Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
The Rise and Fall of Troika

Joe Blancato | 26 Dec 2006 07:01
Editor's Choice - RSS 2.0

And so, Troika was formed. They each shared the CEO title, which worked for a while because "we each had our specialty," Anderson says, "Tim being a talented programmer, Leonard a talented artist and I have a knack for technical things allowing me to develop ways for the programming and art to merge together."

The company they describe sounds like a slice of dot com era heaven. "Our basic goal in leaving [Interplay] was to create a company that felt like 'old Interplay,'" Boyarsky says. Anderson described the workplace to me: "We had a casual environment, open hours, kept the fridge and kitchen fully stocked with sodas and snacks, had weekly lunch catered in (or BBQ's on the patio), took everyone to movie premiers, matched their retirement plans a full 3 percent with no vesting period, had very competitive pay scales and put most of the employees into offices rather than cubicles, had a lounge with couches and console games, a big screen TV, game nights, etc."

Somewhere in there, they managed to get work done on their first game, Arcanum, an isometric-view, non-linear steampunk RPG. Think Fallout with monocles and zeppelins. The game, which released in 2001 to good reviews (though many complained of niggling bugs), came straight from Boyarsky, Anderson and Cain's skunkworks, says Boyarsky: "For the initial design of Arcanum, it was just Tim, Jason and myself for five months until we landed a contract." The contract they secured was with Sierra, which let them expand the company to 12 people.

Expecting a team of 12 to crank out a fully-featured game with a homemade engine is fanciful, to put it lightly. Keeping things small was "a decision that would cost us a great many nights and weekends," Boyarsky says, and it would mean the company was nearly in a constant state of crunch mode (a development state in which workers put in well over the standard 40 hours per week to meet deadlines). "The process of taking an idea from the design doc all the way to a 'polished' feature involves a lot of iteration to be done correctly, as even the greatest ideas on paper may fall flat when implemented. Since we were in crunch mode so much of the time for any number of reasons, some due to things we should have done differently, and some completely out of our control, we would end up trying to iterate features before they were fully implemented," he tells me. "We always felt like we were under the gun."

And they were. During Troika's seven-year existence, they never worked with the same publisher twice, and the company was constantly criticized for releasing inspired but bug-ridden work. Running with such a small team was partially to blame, but Troika also ran into a lot of problems with their numerous publishers. "One of our titles was even pulled out of our hands so that it could sit in a box for four months while [the publisher] finished translations. All we could do was work on the patch during that time. Adding insult to injury, a final production copy was leaked out and passed around on the Usenet for those four months," Anderson says.

But that's how things are for the low man on the totem pole, especially when big publishers are concerned. Boyarsky was hoping Troika could avoid constantly being the "new guy" from the onset. "Troika's original goal had been to just be exclusive to one publisher, kind of their external RPG dev team," he says, "so we wouldn't have to always be scrambling for contracts. At first, Sierra seemed to be that publisher - even when they weren't sure about an Arcanum sequel, they had us working on something else. But then Sierra had its own problems, and that was the end of that."

Comments on