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Editorial Daggerfall successor The Wayward Realms revealed to be mismanaged vaporware in post-mortem editorial

Infinitron

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Tags: Julian LeFay; OnceLost Games; Ted Peterson; The Wayward Realms

Last year, we learned that a number of Bethesda veterans from the 1990s, including names such as Julian LeFay and Ted Peterson, had teamed up to develop a new RPG inspired by the design principles of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. We soon found out that the company they'd formed was called OnceLost Games, and at the end of the year the upcoming game's title was revealed to be The Wayward Realms. We didn't post about it on the front page at the time, since I wanted to wait until they had something more than a placeholder website and a Discord channel. Thanks to a post-mortem published by Ian Phoenix (AKA Indigo Gaming), a YouTuber who was the game's marketing director and largely responsible for getting the team together in the first place, we now know that this may never happen.

It's an amazing read that provides a first-hand account of just how clueless these vaunted gaming industry veterans can be. Julian LeFay comes across as particularly bad, a dilettante who treated the game as a hobby while still demanding authority over its design direction. The trouble began when the team drove away their programmer (implied to be infamous former Morrowind designer Douglas Goodall) by talking shit about his politics in a post-video conference chat. Another programmer quit after realizing that Julian had no intention of doing any real work after losing the argument over which engine to use for the game. The team's business guy, Stefan Metaxa, soon left after a last ditch attempt at salvaging the project by arranging a weekend meetup at a rented house (apparently much of the weekend was spent goofing off and watching livestreams).

There are several more amusing anecdotes of this variety, but the most incredible one must be when Stefan's replacement, an industry veteran named Vijay Lakshman, tanked an $8M publishing deal (with a company that sounds like it may have been Paradox Interactive) by demanding $12M to "compete with the upcoming releases of Cyberpunk 2077 and The Elder Scrolls VI". Despite all of these events, it took until July this year for Ian to finally call it quits. This is how it ended:

This has become much more long-winded than I expected, but I think it’s important for me to share the most important facts surrounding the project. If only to give myself a some closure.

I should have seen the signs a long time ago, on how we couldn’t really work as a team under the easiest of conditions, no oversight, no investors, no deadlines, no expectations. One could only imagine how bad things could have gotten had we really been under pressure.

There was an ongoing debate about the graphics style. Julian was convinced a more photorealistic style was not only more ideal, but cheaper than a stylized style. At a few points he suggested that we could build the entire game using Unreal Engine Store-bought assets, which caused quite a debate.

Toward the end, there was no clear direction, or singular vision. What started out fairly clear, was continually challenged, questioned or debated. Lots of ideas came and went, but it seemed like not all the founders believed our idea was enough. It needed something else, in some people’s eyes.

By the time I left, we had only pursued two funding opportunities:
  1. One sent directly sent to our email inbox from a publisher.
  2. My recommendation to approach an investor group.
We didn’t have an active producer, someone who could really schedule out, plan, manage and motivate our team (which was growing to well over a dozen contributors). And we did very little to actually curate, verify the identity of, or actually get a real agreement with our contributors. One time, a mapmaker was recruited to our team, only later to be discovered to be an underage teenager, who then started leaking details about the game to the public. Ouch!

Was I going crazy?

Here I was working with several 20 to 30+ year veterans in the gaming industry, and it felt like we had no idea what we were doing. What’s worse, every step forward was met with criticism, devil’s advocate arguments or nagging debates that went on for weeks or even months.

I sent an email in June 2020, where I voiced my numerous concerns about group motivation, updates and the massive budget we now were shooting for, despite the sparse progress.

One of the newer founders (another Daggerfall veteran) agreed with me, and due to his massive workload due to COVID-19 related demand, he didn’t feel he could continue on the project with the time and dedication it needed.

I could no longer stomach the poor communication, lackluster updates, and black-hole-sized void of leadership and direction, things that an ambitious, unfunded project like this needed in spades. Every week, I began to dread our meeting. Sometimes it would be cancelled, delayed, or postponed multiple times if one of the founders was MIA. One weekend it practically took all day to finally land a meeting. It was just madness.

