Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, the highly anticipated sequel to 2010’s imaginative, and successful, reboot came out this Tuesday and critics are raving that Dracula… kind of sucks.
Awash in a bloodbath of mediocre scores, one anonymous MercurySteam developer has come forward with some decently scathing remarks hurled at the studio’s troubled management in the hopes of explaining why Dracula’s latest bites (all right, all right, no more puns).
Lobbying their complaints through a user on a Meristation forum, the unnamed employee confessed that he went through his own personal “Hell” during the sequel’s development, fitted with hot coals of “shameful wages” and “everyday bullying.” And who oversaw this pit of torment?
“If there’s someone to blame here, that’s Enric Álvarez,” co-founder and owner of MercurySteam. “He is the person who has led a broken development based on his personal criteria, completely overlooking programmers, designers and artists.”
The employee goes on to lambaste Alvarez, stating that the studio director’s ego inflated after the first Lords of Shadow’s success, to the point where he wouldn’t greet lowly team members he’d pass by in the hall. A general mistrust of his own workers was intimated, as “most of the development team often found out features of the game through press news, rather than from the studio’s head.”
The employee also claims the studio’s internal structure was “archaic,” citing MercurySteam’s flawed engine as a key example. “Access for the new programmers to the source code to update or refurbish the engine is denied, so things are still done in a 10-year-old fashion.”
New hires supposedly knew even more than the bosses that hired them on, leading to a fractured, almost chaotic dynamic behind-the-scenes. “This structure only leads to a slow, messy and absurd development process, with the end result of Lords of Shadow 2 being a perfect example of what happens due to that.”
Despite his damning comments, the unnamed employee made sure not to disparage his fellow team members, saying that he hasn’t seen such passion and talent in a group, though their potential is forever marred at MercurySteam under the current regime. “If all those guys who are not allowed to be promoted due to our Jurassic studio leads had the chance to set the course of the company, our future would be so bright,” he said.
That future, unfortunately, may be in trouble. 35 employees were laid off after Lords of Shadow 2 went gold, according to this source, and more firings are on the table, especially given Konami’s alleged dissatisfaction over the final product.
“The vast majority of this team is aware that the game we’ve done is a real piece of shit that has nothing to do with the first one’s quality and production values… Nobody is surprised by the low reviews we’ve got.”
[My two cents on the issue follow beneath the break.]
Obviously, this is only one side to a larger story. After all, this is one contemptuous voice speaking for an entire company. Konami nor any MercurySteam officials have yet to comment.
My personal take on this story is this: it’s not like we’re talking about fuckin’ Aliens: Colonial Marines here. As an outspoken fan for the vividly divergent course the original Lords of Shadow set — a game that I believe, not without loud disagreement, out God of War‘d God of War — I cannot peg Lords of Shadow 2 as the unmitigated disaster this whistleblower is making it out to be.
There are several design choices I acutely hate — why the hell is the Prince of Darkness turning into a rat to hide… why is the Prince of Darkness hiding at all?! — but LoS2 isn’t significantly worse than the first game. The brilliant combat remains (with clever improvements), the visual design is still marvelous, and the storytelling, though nowhere near as engaging as the first, still keeps me winding down the labyrinth of Castlevania’s beautifully macabre world.
There’s some alarming comments here, but they illustrate a sad picture of dysfunctional management and despicable working conditions — the kind of shit that’s not publicized openly in this industry but not made any less prevalent because of that fact — than simply answering “Why does this game suck?” If anything, that question should be “Why does this game suck compared to the original?” Because, as is, I find it entirely playable and, God help me, even enjoyable. And I’m now even more inclined not to write off the game knowing that the people who brought it to me went through Hell and back to make it.