Every year, thousands of games are pitched, hundreds are released, and just as many... simply vanish. In most cases, we never even hear about them. Sometimes, the code can be on the verge of hitting the shelves, only for the company to fold or the publisher decide to cut their losses. We've been on a nostalgic trip through our back issues to remind ourselves of the ones we were most disappointed not to get the chance to play, both because we thought they were going to be great, and because we just really, really wanted to see what the hell some of our favourite developers were working on.
Here's our list. Share your biggest non-release regrets in the Comments...
Ultima X: Odyssey was a completely different game, attempting to merge the single-player Ultima series with the profitable world of online gaming. Instead of its standard world of Britannia, that having been blown to pieces at the end of the game by the player character, the Avatar, it was set in the Avatar's head as he warred with his evil counterpart, The Guardian. (That sound you just heard was a thousand Ultima fans hissing in anger as they remembered how much Ultima IX destroyed the series and its story). The basic idea was that you'd play the game with friends, focusing on personal development - trying to live up to the eight Virtues of Compassion, Honesty, Justice, Spirituality and so on through your actions, and having them tested with in-game choices. Kill a thief and prove your commitment to Justice? Or accept that he was just trying to feed his family, and show Compassion? That sort of thing. Most fans liked this element, but were dubious about the multiplayer angle, and the fact that Ultima's creator Richard "Lord British" Garriott wasn't going to be involved. In the end though, it never happened. When Origin was finally shut down in 2005, EA decided to move development from Texas to California, and the team didn't want to go. Instead of foisting the code on a new team, it simply pulled the plug. Ultima was over.
Ultima Online continues to roll along and is still being updated, with the most recent expansion - High Seas - hitting the net only last October. Garriott picked up a couple of the ideas behind Odyssey in his next game, Tabula Rasa, although only on a very basic level, and they were drowned out by the failure of the game. We haven't seen any other Ultima games since the cancellations though. Nope, none. Lord of Ultima? No. There is only one Lord of Ultima, and his name is British . Unless you count Lord Blackthorn. Or Lord Draxinusom. Or the Time Lord. Or Lord Heather. Or... oh, just shut up.
Incidentally, if you're an Ultima fan and you haven't read Nakar's amazing Let's Plays of Ultimas VI and VII starring Steve the Avatar, the most genre-savvy psychotic in the history of the universe, you're officially missing out. They're utterly brilliant. Go check them out. Right now. We'll wait.
What we missed: The true successor to X-Com. That's what. Only a spiritual sequel to one of the single greatest turn-based strategy games of all time, whose owners were even then preparing to stamp on our hearts by releasing X-Com: Enforcer, a third-person shooter so bad that vegetables turn rotten in its presence. Dreamland Chronicles was set in a world where the aliens had almost won, and the last hope for humanity was the secrets locked away in Area 51. For the most part, it just looked like a polished, 3D version of X-Com, but since we're still holding out for one, that would have been just fine by us.
What we got: Technically, we did almost, slightly, get the game. In its original form, it was cancelled due to not being able to find a publisher, but the rights kept floating around and eventually emerged in the form of UFO: Aftermath - a spiritual sequel to X-Com in the same way that a photocopier makes spiritual sequels to your tax forms. It was okay, but definitely not great. Co-creator Julian Gollup went on to design and release the much smaller-scale multiplayer tactical game Laser Squad Nemesis, and the very similar Rebelstar: Tactical Command for Gameboy. X-Com itself of course is due for a reboot later this year, as a 3D shooter. It may be great. It may be bad. It just won't be the X-Com strategy fans wanted.
What we missed: For the five or so people who could actually play it, Outcast was one of 1999's best, most impressive games. A huge, sprawling open world adventure. Funny. Exciting. Densely plotted. The use of graphics built around voxels (3D pixels) created some of the most beautiful, natural worlds we'd ever seen - but unlike many graphical showpieces, Outcast's beauty wasn't simply skin-deep. Advanced AI, gorgeous music, and almost complete freedom to explore and do whatever you felt like made for a truly epic adventure. It's available on GOG at the moment, although we'll admit, you do have to fight it quite a bit if you want to play it now. Trust us, in 1999, it was jaw-dropping stuff. Everyone who played it, loved it. Needless to say, it sold like crap, even if the technical issues made that understandable.
