The Unreleased Games: Lost Potential

What are some of the most famous cancelled video games and what problems arise during game development that leads up to it?

Cancelled games leave questions behind them. What happened? Why did it happen? What could have been done differently to save the project? Most of the games that are cancelled are projects that the public never hears about, but then there are the big budget titles that are deep in the development process, with a lot of attention surrounding them, that still are cancelled.

A troubled process

Who does not remember P.T in 2014, a teaser demo for Silent Hills, a horror game set in the first person created by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro? It was atmospheric and terrifying in the same vein as Amnesia and Outlast, but set in a dark corridor with heavy emphasis on puzzle solving.

The game was officially cancelled in April 2015 after several people reportedly involved in the development had claimed it was no longer a work in process. The reasons behind the decision were likely to be huge development costs that the expected sales revenue would not have been able to cover, but also Hideo Kojima’s departure from the studio in 2015.

Silent Hills would have been the first game in the long-running franchise to be played in first person and players were furious about the cancellation of this fresh reboot. While the game was never finished, it heavily inspired Resident Evil 7 two years later – a franchise that also took a leap into the first person and was set in a dark, atmospheric mansion.

Photo from Flickr

More recently, Platinum Games’ Xbox One exclusive action-RPG Scalebound was cancelled in early 2017 after the release date had been pushed back. Scalebound featured Platinum Games’ trademark frenetic action as seen in their previous titles Bayonetta and Vanquish. With a dragon as a companion and a vast, open world to explore, the game had many waiting eagerly to play the hero for almost four years.

There were reportedly issues with the game engine, deadlines being set too tightly and disagreements between Platinum Games and Microsoft. These are vague hints of what went on behind the scenes. A clash of ideas? Stressful work environment? Too much ambition? We will likely never know.

Star Wars: 1313 was a linear single player action adventure developed by LucasArts. Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2013 and as part of a new direction where external game studios would use the Star Wars license to minimise risk, all internal LucasArts games were cancelled. The gameplay of Star Wars: 1313 was focused on the shooting and had a dark atmosphere to it, just like 2005’s Republic Commando, but was set in third-person instead.

Photo from Flickr

It looked to be a highly cinematic action adventure that was very visually pleasing at the time and with an interesting storyline about a young Boba Fett. Since the project was shut down, there have been no indications that another developer is taking over.

Agent was announced by Rockstar in 2007 as a spy thriller set in the 1970s. It was set to ship exclusively for Playstation 3, but very little was heard from the game. In 2011, publisher Take-Two said that Agent was still in the making, but no new information about the game was given. In 2015, old screenshots from the build of the game between 2009-2010 emerged from a former employee who reportedly said that he was not sure if the project would ever be released. One year later, Rockstar renewed the trademark Agent, but nothing further has been said from the studio. Will we ever see a finished version of the game? Only time will tell.

Prey 2 was originally set to be a direct sequel to the first game, once again developed by Human Head. Publisher Bethesda cancelled the project in October 2014, because the quality was lower than expected. This was eight years after the original announcement in 2006, which points to a long and problematic development process. A reboot of the series was announced in 2016 by Bethesda, with development by Arkane Studios, the creators of Dishonored. Prey was completely remade to fit Arkane’s vision of vastly different gameplay and visual style – this time, it shipped.

The difficulties of game development

Cancelled projects, no matter the size, has had a complicated journey. It is safe to say that game development is not easy, especially in big budget productions when many people are involved and money is everything. What are the most common problems during game development? Kara Holmes, Communication Manager at the game studio Monomi Park, creators of Slime Rancher, says:

“Getting a prototype off the ground – or getting a new feature/design through the idea phase – is one of the biggest hurdles in game development. It can be hard to estimate the amount of time and resources something can take and a lot of games and features will fade away long before they make it to the public.”

“At some point you have to take a hard look at the time, energy, and resources that are being put into a project and make a call on if the original goal is achievable or if you should scrap it to move on to something else.”

When creating Slime Rancher, the team at Monomi Park had their own challenges: “Since Slime Rancher is physics-based, we have to take into account the number of actors and objects that can be in a scene at the same time. When adding any new content, we always have to ask: ‘Does this still work if a player has this next to hundreds of other slimes?’ Most recently, with drones, we had to make sure that they still worked while running on every ranch expansion with hundreds of slimes exploding, booping, and bouncing around,” Kara explains.

With so many components and aspects to consider, it is not strange that projects are cancelled. At the end of the day, game companies want to make a profit from their products and if this confidence is lost during development due to various issues, the whole ship sinks. It was simply not the right time for Star Wars: 1313, but hey – someday, all pieces of the puzzle will fit, right?

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