Insiders describe ‘fast and furious’ releases from Xbox’s Perfect Dark studio

Xbox studio The Initiative has seen a “fast and furious” wave of senior departures over the past 12 months, VGC has learned.

Up to half of the core development team known to be working on the upcoming Perfect Dark reboot have left the company in the last year, around 34 people, analysis of LinkedIn employee profiles has revealed. .

This includes most of The Initiative’s senior design team, including game director Dan Neuburger, design director Drew Murray, lead level designer Chris O’Neill, lead world builder Jolyon Myers, two lead system designers, a group of three former designers of God of War and Suite.

And the top talent turnover doesn’t stop at design: Perfect Dark’s two most senior writers also recently quit, according to the analysis, along with the project’s technical director, technical art director, l lead gameplay engineer, lead animator, quality assurance lead and more.

According to LinkedIn, The Initiative now has fewer than 50 people (when duplicates, former employees, and erroneous listings are removed) and currently only has three advertised roles on its website. Analysis suggests it has hired around 12 people in the past 12 months.

Perfect Dark Reboot Trailer

The timing of the departures coincides with the September 2021 announcement that Crystal Dynamics had been signed to co-develop Perfect Dark.

This, combined with the few positions currently advertised at The Initiative, suggests that the Tomb Raider developer is likely getting a much stronger than expected lead on the project.

Interviews with several former senior developers cited lack of creative autonomy and slow development progress as the reason for their departures, and described the wave of departures as “fast and furious”, with the project’s momentum being “strongly affected”.

Initiative management told VGC they have confidence in the team in place and the arrival of new talent, and highlighted industry-wide staffing issues during the pandemic. .

“It’s no small task to build a studio and reinvent a beloved franchise,” studio head Darrell Gallagher told VGC. “In creating The Initiative, we decided to leverage co-development partnerships to realize our ambitions, and we are truly delighted with all the progress we are seeing through our relationship with Crystal Dynamics.

“On this journey it is not uncommon for there to be changes in personnel, particularly during a period of global upheaval over the past two years, and there is still a lot of work ahead of us to deliver a fantastic Perfect Dark experience to our players.

“We wish all of our former colleagues the best, and I’m confident in the team we have in place, the new talent joining us, and we look forward to sharing more with the fans.”

In the games industry, competition for experienced talent is at an all-time high after the pandemic gaming boom, and any disgruntled staff would have received plenty of offers from the myriad of neighboring AAA studios in California.

Insiders describe 'fast and furious' releases from Xbox's Perfect Dark studio
The Initiative was created in 2018.

Industry-wide, many studios are currently facing a talent crunch, with the sheer level of expansion and investment making it difficult for even the biggest studios to retain and attract senior executives. for the number of roles they occupy.

Former VGC Initiative developers attributed the wave of departures to senior talent frustration with the direction of the project established by Gallagher and game director Daniel Neuburger (who himself left the company last month).

Although The Initiative’s website claims the company promotes a “collaborative” creative environment, former employees have described the studio’s development hierarchy as very “top down”, with Gallagher and Neuburger maintaining a strong grip on creative decisions. .

According to former employees, many senior team members were frustrated with this perceived lack of autonomy and did not feel heard on key issues such as development priorities, project planning and staffing.

Gallagher and Neuburger, who previously served as studio head and game director at Crystal Dynamics, wanted to build games as they always have with top-down direction, the sources said, while many Initiative employees expected to a more bottom-up approach.

As a result, it is claimed that development progressed “painfully” slowly and a solid corporate culture was never formed. Every former employee VGC spoke to said they were surprised at Microsoft’s leniency over the lack of progress.

One person said, “Making games is hard enough, let alone when it feels like you can’t communicate with the people who make the decisions that affect everyone.”

The culture issue was partly behind the decision to bring in Crystal Dynamics, it is claimed, with Gallagher and Neuburger allegedly hoping production would run more smoothly with the introduction of a second team familiar with their methods.

Insiders describe 'fast and furious' releases from Xbox's Perfect Dark studio
The development of Perfect Dark was reportedly “painfully” slow.

The introduction of Crystal Dynamics is also likely to fill gaps left by staff turnover at The Initiative, VGC said.

VGC’s sources agreed that they would be surprised if the introduction of Crystal Dynamics, combined with major core staff departures, hadn’t sparked an effective soft reboot of Perfect Dark and it was likely still a ways off. years of its release.

It’s understood Xbox’s leadership team is prepared to be patient with its new proprietary teams (which include those currently working on Playground’s Fable and Rare’s Everwild) as they prioritize assembling groups capable of producing regularly the kind of critically acclaimed prestige projects that come from Sony’s Naughty Dog and Insomniac.


