146: Cyberpunked: the Fall of Black9

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I saw that too. I'm kind of curious who he pissed off -- by the time I posted it had been taken down. It is a shame.

Incandescence and ErinHoffman: I removed my comment out of concern for the issue brought up by SilentScope001 - it is possible that the NDA over the publisher side of affairs might still be in force over Black9. Though I think I remember something about a 5 year-limitation, I don't want to risk it any further, as I don't have the document on hand.

I was sorry to see that post go as well, but I can understand removing it if there's a legal concern.

I've always wondered what happened to that game. It, HALO and one other game were reasons I was considering buying an XBOX. Upon reading this article I feel very sympathetic to your group being screwed over by what appears to be the typical approach in corporate culture to any special projects.
The problems you mentioned are common in any attempt to develop a special project. The only difference between my experiences and yours is that the games industry is entirely centered around making the games (Yes I am aware I sound like Captain Obvious). I've had assholes running my shift team into the ground during a significant refurbishment/pointless shakedown.
The stuff I've done/seen/been threatened with is nothing compared to what you and your spouse have been through with EA and this though.

As an aside, I found a link to the paper Black9 RPG:

http://www.philomathgames.com/Black9Ops.pdf

I personally didn't hear much about this title, but as a huge fan of cyberpunk and Deus Ex, I'm also quite moved and disappointed by this story as well.

ErinHoffman:
Who knows, it was likely part of the issue if Majesco itself had such a level of doubt about the game, but the actual production people -- even the asshole -- didn't voice that up until the very end when they were talking about cancellation.

Not to mention: who attempts to acquire a project they have doubts about? Sounds like a bluff to me, to go along with the strongarm tactics and the offer to the founders. Who tries to hire the people at the core of a company you think just messed up the development of a game? I could see a lone programmer because they got word that this was the only person with any clue, but people that high up the ladder with that much power over the project? Answer: only people who think the project has value.

Glad you appreciated my earlier comment. I guess it is that it is related to a lot of stuff on my own mind these days.

I thought this was an excellent article, and it needed to be written.

I remember working with many third party studios back in those days, and Majesco weren't the only publishers with nasty tactics. I've never seen such abhorrent contract clauses in my life... anyway, thank you, Erin, for sharing your side of the Black9 story.

What I want to know is: who owns the project? if never had a contract with MADjesco the studio still own it? Anyway, well, I never had a XBOX, its very weak in Brasil, here the PS2 rules but the 360 is now getting some space, it deserve it. But so much canceled projects that disapear in thin air. Just tell me, can WE see the game? Can we get it? even if its not complete, but 80% itīs quite playable for sure, eve the multi-player.
The story is the vision of a future very near to ourselfs from now on. The gaming industry works now just like the great movie studios, you need 20,000,000,00 to make a game? For god sake, you can begin a city with all this money!?!?! HDMI graphics to create a new MoH or CoD just like the old ones, but looking better, more guns more blood, more bodies, but the same at heart. The Black9 event just prove that games are getting a bad road,even the asian remakes exists: MGS Twin Snakes is the big name in. Itīs sad, I want to play the game but get ready everybody, this is the future, our future and no one is doing nothing to change it.
Sega, Atari, Snk, Nec, Panasonic, they all produced consoles in the past, but todey itīs a work only for Nintendo, Sony e Microsoft, and the only one who survived from the past days canīt enter in the market like an equal, Wii is not good enough, it is just different. Maybe the next Smash Bros can be on a con sole next to you, but with an 4 or 720 in its names, who knows...

Excellent article. This is the reason I read the Escapist. I never know exactly what I am about to get when I read a new issue.

When making money is priority number one, it is no surprise that some people will get chewed up by the machinery. The only purpose a company has, is to maximize value for the shareholders. Even when the executives do not betray the shareholders' trust, there is bound to be collateral damage. In fact, sometimes the well-being of employees and subcontractors are mutually exclusive with shareholder value. That is the world we live in and have always lived in.

Some think that a Zen-like acceptance and indifference prevents you from enjoying yourself. I think it is the only way to enjoy yourself. Otherwise you are constantly afraid of failure and loss. A wise man said: "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."

This article seemed very strange and one sided to me.

I don't doubt that Majesco did all the things that are talked about here, but at the same time, no publisher shuts down a game that's as good as the one depicted here.

Not to mention that everything I heard about this game (from journalists as well as former majesco employees) was less-than-complementary. And that's being generous.

