Falling at the first hurdle
It's one thing to produce a game in the hopes of securing a sequel, but quite another to begin dreaming up a franchise ahead of its opening steps. Call it 'running before you can walk', except in this instance you'd be waddling around like a ragdoll racer from QWOP. Premature sequelitis is no laughing matter. Cocky decisions and outright bravado can doom even the most celebrated of studios to infamy and accusations of hubris in extremis.
The following 10 titles have all fallen afoul of this phenomenon - some taking their eyes off the prize, where others proved merely unlucky. Whatever the case, these are the games that put on their shoes prior to their pants. Embarrassment was the least of their worries.
The vision - A major cross-media franchise spanning three central adventures, a PSP spin-off, and a 5-issue comic book. Renowned sci-fi novelist Orson Scott Card was also brought in to pen much of the game's dialogue. Rising introduced players to Gideon Wyveth, a member of a human species being systemically hunted to extinction. Future installments were all set to explore Gideon's burgeoning powers and the revelation of an anti-mankind conspiracy.
The result - Rising released to tepid reviews and substandard sales figures, forcing an already beleaguered Majesco Entertainment to ditch the series and divert its attentions elsewhere. Salvation came in the form of Cooking Mama!, which outperformed all expectations and led to an eventual move into more casual, handheld gaming. While the franchise is seemingly dead and buried for the foreseeable, Rising director Donald Mustard, now of Chair Entertainment, has stated his interest in continuing the series, should Majesco ever prove willing to part with the property.
Kingdoms of Amalur
The vision - An epic fantasy role-playing game interspersed with elements of hack n' slash action. Reckoning was intended to drum up demand for a full-sized Kingdoms MMO - having initially been designed as a massively multiplayer game itself.
The result - Financial mismanagement on the part of Big Huge Games ultimately brought the entire franchise to its knees. Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee - one of the studio's chief creditors - revealed that the title had required some 3 million unit sales simply to break even. At the time of the company's closure, Reckoning had barely shifted half that amount.
The vision - The next big thing in 'cartoon animals with attitude' - a TV trend spawned by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which also gave rise to the Biker Mice from Mars, Battletoads, and Bucky o'Hare, before being played ironically by Earthworm Jim. The original Cheetahmen appeared on the ill-fated Action 52 cart - 52 terrible games in one - the failure of which did little to deter its developers from attempting two Cheetahmen sequels.
The result - Developer Active Enterprises abandoned the project, (and soon the entire industry) while Cheetahmen 2 was still part way through development. Strangely however, some 1500 copies of the game were made, before being deposited in a warehouse and promptly forgotten about. Rediscovered in 1996, these cartridges soon circulated among traders, and ultimately led to a small resurgence in the title's popularity. This, in turn led to a successful Kickstarter campaign aimed at financing the game's completion. So, not technically an unfinished franchise after all, though still far from Active's vision of a money-spinning franchise to rival the TMNT.
LotR: Fellowship of the Ring
The vision - Boasting the rights to the original novels, (as opposed to the cinematic saga), this Vivendi-made trilogy promised a more authentic take on Tolkien's opus. The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2002, just a few short weeks prior to EA's own effort - The Two Towers (based on the Peter Jackson movies). To avoid confusion Vivendi opted to rename its sequel 'The Treason of Isengard', however
The result - Following a swathe of average reviews, Vivendi elected to call time on its mainline LotR franchise. Isengard was cancelled late into development, with the publisher citing quality concern issues. Fortunately for fans of the brand, Turbine Inc. was able to buy out and complete development on The Lord of the Rings Online, a sort of spiritual successor that continues to operate today.
Metal Arms: Glitch in the System
The vision - According to former Swingin' Ape president Steve Ranck the Metal Arms series was initially conceived as a trilogy, with work on a second title already well underway by the time Blizzard purchased the studio. Future entries would have explored player-character Glitch's mysterious history, including the origin of his unique, birthmark-like symbol.
