Larian Studios is a big deal these days for its Divinity: Original Sin RPGs, but as the new hour-long Gameumentary film on YouTube demonstrates, achieving that success was a long and very difficult journey. The documentary goes all the way back to the beginning in the mid-90s, when Atari gave studio founder Swen Vincke and a friend a contract to make an RPG called (if I'm hearing it properly) Ragnarok and Less.
"It was a stupid name, like a few other names we had," Vincke admits in the early going of the video.
Atari's collapse ensured the deal didn't work out, and it also established something of a recurring pattern for Larian, where publishers rush the release of a game and leave the studio holding the bag. Divine Divinity was released unexpectedly while Vincke was on a press tour, and Divinity 2: Ego Draconis, released in 2009, sold well despite a lot of technical problems, but "we just never saw the money."
"That game shipped a lot sooner than it should have shipped, and so it was our worst Metacritic that we've ever had. And that was very painful. Like, 'How the hell did we end here?' and 'How the hell do we make sure it never happens again?'" Vincke says in the video.
"And the answer to that was like, 'Well, we can't work with publishers. It just doesn't work.' Every single time when somebody gets involved, because of the way that we work, maybe because of who I am, it just doesn't click—it doesn't work."
Fortunately for Larian, the sales success of the previous Divinity games, and the "pedigree" they helped the studio established, enabled it to go to venture capitalists to seek funding directly. "[I] could show them, 'Look, this is all the units that we made, and this is all the money that was lost with the publisher'," Vincke says, "'Imagine that the money comes to Larian.'"
I find the older history of Larian interesting because I really enjoyed Divine and Beyond Divinity back in the day, but the focus of the doc is obviously on the Divinity: Original Sin era, which gets rolling around the 36 minute mark. Ironically, Original Sin was supposed to be a "quick" project for Xbox Arcade: "One of those cheap, dumbed-down RPGs, you finish it in 15 hours and it's €20 or something," is how executive producer David Walgrave describes the concept.
Of course, that didn't work out either. "Yeah, we're incapable—or at least, I'm incapable—of making something small," Vincke says.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 – Definitive Edition went on sale last month, and Vincke told us in an interview that with it out of the way, it's time to "move on and make new stuff."