A post-mortem of Silicon Knights (Mama Robotnik research thread) #1
(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 are gone.
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.
Last edited by Mama Robotnik; 04-30-2013 at 12:59 AM.
There is no media from either Silicon Knights’ or Crystal Dynamics’ competing, cancelled “Kain II” projects. For more information on how Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver’s development went read its own complicated story here.
A final observation: Crystal Dynamics took a weapon from Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – a powerful magical blade called the Soul Reaver – and constructed the story of the entire franchise around its significance. The words “Soul Reaver” are more affiliated with the Kain brand than “Blood Omen”. As Denis reveals, the titular sword was actually conceived for another game entirely:
Which leads us to...
Too Human (Sony Playstation)
Partner: Electronic Arts/MGM
Too Human was conceptually conceived just before Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain.
The idea was part of a package of three concept documents that the developer sent out to multiple parties - Crystal Dynamics saw far more potential in fantasy and declined the proposal in favour of Kain.
Nonetheless, the team kept building on the Too Human concept throughout Blood Omen and the short-lived Kain II’s development. Work began in proper once SK had terminated their development agreements with Crystal Dynamics and Activision.
Silicon Knights did not initially reveal what this new project was called, but hyped it unashamedly.
The Too Human concept could not have been more ambitious, and early work was being presented to the press without a publisher attached:
Eventually, the partnership of EA/MGM took on the project as joint publisher. Press releases were released. E3’s were attended and years of development were undertaken. Then unceremoniously, after Silicon Knights missed their proposed release date, EA/MGM pulled out.
There is clearly more to this than we know. For a publisher to abandon a game so far into development, they must have perceived the project to be either significantly unimpressive or wholly unprofitable. There is no information regarding what caused the rift between Silicon Knights and EA / MGM, though I’d suspect it may have had something to do with SK missing their promised January 2000 release date.
With SK’s publisher and funding gone and their magnum opus in heavy development, overdue and incomplete, a miracle of sorts occurred: Nintendo purchased part of the company. Consequently, Too Human for the Sony PlayStation, a four-disc epic years in the making, is entirely abandoned and all work on it junked.
Dyack would later go on to admit that the cancelled game was only a short time away from being ready to release:
As the next two iterations of the Too Human project would be for far more advanced systems, it appears that aside from some concept artwork, nothing from these years at Silicon Knights was usable in any released game. The final release, two generations later, would be completely unrecognisable in story and concept from its PlayStation origin.
There’s some interesting media and information about this cancelled game. Be aware that some of this stuff is nearly twenty years old.
The original game logo and some concept art:
(Source: Portfolio of former Silicon Knights artist Raffaele Ienco)
The story concept itself, which is completely different from the game’s eventual final release. Note the complete lack of Norse influences and techno-Gods.
Screenshots from various sources, which EGM magazine claimed were from a build of the game that was more than 50% complete:
A list of the features and ambitions for the game:
An excerpt from the voice over script:
Some video footage:
And finally, some renders from the FMV cutscenes that would have played throughout the game:
(Source: The Portfolio of Albert Alenjandro.
As you can see, Too Human had gone through extensive - and undoubtedly expensive - development before EA/MGM pulled out and its eventual cancellation. For more than one format, it seems...
Too Human (Sega Saturn)
Partner: Electronic Arts/MGM
There is very little additional information on this discovery. Al we have is a senior and long-term Silicon Knights staff member revealing that a Sega Saturn version of Too Human was also worked on and cancelled.
Eternal Darkness (Nintendo 64)
With the Nintendo and Silicon Knights partnership, Too Human was terminated. Silicon Knights channelled their energies into a new game – a psychological horror for the Nintendo 64 called Eternal Darkness.
Silicon Knights announced the game with a story tease:
Along with information about the scope and characters of the game – including description of a “Special Forces commando” that did not make the final cut:
Dyack discloses how far they pushed the Nintendo 64, and reveals that the game used the 4MB expansion pack:
At the point of cancellation, Denis reveals that the game was nearly finished:
Despite being very near completion, Eternal Darkness N64 was cancelled, and production was restarted on the eventual Gamecube incarnation. Once again, years of work had to be scrapped.
