Orion: Dino Beatdown was, according to almost every critic who played it, one of the worst video games of 2012. What sounded great on paper - using fancy weapons to fight waves of giant dinosaurs with your friends - collapsed into a broken mess of a thing that left a lot of paying customers very unhappy with their purchase.
Admitting that the game endured a "a horrible launch", and that his company feels "ashamed" following its critical mauling, David Prassel, the CEO and founder of developers Spiral Game Studios, is more confident in a "new" game released earlier this week.
That game is called Orion: Dino Horde. And it's not just the name that sounds familiar.
The release of Dino Horde has re-opened a year-old developmental can of worms, one which saw both Prassel's and Spiral's names dragged through the mud.
In 2012, Prassel was accused of firing several key contributors to the game without paying them, then using their work anyway. Of failing to pay contractors. Fans found that some assets in Dino Beatdown had been "stolen" from other titles, like Primal Carnage and Natural Selection 2.
In response to the allegations of content theft, he says that in both cases, the presence of assets from other games were mistakes due to the use of inexperienced contractors, and that the pieces in question were removed from the game.
As for reports of withheld pay and sudden terminations, stories differ greatly. Prassel says six people were let go "for very serious reasons ranging anywhere from attempted blackmail all the way to attempted theft of hardware".
"They were not given paid tasks. Their work was not used. They were not paid."
Over the past few days, I've spoken to a number of current and former developers on the Dino games. Some spoke enthusiastically about the experience, said Prassel was passionate about the project and had never had a problem with pay.
Others said that while there had been some serious personal meltdowns on staff (including "public" firings in chat rooms) and that some "bonus" aspects of pay were never realised, they were paid their agreed base remuneration and were credited on the project.
One contractor, however, contacted Kotaku to tell us that he was given paid tasks, his work was used, but he was not paid in full.
Thomas Moreau, a contracted 3D artist (from France, so excuse the English), told Kotaku:
I was contacted by David Prassel email one year ago on this work, after receiving my typical 25% deposit of $ 500 I began on work. Around a month later, I finished the work and sent it to Prassel, after some modifications, he agreed and said it was finished. He was supposed to send me the rest of the payment that week, but he never did.
I asked him a few days after the money was due, and he said they were subject to tax work and need another week. It was strange for me, but I said OK. Two weeks came but without any reply. I sent him again, but he never responded in one year now. Instead of paying or responding, he ignores me and then uses some of my models in the game.
Composer Marcus Zuhr is another claiming to have been burned by Spiral during development of the game.
David used me, my contacts, and my music to further his agenda for over a year. We had fairly lofty profit sharing agreements at the time, including a salary and company shares. I set him up with many meeting through my own industry contacts, and flew from Canada on my own dime to help in San Francisco and Seattle multiple times on business. After his successful Kickstarter (utilizing my music of course), and our meetings at GDC 2011, he promptly "fired" me. David continued to use my music, against my will, until I properly threatened legal action.
With regards to Zuhr's situation, Prassel says he was "removed for very serious reasons shortly after GDC 2011, but also with smaller scaled incidents leading up before hand that had also attributed". He says Zuhr was not paid because the company's contractor agreements were not implemented until after his departure.
As for complaints from people such as Moreau, Prassel says "Anyone that had contract work created or used in the game has been paid. If anyone says otherwise I'd ask them for proof as I handle all hiring and integration personally and remember every peer I've worked with since I've started."
"If there was somehow a genuine mistake I would ask them to contact us and we would remedy it but I also would suspect they would have contacted us by now either way, which is not the case."
Given both the game's reception and associated controversies, you can perhaps understand why some people were a little concerned at the "new" game's release this week.
Many are calling this a cynical attempt to circumvent the first game's poor Metacritic score, though that seems to be a dead end, since Dino Beatdown's reviews have been transferred by the aggregation site to Dino Horde's ranking (which now stands at 36, when Beatdown was 35).
Prassel tells Kotaku that he sees the game as "both a sequel AND an update", as in addition to new content and visuals, Dino Horde will be given free to purchasers of the original Dino Beatdown.
"The game brand was definitely tarnished a bit with the release of Dino Beatdown", Prassel tells me. "We are here to deliver on promises we made and to show the great game that we and fans knew it could be."
It's hard to see how tweaks, upgrades and additions, regardless of how extensive they are, qualify as a true sequel, and not simply a re-release. Something Steam seems to agree with, since it listed Dino Horde as a game update to Beatdown. So maybe those cynics have a point. Yet at the same time, giving burned customers what Prassel calls "a digital thank you letter for their support and understanding during Dino Beatdown's embarrassing launch" isn't exactly the worst thing a developer can do either.
You can argue that it's the kind of fix that is expected of a developer, but then, at this end of the market you're not exactly dealing with AAA levels of support. A late fix might be late, but it's better than no fix at all.
Perhaps the real story here, then, is that sometimes a game's community can take on a life of its own, irrespective of the actual game. We saw it with the reaction (and defence) of The War Z on Steam, and we're seeing it here.
Many people just don't seem to care that significant upgrades appear to have been made to a broken game. They only care that this game and its associated controversies are back for another round. And another round is exactly what they're getting.
Prassel is this week facing allegations of heavy-handed censorship of the game's Steam forums, locking threads questioning just how "new" Dino Horde is and banning those personally criticising him and the studio. He's since apologised, admitting he was moderating "too aggressively".
I'll probably sit down later this week and give Dino Horde a try. But then, how could the actual game be more interesting than the game surrounding the game?
Note: If you'd like to see Prassel's first email reply to Kotaku in full, he reposted it on the game's Steam forum.