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Blizzard's cancelled survival game, Odyssey, reportedly killed due to its engine

With the cancellation of Blizzard's Odyssey, we seemingly missed out on a good survival game that died because of its engine.

Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment

This has not been a good week for game developers in general, but that’s especially true for the 1,900 staff (8%) Microsoft laid off from its video games division. The cuts affected several studios and labels, including Activision Blizzard, which is only three months into the Microsoft group following a lengthy acquisition journey.

Among the games and teams affected was Odyssey, a survival game in development at Blizzard. The entire Odyssey team was let go, and president Mike Ybarra left alongside chief design officer Allen Adham.

Today, new information about the state of the game, and what ultimately lead to its cancellation, has emerged.

Thanks to a new Bloomberg report, we now know that Odyssey spent over six years in development, which, as the report points out, is longer than all of Blizzard’s previously cancelled projects.

This was seemingly a major project for Blizzard, with a core team of more than 100 developers (which later grew even larger), and the studio saw it as something fresh that could turn into its own franchise that sits alongside World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Diablo.

According to the report, Odyssey had a simple pitch: to be a survival game with the polish, quality, and attention to detail Blizzard is known for. Based on a 2017 pitch by World of Warcraft veteran Craig Amai, the game was said to have vast maps that can support up to 100 players at once.

Unfortunately, the tech powering the game is where its troubles began, and it is what eventually lead to development ceasing. According to the report, the Odyssey team started out building prototypes using the Unreal Engine.

Epic’s incredibly popular engine reportedly could not support the team's 100-player ambitions, so Blizzard executives made the decision to switch to Synapse, an in-house engine that had been initially developed for mobile.

The only piece of concept art released for the game. | Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment

That switch brought on its own set of problems, as people working on the project simply couldn’t get Synapse to do what they wanted it to do quickly enough, which lead to game artists’ continued reliance on Unreal to prototype content, knowing it would need to be later discarded.

Reporter Jason Schreier also revealed that some on the team remained committed to making the game on Unreal Engine, and hoped Microsoft’s acquisition of the studio would offer them the freedom to continue working on Epic’s engine rather than switch to Synapse.

Microsoft has had a fairly hands-off approach with the studios it acquired, which includes letting each team choose the tech that makes sense for the project, rather than mandate the use of certain engines to cut costs. Sadly, this wouldn’t come to pass for Odyssey.

Although it was very deep in development, and playtested well, the game was still quite far from release, with some developers even believing a 2026 release target was "overly optimistic". Sadly, the developer realised Synapse simply wasn’t ready, and decided to cancel the game as a result.

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