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Behind The Implosion Of Silicon Knights

Silicon KnightsKotaku has a fascinating article written by Andrew McMillen regarding the development of the underwhelming and underselling X-Men: Destiny for the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii that reveals what happens when management ego gets in the way of developing a video game.  The long saga tells the story of developer Silicon Knights and its owner, Denis Dyack, who allegedly lorded over his employees and stymied their every attempt to create something special with the X-Men license in favor of his own pet projects that never really went anywhere and a desire to consume resources from the game's publisher, Activision.  In my favorite part of the story, Activision turned up the pressure on Dyack by linking him and his studio to the game in the most public way possible in a pre-emptive shaming attempt.  We've all seen angry players shame publishers and developers before, but this is the first time that I've seen a publisher do it to a developer.

Instead of offering an extension, Activision turned up the pressure by publicly announcing the game, and attaching Silicon Knights' name to it prominently. What Went Wrong With Silicon Knights' X-Men: Destiny? The October 7, 2010 release of the game's first trailer , released about a year before the eventual launch date, essentially put Silicon Knights on the hook to turn out a sellable product in a realistic time frame.

"I believe that's the video that Denis did not want released," said one source. "By putting the SK logo on the project for the first time publicly, Activision forced SK to start taking it seriously. But by then, it was pretty much too late."

"This was the first time that a publisher basically said, ‘No, finish the project and get it out the door'," the source said. "Keep in mind that during this time, SK continued to have some pretty senior people staffing [Eternal Darkness 2], and had no intention of moving them back over to XMD to help out the title."

Impossibly tight deadlines and publisher-pushed rush releases are two of the most commonly-cited factors when poor-quality games appear on shelves. Yet none of my eight sources believe that Activision was putting undue pressure on Silicon Knights. "They gave SK enough time; SK just didn't use it wisely at all," says another source. "SK over-promises to get a contract, and then always under-deliver. Activision was just the first publisher to hold their feet to the fire, so to speak."

If you've ever wondered what went wrong at Silicon Knights following its work with Nintendo on GameCube titles such as Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, I believe this article will answer all of your questions.  It's sadly fascinating to see a studio like Silicon Knights meltdown like this (the company is supposedly down to just five employees and one of them is Dyack), but it's not the first time that bad management has sunk a developer and it won't be the last.  Even if you're not a fan of the X-Men brand, read this article.  It's an intense look behind the scenes of the dark side of the development process.