It's surprising that the sequel even got the green light, especially since it was going to change almost everything about the game. Instead of voxels, it was going to use polygons like every other game - taking advantage of the 3D cards that were slowly spreading throughout the gaming world, and appearing on the PS2 instead of just the PC. It was also going to be more of an action game, taking hints from games like Metal Gear Solid 2 rather than the original's "Bruce Willis Plays Zelda" style of design. Truth be told, it probably wasn't going to be what the fans wanted, to the point that one of its founders ended up quitting. Still, Outcast was the Beyond Good and Evil of its day - one that deserved a second chance.
What we got: Outcast is dead at the moment, thanks to its developers going bankrupt and Infogrames never having shown much interest in having another crack at it. There are groups of fans working on mod projects though, notably Open Outcast . You can also find a few bits and pieces about what the game was going to be at OutcastII.net , including screenshots and a copy of the planned storyline.
What we missed: A second adventure with the world's coolest biker, of course. Actually, this was the second known attempt at a sequel, with the first, Payback, having stayed mostly within Lucasarts' walls until its cancellation in 2001. Hell on Wheels was going to be more of an action adventure, which normally would be adventure gaming anathama, but would have been building on things that went down reasonably well during the original's arcade sequences and combat sections. If nothing else, it would have been a fun return to a very underused setting, although one without the original voice of main character Ben, due to actor Roy Conrad passing away in 2002, the same year it was announced.
What we got: For Full Throttle? Nothing, nada, zip, zero and zilch. Nor have we seen any games that carry its spirit and legacy. On the plus side, its roommates in the cancelled bin, Sam and Max, did finally see new life when Telltale Games acquired the license. We never got the game that Lucasarts was making (called "Sam and Max: Freelance Police"), but we did get three full series of episodic adventure games. The last of these, The Devil's Playhouse, was pretty damn good, although we haven't heard anything about a new series coming after Telltale's current projects, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park.
What we missed: Don't check your games shelf. Yes, there's a Fallout 3. It's not however Van Buren (a codename, not the intended title), which was intended to directly continue the classing top-down RPG series. Bethesda opted for a completely different direction when it got its hands on it, turning it into a first-person game set in a much less civilised part of the wasteland (Fallout 2 in particular was a world in which people were actively rebuilding and leading active lives, not simply sitting in bombed out houses with skeletons still sitting in the bathtubs as if the great nuclear war was a recent event they were all a bit shellshocked by). We loved it for what it was, but we'd still love to have seen what it could have been...
What we got: Fallout: New Vegas uses many story elements planned for Van Buren, including Caesar's Legion (who were originally meant to have a distaff counterpart called the Daughters of Hecate), a big struggle over the Hoover Dam, and the struggles of the NCR as it attempts to civilise the wasteland. A leaked tech demo is available. Find out about it here.
What we missed: Being evil. Despite a trailer in Dungeon Keeper 2 seeming like the game equivalent of a pinky-swear, Dungeon Keeper 3: War for the Overworld wasn't to be. This is a bad thing. Not a good bad thing, like letting the Horned Reaper have his way with a team of holier-than-thou heroes, but the other kind. It was more or less cancelled as soon as it was announced, but the premise remained terrific - finally escaping from the dark confines of the dungeons to take over the happy surface world, and taking evil on the offensive instead of defensively skulking near the most tempting loot.
What we got: Surprisingly little. Despite almost everyone loving Dungeon Keeper, there haven't been many clones. Evil Genius was a very similar game with a James Bond bent, while the Overlord games picked up the baton for playful evil. There are two follow-ups on the horizon though: Kalypso's Dungeons, which doesn't so much wear its inspirations on its sleeve as walk around in a T-Shirt with the Horned Reaper's face on it, and... Dungeon Keeper Online. It's an official game, but don't get too excited. We haven't heard much about it for ages, and it's only intended for China, Taiwan and a few other Asian markets.
