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Image courtesy of Theory Interactive

What Happened to 'Reset,' That Promising Time Travel Mech Game From 2012?

Patrick Klepek

Patrick Klepek

A lonely mech sitting in the rain has transfixed players for years, but after endless delays, abandoned release dates, and vague updates, fans have reason to be skeptical. We asked the developers what happened.

Image courtesy of Theory Interactive

Play as robots working to reboot a dead city in sci-fi puzzler Reset.”

Strikingly Beautiful PC Game Will Surely Have Some Very Sad Robots.”

These are just some of the lavish headlines Reset—a gorgeous-looking sci-fi puzzle game—garnered when the game was revealed back in 2013. The two-man indie studio developing it translated their much-deserved hype into a crowdfunding campaign for nearly $90,000. The developers pledged to release Reset, which would allow players to rewind time and solve puzzles by manipulating two timelines, by the end of 2014.

Five years later, Reset still isn’t out, but the game’s original trailer remains haunting:

As part of an ongoing series at Waypoint, I’ve been fielding requests from readers about games they were excited to play. Games that seemed, at one point, tangible and real. But for whatever reason, they fell off the map, unclear if they’re delayed or dead. Last month, I took a look at Routine, a sci-fi horror game that, like Reset, had been kicking around for years. Now we’re looking at Reset. (I promise not every one of these will be about a sci-fi game!)

The developers at Theory Interactive started talking about Reset before most gaming websites started paying attention. Reset was formally revealed in February 2012 with some genuinely striking imagery, billed as “unedited real time screenshots.” A few months later, the game’s trailer debuted, and Reset started gaining a lot of fans. The trailer was viewed more than 400,000 times in a single week, which floored the studio.

“We are not pressured but 110% committed to finishing what we have started,” they wrote.

That was March 2012. Over the next several months, the developers tried to keep interest alive by sharing blogs exploring the game’s technical aspects—lighting, shading. Reset was being created using an in-house engine, rather than licensing, say, Unreal Engine. (There is a reason most developers use external engines to build games—it’s easier.) By the end of the summer, “good progress” had been made and a gameplay trailer was promised before the end of the year, alongside a crowdfunding endeavour to get the game over the finish line.

The focus on visuals might have been an early warning sign the developers had put too much of a focus on making a splash via trailers and art, or debuted far too early.

In November, not long before Theory Interactive had assigned a deadline for a trailer, it was revealed they were only beginning to construct “the actual game world” Reset was set in. Uh oh?

After working on the game for a little more than a year, the developers felt they had a realistic release date for sometime in 2013. According to them, development was progressing smoothly they could make their deadline barring “unexpected development snags.”

It was a warning sign of what was to come: an unending cycle of updates, promises, deadlines, and then long silences. At a time when they were feeling rosy about releasing sometime in 2013, their community was starting to get skeptical and frustrated. The team spent much of 2013 promising and then delaying a gameplay trailer before folding the trailer into a crowdfunding effort, which would then itself be delayed. Real-life played its part in the delays, as one of the developers had a kid, which caused work to go on hold as half the two-person team was helping raise a newborn.

It resurfaced with a Steam Greenlight page, another set of unbelievably good looking screen shots, and a new trailer date: October 28.

I'm guessing Austin Walker would play this game.

When October 28 rolled around, Theory Interactive finally delivered. The gorgeous screens were no longer still—they moved. Rain drops drizzled across an abandoned cityscape, as a time travelling robot forged ahead. The promised physics puzzles? They were definitely physics puzzles! For as frustratingly inconsistent as the developers been about progress, this looked like a real game people might actually play someday. Reset was, again, alive.

The crowdfunding campaign hit some “bureaucratic” snags but finally launched in December, in which fans seemed to shrug at any concerns about the game's delays. The developers asked for €65,000 ($80,000), but managed to take in €71,398 ($88,000).

Seven months after crowdfunding, fans got a brief update about the UI. In response to a number of complaints, the developers promised more frequent updates. A few months later, though, came word the game would miss its December release date because they didn’t want to “cut important corners.” This meant the game would be delayed “a bit.”

