sold by Activision to Eidos Interactive. Silicon Knights’ Kain II is cancelled, as was Crystal Dynamics’ competing proposal.
A year later, Crystal Dynamics began to develop a concept called “Shifter” – a new steampunk/fantasy IP set in the ruined empire of a post-apocalyptic world.
The playable character would be “The Shifter”, who was cast down by “The Master” and returned from death to seek revenge:
The decision was made to integrate Shifter into the Legacy of Kain universe. Eidos and Crystal announced the project and Silicon Knights filed an injunction.
The “concept that [Silicon Knights] were developing” is extremely unclear – the only known internal projects that SK were working on at this point are Too Human and potentially a very-early Eternal Darkness – and Shifter/Soul Reaver did not resemble these.
Silicon Knights took Crystal Dynamics to court, and Crystal settled. That the company – supported by the full legal weight of Eidos Interactive – had to settle with SK rather than file for the case to be dismissed, implies that some of the allegations made had some merit.
The result was shrouded by a severe non-disclosure agreement. To inform this thread, I have contacted a former staffer who is very open about his time at Crystal – and he declined to discuss the settlement like it was something toxic.
The only absolute certainty regarding the settlement is this: Silicon Knights conceded Legacy of Kain to Crystal Dynamics. Consequently, SK would never work on Legacy of Kain again. In later years, Denis Dyack has repeatedly offered his dissatisfaction with what Crystal Dynamics did with the world his team conceived:
Denis goes to say that Soul Reaver is “so alien” to the original Blood Omen, it seems to somewhat contradict the earlier allegation that Shifter stole from Silicon Knights’ own concept.