Steam Greenlight and Steam Early Access were introduced by Valve with the best of intentions. They were idealized as a way for less financially well-off game designers to create their passion projects, without having to go through big publishers; a way for Steam’s dedicated community to vote for what quality content they wanted to see on the world’s largest digital games platform. Of course, this is the internet, so nothing ever works out quite so utopian.
Fast forward to 2015, and both of these services are filled to the brim with cheap, half-arsed zombie survival games full of pre-bought or pre-stolen assets. The latest (and arguably greatest) offender on this ever growing list of Steam scammers is Panzer Gaming Studios, whom you might recognize as the developers of Left to Rot, Time Ramesside and/or A New Reckoning, depending on how long you’ve been following this sad, hilarious story.
Headed up by one Jason Welge, Panzer Gaming Studios is an odd beast. After five attempts to Kickstart their game, they finally rushed out a lazily put together, broken excuse for a debut title last month, one which has miraculously decreased in quality since leaving Early Access.
I’ve covered Time Ramesside (A New Reckoning) extensively, both in and out of Early Access, and there’s an awful lot that can be said about just how bad it is. The short version: it’s a total mess. This is a game which almost exclusively uses pre-bought Unreal 4 assets, uses language and spelling (and a plot) befitting of your average ten year old, and struggles to grasp even the most basic concepts of art, gameplay and sound design. So slapdash is Panzer’s debut creation, one honestly wonders if they’ve ever even played a game between them.
Thankfully, the story of how Time Ramesside came to be is far more interesting than anything in the game itself.
Our story begins in 2012. After graduating from Westwood College Online (B.A, Videogame Art and Design), head honcho Jason Welge attempted to Kickstart his first game, Left To Rot. Billed as a zombie infested amalgamation of both FPS and RTS genres, Left To Rot only raised $189 of its $41,000 goal. When you watch Welge’s pledge video, it isn’t hard to see why.
Welge stands somewhat awkwardly in front of posters for Gears of War and Assassin’s Creed, as well as two depicting a scantily clad Megan Fox. He claims that Left To Rot was born out of his “love for designing videogames”, right before a stock JPEG of various console gamepads jumps to the foreground of the screen. It all feels very hokey, like a weak approximation of what “gamers” want to see in a Kickstarter video.
Welge states: “We want to have an action packed, high-paced, Call of Duty, Battlefield, blood-pumping game! That is where we want to be”, and “RTS and FPS play mechanics, combined into one!” Again, this all sounds like a rather odd, vacuous approach to talking about videogames, as though a real person isn’t saying these words.
Instantly, one must call into question exactly why Welge needed a Kickstarter in order to get his game off the ground. He apparently received a $10,000 grant from the state of Wisconsin in 2012, awarded based on the quality of some proposed business plan. Quite where this money went, I’m not certain, but it clearly wasn’t enough for Welge to create the desired “blood-pumping” FPS game.
Around this time, footage from Left To Rot appeared in the indie movie “Starlet”, at approximately twenty-three minutes in. This appearance was later listed as one of the “Awards” won by Time Ramesside, initially billed rather misleadingly as “Hollywood film festival indie movie of the year 2102 Starlet” [sic], perhaps in an early attempt to make the game come across as genuine in its intent.
So by all accounts, and by Welge’s wording, Left To Rot is the same game as Time Ramesside, or Left To Rot is the game that went on to become Time Ramesside.
Fast forward to 2013, and Panzer’s second attempt to Kickstart Left To Rot, now called A New Reckoning. Though A New Reckoning failed to receive its desired amount of crowd-funding on three separate occasions (one of which still has “Left To Rot” included in its URL), it showed up on Steam Early Access on the 8th July, 2014.
Around this time, Jason Welge finds himself listed on the Unreal Engine Forums as a genuine scammer, with his crimes listed as: “Contract Scamming, Money Scamming, & Resource Gathering.” User DieByZer0 describes Welge’s modus operandi: “after you are finished completing a task for him, he will claim that he is moving. Also, he will generate false claims to have paid you after the task has been completed.” Other users have corroborated this statement, resulting in Welge’s appearance on a scammer’s watch-list.
This is just the first of many accusations levelled at Welge regarding his character.
