Bethesda veteran Jeff Gardiner raises $13M for Something Wicked Games to make open world RPG
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Jeff Gardiner and other veterans from Bethesda Game Studios and Obsidian Entertainment have started Something Wicked Games to make an open world role-playing game.
The team raised $13.2 million to make Wyrdsong, a “preturnatural” open world role-playing game with triple-A values, Gardiner said in an interview with GamesBeat.
Debuting at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, Gardiner revealed the company at Geoff Keighley’s Opening Night Live event. Chinese game publisher NetEase provided the funding. Gardiner is based in Washington, D.C.
“It’s been a very amazing experience to be at Bethesda on multiple levels. Some of my best lifelong friends are there, including Todd Howard, and I made the difficult difficult decision after a long, long, dark winter of COVID,” Gardiner said. “The timing was fortuitous because Microsoft had just acquired us. I took some time off to kick tires, and I got a ping from an old friend of mine.”
The studio is globally dispersed, with creative and leadership talent from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4, The Outer Worlds, and more. The first game, an open-world preternatural RPG, Wyrdsong, is currently in development.
Today’s announcement is coupled by an animatic teaser trailer for the studio’s first game, Wyrdsong. Wyrdsong is an occult historical fantasy RPG set in a fictionalized Portugal in the middle ages. Players will have to question both their reality and the choices they make as Wyrdsong is set to expand, question, and re-define aspects of what makes up the current RPG genre.
Gardiner’s career in games boasts some of the most well-known franchises in the RPG space. Gardiner served as lead producer and project lead across several of Bethesda’s flagship titles in the Fallout and The Elder Scrolls franchises. Before making the difficult choice to leave Bethesda Game Studios following a 15-year career, Gardiner’s efforts on Fallout 76 saw its transformation into one of the most successful, robust examples of the games-as-a-service model, Gardiner said.
The studio’s talent roster also includes cofounder and design director Charles Staples, formerly of Obsidian Entertainment. Staples’ 15-year tenure at Obsidian was highlighted with his design
director role on The Outer Worlds, as well as his work as lead level designer on Fallout: New
Gardiner said that he chose NetEase as a backer in part because the company promised independence to Something Wicked Games. In fact, Gardiner said the company trusts his studio and has not put in place any development milestones in order to get the next tranche of money.
“We are honored to have received that from them, with no real milestones or deadlines,” Gardiner said. “They understand that we’re professionals and we know how to make games and that the best results are when a team internally sets those milestones and goals and puts out a product.”
Developed on Unreal Engine 5, Wyrdsong immerses fans in a dark historical fantasy where every decision has a consequence, both in this world and others yet to be discovered.
Something Wicked Games is fully remote and hiring across all positions. Currently staffed with 12 full-time developers, the studio hopes to achieve a full roster between 65 to 70 as development continues to ramp up.
Fallout 76, which had quality problems at the outset but eventually launched an expansion that fans embraced.
The tough launch gave Gardiner his “best lessons of all” and it was ultimately about redemption as the company made the game viable. In addition to that, Gardiner was a producer on a number of hit games. His work over the years spanned five games in the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises.
Starting in 2006, Gardiner filled the role of lead producer on every expansion released for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. In 2008, he served as a producer for Fallout 3, a popular entry in the Fallout franchise and a massive breakout hit for Bethesda. Gardiner went on to reprise his role as lead producer on each of Fallout 3’s expansions: Mothership Zeta, Point Lookout, Broken Steel, The Pitt, and Operation: Anchorage.
In 2011, Gardiner worked as a senior producer in charge of the design department on The Elder Scrolls
V: Skyrim, one of the best-selling RPGs of all time. In his last role at the company before working on
Fallout 76, Gardiner once again assumed an executive role at Bethesda Game Studios as a lead
producer on Fallout 4.
By preternatural, Gardiner said the game is about things that are not as they seem. He also said the game could also be viewed as a cult historical fantasy open world RPG set in a very mythological age in Portugal, around the 12th or 13th century. Players will be able to play with whatever gender, identity, or race that they want.
“Ultimately, they start to question the reality around them, as things do not appear as they seem,” he said.
The company has been working for just a few months, with funding coming in April and hiring starting in June. During that time, investors became more cautious as the economy started to weaken again. The team considered blockchain but focused only on making an awesome game, Gardiner said.
The “Something Wicked” name comes from not only a Ray Bradbury book but also a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, heralding that “something wicked this way comes” with the entry of Macbeth.
“I’m a big fan of Shakespeare. And it also has I like the double entendre there for wicked, which is overused in Boston as ‘awesome,’” Gardiner said.
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