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Former Bethesda lead Jeff Gardiner debuts new studio Something Wicked

(Washington Post illustration; Something Wicked Games)

What do you get when you bring together the game designers who worked on “Fallout: New Vegas,” “Fallout 3,” “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” and “Dragon Age: Inquisition”? Apparently, you get Something Wicked.

On Tuesday, former senior Bethesda staffer Jeff Gardiner announced the formation of his new studio, Something Wicked Games, at the Gamescom 2022 video game trade fair in Cologne, Germany. Gardiner was a senior producer on “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” lead producer on “Fallout 4” and project lead of “Fallout 76.”

In August 2021, the industry veteran announced his departure from Bethesda.

“I decided to take a break from the industry,” Gardiner told The Washington Post. “But this whole time I was doing that, this game idea was building, building, building.”

That game idea is “Wyrdsong,” an occult historical fantasy role-playing game. “Wyrdsong’s” announcement trailer features an armored figure wearing a tabard with the red cross insignia of the Knights Templar while an ominous voice hints about two worlds, “one before the shadow and one behind the eye.” Something Wicked said the game is set in Portugal during the Middle Ages and will focus on the Knights Templar, a medieval Catholic military order that has become fodder for pop culture reimaginings, particularly in video games. The Assassin’s Creed franchise, for example, is about the protagonists waging a clandestine global war against the Templars, their ancient enemies.

Gardiner said he wants “Wyrdsong” to make people question the nature of reality, referencing the two worlds mentioned in the trailer. Another concept that will be explored in “Wyrdsong” is choice; Gardiner explained that the game’s name nods to this (wyrd is Old English for destiny or fate).

“We’re really going to dig into choice and consequence in a very deep and meaningful way that hopefully no other RPG has ever done before,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner is the CEO and one of the co-founders of Something Wicked. He’s joined by co-founder Charles Staples, formerly lead designer of “Fallout: New Vegas” and design director of “The Outer Worlds” at Obsidian Entertainment.

Alongside a veteran team of celebrated designers, Something Wicked has also secured $13.2 million in seed funding from NetEase. The studio is fully remote — a point of pride for Gardiner. There are 13 Something Wicked employees right now working from Maryland, Montreal, Washington, Minnesota and Florida.

“We are very, very open to employment,” Gardiner said, in reference to the studio’s search for remote talent. “Anywhere we can get the best people.”

A video game studio moved to a four-day workweek. It ‘saved us,’ employees say.

“Wyrdsong” is still a long way off, and Gardiner is a big believer in slow, sustained growth. The studio’s plan is to have 30 staffers by year two, and to cap out at 70 employees to ship the game. Gardiner referred to that range as the “magical amount of people” for a team that can work on big projects like a triple-A developer but still have some of the flexibility of an indie studio.

“Remember, most Bethesda games early on were made with very few people,” Gardiner said. “ ‘Skyrim’ was made with around a hundred people.”

A brand new, fully remote triple-A developer with millions in seed funding and some of the most high-profile names in the RPG space, Something Wicked, like “Wyrdsong,” is living in two worlds, trying to combine the best practices of independent game development with big-name production values and goals. Time will tell if fate is kind to them.

correction

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the game developers Leonard Boyarsky and Tim Cain are members of the Something Wicked Games team. They are not, and are not involved in the development of "Wyrdsong."

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