Former GSC Game World marketing director and rumor-guy Sergey Galyonkin, the fellow who broke the news of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. developer’s collapse a few months ago, has a new juicy rumor for us: that Bethesda Softworks, of Elder Scrolls and Fallout 3 fame, has acquired rights to publish another game in the STALKER franchise. Assuming the rumor’s true at all, it should be noted that Bethsoft hasn’t picked up ownership of STALKER IP. That, apparently, still belongs to former GSC honcho Sergei Grigorovich, the fellow who abruptly shut down the Ukrainian developer in the first place.
Franchise or publication rights, it still seems like an odd choice for Bethsoft to pick up, y’know?
After all, Bethesda owns the entire Fallout property, having bought it for like nine dollars and a matchbox car years ago during Interplay’s fire sale. Fallout is a post-apocalyptic radioactive open world shooter/RPG. And Bethesda owns WolfDOOMQuakenstein legend id Software (well, at least, Beth’s parent company Zenimax Media Group does). id’s recent Rage is a post-apocalyptic radioactive open world shooter/RPG. How many post-apocalyptic radioactive open world shooter/RPGs does one company need?
Much of GSC Game World’s former staff reconvened to form Vostok Games, and we know that they wanted to do STALKER 2 but couldn’t secure the IP rights from the aforementioned Grigorovich. Vostok’s hard at work on Survarium which I’d call STALKER 2 in all but name were it not for the fact that Survarium is going to be a free-to-play MMOFPS, for reasons that I’m sure make sense to the people at Vostok but make little sense to me. A dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist, I don’t see STALKER’s magic translating to a massively multiplayer environment – this is a game, after all, where aloneness is arguably the key component of the experience. But of course Survarium isn’t STALKER, it’s just a post-apocalyptic radioactive open world shooter/RPG.
The question then becomes – again, assuming Galyonkin’s rumor is true – who is developing this new STALKER game? Will it turn out that Bethsoft will eventually get that privilege as well?
My admiration for Bethesda remains… reasonably high, I guess. I can’t fault the company’s ambition. But I was heavily disappointed by Oblivion, I found Fallout 3 to be rather dull, and Skyrim held my attention only briefly. The last game from Bethesda that really resonated with me was Morrowind, though I freely admit this may be more the result of my changing tastes and gaming free time than any failure on the part of the company.
Skyrim’s desolate, snow-choked environments are to be lauded, but I do question even Bethesda’s excellent art department’s ability to produce the same monumental bleakness that is such a foundational aspect of the STALKER universe. Practically no other companies have. Plus, STALKER – for all its faults, and they were legion – was an exquisitely tuned shooter. Shooter mechanics are perhaps the easiest to fake, but the hardest to truly perfect. STALKER’s AI routines were also among the best in the business.
Bethesda, meanwhile, has historically struggled in these two areas. Fallout 3’s shooter mechanics are a good example of “faking” the system rather than truly doing it well. And it might be best if we don’t go into the studio’s history with artificial intelligence.
The irony being that Vostok Games, off making Survarium, is likely falling into the other side of the same trap. Sure, STALKER had brilliant technology in many of its subordinate parts, but the whole was a broken, poorly optimized mess. So what does the remnants of GSC Game World do? It decides to create a game that’s basically STALKER 2, but add massively multiplayer into the mix. This is not a technical decision one should take lightly. As such I have doubts about Survarium’s viability as a piece of tech, let alone the wisdom of taking a lonely shooter and putting it online.
Bethesda and Zenimax Media Group are quite the publishing powerhouse these days, with studios ranging from id Software to Tango Gameworks in the portfolio. Of course, I don’t really see any of the Zenimax stable really being an ideal choice for development duties on a STALKER title.
I want STALKER 2 as much as the next guy, but I wanted it to be from GSC Game World. If I had to choose a worthy successor…
That’s tough. I can think of some studios that would make sense, but they’re all precluded by business or politics. I can think of some studios that would be interesting choices, but publishers generally don’t invest tens of millions of dollars in “interesting choices.” And I can think of a couple – one even owned by Zenimax – that would be wildcard possibilities to knock it out of the park, with equal or greater potential to utterly ruin the franchise.
We’ll find out soon enough if this is all true or not, the publication rumor that is. Either way, part of me says that maybe it’s time to leave the Zone behind.
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