Obsidian Entertainment is a creative company with decades of experience. The studio’s origins began with Black Isle Studios, a former subsidiary of Interplay Entertainment. The team worked on acclaimed RPG classics like Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment, which are genre showpieces to this day, despite the decades that have passed since their original release. Black Isle Studios was another studio casualty from capitalism; the doors were shut in 2003 when Interplay Entertainment was going through bankruptcy. Bethesda purchased the Fallout IP license to develop and publish Fallout 3. The deal with Interplay Entertainment also included the option to create two sequels if they decided to. In 2007 Bethesda purchased the IP outright so Interplay Entertainment could stave off bankruptcy (again). Bethesda was cool enough to hire Obsidian to develop a sequel to Fallout 3 since they were busy creating The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Less than ten years later both companies are under the Xbox umbrella and we can only hope Fallout New Vegas 2 is in development in some form.
Play Knights of the Old Republic II and Planescape: Torment if you haven’t
Regardless of what happens with the Fallout series, it’s comforting to see Obsidian under Microsoft’s financial protection, providing stability and creative freedom and allowing the studio to focus on the present instead of worrying for the future. The studio has fought in favor of creative dialogue, unique characters, and thought-provoking plotlines throughout their existence while also having to deal with the stresses and cost of game development in a constantly shifting and unpredictable climate. They brought us marvelous and magical titles like Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Neverwinter Nights 2, Alpha Protocol, Fallout New Vegas, Dungeon Siege III, and South Park: The Stick of Truth before circumstances brought the studio to a crossroads; the studio was on the brink of financial disaster and could risk traditional development, or go out in a blaze of glory on Kickstarter, making the game they want to make, to try to save the studio.
Pillars of Eternity was thankfully a success. I honestly can’t imagine the video game or RPG landscape without Obsidian Entertainment. Even if they don’t make your favorite games, whoever made your favorite game was very likely inspired by these stewards of passionate and creative game development.
A Game only Obsidian could create
Video games are better with Obsidian in the industry. Their games are distinctive campaigns that explore humanity, the world, and the relationships in-between. My hope is that Microsoft continues to recognize the potential and possibilities of ideas being fully realized and explored in game development, instead of just chasing what looks like it might sell. Obsidian and the rest of Microsoft’s studios have the ability to create some of their best work if Xbox continues to provide them with creative control. I’m hoping this means Obsidian’s only limits will be the imagination of the team which is no doubt immeasurable. The studio was previously bound by financial issues dictating every game had to be a smash hit to keep the lights on. I’m looking forward to seeing the studio’s future projects; what’s been shown already looks impressive and promising. I’m also hoping they explore previously canceled projects and games that remain unrealized from their past. I want to play Obsidian’s Snow White RPG that was internally canceled in 2006 so the team could focus on Alpha Protocol. The information available for Dwarfs points to an experience that undoubtedly would have become an instant classic.
The story of Dwarfs would have been captivating but the tale of how the game almost happened is fascinating just the same. The information is sparse but video game history is always waiting to be loved and uncovered on Unseen64 and Internet Archive.
Xbox Please Keep Letting Obsidian make whatever they want
Disney was exploring the idea of a darker prequel for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that would feature inspiration from The Lord of the Rings. It was going to be about the seven dwarfs traveling with a young girl to stop the plans of an evil wizard. The story was going to escalate with it being revealed the girl was manipulating the dwarfs and conclude with her cursing her father before taking over the kingdom. I actually really want to watch this film. Disney should still make this but they should hit up Guillermo Del Toro because he’d know how to bind the enchanting wonders with splendid and surreal horror.
Anyway things shifted a bit and it was decided to go the video game route. Disney wisely hit up Obsidian because of their experience in creating engaging role playing games like Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (sidenote: that’s backward compatible on Xbox and you should absolutely play it. It’s almost twenty years old and it’s still one of my absolute favorite games). Former Obsidian producer and designer Kevin Saunders shed some light on Dwarfs saying:
“I do regret that Dwarfs (that’s what we called it internally) was never made. I was the lead designer and it involved some of my best creative work.”
He continued, “This wasn’t a happy-go-lucky Disney game. Disney’s Buena Vista Games wanted dark and I gave them dark. In the opening sequence, for example, you, as a teenage prince, awake in your bed to haunting sounds. Exploring the dark castle, you come across a terrifying shadowy creature that you kill in a desperate struggle its cries shifting from a supernatural shriek to that of a human woman’s bloodcurdling cry of death. The illusion is then dispelled, and your mother, the Queen, lays dead before you, the bloody knife that killed her in your hand. This wasn’t a cinematic it was all a gameplay sequence that you’d actually play out.”
He ended with, “I have a lot of good memories about the project. And our producers at Buena Vista Games were great to work with. They gave us good guidelines, a lot of creative freedom, and loved the direction we were heading.”
Obsidian had several key members of the team working on the game, including Josh Sawyer, previously lead designer on Neverwinter Nights 2, designing in-game systems and combat lead. The team was all in on the game’s development and believed in it.
Obsidian please ask Microsoft to fund this game
Kevin Saunders spoke about former creative lead Brian Menze’s concepts for the characters of Dwarfs saying, “Brian Menze’s concepts for the dwarfs – just amazing! So much personality and character, reminiscent of Disney’s classic characters, but weathered by the grim realities of a dark fantasy world. Working on the story and character descriptions in an office with Brian, watching his creations unfold – this was one of the most creative and inspiring times in my career as a designer.”
The game fell apart completely after John Lasseter took over Disney’s animation department. Disney’s confidence in it was shaken while in-progress projects were being reviewed and it was canceled as a result.
A Nightmare left to our dreams
I’d love to see Xbox and Obsidian resurrect this project in some form. Disney may own the rights to their adaptation but the story of Snow White is in the public domain. Obsidian could still run with a horrific and fantasy-driven story about the dwarfs from Snow White, or even just different characters in the universe. I just want what assuredly sounds like a video game amalgamation of Snow White and Guillermo del Toro. Microsoft can see there’s an audience for games like this too with Alice: Madness Returns being a cult classic. Regardless of what happens, the story of Dwarfs serves as a reminder of Obsidian Entertainment’s creativity and imagination and that their only real barrier in their history as creators was money. As long as Xbox maintains their current stance on game development and creative freedom, Obsidan’s future projects will be among their best, no matter what they are.
[We reached out to Obsidian Entertainment to see if they wanted to add anything or talk about Dwarfs but didn’t hear back. They’re understandably busy making more rad games. We will update this post or do another article if we do end up hearing back from them in the future!]