[Update: the developer denies sabotage rumours. What could it be? Possibly a mirage.]
Spintires [official site], the splendid game of mud and massive vehicles, appears to have been intentionally damaged by its creator Pavel Zagrebelny. We reported on the troubles that were brewing at Oovee last year. In short, financial disagreements and Pavel's claims that he couldn't update the game as he wanted to had caused a division between developer and publisher. Now, players are reporting crashes and the malfunctioning pieces of code appear to have been intentionally placed - 'timebombs', triggered at set times or dates. There's a fix. For the game, if not for Pavel and Oovee.
The long version of the story is yet to be told but the short version is in the paragraph above. It's impossible to state facts regarding the specifics of the disagreements between Oovee and Pavel without seeing contracts or being privy to conversations. Indeed, some of the problems seem to relate to a lack of communication, with Pavel telling Eurogamer last week:
"They owe me a s***load of money according to our contract. But I don't have any leverage because my judicial skills are zero. I haven't had a meaningful communication with Oovee for many months (maybe a year)."
For their part, Oovee are mostly sticking to 'no comment', telling Eurogamer that, "He has been paid as in his contract" and that further details are under NDA.
And so, seemingly out of frustration with the situation, Pavel has reportedly slashed the tires of his own game. I'm somewhat accustomed to multiplayer games dying as time goes on and the playerbase seeks new sensations, but for a game to be terminated in this way is very unusual.
Spintires might seem like an obscure game - a simulation of grinding engines and mud - but it was a top seller on Steam and Steamspy logs over a 100,000 users over the last fortnight, from around 750,000 owners.
Spintires is a splendid game about massive vehicles churning up the environment in a Sisyphean slog through mud and gravel, and it'd be a terrible shame if the single programmer behind its development were left in the cold. But it'd also be a terrible shame if the game were erased from existence, the audience punished for the actions (perceived or actual) of the publisher and the reaction of the developer.
For now there's a fix, which has always been through four iterations to catch new code changes. This is not an official download so caveats apply - you're downloading and applying it at your own risk. There are other options detailed on this reddit thread, including a workaround involving internal CPU date and time manipulation. Because the code changes were triggered as timebombs, presumably so that they could be inserted into the game ahead of time rather than requiring access to the code once the relationship had entirely broken down, resetting to a time before the last update appears to function as a workaround.
As recently as the Eurogamer interviews on February 24th, both Oovee and Pavel were talking about future development plans.
"I don't know if my new features would be updates to Spintires or part of a new game or franchise, but I have at least one or two years of work ahead before I switch to something else," he adds. "New features include snow, a larger view distance, nicer skyboxes, rain, wind, tracked vehicles, realistic soft wheels simulation and vehicle collision model similar to [fellow vehicle sim] BeamNG."
Tony Fellas at Oovees maintains that Pavel and his team have been working hard on the game: "Pavel was working on the game when it was updated in December, having done very well to manage the release of both the truck and map editor before the Christmas holiday", but adds that, "Pavel is often upset, I'm afraid that geniuses are often like that." He goes on to say that the company "are in the final legal stages of completing some new paths forward and expect to be able to announce details in the forthcoming weeks", leading to "a great future for the Spintires game" and "franchise".
We'll contact Oovee and Pavel for comment.