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.