I’ve been able to unearth some really interesting concept art that I’m all but certain are the earliest (1998) sketches of its bestiary:
A ton of screenshots from various sources:
This screenshot is certainly very unusual, and seems to suggest that Silicon Knights experimented with – and rejected – a more stylised art style. The rendering on the zombies in particular is very different to their appearance in other images:
There’s also the original Nintendo 64 trailer here – showing some quite middle and late parts of the game:
Interestingly, I’ve also been able to unearth the original patent document for the Sanity Effect system.
The patent, filed in December 2000, lists Denis Dyack and Nintendo staff members as joint inventors. It’s a quite insightful read in itself, listing examples of sanity effects that don’t actually appear in Eternal Darkness – such as small rodents making loud roars.
Alongside various flow charts, the following sketches appear to illustrate the invention. The use of Nintendo first-party brands in the patent is very telling, and highlights just how close Nintendo and Silicon Knights were during this period:
With the cancellation of Eternal Darkness 64 – after so much work – Silicon Knights finally began to remake their aborted project for the Nintendo GameCube.
Last edited by Mama Robotnik; 12-12-2012 at 03:31 AM.
Eternal Darkness (Nintendo Gamecube)
Eternal Darkness was entirely rebuilt for the Gamecube – with massive graphical enhancement. The project became more collaborative, with Shigeru Miyamoto providing oversight and offering feedback - and on-site visits from Satoru Iwata.
Following the transition to Gamecube and rapidly approaching release, real-life events made the team reconsider certain aspects of their story and content.
Following last-minute changes, the game emerged from its long development cycle spanning two consoles, and was a huge critical success. The game would only become more fondly remembered as the years went on.
From Eternal Darkness, I’ve been able to unearth some rarely-seen detailed environment renders:
A significant number of images form portfolios showing off the environments in-game (which are very interesting to contrast to the images provided from the cancelled Nintendo 64 incarnation):
Some concept artwork of the apocalypses (these have been posted by me before but are included for completion’s sake). The annotations have been provided by the artist.
(Source: John Dobbie’s Portfolio)
(Neogaf’s Shiggy has also posted some unique concept art here)
Finally, a render of Pious Augustus, being evil in front of a Mantarok-styled portal:
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Partners: Nintendo and Konami
Shortly after the release of Eternal Darkness, Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto offered Dyack the opportunity for Silicon Knights to work with one of gaming’s most beloved franchises:
The proposal was for Silicon Knights to produce a GameCube remake of the classic Metal Gear Solid – with gameplay mechanics borrowed and implemented from Metal Gear Solid 2. SK had raised so much prestige within Nintendo, that they were named to Hideo Kojima on Shigeru Miyamoto’s personal recommendation. The project became a collaboration between SK and Konami, with broad oversight by Nintendo:
Specifically, supervision of the project was managed by Konami through extensive use of video conferencing, and telephone contact with Miyamoto:
Though the game was a critical success, some features were cut early in development. GameBoy Advance connectivity was promised and later abandoned, and consideration had been given to the amount of additional development time needed to have included Metal Gear Solid 2:
A few pieces of media from the remake that I’ve been able to unearth – some environment renders and detailed model images:
The final outcome of The Twin Snakes project, is asserted by Dyack to now be the true Metal Gear Solid 1:
Dyack also asserted that future work with Konami and Nintendo was on the cards:
The assertion could not have been further from the truth. Following the completion of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, Silicon Knights would never release a title with Nintendo or Konami again.
Too Human (Nintendo GameCube)
With the successful releases of Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, SK was a proven and popular developer. The Legacy of Kain franchise they had started, was going into its third and fourth sequels under Crystal Dynamics – proof that SK could create original IPs with franchise potential. There were many, many requests for a sequel to Eternal Darkness – but Silicon Knights had other ideas.