The result - The Blizzard acquisition effectively ended all work on the franchise, with the Metal Arms license soon becoming lost in the shuffle (the larger Blizzard/Vivendi merger certainly didn't help matters). Even Ranck himself seems unsure as to which company actually owns the rights, despite his best efforts to reclaim them.
Haven: Call of the King
The vision - A massively ambitious series of games, boasting an epic narrative, wide array of play types and zero noticeable loading. Game director Jon Burton designed the title as an allegory of the Christian gospel, with protagonist Haven destined to destroy the evil Vetch and free the people of Athellion.
The result - Perhaps the most infamous example of an unresolved cliff-hanger, Call of the King ends with Haven strapped down to a boulder and waiting to die Clearly the folks at Traveller's Tales were supremely confident that Haven would secure a sequel. It didn't, with most critics roundly deriding the game's scattershot, jack-of-all-trades approach.
The vision - A potential series of games all centred on the use of psychic powers. Second Sight tells the tale of amnesiac test subject John Vattic, a former military advisor now embroiled in a shady spec-ops conspiracy. While the game does indeed function as a stand-alone outing, Free Radical also expressed its desire to expand the series outward.
The result - Unfortunately for Free Radical, middling sales figures and solid review scores simply weren't enough to entice anyone into greenlighting a sequel. Instead, the group opted to release Haze, an underwhelming, PS3-exclusive, sci-fi FPS that - among other factors - certainly contributed to the studio's ultimate doom. Karl Hilton, former director at Free Radical Design argued that Second Sight's commercial failure actually resulted from the game's long-time lack of publisher. While allowing that Codemasters did an admirable job of marketing the title, Hilton believes too much momentum was lost by not securing its services earlier.
Medal of Honor: Rising Sun
The vision - While not exactly a brand new series, 2003's Rising Sun did represent a then-sizeable shift in setting. With WW2 shooters edging dangerously close to exhaustion, EA Games bet big on the Pacific theatre as its next great source of commercially pleasing warfare. The company made clear its intent to produce at least one more title in the 'Rising Sun series', continuing the narrative of literal brothers in arms Joseph and Donnie Griffin. The second time around, players would assume the role of Donnie, captured and interned in a Japanese prison-of-war camp, before escaping to rejoin the conflict.
The result - Rising Sun marked the first big dip in Medal of Honor's fortunes, both commercially and critically. Compared to its console predecessor, MoH: Frontline, the title sold poorly, prompting EA to axe its sequel and return to the western front. Any fans left deflated by Donnie's fate can take solace in the epilogue provided by 2006's MoH: Heroes, a handheld megamix that all-but confirms his rescue.
The vision - A whole new way to play, eschewing tried-and-true publishing models for digital download, and switching full priced releases for episodic content. SiN Episodes was nothing if not ambitious. The piece-meal sequel to the first SiN game would have continued Colonel Blade's quest to rid the city of experimental narcotics and the corporate nasties attempting to push them.
The result - Technically speaking the SiN series did actually receive a sequel, or at least - the very first part of one. SiN Episodes: Emergence was released in 2006, before numerous complications - including a buyout by casual game maker MumboJumbo - forced a stop to the franchise. According to former QA Manager Michael Russell, developer Ritual had been experiencing increased financial difficulties. With several big deals falling through in quick succession, the company proved unable to sustain itself on sales of the SiN franchise alone.
The vision - A sci-fi twist on Norse mythology, the Too Human trilogy would've seen cybernetic slaphead Baldur serving up justice to the traitorous deity Loki. Initially conceived as a standalone PSOne title, the game's eventual release on the Xbox 360 - following an earlier platform shift to the Gamecube - was touted as part one of an expansive trilogy.
The result - Despite relatively strong sales, Too Human was far from the being the smash hit tentpole title its designers had imagined. In addition, the game's use of the Unreal Engine resulted in a lengthy lawsuit with tech creator Epic. Developer Silicon Knights would later go on to lose the case, but not before releasing one last, god-awful title in X Men: Destiny.