The worst games you never played

Every year, Hollywood insiders draw up an informal document called the Black List: a record of the best-liked screenplays knocking about town that haven't managed to secure production. Gaming has had its own informal black list for years: a steadily-growing litany of titles that seemed like great ideas but were killed by executive meddling or financial strife. And then there's another list: titles whose cancellation wasn't such a bad thing after all.

Above: Just a sample of the titles you won't read about today

Bad games get made through the same procedures as good ones, of course – but sometimes, good and bad ideas alike get canned. A title might get developed, even completed, without anyone stopping to say, “Hang on… isn't this trousers?” Thankfully, plenty of games truly undeserving of your time have hit a wall or petered out – so instead of wondering what might have been, we can just be thankful for what wasn't.

Campfire: Become Your Nightmare

What could have been: Billed as a “reverse survival horror” (a “horror survival?”), Campfire's developers, Daydream, explained their 2003 serial-killer sim thusly: “What if your sole purpose in life was to cause misery, death, and pain to anyone and anything you encountered? Now you have your chance.” A fine job posting for a tech-support position, but is this really how to sell your game?

That doesn't sound so bad... Ignore the fact that anyone enthused by this concept is probably a sociopath: if survival horror pits an underpowered protagonist against overwhelming odds, doesn't it follow that playing as the biggest, most heavily-armed and least morally-compromised character in the game ought to be pretty boring?

What happened? Daydream must have been disappointed when Campfire, rather than suffering a screaming, bloody death, dropped off the radar without attracting publisher interest. It's almost as if people know a stupid idea when they see it.

The legacy: In 2007, Swedish outfit Nordic VFX proudly announced their intention to release the first in a series of Campfire games on Halloween – in 2009. If you can't make a scary thing happen on Halloween, it's probably time to stop trying.


What could have been: A vast, gleefully anachronistic prehistoric world where players are low on the food chain. Enemy dinosaurs, when butchered, would relinquish “swimming pools full of blood,” promised developer Peter Molyneux. You see where this is going.


Above: At this stage of development, each dinosaur contained only an oil drum full of blood

That doesn't sound so bad... No, it sounds like an absolute riot. Just like the Syndicate based on civilian psy-ops, or the Black & White that didn't feel like you were controlling it with boxing gloves on, or the Fable with that shit about the acorns.

What happened? Whereas Fable and Black & White's ambitious elements could be toned back to leave an adequate game, the lofty promises of B.C. were so essential that to remove them would leave you with a bog-standard dinosaur-whacking game. Thankfully, this didn't happen.

The legacy: B.C. was quietly canned, and the world was spared the disappointment of another shattered Molyneux pipe-dream. And on that day, for the first time in human history, nothing bad happened to anyone.

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  • mlounsbury - February 1, 2011 3:58 p.m.

    According to the Wikipedia entry for Tattoo Assassins, the skater was based on Nancy Kerrigan, not Tonya Harding.
  • shyfonzie - February 1, 2011 4:49 a.m.

    Can I please have the words "That scythe ain't for no wheat!!" be the caption for all images containing my likeness?
  • Crimmy - January 31, 2011 6:59 a.m.

    Wasn't SF 2 released in Japan? I'm pretty sure it was, but the port was too close to the release of the N64.
  • RaptorRider - January 31, 2011 4:32 a.m.

    I actually think it would have been great if these game HAD been published, if for no reason other than to stand as a testament to how not to do it.
  • willyfoureyes - January 30, 2011 11:40 p.m.

    Hey! Sonic Spinball wasn't THAT bad...
  • FauxFurry - January 30, 2011 9:36 p.m.

    It looks as if Campfire would be the playable epilogue of just about every open world game ever expanded into an entire game. That's kind of missing the point and primary appeal of those games entirely. That kind of dominance has to be earned for players to be able to enjoy it to its fullest. Maybe if it ramped up the 'Camp' aspect and downplayed the 'Fire' element a bit,it might have been the videogame equivalent of Scary Movie. Then again,if one's opinion of the Scary Movie series is particularly negative, that might make it the most horrifying videogame of all time. I'm surprised that Sonic 16 wasn't just called Metal Sonic or Sonic Gear and didn't feature Sonic with a headband, a spiny mullet and a several-pack-a-day candy cigarette habit. Who would have needed Solid Snake in Super Smash Brothers Brawl had Sonic developed along those lines? The cancellation of B.C. is a real shame,though. Molyneux could have played the role of a prophet/shaman who makes grand pronouncements and prophecies promising paradise then have to deal with the complaints of the angry mobs feeling cheated who will be more likely to resort to using sticks and stones to make their grievances felt instead of trying to hurt his feelings or reputation with words...maybe by siccing his pet dinos on them or promising something even greater which will only be delivered if they defer their punishment.
  • Smeggs - January 30, 2011 7:05 p.m.