While working on their successful GameCube games, behind the scenes, work was also ongoing on the third version of Too Human. A concept FMV video (that I have never been able to find – PM me if you do!) was shown at Spaceworld 2000. IGN, impressed with the video, offered this plot synopsis:
If you scroll back up to the PlayStation/Saturn Too Human sections, you will see that this story is very similar to the only detailed up there. This version of Too Human was apparently a remake of the 32-bit concept and vision, rather than the dramatic Norse-God overhaul that will be the final fruition of the game.
Dyack and the rest of the team refused to discuss the Too Human project during any interviews in this era. I’ve managed to unearth a few things. Firstly – three renders. The Protagonist, The Doctor, and some sort of robot that I suspect is from this project:
Some concept pieces – likely buildings from the original PlayStation/Saturn versions - that have been reconceptualised into grander structures that benefit from the GameCube’s superior capabilities:
(Source: Portfolio of former Silicon Knights artist Raffaele Ienco)
What I strongly believe are environment renders from Too Human GameCube (though they are not explicitly labelled as such) – in particular note their similarity to the last piece of concept art above:
(Source: Portfolio of former Silicon Knights artist Raffaele Ienco)
Two more environment renders, pre and post-texturing:
Miscellaneous images from the project:
Some of the images above find their origins in the original PlayStation/Saturn versions concept art and screenshots:
(PlayStation/Saturn images and art on the left, GameCube interpretation on the right):
Another interesting image: a feed photo from the Spaceworld 2000 video – a man standing before nine Pillars. If you are familiar with the Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain mythology, you may know that the nine Pillars of Nosgoth are the central edifice of the entire universe. Given that at this point in time, Crystal Dynamics were taking the Legacy of Kain series in a direction Dyack disapproved of, one could interpret the image as a reminder to Silicon Knights’ fans as to who originated the Pillars of Nosgoth/Legacy of Kain universe:
Finally, this image is significant. Norse influences appeared to have been introduced during the development of the GameCube version of the game:
When Too Human would next be seen, a generation later, the above nod to North mythology would be expanded to dominate the entire project. The story of John Franks – the story of the cancelled PlayStation, Saturn and GameCube projects – would be wholly abandoned.
Too Human (Xbox 360)
Partner: Microsoft with engine support from Epic
Its 2004. Silicon Knights have just released Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Denis Dyack and his team are being recommended for high-profile projects by Shigeru Miyamoto himself. Fans are demanding a sequel to Eternal Darkness. The company has funding, project security, and guidance from the oldest gaming company in existence. Fans even enjoy spreading rumours that the company will be trusted with the prestigious Zelda franchise.
Silicon Knights had never been in a more secure position, and Dyack was not quiet regarding the Nintendo-SK alliance:
Then all of a sudden, news breaks: Silicon Knights, the company “exceedingly close” to Nintendo’s highest executives, the alliance that would definitely“never” end, ended. The reason? Nintendo Wii.
Dyack wanted more power to achieve his vision – and the Wii would not fulfil this. The potential shown in games such as Zelda: Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime Trilogy, were not up to the standard that Dyack expected.
Even the name of the console met with his disapproval:
The two companies parted ways, and Dyack ordered Silicon Knights or work on the fourth incarnation of Too Human, for the Xbox 360. A promise was made:
Last edited by Mama Robotnik; 12-12-2012 at 07:18 AM.
Silicon Knights teamed up with Microsoft and Epic to begin what would be the final realisation of Too Human. Microsoft offered some support and funding, and Epic licensed SK their Unreal 3 engine and technologies.
As tidbits were revealed about the project, it became clear that the story and style of the previous three cancelled incarnations of Too Human, had been wholly jettisoned.
Despite sharing the same name as its aborted predecessors, Too Human for the Xbox 360 was effectively an entirely new game. The storyline of a future cop investigating the death of his partner, in a society in which man is increasingly becoming machine, will never be told. The promises of stealth progression and complex choices through a futuristic cityscape were abandoned. Instead, a more fantasy setting – a world of superhuman future cyborg Norse Gods – was presented in a loot-based action game.
