Controversy Looms Over Kena: Bridge of Spirits as Former Lead Designer Speaks Out

Former Kena: Bridge of Spirits Lead Designer Brandon Popovich has claimed that he was forced out from Ember Lab after having created "95%" of the game's code, a claim which has been refuted by Ember Lab.

Published: October 2, 2020 2:47 PM /


Kena: Bridge of Spirits Lead Designer cover

Former Kena: Bridge of Spirits Lead Designer Brandon Popovich has claimed that he was forced out from Ember Lab after having created "95%" of the game's code, a claim which has been refuted by Ember Lab.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an upcoming PS5 game that was announced during the June 2020 PS5 reveal event as one of the many games coming to Sony's next-generation console. It certainly attracted a measure of attention for its beautiful graphics, but now it's former Lead Designer is alleging impropriety on the part of Ember Lab.

Check out the Kena: Bridge of Spirits Announcement Trailer to see what the game is all about!

What the Kena: Bridge of Spirits Lead Designer Had to Say

As VGC reports, the Kena: Bridge of Spirits Lead Designer made several allegations regarding his time at Ember Lab. To start, he alleges that a portion of his work on the game was unpaid. Popovich states that he was promised a long-term position at the company, but he subsequently turned down the position after the offer was lower than he had expected.

E-mail exchanges involving the Kena: Bridge of Spirits Lead Designer were made available to VGC and they reportedly back up some portions of this conversation. In addition, a former Ember Lab contractor made similar claims of unpaid work.

"By September things were increasingly stressful in our conversations as they were straining for money,” Popovich said to VGC. “Even with me working for free there was still talks of running out of budget."

“And then [Ember CCO] Mike Grier called me to let me know that I would no longer be receiving a signing bonus, and instead I would receive a smaller bonus if I stayed for the entire project," he continued. "I would also receive a salary which was $50,000 less than we had agreed previously, and I would not receive shares in the company."

Ember Lab, for its part, disputes many of the claims that were made. It provided evidence of a prototype to VGC that purportedly existed prior to Popovich's employment. It also provided a statement to VGC which we've reproduced in full below.

"Brandon’s statement includes a number of false accusations that diminish the efforts of those who worked on the original Unity prototype and our talented team members who have worked so hard over the past 5 years."

"A Game Design Document, character concepts, and a fully functioning Unity prototype, including the game’s core mechanics, were developed prior to Brandon joining the project."

"Brandon was fully compensated for all of his work which focused on migrating the features of the Unity prototype to an Unreal prototype using UE4 Blueprints. None of the work developed for the Unreal prototype is currently being utilized in production. When it came time to build a team for full development, we offered Brandon a position which he declined."

"We’ve been building our dream game, together with the efforts of a very dedicated team, and we are saddened by these hurtful accusations."

Ultimately, this boils down to a he-said, she-said situation, and we may never know who is truly in the right here. As for the game itself, you'll be able to play Kena: Bridge of Spirits when it launches on PS5 sometime in the first quarter of 2021.

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More Info About This Game
Learn More About Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Ember Lab
Ember Lab
Release Date
September 21, 2021 (Calendar)
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