When Too Human comes out this Tuesday, it will mark the end of nearly ten years of development for one of the most beleaguered games of all time. Too Human has been spat upon; it has been put up on pedestals. Whether or not the game turns out to be as good as its creator has promised or is just mediocre, whether you’re “for” or “against” Too Human, it’s in the spirit of giving the game credit for making it this far that we present you with a brief retrospective of Too Human’s life, from 1999 to the present.
1999: Silicon Knights announces Too Human for the PlayStation 1
The year of the Dreamcast and the Phantom Menace also saw Silicon Knights, then mostly known for the Legacy of Kain, announce their plans to create an epic game spanning across five CD-ROM discs (remember when developers used to brag about how many discs their game took up?) and would feature a cyberpunk mystery plot that showed more influence from 1980s sci-fi than Norse mythology.
The game looked great at the time, the CG especially. But it sure as hell was a different beast back then than it is today. Take a look at the Videogames.com watermark on that image – yes, my young friends, that’s what GameSpot used to be called.
[youtube width="480" height="378"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tL6lxF8_d4[/youtube]
2000: Nintendo cops Silicon Knights
When Nintendo purchased Silicon Knights as a second-party, the development of Too Human seemed to go into limbo as the studio focused its efforts on the acclaimed Eternal Darkness and the somewhat controversial port Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes.
Too Human was mentioned in back corners and teasers were shown, but it wouldn’t be until Dyack and co. were free from Miyamoto’s iron grasp that we’d see anything from the game again.
May 2005: EGM reveals the new Too Human
In May 2005, Electronic Gaming Monthly ran a cover story that blew the doors open on the new, improved, and Microsoft-backed Too Human. Instead of the blatant Blade Runner rip-off of 1999, this was an epic planned trilogy that mixed science-fiction elements with Norse mythology, featured analog-stick based combat that promised to rival titles like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden for depth and fun, and still maintained the trappings of a serious RPG. People were excited.
E3 2006: Too Human, more like Too Crappy amirite??
[youtube width="480" height="378"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-UTZKrXADk[/youtube]
And then the party ended. Too Human made an abysmal showing at E3 2006. Under pressure to deliver a demo, Silicon Knights apparently threw together an unfinished playable build, with an atrocious framerate, clunky combat, and a horrid, way-too-zoomed-out camera. It was the beginning of a public outcry that would kickstart Too Human’s ongoing career as the punchline of a neverending joke.
Looking back a year later, Dyack would write:
”Last year’s E3 was very painful. I am glad it is dead.”
March 2007: Denis Dyack vs. the games industry
Denis Dyack – genius reverse psychology-engineering genius, or pompous blowhard? The debate might’ve started earlier, but it began in earnest in March 2007.
Mark MacDonald, then of Ziff-Davis’ Games Group, had criticized Too Human vehemently in EGM’s E3 06 coverage. In response to his comments, Dyack went on the EGM Live podcast to engage in a serious debate with MacDonald. Dyack seemed to hold a minor personal grudge against the journalist, but moreover had some serious criticisms for what he saw MacDonald as representing: a broken industry standard where developers are forced to put on display unfinished products for unfair criticism and review by journalists and the consumer public. Though, to be fair, Dyack’s ideas weren’t without some merit, the comments came off as whiny, narcissistic, and immature. A non-issue blown out of proportion by a hurt ego. Penny-Arcade’s Jerry Holkins would respond:
”All of this started precisely because people fully expect to be amazed by the man and the company he leads. There are worse problems than this.”
July 2007: Denis Dyack vs. Mark Rein
Too Human, like basically every other game made this generation, was originally powered by Unreal Engine 3. And while UE3 is apparently even good enough for Square-Enix, it wasn’t good enough for Silicon Knights, who sued Epic Games for breach of contract and fraud. The upshot of the suit is that Epic withheld superior versions of its engine from its licensees for itself, resulting in a disparity of quality between games like Too Human and Gears of War, which, despite running on allegedly the same engine, looked a hell of a lot better. Epic countersued, and the protracted legal process is still playing itself out – aside from the widespread embarrassment and controversy this attracted to Dyack and his game, the company will be forced to pay in excess of $650,000 if they lose the case.
May 2008: Too Human, two humans
[youtube width="480" height="378"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1nwyAi7phI[/youtube]
With a decent GDC showing in 08, Too Human seemed to be back on track – positive impressions were on the rise, and hype was building, though plenty of people didn’t mince words when it came to criticisms. These came to a boiling point in May when it was revealed at Microsoft’s Spring Showcase that Too Human’s much ballyhooed four-player co-op mode was being gimped to a being only two-player. Citing the Too Human style gameplay as better suited for two people, Dyack and SK argued that this was a positive change. Even for defenders of the game, however, it was hard to see this as anything but a real blow to the title. Too Human’s critics, meanwhile, began to ravenously circle what they saw as the game’s quickly decomposing corpse.
June 2008: Stand and be counted
Denis Dyack, never one to back down from an argument, wouldn’t take the criticisms sitting down. In a thread posted on NeoGAF, Dyack called out all of the forum’s users to declare whether they were “for” or “against” Too Human. If the game came out and was a qualified success, those who would had cast their vote “against” would be given the tag “Owned by Too Human”. If the opposite happened, then Dyack would wear a “Owned by NeoGAF”.
Needless to say the thread spread across the Internet like wildfire, with opinions varying from admiration for Dyack’s ballsiness to outright ridicule. Dyack appeared on the 1UP Yours podcast to explain himself, and citing all manner of theoretical ideas about technology, society, and the Internet, seemed to dub himself as a hero for calling upon NeoGAF to either reform itself or destroy itself, because it was a negative force, not only within the games industry, but society as a whole. NeoGAF responded by laughing in his face.
July 2008: Too Human, ten hours
Around the same time, games media received preview builds of Too Human that were near-complete versions of the game. Previews were mixed, but the sticking point among the gaming public seemed to be the game’s length. Game | Life’s Chris Kohler, who posted one of the first previews, reported that the game ended abruptly after its tenth hour – a shame considering its emphasis on a deep and complicated narrative. Again, the critics feasted.
After months of promising a demo, Silicon Knights finally released one to coincide with Microsoft’s E3 conference. Though opinions on its quality have been divided, it quickly became one of the most downloaded demos on Xbox Live Marketplace.
Game Informer gives Too Human a 6.75
Scans leaked of the latest issue of Game Informer last week, and they featured a review of Too Human with the score of 6.75. Which would be above average by most rational scales, but is actually equivalent to about a 4 out of 10.
August 19, 2008: Too Human is released
At some point, the story of Too Human stops being about the game and starts being about Dennis Dyack. Is that the media’s fault, or is it Dyack’s? When the game comes out, hopefully it won’t matter. Hopefully, by then, we’ll be able to judge the game without the burden of nine years of development and controversy weighing down on it.