According to a new, and extremely thorough, report from Eurogamer, Overkill’s The Walking Dead was doomed before it even got started. The reasons for the ultimate failure of the game and subsequent collapse of Starbreeze are many, but we will attempt to go through some of them here.
One of the biggest issues with Overkill’s The Walking Dead is the lack of enjoyable gameplay and levels. The game just feels dull and rushed. It feels like something any amateur studio could turn out with enough time, and that’s not a good thing. But it turns out that the issues may run deeper than anyone expected, because the game hit major issues pretty early in production.
The game was originally planned to use the Valhalla engine, a new game engine that Starbreeze had bought into with the intention of using Valhalla for all their games, but that plan needed to be scrapped. The builds of the engine that developers used initially were buggy and lacking in quality-of-life features, as an anonymous source states:
“There wasn’t even a file open button when we got it. It was impossible to use. And this is when it all started to get a bit fucked up.”
The failures with Valhalla prompted the development team to switch to Unreal Engine 4, but this too had its pitfalls. The game was plagued from that point by a chronic lack of experience with Unreal Engine 4. According to many of the sources asked, much of the staff on the project had no experience working with the Epic Games product.
As a person from the development team noted:
“If you go to any studio now, there is always a good hope at least 50 per cent of the people know the engine they’re working on, so they can coach the rest. But in this case, it felt like just 10 per cent of the people understood the engine. 90 per cent of people were just relying on that 10 per cent, or checking online. So we were using tutorials to try and make a game. That was bad.”
The switch in engine may have helped in other ways though. Performance on the final PC version was solid, even though gameplay and level design felt rushed and uninspired. This was probably down to the time crunch that developers fell under, they had to completely rebuild The Walking Dead in Unreal after all, and these crunches were grueling. “We had producers coming in and getting people working until 2am in the morning and saying, we’ll see you at 9am in the morning,” one person said.
Despite all of the problems with development, there were a few bright spots of zombie killing action here and there. Something a diehard zombie fan might be able to sink their teeth into.
Of course, this wasn’t enough to ensure success for The Walking Dead. The game just didn’t sell well enough. And the numerous delays on both the PC and console versions certainly didn’t help matters. Reviews for the title are deeply on the side of negative, so it seems gamers and critics alike were soured by the final product.
Even worse, the attitude of senior management at Starbreeze made the resulting fallout from the failed launch even worse. A massive series of investments by Starbreeze into VR properties and companies over the years saw the company hemorrhaging cash. The company dumped more than 20m euros into various VR projects, but saw little return. It even opened a VR café in Stockholm, although, according to locals, hardly anyone goes there.
So it was really no surprise, all these negative aspects considered, that the publisher is now in dire financial straits.
All in all, the whole article highlighting these problems and many more is a great read. If you’ve ever wanted a candid look behind the curtain at the tumultuous world of game development, this is one of those rare chances.