Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
The Rise and Fall of Troika

Joe Blancato | 26 Dec 2006 07:01
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When Sierra went under, Troika found quarter at Infogrames/Atari, working on The Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE), a computer remake of a famous Dungeons & Dragons story module, in 2001. The game released in 2003, and like Arcanum, was buggy, but reviewers praised Troika's adherence to the original module's story and the game's faithfulness to the 3.5 Edition D&D rules. Cain was the lone founder on the project; Anderson and Boyarsky had recently won the license to Vampire and were already at work on my beloved Bloodlines, to be published by Activision.

Developing Bloodlines was troublesome for the company. They found themselves having to wade through nearly government-level red tape to accomplish anything. Compared to the relative freedom they had with Arcanum, "design, by necessity, had to become a lot more structured in a game like Vampire, where we had to run everything not only by White Wolf but by the publisher as well." On top of that, they were using a prototype of the Source engine, one that didn't yet have Valve's high-class AI built in, and Troika's AI code didn't play very nice with Source.

Activision, fearing their license was in jeopardy, advanced Troika more money in 2003, to allow the ToEE team to move over to work on Bloodlines, hoping Troika would be able to complete the game by 2004 by sheer force of mass.

Troika managed to push the game out in time for its November 16 release date, but at a severe cost in man hours. According to Anderson, "It might be better to think of [Bloodlines' development] in terms of non-crunch time. Arcanum had about a year of non-crunch time and Vampire about one or two months. I am not kidding," he says. The game took nearly four years to develop. That means the team was working normal hours for roughly four percent of the development cycle. Comments in the source code provide a glimpse into the late nights the team had to work: "#TJP: SEPT 15th I'm drunk. Hasn't this game shipped yet?"

And, in form with their previous two releases, Bloodlines made lasting impressions on all who reviewed it. It was again praised for the subject matter but slammed for all the bugs. Like the one that killed my computer. This recurring theme is, in Anderson's mind, what led to Troika's downfall, though he contends most of the blood is on the publishers' hands. "Right or wrong, we just needed more time to test and polish the games, and none of our three publishers were willing to give it to us. Each and every game was pulled out of our hands before we were through with it. In all fairness, I have to say that we were late and over budget, but that still does not justify giving the public an unfinished product."

Boyarsky offers a bit more insight into what was happening inside Troika's doors: "As I said before ... a large part of Troika's existence was 'crunch mode' with important decisions being made on the fly without the time needed to fully assess the impacts of those decisions."

Before Bloodlines even landed in stores, Troika was feeling the final effects of having to develop by the seat of their pants over seven years. Boyarsky (now the sole CEO) and team were unable to secure new deals with Activision or other publishers, presumably due to what had then become a track record of great design with poor implementation. They pitched a variety of ideas to a few different publishers, Anderson's favorite being "Dreadlands, an [MMOG] set in mythical mid 19th century Eastern Europe." The team was also working on the spiritual successor to Fallout, but couldn't find anyone willing to bite on the end of their line.

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