Black Isle Studios will be losing one of its best and brightest on November 21 when J.E. Sawyer will leave the studio. Sawyer had been a driving force behind the Icewind Dale series and had recently taken over as lead designer of Van Buren, Black Isle's code name for Fallout 3. Sawyer announced the departure on the Black Isle forums, saying "I apologize to those who may be disappointed by my decision and congratulate those who rejoice at it." As to the reasons for his leaving, Sawyer gave this answer to GameSpot: "I am reluctant to publicly give those reasons, but I would like to say that it is not for personal or medical reasons."
Sawyer's departure came as a shock to those following Fallout 3's development. An avid poster on the BIS forums, he had put up an enthusiastic message gushing about the game's nonplayer character AI just 15 hours before his resignation announcement. Shortly after he took over as lead, Sawyer pledged his devotion to the project in another message, saying "If I abandon my team, I don't know if I'd be able to respect myself." He went on to say that he had wanted to work on the third installment in the sci-fi role-playing series since 1999--the year after Fallout 2 was released--and said he'd persevere despite receiving negative feedback. "If I didn't think the trade-off was worth it, I wouldn't still be around," said Sawyer.
Now that the trade-off is no longer worth it, rumors are running rampant about the future of Fallout 3. (Namely, does it have one?) Although the game has not even been officially announced, it became one of Black Isle's most hotly anticipated PC titles after the studio shelved Jefferson, its next Forgotten Realms game. As of press time, Black Isle had not assigned a new lead designer to the game, its third so far this year. Sawyer, though, was quick to back his soon-to-be-former coworkers, saying the reason he left was "not because I have any lack of faith in the people on my team at Black Isle."
So what's next for Sawyer? Although there was some speculation that he would join other former Black Isle workers at Obsidian Entertainment, the designer told GameSpot he's taking some time off from the RPG industry. "I've been trying to work on hardcore PC RPGs for the past three years, and it just hasn't been panning out," he said. "I need to try something else for the next few years before I dive back in."
So what is that next "something?" Sawyer demurred with one of the strangest responses on record: "Imagine a basketball player and a shoe salesman getting together to go on the road with [a] vaudeville show, and you should have a good idea of the 'what' factor involved." Sawyer may have lost his job, but at least he hasn't lost his sense of humor.