I never saw it myself, so I have no idea...but this article reads like the developers were golden and the publisher was evil. I suspect the answer was somewhere in between (or at the very least, the publisher may have been evil, but the developer was hardly without flaws).

@ crowlski -- Thanks, and glad you enjoyed the article.

@ eltonberges -- Your question is exactly the foundation of the lawsuit, and it gets complicated -- there is no immediate answer. On the one hand Majesco was paying for the work being done on the game, so the game itself (NOT the source code but the finished product) they had paid for. On the other hand, the IP was Taldren's, and Majesco did not have a license to publish it or own the copyright to any of its materials or source. This is why the lawsuit would have taken so long to resolve.

@ Finnish(ed) -- Thanks, too, and glad you enjoyed the article. I'm not sure about the expulsion of passion from one's work, though. I think ultimately from a game dev standpoint or the standpoint of any creative person, you have to be a little bit deluded to even start a project like this -- you have to have that fire that says "this could be amazing" -- it's what keeps you going when things get hard. I would hate to see indifferent games made by indifferent developers.

@ Jason -- Thanks for your comments. I can see how from a publisher producer standpoint the article would have seemed one-sided to you. I was absolutely certain that Majesco would "decline to comment" if I contacted them about this -- the litigation was never resolved, so they probably can't. And the producer, the one who would have had the most to say with experience on the project, is both nowhere to be found, and nor do I have any interest in encountering him ever again. I think it would have been disingenuous for me to write an article like this where it was from my direct experience and then trap Majesco in with quotes from their perspective -- I was simply being too direct. They are of course welcome to respond with a similar piece from their perspective, but again I think hell will freeze over first. Re "no publisher shuts down a game that's as good as the one depicted here." -- the only time I talk about the game's actual quality is in the closing, which I openly admit to being subjective; however, you're correct, and even Majesco did not shut down the game. They attempted to steal it. They came in, took the code, offered to hire the founders and a number of other Taldren staff, and then made a bid to bring the project in-house, a proposal for which their primary argument was "we won't pay you otherwise". It was a publisher-mediated attempt at a hostile takeover. At no point was the game canceled. If it had been, Taldren would have been able to pitch it elsewhere as a pickup title (and those of us working on it would have gotten checks from the severance of the contract). Majesco always thought that the game had value (or they would have just canceled it). Their plan had been to finish it, but once it was under legal contention, they realized that even if they did, they couldn't distribute it because its ownership was disputed. They did not expect Taldren to fight back. Taldren was not the only company they'd done this to. All that aside, I do not at all hold Taldren blameless, and if you read back through the other comments here I talk about some of that in detail.

Wow... to think my first Escapist article would be something like this...
I really feel for you guys. I'm an amateur writer, so I know what it's like to put all your heart and soul into creating something (I've got a few projects I've been working on for almost a year now). To have that taken away... I can't even imagine it. I really wish Black9 had been finished, or that there was some way to revive it; it seems like a really interesting game, and I'd be willing to settle for using then-current hardware to play it. (Hey, Baroque isn't exactly a work of art, but I'm still eyeing it curiously.) But at least the guy behind it got himself axed shortly thereafter. And good for Taldren for not backing down and letting Majesco rip off their hard work and ideas.
By the way... sorry, but what's an "AAA" game? I'm not really a mainstream gamer, so I'm not too familiar with terminology.

Edit: Oh, and by the way... love your avatar pic. ^_^ Spirited Away is such an amazing movie...

Thank you very much Erin for putting in the time and energy into writing this article. Black9 has been a difficult project for me to set aside and let lie fallow.

It would be interesting to put up a wiki or something and deposit the design docs and concept art there for any who are interested.

-Erik

"I'm told Majesco is a very different company now. But what happened with Black9 is the explanation for a great many canceled games, and changed forever the way the 40 of us working on that game thought about the industry".

The only thing different is that they are stingier and less willing to take chances on creativity. They are still as shady as ever. I helped found their internal dev studio, and after one frustrating year with no light at the end of the tunnel, I walked away. People may think it's crazy to walk away from a good salary at a time of financial distress and layoffs, but it's not always about the money, and after 10 years in this industry, I can't just keep working my life away for shovelware. I don't think I have to tell people to stop buying their games. Last time I checked, Majesco's reputation preceded them, and I don't see Wonderworld Amusement Park for DS rocketing up the sales charts. Like you said, you have to walk away, and I did. I wish I would've seen this story a couple of years ago. I knew some people at Taldren but never knew the story until I tried to hire a friend and animator who worked there. He told me he would never work for Majesco, and now I know why.

