The Initiative’s Perfect Dark was announced in December 2020 but to say its situation is complicated would be an understatement. It began with design director Drew Murray leaving in February 2021. Game director Dan Neuburger left last month as per his LinkedIn page. A report from VideoGamesChronicle would then emerge over how development had been “heavily affected” from a number of departures.
As much as half of the core development team at The Initiative had reportedly left the studio in the past year. In Windows Central’s Checkpoint podcast with Miles Dompier and Jez Corden, the latter provided a lot more information on the current situation at the studio.
Concerning the decision to bring Crystal Dynamics on to the project, Corden says he “would have been worried if they hadn’t.” “It sounds like what has ultimately happened at The Initiative is a big disagreement over how to proceed and staff and structure Perfect Dark.”
Speaking to trusted sources that couldn’t be named, he continued, “The way The Initiative was set up, almost in a unique sort of studio format…I don’t want to say ‘flat structure’ but they did build it to explore a different way of making a game studio. Anti-crunch, which is great…a more sort of democratic development process structure…The problem with that is, that they emerged two schools of thought about how to develop Perfect Dark.
“One of them was, ‘We hire the people in.’ The other school of thought was ‘We remain small and build sort of high quality indie level games.’ But because of the hype surrounding the studio, I don’t think Microsoft wanted to let The Initiative be that kind of sort of smaller studio. I think the expectations had gotten to the point where people wanted them to make grander games.” The notorious listing about making “quadruple A” titles aside (which was subsequently pulled), being attached to a well-known IP like Perfect Dark has also created lots of expectations.
Corden continues: “So the two schools of thought emerged from what I understand is (A) We hire people in. That would have taken two to three years. Or the other school of thought was go for a more traditional structure and get Crystal dynamics involved with basically Daryl Gallagher leading the whole project as he would have done a Tomb Raider game.
“This sort of conflict between the two schools of thought seems to have resulted in a lot of what we see as the departures now. It sounds like The Initiative was originally set up to be a sort of, more of a flat organizational structure where the core team all had sort of like – almost like a Valve-like sort of flat organizational structure. And we see how often Valve puts out games. It’s not very often, let’s be honest.
“It just got to a point where it wasn’t working for the team in general or perhaps Microsoft itself. They were just like, ‘We need to put a plan in place here.’ From what I understand, the people that are still with The Initiative and Microsoft itself…they prefer this plan and they’re happy with this plan. What they’ve got now is that they’re working towards a common goal for the first time and that the game is actually moving forward.
“You can say that mistakes have clearly been made and that it kind of…it sucks for the people who are invested in The Initiative’s original ‘initiative.’ I mean the fact the studio’s called The Initiative is a hint at what they were kind of going for here. They were taking the initiative on making a new structure. It felt like from people I’ve talked to that there was a lot of investment in the structure of the studio, in the studio’s identity kind of. When they brought Crystal Dynamics in, that sort of impacted that sort of identity and a lot of people didn’t like that and they’ve subsequently left.”
As for the game’s current state, Corden said, “What we’re interested in as Xbox fans and gamers is ultimately, ‘Are we getting gonna get a high quality game out of this in a timely fashion?’ That’s the part that I’m not worried about. It sucks that it’s come to this and that a lot of people have left. It sucks that some people, you know, feel maybe perhaps feel they’ve been mistreated, I don’t know, and feel like that they wasted their time and what they saw as their vision for The Initiative didn’t pan out. That sucks and it’s like…it’s a shame that happened you know. For customers and Xbox fans I’m personally not worried about Perfect Dark now.
“It sounds like they’ve got a vision in place and they’re all moving towards that in a sort of common goal kind of way. Maybe getting to this point was a mess and a bit messy, but it sounds like they’re in a good place now and that moving forward, we will eventually, hopefully get a game that’s of a decent level of quality in a timely fashion. Which I don’t think we were gonna get with the other way that we’re trying to do it.”
Perfect Dark is currently in development for Xbox Series X/S and PC. Not much is known about the project aside from it potentially being a live service title so stay tuned for more details in the coming months. As it stands, if this is the plan that The Initiative and Microsoft are going for, time will tell if it materializes into something worthwhile.