Perfect Dark development slows due to team losses

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New information regarding the development of the Perfect Dark reboot came up in a VGC report, which says that the team at The Initiative, the studio tasked with directing the project, is now less than 50 people strong.

The Initiative was founded in 2018 under Xbox Game Studios with former Crystal Dynamics boss Darrel Gallagher being tapped to serve as the head of the studio. At Crystal Dynamics helped shepherd the development of the Tomb Raider reboot series. Prior to that he served as art director for the 2006-2008 Tomb Raider Legends trilogy.

The the new development team was being fielded as a “AAAA studio” in the making. (That’s not a typo by the way, that is in fact four As, as in quadruple A – ed) This was followed by an extensive hiring spree which saw the development team acquire talent from across the industry. Soon after in late 2020, they revealed a teaser trailer for their big project: a reboot of Perfect Dark.

However, the Santa Monica-based studio has suffered multiple departures. The most recent was Dan Neuburger, who was serving the role of game director on the project. His departure was confirmed via his LinkedIn profile. The second high profile departure was Drew Murray, design director, who holds credits on Sunset Overdrive, which was released back in 2014 as an Xbox One exclusive.

The report from VGC shows at least 34 departures from the development team. Former developers of the team spoke with the site and attributed the wave of departures to “frustration among senior talent over the direction of the project,” citing a very “top-down” approach to key decisions with leads Gallagher and Neuburger keeping “a strong grasp on creative decisions.” In turn, progress of development was “painfully” slow and “a solid company culture never formed.”

There hasn’t been much in the way of updates on the progress of the Perfect Dark reboot outside of the team presentation given at E3. Late last year, The Initiative announced a development partnership with Crystal Dynamics, saying that though the game is still “early in development,” they simply “couldn’t pass up a chance to work together.” Apparently the intention was that by introducing a second team more familiar with Gallagher and Neuberger’s management style, more progress could be made.

In the wake of the 34 departures, the expectation is that key members of Crystal Dynamics will plug in the gaps left behind. One of the complaints is that Microsoft has been too lenient on The Initiative, but that simply lines up with the hands-off approach they have with studios like Double Fine and Obsidian Entertainment. As VGC notes, Xbox leadership is prepared to be patient with projects like Playground’s Fable and Rare’s Everwild in the hopes that teams will emerge to create the kind of prestige product associated with PlayStation studios like Insomniac and Naughty Dog.

For his part, studio head Darren Gallagher remains positive in spite of how things look for the development team. “In this journey, it’s not uncommon for there to be staffing changes,” said Gallagher. “Especially during a time of global upheaval over the last two years, and there’s plenty more work in front of us to deliver a fantastic Perfect Dark experience to our players.”

“We wish all our former colleagues the very best, and I’m confident in the team we have in place, the new talent joining, and we can’t wait to share more with the fans.”