Once upon a time, Pillars of Eternity and Fallout: New Vegas developer Obsidian was working on a major Xbox One RPG called Stormlands. Then it got cancelled, and Obsidian had to lay off 30 people, a large portion of a relatively small staff. Turns out, Tyranny, Obsidian's new RPG in which evil has already won, partially emerged from Stormlands' ashes. When I first saw Tyranny in action during GDC, I was told that the game's basic ideas — a magic apocalypse and a universe in which the bad guys won the big tennis match that decides the balance between good and evil — have been kicking around at Obsidian for quite a while. Since around 2009, specifically.
An ex-Obsidian acquaintance of mine was the first to tell me of the Stormlands connection. The way he put it, Stormlands, a triple-A RPG intended to be published by Microsoft near the Xbox One's launch, sank into the unfeeling seas of a churning industry in 2012, but Obsidian held onto the rights. The ensuing lay-offs were a major blow to Obsidian; it's been said that CEO Feargus Urquhart choked up when he made the announcement to the rest of the studio.
That brings us to now. Pillars of Eternity, an RPG in the mould of old-school hits like Baldur's Gate, was a hit, a huge change of fortune for a company that was doing everything from licensed games to free-to-play tank battlers to see what stuck. Thus, Tyranny, a less traditional RPG in that mould, was born. Reborn, to an extent.
I reached out to Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart himself to fill in some blanks. Turns out, many ideas now present in Tyranny have been brewing for about a decade. Urquhart explained:
The story of Tyranny's origins go pretty far back. We pitched a project called Fury in 2006 that was based in a world that had been laid waste by a magical apocalypse. From there, we started thinking more about the idea, and started pitching a game called Defiance in 2009. Defiance is where we really embraced the idea of making a game in a world where evil already won.
Move ahead a couple of years, and we did take some of the ideas from Defiance along with some new ones and pitched a new game called Stormlands. This pitch became the Xbox One launch game we were working on. However, that game was more like Fury when it came to it being about playing in a world after a magical apocalypse.
After that game had been cancelled, we returned to the ideas we had come up with for Defiance. We began building a more in-depth world around the idea along with thinking how could we really let the player understand that evil won the war. That spawned the thought about letting the player take part in the conquering of the world itself as a part of character creation.
The end result? Tyranny.
So Stormlands touched on some of the same ideas as Tyranny does, but Tyranny is also very much its own game. Still, it's nice to see that (barring any unforeseen, possibly magical disaster) Obsidian will finally get to realise grand plans that have been brewing for such a long time.