    Seriously, BC and Campfire sound like they would've been good, had BC had more time or tech and Campfire's stalkerish serial-killeriness been done correctly.
  • GorditaSlim - January 30, 2011 6:07 a.m.

    I think B.C. had a lot of potential, and aside from gross muscular cavewomen, it looked like a lot of fun. That's a project I certainly wouldn't mind seeing revived in the future. I would DEFINITELY play a game featuring a digitized Steven Seagal, especially if there's a level with goddamn lava. Maybe we'll get a sweet 16-bit XBLA titled based upon Seagal's adventures in the world of policing. I think Thrill Kill gets shit on a lot, probably because of it's ridiculous history and the mass amounts of hype. I played the leaked game online, and it was moderately fun. I think it could benefit today from being a cool, super-bloody (a la Splatterhouse) "Power Stone" type fighter. I'm just a sucker for cancelled games, and I love reading about them, so this article was right up my alley.
  • razorwiretensho - January 30, 2011 2:23 a.m.

    @ Letter11 Don't worry, you're not the only one. I loved Sonic Spinball too... I was so proud of myself when I beat it, that game was bastard hard >.<
  • philipshaw - January 29, 2011 4:10 p.m.

    I do remember reading about these games back in the day, good to hear what actually happened to them
  • AngryScotsman - January 29, 2011 3:48 p.m.

  • hanktherapper - January 29, 2011 3:40 p.m.

    I remember B.C. Despite all the articles about the game, I could never figure out what the gameplay was about. I figured it must have been bad because the last article I read before it was canceled stated the game was done, they were just refining the code. Six months later B.C. was canned.
  • thedonut - January 29, 2011 12:35 p.m.

    That Sonic game didn't look that bad. I think it should've starred a different character though.
  • RiksK - January 29, 2011 11:09 a.m.

    Hey, but in the first picture there was Starcraft Ghost, I remembr I was so looking torwards that one, I think it would have come out great, it totally sucked they canned it!
  • Spybreak8 - January 29, 2011 8:52 a.m.

    Holy shit TA looks hilariously bad. At least you might get a few laughs while you tried to enjoy the game right.
  • jmcgrotty - January 29, 2011 8:20 a.m.

    Tattoo Assassin wasn't as bad as this article says it was. It's just a boring run-of-the-mill fighter, yeah, but no worse than the other 1,000 that were released. And it had at least one decent mechanic where you could choose a different specific tattoo to take advantage of each time. Again, I'm not saying it's a world-class game, but there were a shitload of other fighters that were made that were worse and that were actually released. And as someone else said, Thrill Kill has been way too distributed to be on this list.
  • Defguru7777 - January 29, 2011 7:53 a.m.

    Man, that Sonic 16 game looked really bad. The only game I'd heard of in this article was Star Fox 2. Interesting how much they got done before they canceled it. One game I was kind of looking forward to was the Kirby game for the Gamecube. I remember being really into Kirby then, and the prospect of a console Kirby (other than that Star racing game for the Gamecube) had me really excited. Then its development got pushed back from the Gamecube to the Wii. Then it just disappeared. It never even got a real name. All the Nintendo Power coverage just called it Kirby.
  • Darkhawk - January 29, 2011 7:25 a.m.

    Great article, but I'm taken aback by your comment on Maximo. Those games were great! They took the heart of the GnG series, and converted it into an excellent 3D pair (with a cancelled third game, by the way) on par with the best of the PS2. PSM (your pseudo-progenitor) gave both games a 9/10.
  • kicking222 - January 29, 2011 4:54 a.m.

    My god, a "Johnny Whatever" reference! When that game was first announced (keep in mind, this was 2005, and it was supposed to also be on the PS2), it looked so ridiculously cool. I mean, hell, the trailer had the White Stripes! I was really excited about that one for... a few minutes, at least.
  • 8bitBaby - January 29, 2011 4:31 a.m.

    HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLEEE CRAP! what fantastic rubbish!