Dyack’s ambition for Too Human dominated every interview of the era. He claimed the project was the summation of all that Silicon Knights learned from Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima:
Dyack didn’t hesitate to play up his game, and play down the competition.
After a disastrous E3 showing – described by Penny Arcade as “miserable” and as making Tycho “sad” - Dyack made promises that his team were improving the game. On the internet, Dyack’s defense of Too Human became somewhat unhinged.
Despite previously comparing Too Human to Halo and Gears of War, and declaring the game to be the summation of the teachings of Kojima and Miyamoto, Dyack felt that Lair and Haze were appropriate games to beat when the review scores came out.
Dyack would go on to suggest that NeoGAF’s behaviour, both in its defiance of him and Too Human, could see the forum shut down:
While Dyack posted with abandon on the internet, there was growing tension within Silicon Knights. Too Human had showed badly at E3, and the company needed someone to blame.
It became increasingly difficult for staff to bring forward their concerns regarding Too Human’s progress, and the scapegoating of Epic:
Joanne Dyack, Denis’ wife, was the senior HR figure of Silicon Knights. According to one source, she would report all misgivings back to her husband.
Dyack’s dominance was such that he had policies on what they could, and could not say. One word in particular was verboten.
As Too Human was released to mediocre reviews and bargain bins, Dyack launched two volleys. The first was aimed at Epic, a lawsuit to hold them accountable for the failure of Too Human. This decision would be the one that would eventually destroy the company and cost the jobs of hundreds of people, but we’ll come to that later.
The second volley was aimed at the players and reviewers, for being too incapable to fully appreciate the wonder of his magnum opus.
Dyack also proclaimed Too Human to be a success against the competition, while simultaneously inventing arbitrary “marketing” criteria to exclude much of the competition from being eligible to contest his boast:
Some interesting material I’ve found across a range of portfolios – including character and environment renders showing the often-overlooked detail that Silicon Knights put into the game.
(Sources: Various portfolios – 1 2 3 4 and 5 )
Silicon Knights ended their previous game with prestige and security. They ended Too Human with mockery, uncertainty for the future, a looming lawsuit with Epic, and an impotence to fulfil their “dream” of a Too Human trilogy.
Too Human II - “Rise of the Giants”
Too Human III
Early in the development of Too Human (360), Silicon Knights announced their ambition to make a trilogy.
Dyack, on behalf of the company, confirmed that the Too Human trilogy was quite literally, the dream project of Silicon Knights:
Following the disastrous E3 presentation of Too Human, Silicon Knights’ ambitions became difficult to reconcile. Penny Arcade offered this scathing take on the situation. A former Silicon Knights staffer asserts that the ambition came from the company’s collective ego, inflated by the successes of their earlier games.
Too Human was released, and was a commercial and critical bomb. The game ended on a cliffhanger, with Loki staring at a giant walking creature. A piece of concept art, photographed within Silicon Knights’ studio, would strongly suggest that the working title for Too Human II was “Rise of the Giants”.
This would tie into a blog post that Dyack gave during the development of Too Human.
Dyack would also go on to confirm the themes of Too Human II and Too Human III:
Dyack confirmed that work on Too Human II and III begun immediately after the release of Too Human:
The work stopped in unknown circumstances. Too Human II and Too Human III were jointly cancelled, and Dyack’s “dream” of the Too Human Trilogy died with them.
Silicon Knights would only release one more game. But before that, came a cavalcade of aborted and cancelled projects.
Silent Hill: The Box
Partners: SEGA, later THQ
From this point, references will be made to this document – the final judgement of the Epic V Silicon Knights legal contest:
The Box: This convoluted, failed project meandered through partners until it fell apart. The short version of events, as surmised by NeoGAF’s own Shiggy:
Evidence supports Shiggy’s assertion that the project began as a Silent Hill proposal:
It is unclear if Konami were ever presented the project (and therefore outright rejected it), or if SEGA was approached first. Regardless, without either company going into specifics about the game, SEGA and Silicon Knights jointly announced a collaborative project. Dyack boasted that they would redefine the “heights” of the gaming medium together.
