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How a game engine switch-up brought Starbreeze to its knees

"There wasn't even a file open button when we got Valhalla. It was impossible to use, and this is when it all started to get a bit fucked up."

Chris Kerr, News Editor

January 28, 2019

2 Min Read

The folks over at Eurogamer have put together an extensive feature that attempts to understand what went wrong at Payday 2 maker Starbreeze, which recently filed for administration and saw its CEO Bo Andersson depart with immediate effect

As you can imagine, there were a huge variety of factors behind the Swedish developer-publisher's demise, but it looks like the decision to switch the development of all titles from the studio's in-house engine to Valhalla was fairly critical. 

Indeed, according to the current and former staff who spoke to Eurogamer, the move to purchase Valhalla for $7.9 million in company stock raised eyebrows almost immediately. 

Those tasked with using the engine claim it was essentially a renderer when they first got it. "There wasn't even a file open button when we got it," said one staffer. "It was impossible to use, and this is when it all started to get a bit fucked up."

Even now, that sounds like something of an understatement. Another employee charged with building Overkill's The Walking Dead (which was only recently delayed on consoles) recalled how the engine was entirely "unworkable." 

It means the team was fighting an uphill battle since day one (except this hill sounds more like Mount Everest), and couldn't even develop new tools to make their life easier because it didn't have a solid enough foundation. 

"In most cases it was like the engine was fighting against you. It was taking too long to develop to a decent level of usability," recalls another team member.

"Valhalla felt to me it was barely 50 or 60 percent of the way in terms of usability and stability. It was just not good. Like most engines, it had good potential, but it wasn't in a good place for people to properly develop a game. That was the problem. It was just way too far behind in the pipeline."

After two years of production with Valhalla, Starbreeze announced The Walking Dead would be shifting over to Unreal. It was a huge blow for the team, who'd been calling for the switch from day one, and were now faced with canning a huge amount of work. 

All in all, it's a morbidly fascinating tidbit that only tells a small part of the whole story. If you want to hear more, be sure to check out Eurogamer's full write-up.

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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