I am absolutely shocked; amazing article

My goodness. Never before have I seen one short comments thread contain so many banned members. Reading the posting guidelines to this site gives an indication as to why. An argument can certainly be made that any "forum" that would actually institute a rule stating that no post can be "offensive" should forever consist of exactly zero posts, but I suppose this isn't the place for such an argument, and I won't make it here. I'll simply keep my fingers crossed that no single human being on the planet should ever stumble across this post and deem it offensive, resulting in my being "PERMABANNED" regardless of what my actual intent may be.

As one of the two Majesco programmers directly referenced in your article, I was in a unique position to be on both sides of this story, and frankly, felt compelled to set the record straight on a number of items in the article that do not line up with my memory of events.

The first one, and frankly the most egregious, is the notion that I and my colleague were sent as some kind of clandestine double agents whose "primary purpose" was to upload Taldren's source materials. Considering that this accusation is decidedly false, it follows logically that no evidence for it can exist, and therefore I am in the unique position of knowing that you're leveling a claim based on your opinion of what may have happened and presenting it as fact, which is enormously unfair. In case you forget, Erin, my colleague and I put in as many hours as (and arguably more than) your team did during our brief time there. We were fully integrated as members of the programming team (at least to my knowledge), were present at all meetings for which our presence was requested, and our motivations during that time were no different than yours: to get this game back on track and make it as kick-ass as humanly possible. To suggest otherwise is hopelessly unfair. To the charge that we were responsible for uploading your source code and assets: it is false and completely unfounded. How that occurred, if it did, is anybody's guess, but you should know better than to accuse someone of something for which you have no evidence. I worked side-by-side with Taldren's developers, and would have considered it a gross betrayal of professionalism and common decency to do such a thing.

Some of the rest of your article I believe to be accurate, and some not, but I won't go line-by-line through it, partly because much of it is (and would be) conjecture on both our parts, and partly in the interest of professional courtesy to the other parties involved. Nor will I comment on the quality of the game, as that is purely subjective. What I will object to, though, is the notion that Black9 was--at least at the time it was cancelled--even approaching 85% complete (however you choose to interpret that phrase, which, as someone from the games industry, you must realize can be in any of a myriad of ways). Your own boss at the time (who posted above) doesn't even put the number that high, telling IGN in 2004: "Black9 was about 80% complete from the point of figuring out all the major systems and workflows for the Xbox and PC version and about 50% complete for the content." Not sure what that first part means, frankly, but I'd say the 50% content complete number is much closer to reality.

Finally, I'd make a general comment in response to the big-bad-corporation vs. hero-indie-little-guy-developer tone of the article in general and many of the comments. While there can be some truth to this sort of sentiment, and may even be some in this case, the notion that the publisher is some cold, calculating, greed-driven monstrosity that will stop at nothing in the pursuit of profit and at the expense of any and all in its path is a comical, and frankly, naive caricature. Hate the publisher all you want, the fact of the matter is that they--and in this unfortunate case, their shareholders--absorb most if not all of the risk involved in financing ventures such as this one (the success of which you fairly and accurately describe as a "brass ring"). While I can't speak to your claim regarding milestone payments without entering into the realm of speculation and anecdotal evidence, certainly those payments were made for at least some period of time during the life of the publisher-developer relationship. That money had to come from somewhere. It was invested in the hopes that there would be a return on that investment, and that money was forfeited (in addition to all other associated costs: employee time and effort devoted to the project, etc.) the moment the game was cancelled. Not to be trite, but as you yourself correctly implied: companies don't just throw money away. Had they considered the game salvageable, it would have been in Majesco's own self-interest to act accordingly. That they saw fit to risk letting the project die rather than continuing with the status quo, to me, speaks volumes.

The depiction of Majesco at that time as a soulless corporate entity with no interest in seeing the developer's vision realized is just not consistent with my experience there. As with any company whose very existence depends on its ability to be profitable, the financial repercussions of its decisions must be carefully measured, and one can certainly argue that the decisions made were the wrong ones, but that says nothing to the motivations of the individuals making those decisions. Without commenting on its effectiveness, at the very least, I can tell you with confidence that the creative arm of the company during my time there--even up to the executive level--was extraordinarily preoccupied with putting out a quality product. Perhaps, it may even be argued, to the detriment of the company.

All that being said, and despite the disaster status now associated with this title in the annals of game industry history, I look back at my period of time working at Taldren quite positively. It was a team of good, decent people (as were many of the fine folks at Majesco, I must break it to you), and I hope they are all doing well and continue to create the games they love, risks be damned.

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