Golden Axed: Certainly Legal, Vaguely Unethical

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Theft is the act of stealing something belonging to someone else. Usually.

When I was a young lad, I was in a band.

While in the band, I wrote the music for a song called ‘Memories’. The band became quite popular (locally) not long after I left, and so they decided to release an album (which was a huge deal back in those days).

They recorded Memories, even though I wasn’t still in the band. They had the decency to give me writing credits, which garnered me a bit of local popularity myself. What they didn’t give me, however, was a cut of the profits.

I asked them about it. Their reply? ‘You wrote it while you were in the band, so it belongs to the band.’

For the record (GET IT? ALBUM? RECORD?), that’s not actually how that works. They were literally swindling me.

However, given that most bands are literally run like small anarcho-communist businesses (there’s no leader and the money is usually distributed evenly), I found myself without any recourse, so I just put up with it.

Hey – at least they’d given me credit for the song. That’s something.

And now, to talk about something completely different and not at all related to that story, here’s a quick review of Golden Axed.

Golden Axed: Free On Steam (for the next month)

Golden Axed is the demo of a cancelled reboot for Golden Axe, the classic ‘80s fantasy hack-n-slash arcade fighter game. It’s kind of a weird beast, so let’s see what the Steam Store page has to say about it.

At the beginning of this decade, SEGA Studios Australia was working on a series of reboots of classic SEGA IP, known collectively as the SEGA Reborn series. These included 2.5D reboots of Golden Axe, Altered Beast, and Streets of Rage, as well as an endless runner version of Shinobi, all encompassed in a universal hub world.

Sadly SEGA Studios Australia’s doors were shuttered in 2013, and with it the SEGA Reborn project was lost to the annals of video game history.

Until now.

So far, so good. Man, I would have loved to have seen Altered Beast get a remake. I still would, for that matter.

The Steam page continues on:

On the occasion of SEGA’s 60th Anniversary, as a special treat to say “Thank You!” to our fans, SEGA is releasing a working prototype of Golden Axe Reborn, a single level created as proof-of-concept, or what’s known in the industry as a “vertical slice.” We’ve dubbed it, tongue in cheek, as “Golden Axed.”

Golden Axed offers a unique glimpse into the prospect of a project that could have been, and a rare peek behind the curtain at the sometimes tumultuous world of video game development.

We reached out to some of the original development team to bring this dusty gem to light, and they are proud that this project could be revived in some form to be shared with you, the fans.

Wow, they even reached out to some of the original development team – that’s pretty cool, right?

I’m always down for some almost-retro gaming, so I gave the demo a quick whirl. Quick was indeed the word – it only took me about 10 minutes to finish. It’s a fine enough game, it reminds me a lot of the Lego games – the combat was simple, yet effective.

I wondered to myself why the game wasn’t finished – what’s there shows a lot of promise, after all.

So, I go to the Steam forums and – well…

Golden Axed: A controversy in the making?

SEGA say that they reached out to some of the original development team, but there’s one they obviously didn’t reach out to: Tim Dawson.

Look at Tim’s tweet:

He then goes on to say:

this project was my personal nexus of nightmare hours, inept management, industry realisations and heroics achieved with a small team under unreasonable conditions, so it’s an odd feeling to see it surface eight years later without context, credits and with a joke title sequence

I can appreciate that – I got quite the shock to see that ‘Memories’ song of mine appearing on an album for a band that I wasn’t actually in at the time. Fortunately for me, the band wasn’t a worldwide gaming company so I didn’t have to deal with it publicly.

Tim’s whole twitter thread – which I recommend you read if you’re into game development, even as a consumer – tells a sordid story of some of SEGA’s mismanagement, incompetence, and downright lies. Tim says the Lead Designer, shall we say, wasn’t very good at his job:

‘he took to inventing arbitrary challenges like “management want to see an attack animation playing in game by the end of the day or they’ll think the project is in trouble” while I was busy coding enemy ai and the soft lock combo system simultaneously’

After two weeks of crunch (i.e. socially expected overtime, usually unpaid) the game is shown to the higher ups:

grave faces

There was a pause

“where’s the wow factor” someone asked

The lead designer once again complained it wasn’t a God of War-like 3D brawler like he wanted

Someone said maybe it’d have been better to have made a prerendered video where the barbarian fought a monster

I experienced a moment of clarity

Either they couldn’t see what was in front of them or wanted me to feel bad because it’s the only way they knew how to manage

I was ‘the guy who makes playable prototypes’, I had over delivered and if they didn’t want that, THEY had screwed up’

The next line says it all:

‘I had been working 14 hour days but I went home on time that day’

They wanted Tim to design a game like God of War, gave him two weeks, and then told him his prototype was useless – then, ten years later, they pull it out of the woodwork for their 60th anniversary.

Perfectly legal, of course. Ethical? Questionable.

Man, I just wanted to hit some foes with a sword (or maybe an axe made from gold), not dive into the decades-long abuses of the gaming industry!

I find this whole thing very strange. While I’m definitely more interested in how Tim feels than what SEGA says about the game, I do find myself wondering exactly why he thought a 2D hack-n-slash would qualify as a game like the eternally-3D God of War series.

Perhaps the prototype was only a stepping stone until they got to the 3D phase. If this is the case, I can understand Tim’s frustration. If not, then it could be argued that Tim didn’t actually deliver what was asked for. Knowing corporations as I do, I think the most probable scenario is that they specifically wanted a 3D game but that was lost in translation, most likely due to how top-heavy most companies are when it comes to incompetent managers.

In either case, I think I’ll let Tim get the last word in here – please note they are his words, and not mine:

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