A former Silicon Knights programmer reveals that The Box was an “open world survival horror” game intended for release on the PS3 and 360:
I’ve been able to find some interesting media on the game in this form.
(Source: StudioQube, the site of former SK artists Michael Chomicki and Cyprian Chomicki)
(Source: Francisco Alvarez’s Portfolio)
(Source: Charles Lim’s portfolio website – it should be noted that the images have the word “Unreal” in their filenames, suggesting that despite the legal action against Epic, Silicon Knights were still using the Unreal Engine following Too Human)
(Source: Don Toledo)
A great contribution from Shiggy:
As the case also evidences – The Box / The Ritualyst was cancelled in 2009. Once again, years of work were abandoned.
Siren in the Maelstrom
Telefilm Canada announced the title of this project on their website, in a list of projects approved financial support via the Canada New Media Fund. The project is also mentioned in the Epic v Silicon Knights legal documents.
No information exists about this cancelled project. The following concept images are from a former Silicon Knights staffer from a cancelled SK project – they could possibly be from Maelstrom. With the connotations of “maelstrom” suggesting a chaotic, irrational place – these abstract and chaotic environment sketches could be our only glimpse into its pandemonium:
(Source: Online Portfolio of SK’s John Dobbie)
The only comment acknowledging the existence of Siren in the Maelstrom, is from Denis Dyack when asked about Telefilm leaking the project.
The Silicon Knights v Epic lawsuit revealed two more cancelled projects:
It is unclear if Sandman relates to Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. The only image I have been able to obtain for this cancelled project is the following image – a prototype GUI:
(Source: StudioQube, the site of former SK artists Michael Chomicki and Cyprian Chomicki)
Another game revealed in the lawsuit. The game made it to a prototype before it was cancelled. I have been able to find no media on this.
The development of Silicon Knights’ final game, the bombsite that is X-Men Destiny, is a fascinating story. It has also been told in this fantastically-researched article by Andrew McMillen that I really, really suggest you read. He’s reached out to sources and tells the story of what happened far better than I could. A must read.
Last edited by Mama Robotnik; 04-30-2013 at 02:11 AM.
Eternal Darkness II
Partner: Possibly Nintendo
Status: Dies with the studio
In March 2012, Denis Dyack informed GameIndustry.biz that Silicon Knights would be making a sequel to one of their previous games:
There were only three candidates:
Legacy of Kain: an extremely unlikely possibility given the how viciously Crystal Dynamics and SK parted way.
Too Human:highly unlikely to be anyone’s “most requested”.
Eternal Darkness popular and feasible.
Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion would be thus: Silicon Knights were returning to their last recent hit, Eternal Darkness. Back in 2006, Dyack confirmed that this was going to be the plan all along:
Back in June this year, Shiggy posted this on NeoGAF.
Given how Shiggy has proven to be accurate with regularity, it caused a bit of a storm. Sites picked up the story, and Dyack issued a statement:
Andrew McMillen’s investigation, in which multiple sources from Silicon Knights were interviewed, corroborates Shiggy and contradicts Denis:
At least one portfolio website of a former Silicon Knights concept artist seems to make reference to the project – suggesting that the ambition was for a 360/PS3/WiiU release.
How this multi-format release would have worked - given Nintendo’s ambiguous partial ownership of the Eternal Darkness IP – is unclear. Regardless, with X-Men Destiny a critical and commercial bomb, and reportedly only five employees remaining in the once hundreds-strong organisation, Eternal Darkness II is almost certainly utterly cancelled. Penny Arcade can explain SK’s current toxicity in a way better than I:
I may have found some media from the project.
I have found a portfolio belonging to a former Silicon Knights 3D Character Artist, with renders from unspecified cancelled projects – along with his work on Too Human. The first folder (uploaded in June 2012) shows the above image and the below thumbnails.
