(Phantom) Dust in the wind
You smell that? The hype, the real leaks, the fake leaks, the plentiful announcements and release date trailers? That's the sweet smell of E3 right around the corner. On a few days in June, the entire industry gathers to show off the latest projects everyone's been working on in one giant carnival of video games. Most of the time, the process works like this: You see a trailer or gameplay footage at E3, you get excited, you wait a while, and then you play the game when it hits store shelves.
Not all games are so lucky, though. Some are announced to massive fanfare and then disappear for years; others are quickly shelved, their deaths far quicker than those left to languish in development hell. It's time to remember the promises of E3 past and pour one out for the games that seemed like a great idea at the time but had their lives extinguished before ever seeing wide release. (And a big congratulations to The Last Guardian, whose grand re-emergence last year confirmed that it is still a real video game, and got it removed from this list. Bravo.)
When the Wii was originally unveiled at E3 2006, Nintendo also showcased an array of games that would make a case for its then-unheard-of motion controls. Look at all these beautiful people flailing the Wii Remote around as they wield a virtual sword, baseball bat, or hammer! And while demoed games like Red Steel, Wii Sports, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess saw the light of day, it was Project H.A.M.M.E.R. that was doomed to get the axe.
In Project H.A.M.M.E.R., you would play as a burly dude covered in power armor, and your objective was to swing around a massive sledgehammer, obliterating every enemy and object in sight. That seems to be about as far as the dev team got, as the game was considered "paused" as of E3 2007. While not officially cancelled by Nintendo, it's been nearly nine years since its initial unveiling, so make of that what you will.
Some console names are a bit strange (seriously Nintendo, the Wii?), while others are a bit more obvious, perfectly encapsulating what the machine is and does (like the PlayStation). But no name is more perfect than The Phantom, a console developed by Infinium labs that, other than brief showing at E3 2004, never saw the light of day.
The Phantom was a console developed by Infinium Labs (rebranded as Phantom Entertainment in 2006). Revealed in 2003 then arriving at E3 in 2004, the idea behind it was, at the very least, ambitious. For under $399, The Phantom was to be a PC that hooked up to your TV like a console, letting you download and install games directly to the device via the internet. It was essentially a Steam Machine before Steam was even a thing, but release dates came and went as the machine's release ended up pushed beyond 2005, finally removed from Phantom Entertainment's website in 2006. Perhaps the world just wasn't quite ready for a living room PC solution, but at least there's a silver lining to this story: Phantom Entertainment still exists, and continues to sell PC lapboards - a couch-based keyboard originally designed for the The Phantom console.
First announced at Gamescom in 2013, Fable Legends made its gameplay debut during Microsoft's press conference at E3 2014 - and it couldn't be further from what series fans were expecting. Rather than using the power of the Xbox One and Microsoft's cloud servers to create a fully-realized, next-gen version of Albion, Fable Legends scaled way back, transforming the action-RPG into a condensed four-on-one multiplayer game.
Fable Legends went into closed beta later that year, and by all accounts the game was fine, but there was zero excitement behind it, from both fans and its own publisher. It wasn't a proper Fable sequel, series creator Molyneux was long gone from Lionhead, and other four-on-one multiplayer games were either cancelled outright (like Bioware's Shadow Realms), or landed flat on their face (like Turtle Rock's Evolve). Originally meant to release during Microsoft's 'greatest games lineup in Xbox history' in 2015, Fable Legends was pushed to 2016, with an open beta to hit early this year. Unfortunately, Microsoft shut down Lionhead Studios, cancelled development in March, and turned off the game's servers in April.
Exclusives are important for any console manufacturer. Each box essentially does the same thing, so you have to give people a reason to buy your machine over the competition's. So when Sony announced in 2007 that a game from the studio behind Grand Theft Auto was coming exclusively to PlayStation, it was perceived as a big get for the company that sat firmly in second place.
It's unfortunate, then, that the only official image we've seen of the game since its E3 unveiling was the logo. A few screenshots have leaked out since then, and publisher Take-Two still claims that the game is in development. Rockstar Games is known for taking its sweet time developing games, but eight years on a single game is a bit much.
