Former Fallout 76 project lead Jeff Gardiner, who left Bethesda a year ago telling fans to ‘stay tuned’ for the sequel, has now revealed he’s founded a new games studio and that he was working on a historical fantasy RPG game called Wyrdsong. The trailer debuted at Opening Night Live at Gamescom.
Gardiner’s new studio is called Something Wicked, and he’s brought together talent from Bethesda, BioWare, and Obsidian to craft his first game, Wyrdsong. The trailer shows shooting stars during a solar eclipse, and as the shot unfolds, we see a knight wearing a Templar cross on his tabard, standing on a castle rampart.
Suddenly, the corona of the sun spurting around the moon closes like an eye, plunging the scene into darkness. It reopens, blazing blue energy illuminating a different version of the tableau: here the knight is replaced by a dark, horned figure, and thorny branches twist on the walls.
“Wyrdsong is a dark, supernatural or occult historical fantasy,” Gardiner tells us. “It’s an open-world RPG set in the Middle Ages in Portugal. We want to ground the player in a reality that they are somehow familiar with, because that comes from the story, but at the same time introduce elements of fantasy as the player goes through it.
Gardiner says the basic idea around which Wyrdsong is designed is that “the brain is not a passive receiver of information; you are a co-creator in your reality.
“I’m really digging into this idea that’s in a lot of more modern fantasy and science fiction about multiverses and metaverses, and how those worlds interact and overlap,” says Gardiner. “And there’s this ability for an individual to kind of gain knowledge about those worlds and then be able to continue to live in that historical fantasy world and find some kind of power beyond what they can bring. in the world with him. »
Gardiner says the inspiration for the decor came during his last vacation trip before the COVID-19 pandemic, when he and his wife traveled to Tomar, Portugal. It’s a small town just over 100 kilometers north of Lisbon, filled with 12th-century castles and churches that display a range of architecture including Baroque, Manueline, Gothic and Renaissance.
The city itself, Gardiner learned, was also planned as the seat of a branch of the Knights Templar, the mysterious order of religious warriors at the center of countless conspiracy theories.
“We just kind of go places and rent little stick-shift cars and drive,” says Gardiner. “I didn’t even realize how much the Templars had influenced the origin of Portugal as a nation-state, and of this region as a whole. »
The Gardiners drove south to the town of Sintra, where they found another Templar stronghold – this one built on a set of ancient Celtic monoliths.
Add a local Masonic temple and you have a fully functioning pitch for a new Dan Brown novel. Gardiner says that while many of the conspiracy theories surrounding these groups are decried by appropriate historians, it makes for a hugely entertaining alternate history setting in a game.
“I wanted to dig into the idea that what these alternate history people are saying is actually true, and that the Templars may have tapped into some sort of alternate reality,” he tells us. “What would that look like in a role-playing game, where the player can experience it? »
Gardiner says a related idea was the “unreliable narrator” and suggested to the player that their own in-game experiences might not be real – or at least, not universally real.
There were also other influences that Gardiner picked up along the way. He says he’s a big fan of the RPG series Piranha Bytes Gothic, as well as the classic Ultima games (Ultima III and Ultima IV in particular). Another big influence, he says, is Robert Eggers’ 2015 film The Witch, about a family of 17th-century Puritans in New England who set out on their own to live in the wilderness and encounter a malevolent entity – or do they ?
“You think these people are kind of going crazy, and they’re all out in the woods together, and they’re feeding each other madness,” Gardiner says. “And you find at the end, the fake head is that it could have been real. You still don’t really know.
Gardiner says he appreciated the research Eggers put into the setting of The Witch – the story was based on actual diaries kept at the time by people in similar circumstances, grounding a supernatural story in a very real and believable.
Wyrdsong is still very early in development, and so Gardiner isn’t ready to commit to many details about the game’s look or play – it’s unclear, for example, whether it will will act from another first-person game, like the many RPGs he worked on at Bethesda. However, it does assemble a team of seasoned genre veterans to do just that: Something Wicked includes the likes of Charles Staples, who helped design Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol, and The Outer Worlds while working at Obsidian.
“I strongly believe in attracting great people who are really excited to work on a game like this and empowering them to figure out how to make it,” says Gardiner. “What great ideas do you have, how can we incorporate them? This magic has been captured with great success in my previous jobs, and I want to continue that at Something Wicked Games.