I suspect these could be images of a Mantorok-alligned undead creature. The ending of Eternal Darkness revealed that the only surviving ancient was the purple-magic plotting God, Mantorok. Given that in the first game, each of other (Red/Blue/Green) Ancients had their own (Red/Blue/Green) undead creatures, it would make sense for the now unopposed Mantorok to be now raising his own (purple) forces.
The following images are from a second folder (also uploaded in June 2012), and are explicitly referred to as renders from a cancelled Silicon Knights’ project – and they do not seem to correspond to any of the other cancelled games we have discussed here. I think there is a likely chance that these creatures are also from the cancelled Eternal Darkness II.
(Source : The portfolio of former Silicon Knights Character Artist David Cho)
Additional : Another fantastic contribution from Shiggy:
(Source: Matthew Lau)
According to Matthew's resume, he worked at Silicon Knights back in 2008 on multiple game development concepts. The image of a possessed magical-empowered Roman centurion is strongly connected to the Eternal Darkness mythos. Could this have been a very early take on a direct sequel to ED?
From looking through all of the above: What did Silicon Knights die of?
The lawsuit with Epic was of course, the death sentence. But we have evidence here of a developer spending years meandering through cancelled projects, irresponsibly restarting the development of games that were close to completion, and blaming others for their own shortcomings. We have evidence of a studio that lucked out and established a position of security and stability – as a close partner of Nintendo – and abandoned that enviable position in order to chase shinier graphics for their “dream” project. We have evidence of a developer that put everything into the Too Human “trilogy” – a trilogy that consists of five cancelled games and one mediocre release – and lost their reputation over a few short years thanks to bad game and a trolling studio head. All of this can be surmised as thus: catastrophic mismanagement.
Silicon Knights was a studio that, with guidance, could achieve greatness. It reached its highest point with the release of Eternal Darkness – and were being personally recommended for projects by Shigeru Miyamoto himself. We can juxtapose that with its lowest point, the present – a dead studio, owing millions, toxic to publishers and ordered by law to destroy all of their unsold games.
It’s a sad story, all in all. Hope you enjoyed the read.
Special thanks to NeoGAF's Shiggy for his additions.
Other Mama Robotnik NeoGAF Research Threads - if you like this sort of thing and missed them:
Metroid Prime Trilogy
Last edited by Mama Robotnik; 04-30-2013 at 12:18 PM.
hide your water-based mammals
(12-12-2012, 02:36 AM)
I've already started reading some of this. Well done.
I seen your disclaimer was gone so I went and posted.
I've read some of it and again, very impressive. Will dig into the rest now.
I have assigned to you one day for each year its punishment will last.
(12-12-2012, 02:38 AM)
sweet, this'll be a fun read.
Also, make a blog if you haven't already, Mama Robotnik. these posts are great, and having a place where we can read them all in a collection would be great. You've got a great eye for detail.
(12-12-2012, 02:40 AM)
I still have the preorder cancellation email Electronics Boutique had sent from my preorder of Eternal Darkness for N64. Had really been looking forward to that version.
Ended up purchasing the GCN version a couple months after it came out from the NOA shop in Redmond when I had been out there. Unfortunately, when I got back from my two weeks out there, our house had been robbed, and my GCN and all its games and such (and various other things as well) had been stolen. Homeowner's insurance had covered the cost of replacing most of it, but for a while Eternal Darkness was all I really had to play for the system. So, spent a good deal of time with it then. Never ended up finishing it though.
Anyway, rambling aside, Silicon Knights really is a strange story. Eternal Darkness, and the point they reached then, seemed to basically be the culmination of everything they had done up to that point, and a place where they could really springboard to success... Instead, things just kind of fell apart. Going to take more time reading through all of this thread, of course, but, it was just such a strange experience being there and seeing it all happen in real time, and wondering how in the world things could go that wrong.
(12-12-2012, 02:41 AM)
Wow nice job. God I miss legacy of kain. I played that game over and over year after year when I was younger.
