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Cancelled standalone Disco Elysium spin-off would have been "most hardcore Disco since Disco"

"For a while it seemed like miracles were possible."

Disco Elysium
Image credit: ZA/UM

More details have come to light on the cancelled standalone spin-off for acclaimed RPG Disco Elysium.

Back in February, it was revealed that work on this project, codenamed X7, had been stopped, along with news of layoffs at developer ZA/UM. At this time, it was claimed the spin-off was only "one to two years away from completion".

Now, in a report by PC Gamer with current and former employees of ZA/UM Studio, lead writer Dora Klindžić has said this release would have been "110 percent authentic" and the "most hardcore Disco since Disco".

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X7 "would have advanced the story, the emotional threads, and gameplay elements all at once to truly evolve the genre of psychological RPG as Disco Elysium started it," Klindžić said. "For a while it seemed like miracles were possible, and with them, redemption."

Another developer told the publication the spin-off was about "one of the most most beloved characters" in Disco Elysium. "I feel like it was the best possible shot at a Disco-like game without [Kurvitz], Rostov, and other people that made the original Disco Elysium," they said.

Internal response to X7 had been positive when it was shared during a company-wide showcase towards the end of last year. "Everyone was looking forward to its development," a developer on another team at ZA/UM said, adding its "internal announcement lifted a lot of spirits after a rough time of bad press around the studio".

They also thought it was "exactly the sort of game [ZA/UM] needs to put out". Several developers believed the spin-off could "reassure fans that ZA/UM is not a husk, that the IP is in safe hands and that the studio is full of talented people with a genuine love for the world of Revachol".

While some of those that spoke to PC Gamer said they believed this Disco Elysium spin-off could have launched this year, others felt next year was a more likely target. Klindžić said that had the team been left to get on with developing the title with less interference from management, "it could have perhaps been a three-year development cycle start to finish", with work on X7 initially starting in 2022.

Klindžić had originally left her job as an academic physicist and space mission scientist in the February of that year, in order to work on a Disco Elysium sequel. However, it was an inauspicious start for the project. "Upon my arrival, I was told all the leads were gone and replaced, but this was framed as a good thing, a healthy thing. Four months later the project was shelved overnight. I began raising concerns, as I felt I had just abandoned my entire life and career only to end up in a studio where the people I had come to work with were fired, and the project I was meant to work on shelved with no reason given."

Then, that August, studio management approached both Klindžić and Disco Elysium writer Argo Tuulik⁠ about pitching a spin-off. "We were given only around a week to come up with a fully-fledged game pitch, and we worked around the clock to come up with a new story, new characters, new gameplay mechanics, and a new creative direction, including an initial vision for design, art, and audio. We presented the pitch to management, it was a resounding success. It was greenlit and codenamed X7, and its initial production schedule was set for one year."

However, even when the project had been given the go ahead, Klindžić said the team was "set up to fail from the start", due to not having been allowed a pre-production period. "Whenever we raised concerns about this and expressed we needed more writers if the deadlines were to be met, we were accused of not wanting to do our jobs," Klindžić said.

"Pretty much from the moment the writing team's pitch was approved in August of 2022, the other teams started production," Tuulik added. "We didn't even really know what the story or the characters were gonna be, when art teams were already making first character and environment concepts. I'm sure you can see how this is a big problem, when you're making a narrative-led game.

"Essentially, the writing team had to work double-time from day one to supply other disciplines with work, whilst trying to write the first dialogues and sketch out the rest of the game at the same time. The writing team consisted of myself and Dora at the time." Another developer added: "I don't know if Dora and Argo ever felt in control."

As for why X7 was ultimately cancelled, PC Gamer's report does not give a clear reason. However, it is evident that a dark cloud still lies above ZA/UM.

"The entire X7 team loved the Elysium world⁠," Klindžić closed. "As fan artists, musicians, iconic voices⁠, we only wanted to keep it going, rather than leave it to wither in some dark decrepit cellar of corporate intellectual property."

Since Disco Elysium’s release in 2019, ZA/UM has mostly been in the headlines due to an extremely public legal spat with former key members of the team. In 2022, ZA/UM founder Martin Luiga claimed Disco Elysium designer Robert Kurvitz, writer Helen Hindpere, and art director Aleksander Rostov had been fired following the company's takeover by Estonian businessmen Ilmar Kompus, and Tõnis Haavel, previously convicted of investment fraud. This started a series of lawsuits and accusations of toxic behaviour at the studio.

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