Speculation: Eternal Darkness 2 for Wii U

April 29, 2012

“Deep in the bowels of the Starship Rocket Chainsaw, the monkeys work tirelessly, hunched over a forest of blinking terminals, attending to printers spitting out an endless cycle of repeating binary. Every line of code and cryptic transmission a small piece of a larger puzzle. It may take aeons, but eventually the fragments will merge together to form a greater picture, and the beastly work will be complete. Then, and only then, will we understand the most secret of video games.”

If only it were that poetic. Since we don’t have any monkeys on hand (alive, anyhow), or an operational starship, this article will have to be sufficient. In each Rocket Chainsaw speculative piece, magnifying glass in one hand, pipe in the other, and deerstalker atop our head, we’ll do our very best to dig up industry gossip, secrets and leaks. Then we’ll get our monkey corpses to analyse the evidence, and ideally bring to you a plausible scenario for a game that might just exist, even if it hasn’t been officially announced. The kind of “you heard it here, folks!” article that we’ll later use as bragging rights. Or bury under a mountain of reviews and news when we’re proven wrong.

To start things off, we’ve picked a title that for many Nintendo fans would be too good to be true. A sequel to one of the first revealed GameCube titles, from a developer that has slipped and fumbled over the last generation. We’re talking of none other than…

Eternal Darkness 2

Along with the likes of Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and Luigi’s Mansion, Eternal Darkness earned quite a bit of attention for being one of the first announced Nintendo GameCube titles. It was a product of Nintendo’s growing relationship with Canadian developer Silicon Knights. At the time, Nintendo’s majority share ownership of Silicon Knights allowed the studio to function as a Nintendo second party. The promise was exclusive titles that filled the genre gaps in Nintendo’s own line-up, and for Eternal Darkness, that gap was horror.

A story driven psychologically horror that borrowed heavily from H.P Lovecraft, Eternal Darkness told the story of Alexandra Roivas. While investigating the disturbingly gruesome murder of her grandfather, Edward Roivas, Alexandra found herself enthralled by an ancient flesh bound tome known as The Tome of Eternal Darkness. While recounting tales of death, horror and evil from a long forgotten past, players would experience pockets of history from the perspectives of an assorted cast of characters. Among these was the ancient Roman centurion Pious Augustus, Frankish messenger of lords Anthony, and maddening 1700’s doctor Maximillian Roivas. Weaving the threads of fate from all these characters together, Alexandra would discover the truth behind ancient, slumbering evils and, with a little help from history’s ghosts, stop them from consuming the earth.

It also left room wide open for a sequel. A sequel we never got.

Despite reports of underwhelming sales, demands for a new Eternal Darkness were high, from an arguably niche audience that hungered for more. However, disinterest from Nintendo, and a decaying relationship with Silicon Knights, lead to the Canadian developer working on other projects. For the last generation, they delivered Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, and for the current they explored a brief relationship with Microsoft for Too Human, and then Activision for X-Men: Destiny. Though The Twin Snakes was met with positive reception, Too Human and X-Men: Destiny were not. The former’s development was plagued with issues, leading to an ongoing lawsuit with Epic Games, and cost the studio continuation of what was planned to be a trilogy. The latter was met with critical and commercial failure, rating as one of Silicon Knight’s lowest scored games. Outside of these, Silicon Knights was forced to cancel a couple of titles, pass through two rounds of staff layoffs, and resort to working as a support team for THQ’s Darksiders and Activision’s Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, among others.

Keeping true to a reputation of silence and secrecy, Silicon Knight’s current project is unknown. Nobody is even sure what platform it’s for, or who they’re working with. But after gathering the evidence, the rumours and secrets, we begin to paint a picture of just what might be coming next from the Canadian studio. Could it be Eternal Darkness 2? Read on to find out.

Lets take a look at the evidence, and see what it means.

  • Comments from Silicon Knights CEO Dennis Dyack

“We’re working on an IP that’s our most requested and we’re really excited about that. We’re smaller, obviously, and we’re going back to our roots.”

In statements from both November of 2011, and March of 2012, Dennis Dyack implied that Silicon Knights would be working on an intellectual property that is one of their “most requested”, and they were going back to their “roots”. Vague as this may sound, statements like these work in our favour (if truthful). Luckily for us, Silicon Knight’s has worked on a fairly modest quantity of properties, and owns even less. Lets take a look through the studio’s in-house developed titles, and who owns the intellectual properites.

  1. Cyber Empires (1992, DOS). IP published by the now defunct Strategic Simulations, who were absorbed by Ubisoft, the latter now owning the brand name.
  2. Fantasy Empires (1993, DOS). Same situation as Cyber Empires.
  3. Dark Legions (1994, DOS). Same situation as Cyber Empires and Fantasy Empires.
  4. Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (1996, PSX/DOS). One of the studio’s more famous works. Published by Crystal Dynamics, who were absorbed by Square-Enix. The latter now owns the property, with rumours of Crystal Dynamics heading a Legacy of Kain reboot.
  5. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (2002, GCN). In IP limbo. Unknown if Nintendo or Silicon Knights has ownership of the property. Nintendo has some vague patent on ‘sanity effects’. Dyack has never specified who retains rights to the series.
  6. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (2004, GCN). The Metal Gear franchise is wholly owned by Konami.
  7. Too Human (2008, X360). Microsoft published, though rights unknown. Possible Silicon Knights still retains ownership of the series.
  8. X-Men: Destiny (2011, X360/PS3/Wii/DS). Marvel game license owned by Activision.