I still have my psx disc actually!
Last edited by StealthxHawk; 12-12-2012 at 02:42 AM. Reason: spelling
(12-12-2012, 02:42 AM)
Really neat OP. Silicon Knights is pretty fascinating. Also, most of the art in here is outstanding.
Edit: I really like this for some reason. Super abstract.
(12-12-2012, 02:42 AM)
(12-12-2012, 02:47 AM)
What a fantastic read, OP. Very well-researched and lots of details.
This could definitely be published.
As for Silicon Knights... Nintendo was the glue that kept them together.
I just wish Dyack wasn't so arrogant regarding the Wii. If Silicon Knights stayed as a Nintendo 2nd-party developer they might still be with us.
(12-12-2012, 02:48 AM)
(12-12-2012, 02:48 AM)
(12-12-2012, 02:49 AM)
Good read Mama Robotnik.
This was the first time I saw PSX/Saturn/GC versions of Too Human and it really paints a picture of how far the developer truly failed. It was a crying shame because even though they lucked out in getting the partnership with Nintendo in the first place, they did manage to pull off a good showing with Eternal Darkness. And lucking out with Kojima with Twin Snakes (hell, I was more surprised to hear that doing Metal Gear Solid 2 on the GC was also at least a possibility) cemented their position as a capable developer in Nintendo's eyes even more.
But then they had to go off and squander all of that by trying to chase Too Human with Dyack essentially locked in his binders and tunnel vision for the game for three console generations.
Also, I did get a chuckle on Dyack's banning of the word "Epic."
(12-12-2012, 02:51 AM)
No one fails as hard as Silicon Knights, walking out on Nintendo for an incredibly stupid reason and basically damning themselves to medicority and the abyss of time.
(12-12-2012, 02:52 AM)
Silicon Knights was one of my studios ever. It's with a sadness I see the studio go down the shitter. I really wanted a Too Human: Rise of the Giants and a new Eternal Darkness but it was not meant to be it seems.
Sad. I did enjoy Too Human, even with all it's problems. It's a game that I think could have been good with a sequel but that will never happen. Oh well, I blame Dyack and his insane ego for the fall of SK.
Also, Amazing job Mama as always.
(12-12-2012, 02:55 AM)
I actually really enjoyed Too Human.
Fun combat system, difficult, and had deep RPG mechanics. Reminds me of demon souls in a way with the hub system.
It was actually pretty skill based. Once you got good at dodge into slide into your various other abilities it really opened up.
And the RPG mechanics actually got very deep with the rune system, damage/defense caps, and the rare open socket armors.
It was deeply flawed, but still an enjoyable experience and potentially a very good story to work with as well.
Would have loved to see a sequel. Great write up, an interesting read throughout.
(12-12-2012, 03:09 AM)
Great work, MamaRobotnik. The sheer hubris on display is truly palpable.
I seriously can't imagine how Dyack will ever work in the gaming industry again; there's burning bridges, and then there's nuking the bridges from orbit. Dyack certainly took the latter route.
Dudebro, My Shit is Fucked Up So I Got to Shoot/Slice You II: It's Straight-Up Dawg Time
(12-12-2012, 03:10 AM)
Nice work, but slight correction…
(12-12-2012, 03:13 AM)
Sad to see a studio with talent wasted.
As for the game, Too Human, I played it the day it came out and to this date, it is one of the best Co-Op experiences I've had on the 360.
The game has its ups and downs but fun nonetheless with all the loot.
EDIT: Great read OP, +1.
(12-12-2012, 03:15 AM)
(12-12-2012, 03:15 AM)
(12-12-2012, 03:17 AM)
(12-12-2012, 03:21 AM)
Out of curiosity Mama, where would you have placed SK's fortunes now if Dyack decided to swallow his pride and continue their partnership with Nintendo by working on the Wii? Sure, hindsight is 20/20, so it's easy to say "not dead," but I'm really curious if you have an opinion on that bit of speculation.