I was thinking about the project constantly, worrying, stressing out, not sleeping well. I had (in my own mind) shouldered the responsibility the estimated budget had grown from a Kickstarter goal starting at about $300–500K, to nothing less than 10 million, while the development stagnated.

I realized then, that you can’t pitch a 10-million-dollar game based on an hour-a-week Skype call. You need some serious motivation, lots of hard work, and unfortunately, lots of unpaid progress until we got funding.

I left the project in early July, turned over all the accounts and administrative access I had set up for our various services, and cancelled all of the project’s subscriptions, of which I was paying for out-of-pocket.

I was weary, unproductive and cynical due to the lack of communication and updates, I went ahead and backed up all of our services, shared drives, documentation and emails and shared the archive links, in case nobody thought to read my emails and make sure the Google and project management services didn’t cancel.

I didn’t even get a reply from all of the founders, which I was used to at that point, so it didn’t shock me.
Again, it's an amazing article. Not so much because of what it reveals about Wayward Realms (a game that I don't really care about much) but because of what it suggests about other projects whose development we don't know as much about. How many other spiritual successors from industry veterans have failed for similar reasons? I would love to see this kind of post-mortem written about OtherSide Entertainment, for instance.
 

ADL

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Response from Ted Peterson on Discord
As some of you know, the following article was recently published by Ian: https://medium.com/@indigogaming/how-i-almost-made-the-game-of-my-dreams-da8b327e50f3

Ian Phoenix said a lot of nice things about me as a writer, game designer, “glue” in the community, and as a decent human being in his article in Medium. The feeling is mutual.

One thing I regret, however, which is all on me, is when he left the project. He wrote a long email to the founders, basically stating a lot of the reasons he gave in the article about his reasons. I replied back with a quick email, and basically he said he deserved a longer response but there was a lot to process. He was owed a more thorough response, but I never sent him one. We have texted and emailed since then, mostly trying to figure out how to transfer ownership of our various company systems, including our website, but I never sent him the real reply I promised. I apologize for that. I had not meant to do this in public, but as it’s now in the public sphere, this will have to do. What Ian wrote about the start of the project is true: it all started with him. He did the first interview with Julian, which caused me to reach out to both of them. And that prompted Stefan Metaxa to get involved and the whole ball rollin’. I am also not going to dispute or really get into the general facts of what we’ve gone through in terms of financing and staffing the project. However, there is a question of perspective, and anyone who has ever seen Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” knows that perspective changes everything.

My first game came out in 1993, and I’ve been credited with (have to pull out my resume because Mobygames.com doesn’t list them all) about 25 games since then. And for every game that was published, there was at least one that never came out. The studio went under, the publisher went under, the game was too far behind schedule, a similar but higher-profile game was coming out to market first, a disgruntled programmer destroyed all the code (true story), and so on. Everything that can go wrong eventually does go wrong, and if being a veteran means anything, it means you have seen it all and have rolled with the punches.

That is to say that financing and staffing issues are at the very top of every likely problem with getting a game out to market. Usually, of course, there’s some meager financing at the start during pre-production, so we aren’t all volunteers working on a passion project. When people are being paid, have an office, and regular work hours, it’s easier – to say the least – to manage production in all ways. If you’ve ever tried to rally unpaid volunteers around a book sale, you know what I’m talking about. And that’s no massive role-playing game. I’m not going to bullshit that it’s been all smooth sailing, and that we won’t face rough waters in the future. Some weeks, it’s going to feel like two steps backwards, one step sideways. But contrary to reports, we’re not dead. We’re going into this eyes wide open, aware of the fact that there’s a reason no one has done a real spiritual successor to Daggerfall, even with full financing at the start and the resources of an established company. It’s fucking hard.

So you accept baby steps, because that’s progress.

