Shock of the century!
A couple of days ago fans of strategy gaming were shocked with grieve news that came out of the blue - Dreamland Chronicles: The Freedom Ridge had been cancelled! The next day after the infamous Julian Gollop's forum message I started receiving letters from readers who were desperate to know more on what really happened with the game. In fact, this whole story is worthy of being transformed into a detective book - so many things are still unexplained. But guess no more - here's what I have found.
First of all, let's try to summarize what exactly Dreamland is. This is not yet another strategy/tactics title, definitely not - this is a very special project. It has everything to be a smash-hit - a cutting-edge engine, realistic graphics & physics, breathtaking visuals and a strong storyline. This kind of projects tend to have a big impact on the whole industry should they ever be released, not to mention to be quite profitable. Dreamland is one of the most expensive titles ever - a total amount of investments now roughly estimates to about 10 million pounds! I'm shivering at the very idea of how much this sum is in U.S. dollars...
We shouldn't also forget that Dreamland was to be a multi-platform title. PC and PSX2 versions were officially confirmed to be in production and there were rumors of a possible X-Box portation. Console games market is larger than PC's; no wonder that a struggle concerning who gets to sell Dreamland had arisen.
Slight indications to a possible crisis have appeared several months ago. I think August 2000 became a turning-point in the game's development cycle, when the already-not-so-loud ad campaign was shut down. New entries in the developer's diary of Julian Gollop stopped appearing and there were no more new screenshots and interviews... Later, these strange happenings were followed by yet another shifting of the release date by 6 months, though some ad activity has been revived. The project's site got a face-lift along with a bunch of new shots and an official message board where Dreamland developers took part in the discussions quite often, has been up. It is on this board Julian Gollop posted his final message...
Yet all this fuzz is simply a peak of the iceberg, there's much more hidden underwater. Right now we know only Mythos' side of the story, though it would be quite interesting to find out what Virgin/Titus or Bethesda has to say about the situation. Let's sum up what's been said by Mythos' staff...
Many readers want to know who's responsible for plugging out the game and what were the reasons behind this decision. Alas, we can't tell straight who's to blame. Instead, let's take a look at the sides involved in this mess.
Virgin Interactive Entertainment (Europe), a subsidiary of French industry giant Titus Games, is the main Dreamland's publisher. According to Mythos Games' story, Virgin couldn't finance such an expensive project so they had to loan from Bethesda, their long-term overseas partners. In turn, Bethesda acquired sole rights to publish Dreamland in North America, but had no rights on the title itself. According to Mythos, Bethesda's bosses were dissatisfied with this state of things so they started hatching a plan in order to acquire Dreamland along with full rights on the title. There are even indications that Bethesda had an idea of replacing the original development team with an undisclosed Russian company so the project could be completed with fewer expenses. Imagine what guys at Mythos felt upon discovering this bitter truth...
On the other hand, Virgin was reluctant to hand the title over to Bethesda. It already owed quite a sum to its partner and, in case Bethesda becomes the sole proprietor, there was a risk to lose all Dreamland-related profits. Yet still Virgin wasn't capable of financing such a venture alone. It also couldn't exclude Bethesda from the project for the obvious financial reasons, so the only possible way for them to break the vicious circle was to force Mythos to cancel the Dreamland project.
According to the developers, the publisher (namely Virgin) found out that Mythos Games was more useful as a bankrupt rather than a normally functioning company - in this case Virgin could buy Dreamland's code from Mythos and sell it out to Bethesda, thus nullifying its current debt. "Looks like there is no other way for our company to stay alive", conclude Mythos' representatives. At least we have Julian Gollop's word that his team will continue to create interesting and sophisticated games no matter the cost.
I'd also like to point out that Bethesda neither confirmed nor denied any of the aforementioned statements. Blue's News received a letter from Bethesda's chief PR manager hinting that the whole situation was a complete surprise to the company's management and that they do not have the rights on Dreamland. "No comments", "we don't now anything about" and all that. Meanwhile, we have the knowledge of the Virgin's fax sent to Mythos concerning removal of all Dreamland-related materials from developers' office slated on the 3rd of March. This confirms our suspicions that at least one of the sides involved intends to do something with the game.
The official Mythos board is going to be up for some time, and Mythos Games now plans to take some steps concerning the situation. Here's our extrapolation of can happen in the near future...
As you probably know, with the acquisition of Hasbro Interactive, Infogrames recently became a sole owner of the X-COM brand. Several months ago many analysts predicted that Infogrames would try to elude a possible "X-COM Alliance vs. Dreamland" rivalry for Mythos' project was considered a very promising title at that time. Now Infogrames has one less competitor on the market, and there's nothing that could stop X-COM Alliance's possible resurrection. It would be a very clever moves if Infogrames were to establish relations with Mythos Games. Dreamland, if it's to see the light of day ever again, will hit the shelves no sooner than in 2003, so Infogrames is now in a possible "win-win" situation: their new X-COM strategy title would become not only the most awaited project but it would be developed by the genre's creators themselves - not a very bad ground for a marketing campaign, don't you think?
I would like to stress that this article represents only my point of view on a future development of this situation, not anyone else's. I merely note a successful moment for Infogrames to come up with a new X-COM strategy title while Dreamland is in K.O. and Mythos Games is free from its obligations to Virgin.
And finally, here's my opinion on the possibility of Dreamland being created in Russia. Frankly, I think this idea is stupid. As far as I'm concerned, Bethesda has good relations with three of the Russian companies - Buka Entertainment, Akella and Madia. I'm afraid none of them is able to create anything the size of Dreamland - the local developers are way too young and have no experience in creation of console titles. Yes, I do not deny the fact that they could continue Mythos' work on the title, but in this case we won't see Dreamland for a very long period of time. Only Julian Gollop and his team are able to create the game we've been waiting for.
And now a couple of words to Dreamland's developers, if they read this... We are on your side and we feel sorrow that the publishers happened to be crack-brained… Our thoughts will be with you no matter what happens to Mythos Games. Always.
P.S. This article is based on postings in the official Mythos Games' message board.
- Yuri Bushin (aga Yurg)