Vigil Games survives Crytek, forms new studio, considers more Darksiders

Vigil Games may have died in the husk of THQ, a victim of a catastrophic video game industry implosion that scattered developers, studios and game franchises across the globe, but the spirit of the studio behind Darksiders, that core team of creators, lived on as Crytek USA.

That is, until three weeks ago, when Vigil founder and Crytek USA head David Adams had an epiphany of sorts and abruptly quit the company, taking his core studio team with him to form another independent studio: Gunfire Games.

"I decided and resigned that same day," Adams said.

While the decision to leave Crytek 18 months after joining the company was in part spurred by the publisher's money issues, said Adams, that wasn't the entire reason.

"Forming another independent studio was something that I thought about because of what was going on," he said. "It got to the point where people were starting to leave."

And it was those people, many of whom had worked as a team through three companies, who mattered most to Adams.

"It really was the team," he said. "When you make a game, one of the most important elements of that is the people you work with. You could get 12 of the best developers in the world and put them into a room and they may not make a good game."

But years of working together had turned Vigil into a core group of developers who could and did survive the death of not just their independent studio, but the closure of THQ and now, Adams hopes, the shake-ups at Crytek.

Gunfire Games, said studio director Matt Guzenda, is just getting off the ground with a handful of people.

"We have seven people, all of the leads at Crytek USA," he said. "We're still working on the next round of guys coming around."

And he's not yet sure how many of the team they'll be able to save. Crytek USA was once 45 people strong, but had slimmed down to a couple of dozen by the time Guzenda and Adams left.

"It's very hard to walk away from a project you invested a ton of time into."

They dwelled on their decision to leave Crytek because they had spent much of their time at the publisher building up an entirely new game: Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age, a free-to-play cooperative shooter that Guzenda said leaned heavily on the sort of gameplay Vigil is known for.

"I think that was the reason it took us so long to make that decision," he said. "It was the right decision to make. But we had to decide if we wanted to walk away from [Hunt]."

Adams said the decision to leave a game that wasn't done was a hard one.

"It was an intense mix of emotions," he said. "It's very hard to walk away from a project you invested a ton of time into."

But ultimately, Guzenda said, the core group decided that it was better to control its own destiny than try to stick around and wrap the game.

"We're more attached to the team than the IP," he said. "We can always make another IP."

This second leap of faith — the first was the jump to Crytek — does leave Adams and Guzenda sounding weary, and certainly second-guessing that initial decision to come to Crytek.

But THQ was an entirely different situation, Adams said.

"We walked away from them, not the other way around."

Adams founded Vigil Games with a clutch of other former NCSoft employees in 2005 and began working on the original Darksiders. In 2006, THQ bought the studio, but kept the team together. That lasted until 2013, when THQ abruptly folded.

While everyone at the publisher knew that THQ was on the ropes, that bankruptcy was almost a certainty, the Vigil studio was in an odd situation.

The studio found out very last-minute that no one had bid successfully on them during the bankruptcy process, Adams said.

"Friday was our last day at THQ and I think that afternoon someone from Crytek called me out of the blue and said they were interested in working with my team," he said. "It was pretty crazy."

Two days later, Adams became the CEO of the new Austin-based branch of Crytek, named Crytek USA, and brought about two-thirds of the team with him.

"It was all very quick," he said. "We jumped on the fist opportunity to stick together."

The team never had a chance to shop around, or try to go it alone, Adams said.

This time around, they're creating that opportunity.

"Having gone through this a second time, the first time we jumped on the first deal that sounded good; this time, we feel a little more confident in our abilities," Guzenda said. "We walked away from them, not the other way around."

That confidence comes from their work at Crytek, where Guzenda and Adams say the team was able to both help with work on Ryse: Son of Rome and put together an entirely new IP in about a year.

Both were surprised to hear Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli say that the cost of development in their studio was higher than expected.

"We were a small team, pretty lean, and we ended up with a small head count," Adams said. "We were always under-budget and over-delivering."

"In our heads there was a Darksiders 3, and we never got to make that."

While Adams respected Crytek's creativity, he said the company didn't keep them in the loop in terms of what was happening.

"That went on for a while," he said. "Long enough that we were able to entertain the idea of going independent again.

"It's the same thing that happened at THQ, but at least at THQ we finished Darksiders 2. In our heads there was a Darksiders 3, and we never got to make that."

Now that they're independent again, and Darksiders is in the hands of a company that has no announced plans for the franchise, Adams said they are exploring the possibility of returning to Darksiders.

"That is one of the options we are exploring," he said. "But we don't want to jump into something immediately. We want to weigh our options."

He added that they have spoken with the Darksiders IP's owner, Nordic Games.

Guzenda said that Gunfire Games is in "initial discussions with a couple of different groups."

"We're looking at some smaller short-term deals to keep the guys working," he said. "We do want to get a solid idea of what we're going to do next so we can make an informed decision about the engine we'll be using and the size of the team.

"We have a couple of good ideas. One of them is for an original idea, one is to work on an established IP. A couple of alternatives is more about helping other projects."

The long-term goal, though, is to start up an entirely new game.

Adams said it would be a classic Vigil game.

"We want to build upon what we've done on the past," he said. "Third-person, games with a lot of characters, adventure aspects, player progression, hunt cool bosses, fantastical creatures.

"We have some ideas kicking around."

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