One last thing I want to clear up. In the article Ian wrote that he didn’t intend to make his frustrations public, but “some of the newer contributors to the project have taken over community management, and were spreading misinformation about my involvement in the project.” No one who is handling community management is new to the project. We’re at one year on the Discord channel, and these guys have been on since the nearly the very start. I don’t know what was said, but it must have been misinterpreted, because everyone here has nothing but respect for Ian and his early and enormous contributions to Wayward Realms.

tldr.png
 

SerratedBiz

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Is it just me or does the write up portray Julian in a bad light? Like he's hard to work with, hard to reach, unable to hold a job, hasn't written a line of code, with unreasonable or unrealistic expectations? Not that it's not true, but it reads to me like Ian implicitly puts a lot of the burden of failure on his shoulders (as opposed to explicitly, ie the producer who fucked up the publisher deal).
 

The Wall

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These are posts made couple of minutes after Ted's tonight itz fine.tm speech. Inspires hope in project's future. Maybe they get published by Queer Nation, if they don't die from anxiety attacks before release. One of their young modder devs just thanked me for his #18 anxiety attack today. Ted is currently emptying vodka bottle. Everything is fine.tm
  • unknown.png
 

The Wall

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Is it just me or does the write up portray Julian in a bad light? Like he's hard to work with, hard to reach, unable to hold a job, hasn't written a line of code, with unreasonable or unrealistic expectations? Not that it's not true, but it reads to me like Ian implicitly puts a lot of the burden of failure on his shoulders (as opposed to explicitly, ie the producer who fucked up the publisher deal).

Regarding botched deal with Paradox, Ted just said that's not exactly how it went. When pressed to tell well, how the fuck exactly 8m $ disappeared, he said: lol no, can't tell you anythin. Sheogorath, great shitposter and writer! Not really best company manager. I guess state of his domain, Shivering Isles, showed us his managerial skills
 

Tyranicon

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ADL

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Spiritual successors need to die. Make something original already.
Of all the things that deserve a modern, big budget followup, Daggerfall is the one that deserves it most. Procedural generation has been left in the dust and outside of STALKER 2, I can't think of anything on the horizon that's focused on "emergent gameplay".
Look at all the crazy shit people are doing with DaggerfallUnity https://forums.dfworkshop.net/viewforum.php?f=27
 

Bohrain

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My team has the sexiest and deadliest waifus you can recruit.
From the sound of it the project won't even finish pre-production stage. If a shoelace budget project won't have a design doc and maybe a tech demo ready after a year it'll never be ready.
 

Tyranicon

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From the sound of it the project won't even finish pre-production stage. If a shoelace budget project won't have a design doc and maybe a tech demo ready after a year it'll never be ready.

When I first heard of this, I thought it was organized, funded and going down the typical tiny-studio-helmed-by-industry-veterans route. If that was true, I figured we would get a AA-quality game in a few years if everything didn't go tits up.

However, this was very much a side-project run by volunteers and people who have dayjobs, and struggled to get programmers (because programmers tend to want to get... paid). Almost rev-share hobbyist level.

Nobody who knows this should be surprised at all that it was an unorganized mess.
 

Tyranicon

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Spiritual successors need to die. Make something original already.
Of all the things that deserve a modern, big budget followup, Daggerfall is the one that deserves it most. Procedural generation has been left in the dust and outside of STALKER 2, I can't think of anything on the horizon that's focused on "emergent gameplay".
Look at all the crazy shit people are doing with DaggerfallUnity https://forums.dfworkshop.net/viewforum.php?f=27


You should really check out AI Dungeon. It's a weird, janky, AI-powered text RPG, but it is definitely something I would recommend people check out if they're interested in AI and emergent gameplay.
 

Theodora

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You should really check out AI Dungeon. It's a weird, janky, AI-powered text RPG, but it is definitely something I would recommend people check out if they're interested in AI and emergent gameplay.

I'm amazed at the cross section of players AI Dungeon has pulled in. At least it gives me some faith that more intense procedural work might be possible (though I'm still pretty sceptical about the kinda things that were talked about in this project in particular).
 

Azdul

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It's an amazing read that offers a first-hand account of just how clueless these vaunted gaming industry veterans can be.
Grumpy old men not being fully commited to some dream project of wide-eyed youtuber with zero industry experience does not seem to me as clueless behavior. Garriot, Spector or Roberts burned through millions from publishers and Kickstarter backers by being enthusiastic about unrealistic projects, and those old farts are only guilty of being too cautious and skeptical.
 

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