Outside of E3 2013, a small, indie-focused games conference captured the world's attention for a brief moment thanks to a surprise, out-of-left-field announcement. At Horizon, a bunch of independent developers showed off their latest games, but it was the cryptic trailer for Fez 2 as the conference's "one more thing" announcement that made the biggest waves. Seriously, go watch it again. For a trailer that says basically nothing over 48 seconds, it sure is packed with a ton of mystery, atmosphere, and style.
And then, a month later, it was cancelled. A public dust-up on Twitter may not have been the direct catalyst, but it was the spark that caused outspoken developer Phil Fish to throw his hands up, cancel the sequel, and leave the games industry - much to the surprise of his own company. Considering Fish is a bit of an enigma himself, one of two things is true: Either Fez 2 is actually cancelled, or it's still quietly being worked on and won't be spoken of again until it's finished. Let's consider this one as not happening.
Star Wars 1313
The 21st century hasn't exactly been kind to LucasArts. For every Knights of the Old Republic, there was a Star Wars Kinect; for every Mercenaries, there was a Fracture. It wasn't exactly a surprise when LucasArts effectively ceased operations in 2013 following Disney's acquisition of basically everything George Lucas owned. But it was still a shame - especially because it meant cancelling the one project that could have put LucasArts back on the map: Star Wars 1313.
Starring a young Boba Fett, Star Wars 1313 would have followed the bounty hunter's first adventures, and the only video footage available made it out to be a third-person shooter filled with heavily-scripted set-pieces, similar to Uncharted. Except, y'know, it's Star Wars. While the demo looked promising, 1313 was officially canned a year later, as LucasArts laid off the majority of its staff.
Some games are lucky enough to escape their vaporware fate, and there's probably no greater turnaround story than Prey, a game that took 11 years to make that somehow actually turned out alright considering the circumstances. Unfortunately, its sequel didn't end up so lucky.
While a sequel was reportedly in development shortly after the first game's release in 2006, it wasn't officially unveiled until 2011. Taking place after the events of the first game, Prey 2 would have followed the adventures of US Marshal Killian Samuels, a single human living among an array of alien races, hunting bounties and earning cash to survive. Prey 2 made a showing at E3 that year, but shortly after, rumors began to swirl about its cancellation. Bethesda continued to deny rumors until 2014, when Bethesda VP Pete Hines confirmed that development on the title had ceased. Although, rumors have since picked up that Bethesda is planning on re-introducing the title at its press conference this year, so maybe Prey 2 will escape E3 after all? Time will tell.
So Nintendo struck paydirt with the Wii, and games like Wii Fit and Wii Sports flourished with an audience who would have never thought to pick up a gaming console in their lives. In an effort to keep that gravy train rolling, Nintendo wanted to create a controller that everyone could use, a controller so simple, all you have to do is put your finger in it and sit there. Enter the Vitality Sensor.
In an ideal world, the Vitality Sensor would have gathered the player's biometric data (namely, their pulse) and the game would then take that data and react accordingly. But despite an initial announcement by Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata at E3 2009, the device essentially disappeared without a trace. It wasn't until 2013 that Iwata confirmed why this strange peripheral never got released: turns out, it only worked for 90% of the people who used it. It doesn't sound like that big of a gap, but when ten percent of the people who buy your product are returning it because they think it doesn't work, it's probably best to shelve it.
Peter Molyneux is basically the Willy Wonka of game design - except Molyneux's Fizzy Lifting Drinks don't do much more than taste like an off-brand Sprite and give you a slight caffeine buzz. Not that he makes bad games; it's just that they end up kind of pedestrian in comparison to the pie-in-the-sky promises that he makes leading up to their release. And there's perhaps no greater example than Molyneux's ability to over-promise and under-deliver than Project Milo.
The idea (as these things tend to go) looked promising, as you interacted with a virtual young boy with voice and hand gestures via Kinect, and the boy would react to your statements and change over time. It all sounded a bit too good to be true, especially considering the quality of most the 360's Kinect games. Plus, Microsoft apparently never intended it to be a product, despite Molyneux's insistence to the contrary. Considering Molyneux's departure from Microsoft in 2012, it's doubtful this project will be completed.
Konami's E3 conferences and pre-E3 briefings have been legendary in previous years, and Konami's 2011 video didn't just announce the arrival of HD versions of Metal Gear, Zone of the Enders, and Silent Hill games - it announced the grand return of a classic action franchise. That's right, Contra is back, baby. The 30-second teaser may not have shown any gameplay, but it did show a the giant flaming 'C' of the logo, with a simple phrase on the bottom: 'They're Coming'.
