Ice-Pick Lodge have announced that the new take on Pathologic [official site], the diseased delight that put them on the map back in 2005, won't be released until autumn 2017. Having spent some time playing a standalone demo at Gamescom, where I also managed to pick the Lodge's brains away from the chaos of the showfloor, I can appreciate why the game is taking so long to complete. The foundations of the original might be noticeable, if you scratch around in the dirt for long enough, but it has been completely rebuilt. And indeed rewritten, reorganised, reinterpreted, and reimagined.
So, yes, the delay is saddening. But what I've played of the game is absolutely splendid.
The demo that I enjoyed at Gamescom will be available, in slightly spiffier form, to Kickstarter alpha backers in the next couple of months. They're in for a treat. This new take on Pathologic feels like (and indeed is) a new creative team tackling a familiar idea, under the guidance of the original creator. It's not just prettier and a little bit tidier, it's creepier, slier and wittier. Within fifteen minutes of being reintroduced to The Bachelor, one of three playable characters, I'd laughed out loud at his indignant pomposity, which is such a beautifully absurd response to a dying world.
One of my favourite things about Pathologic is that everyone in the game has their own specific interpretation of the plague, its origins and its purpose (for plagues can indeed have purposes). Logic collides with superstition, but folk remedies and parlour games can seem more rational than medicine and other scientific solutions. The Bachelor's appeals to reason are increasingly nonsensical in a world that has amputated its reason and limps on regardless. That's horrifying, sure, but in the hands of a writer who understands the attraction of the absurd, it's also a great source of humour.
There's much more from Ice-Pick on the delay here, but below you can read the details on the eventual demo release:
"First of all, we have a first playable... thing that will in a couple of months go to the backers of the QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS tier and higher (basically, the alpha backers). This is not an alpha though, but rather a short spin-off story that we used to showcase the mood and setting of Pathologic at Gamescom. It doesn't feature every in-game mechanic and offers the content that won't be present in the final game. But first we'll need this couple of months to polish it so that it would run better and wouldn't require developers' hints to play properly."
And here are the pertinent paragraphs regarding the reasons for the delay:
"The original plans for the release date were set with the basic scope of the game in mind. It seems a bit immodest to admit, but we did include our first stretch goal, the Town Expanded, into that; but not the rest of them. The game has grown in scope now, so developing it properly requires additional time.
"Also, the vision for this version of Pathologic has shifted during the development. What started as a humble rejuvenation of a classic beloved by the studio turned into a full-fledged reimagining rather quickly, but it took us time to realize what that truly entails. The corners that we were planning to cut turned into diamond quickly. However faithful to the original vision, this Pathologic is a new game in many aspects, from the engine to the concept art.
"Creating an open-world game in Unity is trying. We are solving the riddles the game's code throws at us valiantly, but then again, there's no point in releasing a pretty, but stuttering thing, right? And teaching it proper enunciation turned to require a bit more man-hours than we were hoping.
"Look. Pathologic is the thing for most people in the studio. It is the game that gave Ice-Pick Lodge its identity; it's like both a beloved parent and a firstborn to us.
"Our miscalculation was embarrassing, and we are fully prepared to accept the thoroughly-deserved stones you may be willing to throw in our general direction, but we want to do it right. If nothing else, the game itself deserves it."
I'll be writing up more thorough thoughts about what I've seen of the remake soon.