In April 2015, at least, there was an important milestone: a playable demo for backers. You can watch a playthrough of the demo below, whose visuals don’t exactly match the screen shots.

The demo did not suggest Reset was anywhere close to shipping, and for the next few years, updates were few and far between.

In June 2016 (!!!), the game’s release window was September or October, which they dubbed the "home stretch." But as that date neared, the developers tried to put a firm deadline in front of themselves, announcing Reset would be released on December 20, 2016. It’d be late, but at least the game was coming.

You can guess what happened next.

The game seemed done. It seemed like they just needed a little more time. A few months later, when they dropped a 13-minute gameplay trailer, Reset felt closer than ever.

“More news on the release next week,” teased the trailer.

That was April 2017, and it’s nearly a year later. Not long after I sent an email to Theory Interactive, inquiring about the game’s status and the lack of any meaningful updates well into 2018, the developers quietly posted an update saying the game was coming.

“For some reason people think we’ve come this far to quit,” they wrote jokingly.

And then, they agreed to answer my questions. Some of them, anyway.

“Big project + small team = long development time,” said Reset designer and artist Alpo Oksaharju in an email recently. “And this project is a very personal one and because we are not the big company but a true indie company in the sense that our values lie on the side of creating stuff and not accumulating excess wealth we can take the time it needs. We didn't know everything at the beginning of the project and we decided to go ahead anyway.”

Oksaharju and his partner—programmer, designer, and composer Mikko Kallinen—have been working on Reset full-time for more than five years. The two started out funding the game through their own savings before turning to crowdfunding. They’ve received financial support a gaming investment group, Sisu Game Ventures, and the Finnish government. But they’ve also had to pick up the occasional contract gig when things have been “super rough.”

“Since we are just two guys we cannot separate the project from our personal lives,” said Oksaharju. ‘If one of gets sick for instance, there is no one to fill in. And since we have our own company we use the freedom to keep us sane. Don't get me wrong, since this is our love child, we work on it and have worked on it crazy hours, but we have also learned to recognize our limits. We will get to the finish line running and standing. Not feet first.”

“Admitting once again that ‘sorry It's going to be late’ was a huge mountain that simply was too big to traverse."

That’s understandable, of course, but it’s also understandable for people to have lost some faith in the project because of the mixed messaging and inconsistent communication, especially when there are long lapses, often months and months, between real updates.

It was especially weird to release a 13-minute gameplay video, promise a new release date, and then disappear completely. It’s the kind of think that makes you think a game is dead.

“Admitting once again that ‘sorry It's going to be late’ was a huge mountain that simply was too big to traverse,” he said.

Oksaharju said failing to meet these public deadlines has been personally frustrating, though he promised the game would come out “as long as there is breath in our lungs.”

Outside of having a small team and large ambitions, Oksaharju was reluctant to share any specific details about what’s taken so long. When asked about the highs and lows of the game’s development process, Oksaharju cryptically said there were “numerous” stories on each, but “we reserve for ourselves to disclose [those stories] after the game is released.”

As for when that might be, Oksaharju said they’re targeting Reset for—wait for it—2018.

“All the things we have learned during the project,” he said, “and the people we've met and the rock solid friendship between Mikko and me forged through the hardships are things that have made me grow mentally like nothing else. I wouldn't change a day. I would say: Keep going, this is the right path.”

Oksaharju’s answers aren’t particularly satisfying, even if they’re true. One refrain I’ve heard from independent developers over the years is how little they know about marketing their own games. You think it’s as simple as publishing a tweet or a blog, but speaking to an audience and making them feel involved in the process is an important (overlooked) step.

In that regard, Reset has failed, but it’s not particularly unique in that regard. It’s common.

There’s little reason to doubt the heart and ambition of Reset’s creators, but every reason to remain skeptical about their ability to deliver on those ideas in a reasonable timeframe. Who cares if a tiny passion project is taking so long? For one, they asked for money, which makes the game’s relationship with its most passionate fans profoundly different. Even if you should view backing a game as an investment, rather than a sale, you’re allowed have expectations, ask questions, and be frustrated when you’re not getting answers about what’s happening.

Hopefully, it’ll all be worth the wait. But for now, that’s all you can do: keep waiting.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

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