Obsidian. The name conjures up a variety of images, some negative, some positive. One image is that of the safe pair of hands, the developer who can be handed the reins of any major license and produce a work that rivals or even exceeds the original effort. On the other hand there is the somewhat more popular image, that of well-wishers who haven't heard of bug-testing.
It is interesting now to look back at the evolution of Obsidian, given that they are now arguably at the strongest point in their history. With Project Eternity an unequivocal success and the reported possibility of a new Star Wars game helmed by them along with a promising South Park game, it is safe to say that their future is secure for the time being. In the past, this was often not the case.
The company rose from the ashes of the once famous Black Isle studios who, under Chris Avellone and Feargus Urquhart, developed some fine RPGs, notably the Fallout series. Obsidian quickly became the studio that developers trusted with their D&D inspired licenses, in particular Bioware. Obsidian were given charge of KOTORII and Neverwinter Nights 2 while Bioware focused on Jade Empire, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. In each instance Obsidian delivered a thematically brilliant and nuamced plot packed with interesting characters and entertaining dialogue, even if the core gameplay was only as strong as that of the preceding game, and often more buggy.
After two expansions for Neverwinter Nights 2, they developed Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol and Dungeon Siege III. Obsidian have remained a remarkably busy studio since their inception, however has this impacted the quality of each individual game release? Bugs are representative of a lack of playtesting, which takes time. It may be the case the Obsidian, pressured by various publishers, have not given each individual project the necessary care. Either that or it may be due to the discrepancies of their particular development style, the focus on story and character may be at the detriment of gameplay.
KOTOR II is probably the best representation of what Obsidian is and what they can achieve. When the game was released back in 2005, it was a critical and commercial success. The plot introduced a number of new characters and showed us a Star Wars universe more layered than any we had seen before. I was among those who purchased the game on day one, having been a fan of the previous iteration in the series. I was impressed by it, however something didnt feel right. First and foremost, the bugs were unbelievably bad. At the time I wasnt yet acquainted with the dark side of PC gaming, so KOTOR II was a baptism by fire. It took me five years and the Lost Content mod to complete the game, understandably my feelings for the game waxed and waned during this period. It is a testament to the quality of the underlying product (and my insanity) that I persevered and found something to love.
Whether a result of a rushed development period or wrongly assigned priorities, KOTOR 2 is riddled with bugs. It is only with effort that this game can be truly appreciated. Earlier I mentioned the Lost Content mod, if you are a fan of this game it is well worth checking out. When this game was released a great deal of content was cut to meet deadlines. LucasArts were notoriously dickish, they certainly trod all over Obsidian. The Lost Content mod is a fan project designed to restore all the lost content, surprisingly. The mod brings back a number of cutscenes, fixes the ending and even adds a new planet among other things. It is accomplished and gives KOTOR 2 a layer of polish that it sorely needed.
The story of KOTOR 2 is the story of Obsidian: great expectations, organisational shortcomings, publisher bullying and buggy releases. Despite this all, Obsidian have flourished. With their games they have established themselves as firm fan favourites, whether they can maintain this good favour is yet to be seen. Their Project Eternity on kickstarter raised a great deal of money. It has given them the opportunity to make the game that they always wanted to make without the pressure of a publisher breathing down their neck. If the game is still ridiculously buggy upon release, will they still be as adored?
Regardless, their future is bright and it they should never be written off, they are a strong development house who have made some of the most original and downright fun games of the last ten years, for that they should be appropriately commended.