What we missed: Blizzard making an adventure game. We'll be honest, if it was anyone else, we probably wouldn't care. It was cancelled for the right reason - Blizzard looked at what they'd made and simply decided it wasn't good enough - and wouldn't have made a big splash, having come out long before World of Warcraft taking the world by storm. Still, as a bit of interactive archeology, it would be interesting to have a poke around. It's the story of Thrall, former leader of the Horde, escaping slavery and uniting the orcs, although one that bears little resemblence to the current version of the story. Aside from anything else, you won't see Deathwing sitting around a cave smoking a hookah in Cataclysm. One interesting fact though: Blizzard, being much smaller in these days, farmed out the art to another company called Animation Magic, previously best known for the Zelda games on CDI. Yes. Those ones. Really.
What we got: The game was shelved unfinished, although its story (edited to fix its problems) was turned into a novel of the same name by Christie Golden, who would go on to write most of the key canonical books for Blizzard - Beyond The Dark Portal, Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, and most recently a prelude to Cataclysm called The Shattering. A leaked alpha also made its way onto the net, as seen in this YouTube video. Graphically, this is damn good for the mid-90s, which is the problem: it was due to be released in 1998. The puzzles and interaction look very clunky too, making it clear that Blizzard was right to pull the plug and focus on games like Starcraft and that moderately popular online thing.
What we missed: The Duke Nukem Forever of its day. Really. Sensible Software's magnum opus was a £2 million point-and-click adventure game that was said to span 17 CDs, feature 40 songs, 6 pop-videos and have an 80,000 word script. Almost nobody got to see very much of it, although every time it was previewed, there was some new "Wait, what? " moment to enjoy. It was a point-and-click adventure whose main character, Nigel Staniford-Smythe, originally had multiple drug habits, all of which had gameplay effects. Cocaine for instance would make him talk nonsense, while heroin slowed things down. (A similar thing had already been done in the edutainment game Wrecked: A Psychedelic Adventure , of course...). There were puzzles about pimping. I'm sure that at one point, I read a preview that talked about it being split into two parts, with a puzzle where having sex with the wrong person without a condom would mean Nigel getting AIDS and dying in the second half . Was that even in the game? Who knows? What we do know is that it's we'd love to have played it, just to find out how crazy it was.
Unfortunately, however good or bad the game was, its ambitions quickly outstripped Sensible's resources. Its initial publishers pulled out, and nobody else was brave enough to pick up this very, very, very British black comedy, whether through fears of how much money it would make, or simply backing a game where the main character would have sex while crucified naked on a pentagram and singing a rock song. Even with hits like Cannon Fodder under its belt, Sensible didn't survive much longer.
What we got: Nothing. Games like Postal 2 have since picked up the baton, but we've never seen anything as crazy and over the top as Sex 'n' Drugs 'n' Rock 'n' Roll was intended to be. Now, it lives on only in these videos and the fevered nightmares of the censors who insisted the shurikens be taken out of Shadow Warrior, and that the mad drivers of Carmageddon only allowed to run over zombies.
What we missed: Westwood's attempt to turn Command and Conquer into an MMO. While nobody ever heard many details about it, it was due to feature an evolving world and do some pioneering things with instanced content, factional warfare, weapon crafting, travelling between hubs and more, with action combat and settings ranging from a sunken Los Angeles to the dinosaur island from the original game's Easter Egg. According to one developer, you'd simply have randomly crash-landed on it while flying across the ocean. With ideas like that, Continuum might have been good, bad, or just grotesquely ahead of its time, but it would definitely have been interesting. More interesting than Tiberian Sun, anyway.
What we got: Command and Conquer Renegade. Command and Conquer: Generals. Command and Conquer 4. Oh, and Earth and Beyond, which Westwood put resources into only to see it crash and burn shortly after release. Still, never mind, eh? At least the Red Alert games are still fun.