We’ve bolded the two important ones. Though Silicon Knights has a good few titles under their belt, majority do not fit statements made by Dyack. Additionally, most would be inaccessible to the studios. You can guaranty the two Empires games, and Legions, are out of the question. Blood Omen is a curious one. Demand is very high for a new Legacy of Kain, but Crystal Dynamics has done just fine developing Legacy of Kain titles, notably the Soul Reaver series, without Silicon Knights’ support. Circulating rumours suggest the studio has already begun work on a reboot, much as they are doing with Tomb Raider. Would Silicon Knights be required to complete the project? We think not. Metal Gear Solid and X-Men are unlikely, given property ownership by other publishers and conflict with Dyack’s statements.

That leaves two games: Eternal Darkness and Too Human. Though Too Human has been of great interest to Silicon Knights, the studio vocal about desires to continue the series, we firmly believe demand is much higher for a new Eternal Darkness. Besides, developing a sequel to title from 2008 is hardly a ‘return to roots’.

  • Relationship with Nintendo, and ownership of Eternal Darkness

“Nintendo’s still our silent partner.”

As we mentioned above, ownership of the Eternal Darkness property is unknown. Dyack is known for dodging questions on the subject, never specifying who actually has the rights to make a new game. What is known is that Nintendo has a vague patent on the concept of sanity effects. If reports are correct, the goofy player teasing tricks and effects were what attracted Nintendo to the project, and Silicon Knights as a studio, way back before the GameCube released. Ensuring ownership of the gimmick (if such a thing is possible), evidence suggests Nintendo does own Eternal Darkness to at least some degree. This means it is unlikely that Silicon Knights could work on a new Eternal Darkness without Nintendo playing some role in production. But what’s the likelihood of Nintendo working with Silicon Knights again? More likely than most people probably think.

Despite separation, Dyack has stated that Nintendo remains a ‘silent partner’ of Silicon Knights. Or, to be most specific, Nintendo still technically owns shares in Silicon Knights as a company. Though never having used them as a resource, Nintendo owning shares encourages Nintendo to look out for Silicon Knights future. Why? Silicon Knights going bankrupt means Nintendo loses money. The relationship between the two isn’t as dead and buried as some believe, and there’s a very real possibility Nintendo may call upon Silicon Knights for work.

But if Silicon Knights were working on a new Eternal Darkness, and Nintendo was involved, what platform would it be for?

  • Access to Wii U development kits

Silicon Knight isn’t shy with Nintendo hardware. Obvious work on the GameCube aside, the studio also worked on the Nintendo Wii, specifically for the port of X-Men: Destiny, of which was developed entirely in-house. It doesn’t end there though. Evidence suggests that Silicon Knights also has access to development kits for the Wii U.

This is detailed in a resume available for one Jeff Giffen, an ex-Silicon Knights tech and tools programmer, now working at Gameloft. His resume, available on his website, details work on both the Xbox 360 and Wii platforms. It appears Giffen worked heavily on X-Men: Destiny for the Nintendo Wii, but two lines in his resume also mentions the Wii U. In one instance he even specifies the system by its codename, ‘Project Café’. Work on the latter platform seems minimal at best, as no specifics are given, but it does imply that Silicon Knights does, or did, have interest in the platform and access to development tools.

Digging further yielded no results. Silicon Knights is infamous for keeping staff locked down. We’ve done our best to look over linkedin, and check out some resumes, and not a single other Silicon Knights staffer, ex or otherwise, has any hints to the Wii U platform. In fact, the only thing resumes and online reports detail is the studio is indeed working on something. Something unannounced.

Fact of the matter is, this evidence isn’t conclusion. After all, there are no absolutes in the industry, and what might seem likely could turn out to be something else entirely. Take Dyack’s statements: maybe Silicon Knight is working with Square-Enix on a Legacy of Kain reboot. Or maybe Too Human is their perceived most requested IP. Too often a developer says one thing when they really mean another, and statements get misinterpreted. Hell, sometimes this is entirely deliberate.

What we do know is this: Silicon Knight is working on something. Nintendo is gearing up for a big Wii U showing at E3 2012. Silicon Knight has some experience with the new platform. And, most importantly, fan begging for a new Eternal Darkness is just as strong as it has always been. It seems impossible for Dyack to do an interview without someone bringing it up, and if you ask us, now is the right time for Eternal Darkness 2. And given the evidence and known knowns above, there’s no better guess.

Will Eternal Darkness 2 for the Wii U be revealed at E3 2012? We only have a couple of months to find out.