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What's up with 'Perfect Dark'? Game development reportedly beset by studio upheaval

The reboot is still on track "to deliver a fantastic Perfect Dark experience," says studio head Darrell Gallagher.

By Benjamin Bullard
Perfect Dark Logo PRESS

She may have stealth skills, but Joanna Dark was always destined to stand in the spotlight. For 1990s gamers, Perfect Dark rated as one of Nintendo’s most epic sci-fi adventures, not to mention a worthy shooter successor to GoldenEye 007 — developer Rare’s earlier adventure in special agent hallway stalking on the N64 console.

That’s why it was only natural that fans felt a new light dawning in late 2020, when Microsoft and internal game studio The Initiative debuted a sweet-looking trailer for a surprise Perfect Dark reboot. Microsoft unveiled a sleek cinematic Perfect Dark clip, complete with next-gen graphics and an intriguingly dystopian cityscape, with the tease that the game was in development for PC and next-gen Xbox consoles. Since then, though, there’s been a void of news on how the reboot has progressed, and no word on a release date.

A new analysis of studio staffing and talks with “multiple former senior developers” may hint at the perceived holdup. According to VGC, there's “a lack of creative autonomy and slow development progress” on the game, with an estimated half of Perfect Dark’s development staff at The Initiative — “or around 34 people” — believed to have left the studio over the past year. The timing of most of those exits, reports VGC, appears to coincide with Crystal Dynamics (the studio behind Square Enix’s Tomb Raider and Marvel’s Avengers) boarding the project as a collaborator in early 2021.

The turnover seems heavy in the key design lead roles that help shape a game, with “most of The Initiative’s senior design team, including game director Dan Neuburger, design director Drew Murray, lead level designer Chris O’Neill, principal world builder Jolyon Myers, two senior system designers, a group of three former God of War designers, and more” all having left the studio.

Those design team departures reportedly have been joined by other creative farewells. “[T]wo most senior writers also recently quit, analysis shows, along with the project’s technical director, tech art director, lead gameplay engineer, lead animator, QA lead, and more,” the report states.

Despite what one former staff member described as “painfully slow” progress on the game, bringing Crystal Dynamics on board may have “triggered an effective soft reboot” for Perfect Dark well into its development, one that recruits new staff more aligned with the second studio’s development culture. Darrell Gallagher, current studio head of The Initiative, was previously studio head at Crystal Dynamics and told VGC that the wait will be worth it when the Perfect Dark reboot finally does arrive.

“In this journey, it’s not uncommon for there to be staffing changes, 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,” he said. “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.”