Just hold on!
Every gamer that ever played knows the unique agony that accompanies falling at the final hurdle. Whether that means popping your clogs within sight of a checkpoint or being brutalised by a near-dead boss monster - gamers know that no defeat hurts worse than that which was so very nearly a victory. At times, managing your hype for an upcoming game can feel little 'game-like' in and of itself. And just like a game, the prospective title that tests our patience, only to disappear mere weeks from release always stings that much more.
Today's big list of stuff looks at ten games that made it all the way to within spitting distance of release, only for outside factors to quash their drop. Some are sure to inspire a profound sense of longing, while others remain fairly unknown - some deservedly, others less so. These then, are ten titles we oh-so nearly came to play. Enjoy.
What? - A massively multiplayer RTS title set within the Dune universe. Players would have chosen between three dynastic groups - the soldiers, traders or mercenaries - and proceeded to carve out their own small empire on Arrakis. Interestingly, the game wasn't to be helmed by Westwood Studios (they of Dune 2 fame), but rather by their predecessors at Cryo Interactive, i.e. the same team that produced the Dune adventure game.
When? - Work on the project was shut down during the title's alpha testing phase, in which a functioning build of the game is put through its paces. Hardly the finished product, but with the vast majority of its workload now behind it
Why? - Developer Cryo Interactive entered bankruptcy in July of 2002. The studio had previously bet big on the success of its other Dune-related property - a third-person action title named Frank Herbert's Dune. Sadly, the game flopped, ultimately costing the studio the opportunity to complete its more ambitious MMO cousin.
What? - A third-person action-RPG similar in many respects to the Mass Effect franchise. In addition, the game was also said to feature a heavy emphasis on base building, forcing players to scout out an infested structure in order to toughen up their stronghold. Think of it as a quasi-survival sim, akin to the central predicament of the second Alien film. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the game was also being developed by genre stalwarts Obsidian, creators of Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity and South Park: The Stick of Truth. Yeah, it was probably going to be good
When? - Obsidian's Feargus Urquhart has stated that Crucible was in such an advanced state that it almost appeared ready to release. His colleague Chris Avellone took a slightly less advanced view of the project, arguing that the title only appeared so close to completion because of special efforts made to debut a demo. In either case, Crucible was undoubtedly well into development by the time Sega pulled the plug.
Why? - Sega decided to de-clutter its portfolio -meaning either that the game was costing too much to maintain value, or that the publisher was worried about overexposure. Whatever the reason, Crucible ended up canned. A shoddy stroke of luck for any developer, but one made infinitely more aggravating by the titles Sega chose to press ahead with. 2010's AVP proved to be a thoroughly average adventure, whilst the less said about Aliens: Colonial Marines, the better. Bad call Sega.
Star Wars: Battlefront 3
What? - An enormous team-based multiplayer title set within the Star Wars universe. Unannounced and unreleased, details on the game remain sketchy, however a small number of interesting titbits have emerged. With Pandemic Studios choosing to move on, development duties passed to Free Radical Design - home to the outrageously entertaining TimeSplitters series. Leaked pre-alpha footage indicates that the studio was working on a fully-fledged storyline, disparate elements of which may have been repackaged into the PSP exclusive Elite Squadron.
When? - According to Free Radical founder Steve Ellis, Battlefront 3 was 99% complete when LucasArts jettisoned the project. An anonymous source would later claim that the figure actually stood at around 75%, prompting Ellis to publically deny the allegation.
Why? - Prior to its acquisition and subsequent shutdown by Disney, LucasArts had commenced upon a widespread company shakeup. As Ellis and co-founder David Doak tell it, Free Radical went from being told to 'think bigger', to cutting back every conceivable cost. Doak would even go so far as to name the project's second set of executives as "psychopaths", intent on the franchise's failure. According to Ellis, the official reason given for the game's cancellation was a lack of necessary marketing funds. The anonymous source meanwhile claimed that the studio had repeatedly missed deadlines and was even redistributing assets onto its other projects.
True Fantasy Live Online
What? - An ambitious MMORPG project announced back in 2002. Developed by Level-5 (of Dark Cloud and Ni No Kuni fame) True Fantasy Live Online was designed to take advantage of a then-fledgling Xbox Live. Servers would have held around 3000 players apiece, with fully-integrated voice chat between parties.
When? - Level-5 President Akihiro Hino stated that "the world of TFLO was already complete" at the time of the game's shock cancellation. The title was scheduled to enter Beta testing soon thereafter, with a speculative Japanese release date of autumn, 2004.
Why? - Despite its advanced state of completion, TFLO failed to live up to Microsoft's standards. Several overly ambitious features, including widespread voice chat proved tricky to accomplish, fraying relations between the developer and its publisher. Given that the game had already received plenty of positive buzz, TFLO might well have transformed the fortunes of the Xbox brand in Japan. As it is, the game would wind up as a painful reminder of MS's failure to crack that market.