If this were an episode of Arrested Development, narrator Ron Howard would have immediately chimed in saying "They weren't" with perfect comedic timing. This video is the only evidence that new Contra game was ever in the works, and unfortunately, Konami doesn't really make video games outside of PES and FOB updates for Metal Gear Solid 5 any more, so it's highly doubtful this Contra game - whatever it was - still exists in some form. Unless it transformed into the Neo Contra slot machine the company released in 2014. Best not to think about it.
Project Giant Robot
Back in 2014, Nintendo was hard-pressed to prove that its Wii U's Gamepad could provide legitimately interesting gaming experiences and not just act as a glorified map and inventory screen. Legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto himself attempted to craft several games with the Gamepad as their core, revealing three different projects he was working on at E3 that year. Two of those projects have since been released: Star Fox Zero (which is mostly terrible), and Star Fox Guard (which is pretty good).
That leaves one game that still hasn't seen wider release: Project Giant Robot. The idea is that you're controlling a giant robot (duh), and you're rampaging through a major metropolis while fighting off other robots. Your moves are lumbering swings dictated by the different arms and legs equipped on your robot, and you can control its center of balance by moving the Gamepad around - which you also need to get a first-person view of the action, as the TV screen shows an aerial view of the action. It sounds even more painful to play than Star Fox Zero, and based on an interview with Time Magazine, it seems that progress hasn't gone much further than this initial prototype stage. After Star Fox's crash-landing, it's probably for the best.
You'd be forgiven if you don't remember the original Phantom Dust on the Xbox. Even though it was developed by Microsoft Japan, it's still pretty niche, combining third-person action, card-collecting, and multiplayer arena battles. Microsoft's been on a rebooting kick lately, taking old properties that the publisher owns and getting other studios to remake them for Xbox One. Phantom Dust was the latest to supposedly get the treatment, complete with an E3 2014 trailer.
But within a year of its announcement, the studio behind the remake unceremoniously shut down, leaving the ultimate future of Phantom Dust in question. Microsoft has stated that they are committed to the title and that development still continues, but it's probably going to be another couple of years before we ever see anything about this strange hybrid again. I suppose getting shut down quickly is better than getting strung along for years, but still - that was fast.
This Is Vegas
Las Vegas, that strip of hedonism and hubris out in the middle of the desert, has never really been immortalized in video games (though Fallout: New Vegas gets it pretty close). There are casino games, sure, but there's never been been a game that fully encapsulates the celebrity DJ/bottle service/$7.99 all-you-can-eat buffet experience that Las Vegas is really known for. And thanks to the cancellation of This Is Vegas, we're going to have to wait even longer.
First hinted at in 2006, the splendor of This Is Vegas wasn't fully revealed until 2008, and was scheduled for release later that year. Unfortunately, thanks to publisher Midway's own personal financial woes (many of them likely brought on by This Is Vegas' ballooning costs, as the publisher reportedly spent somewhere between $40-$50 million developing it), the game and studio were sold to Warner Bros. In August 2010, Warner Bros. officially cancelled the Vegas fantasy simulator (a fantasy which apparently includes pressing buttons in a dancing mini-game), though the game's website still says "Coming Soon." Keep the Vegas dream alive.
Here it is: the White Whale of vaporware. Blizzard is known for only releasing games when they're "done", which of course means they take years longer to make than most, and the studio isn't afraid to shelve something if they don't think it's worth continuing - even if that means cancelling a game after years of development. StarCraft: Ghost would have put players in the role of the titular sniper as she sneaks her way through various sci-fi environments, completing objectives, and shooting Zerg in the face.
Unfortunately, development didn't go as smoothly as you'd expect. Originally planned for a 2003 release, Ghost underwent numerous delays, and even changed hands from developer Nihilistic to Swingin' Ape Studios. It was then relaunched at E3 2005 and slated for a release in 2006 - which came and went, and Ghost was still a no-show. Around that time, a little game you've probably never heard of called World of Warcraft released, and Blizzard decided to pour resources into its new MMO rather than continue working on a stealth-based PS2/Xbox game, so it put Ghost on indefinite hold. If you're still holding out hope, don't: Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime finally put a bullet in this one, confirming its cancellation in 2014.