On the 17th November 2014, Welge updated A New Reckoning on Steam. The game was now called Time Ramesside, a strange and rather nonsensical name seemingly adopted to throw A New Reckoning’s detractors off of Panzer’s trail. Not long after, the game’s name was changed again, this time to the even clunkier Time Ramesside (A New Reckoning).
Another Kickstarter followed shortly thereafter, this time under the newly adopted Time Ramesside moniker. Despite claims on Facebook that some benevolent soul had donated $2000 to his cause, Welge’s final Kickstarter campaign was a failure, netting only $58 out of the desired $15,000. In this pledge video, Welge explains that Left To Rot and A New Reckoning “didn’t go so well,” but that Time Ramesside is a great product. I’d understand if this was simply a case of revamping and reworking ideas as Welge states, but we’re talking about (supposedly) completely different games here. Given Welge’s history of fraudulently ascertaining free programming/art commissions from the community, and considering A New Reckoning’s many many broken Steam updates, there can be little doubt that Welge is not the down on his luck indie developer he claims to be, rather that he has been attempting to pull the wool over paying consumers’ eyes for some time now.
This is where things get really weird.
As YouTuber BroTeamPill pointed out, Time Ramesside’s Kickstarter was launched several days after Welge was charged with grand theft property (more than $300, less than $5000) in Charlotte County, Florida. Though there’s no evidence to confirm BroTeamPill’s allegations that Welge used Kickstarter as a means to pay off his legal fees, the timing is certainly unfortunate, and it certainly gives prior accusations of fraud/asset theft an awful lot of credibility.
Welge took to Panzer’s Facebook account to deny that he’d been charged, claiming that he was being mistaken for a different Jason Welge, and that he lived in Wisconsin, not Florida. However, the man pictured is without question the very same Jason Welge seen in every one of Panzer’s Kickstarter videos.
Time Ramesside was released on April 29th – as per Panzer’s Steam updates – though the game’s official release date was listed as May 1st.
This final build is about as dodgy as could be expected. The game’s executable file is simply “ShooterGame.exe”, the same executable file used for Unreal Engine’s stock first person shooter demo “Shooter Game.” Panzer didn’t even bother to change their executable file to correspond with either of their game’s names. An Early cut-scene in the game is a slightly modified version of the Unreal 4 “Elemental Demo”, just with hodge-podge assets thrown in to replace Unreal’s fire and ice demons.
After reviewing Time Ramesside (I gave it no stars FYI), Welge took to the comments section to air his grievances. He began by claiming that I had lied in my review, stating that the game’s release date was not May 1st (it is). Accompanying him were two other users, named IceMan10153115 and Bill Venders, both of whom claimed they loved Time Ramesside. Unsurprisingly, Iceman and Bill Venders shared the same IP address as Panzer Gaming Studios.
Around the same time, various Steam users were reporting that they’d been banned from Time Ramesside comments sections or had seen their threads deleted, supposedly for criticizing the game.
In a last gasp attempt to silence critics/gain sympathy, Panzer Gaming Studios labelled Time Ramesside “A Misunderstood Game”, claiming that players were expecting too much from a game made by one person (a blatant lie – Welge states on numerous occasions that he works with a team), and that people have misinterpreted his keen reworking of a genre.
It can be quite difficult to gauge whether Welge is/was ever sincere in his purported desire to create a “Next Generation Shooter Experience.” His Kickstarter pledge videos are full of genuine-sounding (if incredibly misjudged) passion, and the general public’s negative reaction towards Time Ramesside (A New Reckoning) has led him to rather heatedly debate the merits of his work on forums and in comments sections.
It’s odd, because your garden variety scam artist would simply sit back and watch the fruits of his labour. He’d take what little money he’d “earned” and head for the hills, never to be seen again inside the games industry proper. But Welge seems to fervently believe in his studio’s creation, and consistently shrugs off the various allegations as to his company’s shady dealings during A New Reckoning‘s development.
Ultimately, we’ll never know if Jason Welge was once a man of great ambition, forced into a life of crime through desperate circumstances, or if he’s just another hack with a copy of Unreal Engine.
“Really what this means for me is completion. I am so driven into focusing on getting this game done and doing it right, and making a great product, versus focusing on making a junky product and selling it.” – Jason Welge, Panzer Gaming Studios.