What? - A controversial 4-player beat-em-up title. Thrill Kill combined Mortal Kombat with Manhunt, boasting blood and guts gameplay alongside fetishistic visuals.
When? - Thrill Kill was completed and ready to ship.
Why? Having acquired the property as part of its takeover of the Virgin US label, EA opted to cancel Thrill Kill's release. It was felt that the game's deliberately controversial nature jarred with that of the EA brand. In addition, the company also forbid the title to be sold on to any other publisher, effectively killing off the game. Fortunately for fans, the finished title was soon leaked online, making it one of the more readily available games of that sort. Activision would later utilise the Thrill Kill's engine to create Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, X-Men: Mutant Academy and its sequel Mutant Academy 2.
What? - Remember the Gizmondo - Tiger Telematics' failed attempt to crack the handheld market? Colors was to be that machine's first 'killer app' - a gang-based third-person shooter with GPS player location. Strangely, the game also allowed players to indulge in seedy prison sex (participants would receive early release) I just can't imagine why it didn't succeed.
When? - Leaked copies of the game suggest that Colors was all-but complete at the time of its cancellation.
Why? - The Gizmondo became the worst-selling handheld of all time, bankrupting Tiger Telematics and putting and immediate stop to all games then in development.
What? - A tactical action game boasting numerous RPG elements. Black9 took its inspiration from the Deus Ex series, positing a cyberpunk world divided between warring cartels. Former Taldren Inc. developer Erin Hoffman argued that the game was so very "special", that it may even have changed the lives of a small portion of its players. High praise indeed then.
When? - Hoffman stated that the game was around 85% complete at the time of its cancellation.
Why? - According to several parties involved in the Black9 project, publisher Majesco proved to be an overly demanding and highly unprofessional partner. Having already released two commercial flops - including the critically acclaimed Pyschonauts and the supposed franchise starter Advent Rising - Majesco was beginning to feel the pinch. They in turn put to squeeze onto Taldren, demanding 'crunch time' level working hours throughout the entire life of the project. Hoffman claims that the studio rallied to hit these targets but was still denied promised funding. Later, - again according to Hoffman - two programmers were surreptitiously 'lent' to the project so as to steal the game's source code. This was allegedly done in order turn the game - a property wholly owned by Taldren Inc. - over to a brand new developer. With the near-complete title in its possession, Majesco would then attempt to lure key personnel away from the studio, at which point the team chose to shut its doors rather than to let Majesco win. Later, many of the Majesco executives involved in the Black9 botch were ousted by the company's shareholders, with Hoffman herself describing the modern publisher as 'a very different company'.
Six Days in Fallujah
What? - A realistic, tactical FPS based on the Second Battle of Fallujah, aka the bloodiest battle of the Iraq war. Developer Atomic Games intended to create what might best be described as a 'survival-terror' game, in which the player never feels wholly safe from attack. Long stretches of agonising tension would be broken up by moments of breathless, violent confrontation, echoing the real-life experiences of many soldiers involved in the battle.
When? - An 'insider source' speaking to IGN claimed that work on the game was completed sometime in late 2009/ early 2010.
Why? - Given the recent nature of the events depicted, many commentators found the game to be in poor taste. When word of this controversy reached publisher Konami the company responded by dropping the project entirely. Atomic Games was subsequently unable to secure a new publisher and later released a large number of its staff. However, studio president Peter Tamte remains committed to the project, confirming that 6 Days was still in development as recently as 2012. The game's current status is unknown.
NBA Live 13
What? - After 16 years of annual releases, EA opted to retire its NBA franchise in 2011. However, just two years later the brand was back.
When? - EA's big comeback made it to the figurative post-season before being abruptly cancelled just weeks ahead of its proposed release.
Why? - EA exec Andrew Wilson stated that the game was simply not ready enough to hit its scheduled release date. Instead the company would take another year to develop a truly "great" experience. NBA Live 14 went on to receive some of the worst review scores in series history. Ouch.
What? - A sprawling space-based FPS title. Human Head's vision for the game featured an amnesiac U.S. Marshall named Killian Samuels - abducted from the earth and now plying his trade as a galactic bounty hunter.
When? - Former Human Head developer Jason Blair described the title as a 'full game', denying claims made by publisher Bethesda that Prey 2 was merely "a demo" at the time of its cancellation. Project Director Chris Rhinehart has also stated that the title was close to reaching its alpha stage, with most of the game's major elements already in place.
Why? - How long have you got? The saga of Prey 2 is a sad, strange and complicated one, so let's just stick to Human Head's involvement. Having developed the first game in the series, HH teamed up with Bethesda Softworks to publish its ambitious sequel. However, by 2013 the developer had been completely removed from the project, with Bethesda citing an overall lack of quality for the shuffle. For its part, the scorned studio remained proud of its efforts on the game, with many senior devs pointing to internal politics as reason for the changeover. Prey 2 was officially confirmed cancelled in October, 2014.