Black Isle studios is back, but not in a good way

Screenshot from Planescape:Torment

We’ve tried hard not to get too excited about the resurrection of Black Isle Studios. And it’s looking like our lack of excitement was justified, as The Verge has reported that the re-opened Black Isle shows every indication of being nothing more than a logo that Interplay can smack on top of other people’s games.

Anyone who’s been playing games since the 90’s still gets a thrill up their leg at the sight of the Black Isle logo, which once preceded masterpieces like dense fantasy universe Baldur’s Gate, isometric despair generator Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment, which many still consider the best-written RPG of all time. Interplay cruelly stoked our long-dead flames of excitement with a Facebook page identifying the new Black Isle as ” is a division of Interplay formed to develop and publish high quality role-playing games.” Even the most cynical of industry watchers began to dream of a new MDK or even—dare we hope?—a modernized Planescape.

But it’s looking like those hopes are as doomed as an under-equipped explorer of the Wasteland. The Verge searched through LinkedIn, and discovered that thus far, no developers are listing themselves as employed at Black Isle. Even grimmer, Black Isle’s careers page offers no jobs at all, and none of the original Black Isle crew has been approached to work at the new company. Based on the available evidence, there’s little reason to believe it’s staffing up to create the next big thing; it doesn’t seem to have the personnel to develop so much as an iPhone game.

Worse still, The Verge notes that most of the great Black Isle games were based on properties whose rights have reverted back to their original owners. Any attempt to resurrect that Planescape series, for example, would require re-purchasing the rights from Wizards of the Coast; and unlike fifteen years ago, WotC has a vigorous video game division of its own. There’s little reason for it to rent out a beloved property, no matter how much gamers kick and scream and hold their breath until their collective face turns blue.

A clue to Interplay’s true intentions is in the original press release announcing Black Isle’s return. Though the press release talks about “getting the band back together”, it opens by announcing that “Black Isle Studios returns to game publishing.”  That’s publishing, not developing.  

The distinction between developer and publisher is one that a lot of civilians are unclear on, but for those inside the industry, it’s the difference between a filmmaker and a studio executive, with inherent hostile relations. A developer makes games: writes the story, creates the art, programs the engine, and does all the things to make it wonderful. A publisher is a pure business entity; it fronts money, handles disc and box manufacture, and markets the game. At its most creative, a publisher makes occasional demands of the developer, which often does more harm than good; many a developer has been sunk by publishers who swoop in with absurd multiplayer requirements, unrealistic schedules, and harsh budget cuts.

These days, many are questioning whether the industry needs publishers at all. With digital distribution eliminating the need for manufacturing, social media becoming a major marketing tool, and community forums acting as a better guide to what players want than some executive’s demands, the role of the publisher is steadily eroding. The only thing a publisher can offer a self-reliant developer is the prestige of its name, and that’s where Black Isle still has something to offer. A lot of gamers will see the Black Isle logo and buy whatever’s being sold, in the hopes of a return to the studio’s glory days. So it may be that the label resurrection still has some value to Interplay. But it will only take one lousy game to destroy gamers’ loyalty and trust — and at this point, that’s the only asset Black Isle has.

Gaming

Epic Games sues ‘Fortnite’ YouTuber creators over cheating software

Epic Games has filed a lawsuit against two YouTube users for their role in promoting cheating and hacking tools for Fortnite via a YouTube channel and personal website. As of now, the channel is still live.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now, from Super Mario Odyssey to Fortnite.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix in October, from 'Mindhunter’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.
Gaming

Terrifying clowns try to kill you in this teaser for ‘PUBG’ Halloween event

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds seems to be getting a frightening Halloween event. In a brief teaser, we get a glimpse of two masked assailants, creepy nurses, and an utterly terrifying clown that looks something like Pennywise.
Emerging Tech

Light-swallowing room promises Call of Duty fans the blackest of ops

What's it like to be in a room fully painted with the world's darkest material, Vantablack? The makers of one of the year's top video games teamed up with Vantablack scientists to find out.
Gaming

Huawei thinks its Mate 20 X is better than the Nintendo Switch

Huawei positioned its Mate 20 X, a gaming-centric smartphone, as a Nintendo Switch killer, calling it "the best portable gaming machine." The Mate 20 X has better design specs than the Switch, but it also comes with a steep price.
Gaming

Eat your way to a limited-edition Xbox One X in new Taco Bell contest

If you like the idea of a limited-edition Xbox One X that makes Taco Bell's famous "bong" sound every time it starts up, then you need to enter a new contest launched by the fast-food chain and Microsoft without delay.
Gaming

You can preload ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ soon, and you definitely should

Red Dead Redemption 2's launch is quickly approaching. If you're planning on buying a digital version, you should keep in mind that the file size is roughly 90GB. Thankfully, you can preload the game starting October 19
Gaming

These guns will literally blow away the competition in Black Ops 4's Blackout

Finding a good weapon in Black Ops 4's Blackout mode is hard, especially when there are so many options. Whether you like to get up close or keep some distance between you and your enemies, here are the best guns in Blackout.
Gaming

Wings on the bus: ‘Fortnite’ Battle Bus now sends you to your death even faster

A new update for Fortnite: Battle Royale has made the starting Battle Bus significantly faster, meaning you can get killed by a better player even faster than you could up until now.
Gaming

You're not a true fan without these Nintendo Switch exclusives

Who doesn't love a good Nintendo game? If you're looking for great first-party titles for your Nintendo Switch, take a look at our list of the very best exclusives available right now.
Gaming

Dinner is cancelled! How to keep Call of Duty's zombies from eating your brain

New to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Zombies mode and don't know how to succeed? We've got the tips you need to blast away at the undead and keep yourself alive for longer, even without other players helping.