Last week came the news that several key figures behind Disco Elysium, arguably the best game you can play on PC, had left developer Studio ZA/UM. The news came via a blog post from Martin Luiga, a founding member of the studio, who said that Robert Kurvitz, Helen Hindpere, and Aleksandr Rostov had all left: Kurvitz and Hindpere being the driving forces of Disco Elysium's lauded script, with Rostov's impressionistic art style a defining feature.
Now Luiga's said a little more. "It happened late last year," he told Gamepressure in an interview. "They were fired on false premises and the entire ordeal has been very traumatizing for both them and people close to them."
Luiga is apparently subject to an NDA that means he can't talk about certain stuff. "Anyhow, I am super worried," says Luiga, "but I am still not disclosing all information I have, and there is also information which I don't have, and I am rather sure that we will not have the full picture before the final judgment.
"I think already the fact that three prominent figures have been fired, while the fanbase would expect them to go on, is vital information, and it hadn't been held a complete secret either. The thing is, I love truth, beauty, and justice."
Luiga's mention of a 'final judgment' suggests that there is legal action going on which is yet to be made public, which in the case of people being fired under false premises one would perhaps expect. And yes Disco Elysium fans at this point are probably wondering how ironic all this is going to get. The game itself is hyper-critical of capitalist structures, the petit bourgeois, and the compromises that people make in their lives to accommodate such systems.
"I even see it as fair, if not entirely intentional," says Luiga of such thoughts. "Why should we get to make a successful critique of capital in a world of suffering, and not suffer for it? People suffer all over the industry and all over the world. The question is what we will do about it."
Luiga nevertheless goes on to say that he announced the news because "fans had a right to know", and reiterates that "it doesn't make sense to be offensive against the current workers of the company."
"It pays to remain polite, even if it's hard," he said, "and I know that I have not been a very striking example at times."
Luiga mentions being unsure about whether ZA/UM in its current form will be developing the sequel to Disco Elysium, and also doesn't know exactly how many people who worked on the original have
There is, however, one little spot of light for fans of Disco Elysium. "I think the three [Kurvitz, Hindpere and Rostov] will continue making games," says Luiga. "As for myself, I haven't decided the level of my involvement as of yet. Right now, it is mostly the phase of pondering ideas and managing our problems."
ZA/UM issued the following statement after news of the departures first broke:
"Like any video game, the development of Disco Elysium was and still is a collective effort, with every team member’s contribution essential and valued as part of a greater whole. At this time, we have no further comment to make other than the ZA/UM creative team’s focus remains on the development of our next project, and we are excited to share more news on this with you all soon."
The studio has told us it won't be saying anything further on the matter. If this does end up in court, though, expect fireworks.
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Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."