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Ex-ZA/UM devs say scrapped Disco Elysium spinoff could've saved the studio

Project X7 was killed in February, and those working on it think it would've reversed ZA/UM's fortunes after a rough couple of years.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

June 13, 2024

2 Min Read
Key art for ZA/UM's Disco Elysium featuring Harry DuBois.
Image via ZA/UM.

A new report from PCGamer digs into the ongoing troubles at ZA/UM. The report follows on from studio layoffs and the cancellation of several projects in February, with the most notable being one codenamed "Project X7."

Per the outlet, this project was planned as a spinoff to the studio's debut game, Disco Elysium. It would've starred "one of [its] most beloved characters," in the vein of a game like Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

Current and former ZA/UM staff claim "X7" had a largely positive internal reaction. One developer went so far as to call it "exactly the sort of game ZA/UM needs to put out," as it would've improved the studio's perception after the February layoffs and previous controversies.

A second developer believed "X7" was "the best possible shot" at making a Disco Elyisum title sans the involvement of key creatives Robert Kurvitz, Helen Hindpere, and Alexander Rostov. The three were allegedly ousted from ZA/UM in late 2022.

ZA/UM management got in its own studio's way

Sources speaking to PCGamer say "X7" would've possibly been out in 2025, and the closest project to release ZA/UM was working on. Despite this, it's claimed there was no pre-production on the project, and the schedule was initially set for a year.

"We were set up to fail from the start and it was impossible to catch up," said writer Dora Klindžić. She and co-writer Argo Tuulik pitched "X7" in August 2022 shortly after Disco Elysium's sequel was cancelled, and the lack of prep time hurt development.

The pair were the only writers on "X7" at the time, and Tuulik said they both "had to work double-time from day one to supply other disciplines with work. [This was] whilst trying to write the first dialogues and sketch out the rest of the game at the same time."

While development was described as "fruitful," Klindžić and Tuulik noted neither were designated as project leads. They also weren't properly compensated for their extra work, and both factors began to wear on them (and other staff) over time.

Further exacerbating the issue was management having them communicate with their coworkers via an interim manager. Much of the blame was laid at Tonis Haavel, who Tuulik implied in February caused at least five women to leave ZA/UM.

Ultimately, the developers who spoke to PCGamer are left feeling disappointed: both in the alleged behavior from management, and that "X7" was killed before it was basically out the door. And with the sequel canceled, its loss stings even more.

"The entire X7 team loved the Elysium world⁠," said Klindžić. "As fan artists, musicians, iconic voices⁠, we only wanted to keep it going, rather than leave it to wither in some dark decrepit cellar of corporate intellectual property."

PCGamer's full report on ZA/UM, which also explores the other cancelled projects and how they affected "Project X7," can be read here.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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