Perfect Dark Dev Team

(departures marked by Rod) / Former team/projects in parentheses

Studio

  • Darrell Gallagher, Studio Head (Activision, Square Enix)
  • Lindsey McQueeney, HR Manager (Google, Crystal Dynamics)
  • Dickson Lee, Director of Finance and Operations

Design

  • Daniel Neuburger, game director (Tomb Raider series) (left February 2022)
  • Drew Murray, Design Director (Sunset Overdrive) (left February 2021)
  • Christian Cantamessa, Cinematics Director (Red Dead Redemption)
  • Chris O’Neill, Lead Level Designer, Associate Design Director (God of War + Metal Gear Online) (left in December 2021)
  • Richard Burns, UI/UX Lead (Forza Horizon Series)
  • Robert Ryan, Senior Systems Designer (Motive + Naughty Dog)
  • Justin Perez, Lead Systems Designer (Jedi: Fallen Order) (left in November 2021)
  • Kurt Loudy, Senior Systems Designer (Id Software) (left in October 2021)
  • Ian Miller, Senior Designer (God of War) (left March 2022)
  • Kai Zheng, Lead Level Designer (God of War) (left in October 2021)
  • Ray Yeomans, Senior Designer (God of War & Tomb Raider Series) (left in April 2021)
  • Jolyon Myers, Lead World Builder (Infinity Ward) (left in January 2022)
  • Nigel Loster, Gameplay Designer (The Coalition) (left February 2022)
  • Sean Slayback, Lead Systems Designer (Respawn, Infinity ward) (left August 2021)
  • Daniel Steamer, Senior Technical Designer (Crystal Dynamics)
  • Cristian Guzman, Associate Technical Designer
  • Rémi Lacoste, experiential director (Crystal Dynamics)
  • Joey Tan, Associate Technical Designer (Insomniac) (left in December 2021)
  • Branford Williams, Senior Production Designer (Daybreak)

Writers

  • Blake Fischer, Director of Storytelling (Xbox) (left in June 2021)
  • Christine Thompson, Narrative Lead (Destiny 2) (left July 2021)
  • Robert Shannon, Narrative Designer (The Coalition)
  • Nicole Phillips, Senior Writer

Programming

  • William Archbell, Technical Director (Riot Games, 343) (left August 2021)
  • Francisco Aisa Garcia, Technical Manager (Naughty Dog)
  • Ben Diamond, Senior Systems Engineer (Respawn, God of War III)
  • Cesar Castro, Senior Software Engineer (EA Sports UFC, FIFA) (left May 2021)
  • Hawar Doghramachi, Senior Graphics Engineer (Naughty Dog) (left in April 2021)
  • Robert Marr, Senior Gameplay Engineer (Cryptic Studios) (left in April 2021)
  • Jon Lew, Senior Gameplay Engineer (Sledgehammer)
  • Anthony Silva, Senior Engineer
  • Yuka Murata, software engineer (left July 2021)
  • Stephen Clayburn, Senior Online Services Engineer (left in June 2021)
  • Chris Panosian, Cybersecurity Engineer

Production

  • Brian Westergaard, production manager (God of War, Tomb Raider series)
  • Maxwell Morrison, Quality Assurance Manager (left February 2022)
  • Victoria Miller, Senior Producer (PlayStation)
  • Johal Gow, Senior Producer (Treyarch) (left in October 2021)
  • Jonathan Chavez, associate producer (Treyarch)
  • Nicole Plum, Outsourcing Manager (The Coalition)

Art

  • Ryan Duffin, Director of Gameplay Animation (BioWare, DICE)
  • Lee Davis, Lead Gameplay Animator (Naughty Dog) (left March 2022)
  • Jason Priest, lead artist (Insomniac)
  • Erik Jakobsen, Environment Art Director (God of War)
  • Marcia Hunsicker, Senior Gameplay Animator (343)
  • Eric Persson, associate artistic director (left August 2021)
  • Ryan Trowbridge, Technical Art Director (Bend Studio) (left in June 2021)
  • Matt Corcoran, lead character artist (Jurassic World movie) (left February 2022)
  • Sze Jones, lead character artist (Tomb Raider, Uncharted 4) (left in December 2020)
  • Tyler Thornock, Senior Technical Animator (Naughty Dog)
  • Giovanni Martinez, senior environmental artist (Insomniac) Sep 2021
  • Justin Walters, Senior Environmental Artist (Avalanche)
  • Pasquale Scionti, senior environment/lighting artist (left in June 2021)
  • Sarah Swenson, environmental artist (Naughty Dog) (left March 2021)
  • Jaime Molina, environmental artist (Infinity Ward)
  • Patrick Ward, 3D environment artist (Nexon) (left May 2021)
  • Fabian Elmers, Senior Technical Artist
  • Oliver Guiney, concept artist (Black Ops 4)
  • Isaac Yeram Kim, concept artist (Naughty Dog) (left in June 2021)
  • Victor Chavez, Senior Animator (Amazon Game Studios)
  • Carlos G, Senior Technical Artist
  • Arlington Cruz, Host (left in January 2021)
  • Sylvia Chambers, host (Naughty Dog) (left in October 2021)

Recent New Hires

  • Adam McDonald, High Level Designer (The Coalition) March 2021
  • Steven Ty, Lead VFX Artist (Infinity Ward) May 2021
  • Larra Paolilli, franchise director June 2021
  • James Zhang, Junior VFX Artist Jul 2021
  • Will Poloski, Support Engineer Sep 2021
  • Michel Bastien, general manager of the studio (Turn 10) October 2021
  • Landon McDowneel, Senior Director of Engineering (Riot) October 2021
  • Alex Leonard, Senior Gameplay Engineer (Treyarch) November 2021
  • Michaela Cristina-Faith, Game Engineer Dec 2021
  • Peter Santoki, Senior Graphics Engineer (2K) Jan 2022
  • Heather Jackett, Senior Designer (The Coalition) February 2022
  • LJ Duey, writing assistant February 2022