Cut content is an inevitability in the business of making videogames. A studio might generate a million ideas over the course of a five-year development cycle, but as the release date looms, the casualties start piling up. Storylines get scrapped, concept art never migrates into the code, narratives are truncated, mechanics are abstracted and simplified, and years later, creative leads conduct interviews about their lingering white whales—the grand ambitions that were negotiated down in order to meet a deadline, or good ideas that just got iterated out because they didn't make sense for that particular game.
The people who obsess over cut content tend to be the most diehard fans of a specific franchise. It is difficult for a layperson like me to become truly fascinated by, say, a junked ax model in Skyrim. A lot of cut content is mundane.
But there are other, rarer cut-content artifacts that flare with intrigue and implications, as modders exhume the code for all of us to see. Maybe they hint at a beguiling gameplay direction that a development team experimented with, or maybe we're granted evidence of a more fulfilling storytelling coda that was unfortunately watered down by time constraints or managerial meddling.
This list focuses on the cut content that lights up our imagination with the agonizing, immortal question of what if. That's the funny thing about cut content—those unfilled gaps allow a videogame to live forever.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2
It's honestly kind of shocking how buggy Knights of the Old Republic 2 was at launch, given how much content hit the cutting room floor. The RPG is celebrated by a ravenous group of fans for its unflinching portrayal of the flawed morality at the heart of the Star Wars fiction, but you are also likely to run into broken sidequests, bizarre soft-locks, and frequent crashes.
Thankfully, an ardent modding community has patched up a number of those issues, and at the same time, restored the game's abandoned sequences. You can explore a hellish manufacturing planet, controlled entirely by droids, which is where the infamous HK robots originated from. The endings are totally reworked, including extended epilogues featuring some of the game's more memorable characters. (Darth Sion, in particular, gets a worthy send off.)
There is a parallel universe out there where Knights of the Old Republic 2 kicked off a venerable renaissance of Star Wars mythmaking; refracting the universe in all sorts of fascinating, twisted ways. Unfortunately for us, all we can do is piece through the rubble.
Fallout: New Vegas
No, we're not done with Obsidian quite yet. The studio is responsible for some of the most celebrated PC RPGs of all time, and many of them are absolutely littered with loose threads dangling in the source code. Case in point: You can find an hour-long compilation of cut content from Fallout: New Vegas on YouTube, as fans have resuscitated cutscenes, enemies, questlines, and items hiding out on the disc. A lot of this stuff is in remarkably good shape, which makes it all the more surprising that it didn't make the cut. Thankfully, New Vegas has one of the most passionate modding scenes in the hobby, so if you want to play the unabridged version of Obsidian's calling card, you're only a few patches away from making that happen.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V is one of the greatest action games of all time. Kojima set aside the frilly, eccentric counterintuitiveness that defined the earlier games in the series in favor of a bountiful sandbox full of incredible espionage hijinks. (You can shoot your arm off like a missile, dart it through a window, and knock a guard out cold. Game of the year.)
That said, if you've played the game, you might feel like the storytelling is borderline nonsensical—which can in part be chalked up to Kojima's acrimonious exit from Konami during development. Naturally, eagle-eyed modders have found a lengthy cutscene, deep in the game's code, that points to a pivotal showdown with the once-and-future Liquid Snake, which would tie up several ambiguities in what is, for now, Big Boss's send-off. It's honestly kind of baffling that it didn't make it across the finish line, especially for a saga as beloved as Metal Gear. Let Kojima cook!
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Jedi Academy is highly regarded within PC circles, because it's the first game that taught us how much fun pugilistic saber combat can be with a mouse and keyboard. It's a blast to eject your friends into molten lava with the power of the force, but it'd be even cooler if you could do so while piloting an X-Wing. Aspyr clearly felt the same way, because spelunkers uncovered a semi-functional X-Wing lingering deep in the game's files. Did Jedi Academy's famously chaotic combat once also include intergalactic dogfights, like a prototype of the future Star Wars Battlefront? My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it.
Star Wars Battlefront 2
Speaking of which: Star Wars Battlefront 2, like so many other triple-A games in the 21st century, entered our lives on the back of some outrageously bad vibes. The game was beset with carnivorous loot boxes at the exact moment the gaming public had become conclusively fed-up with the industry's gambling turn, which gave way to a lengthy EA apology tour. As the years went by, Battlefront 2 morphed into, arguably, the definitive Star Wars videogame, stringing together all of the disparate elements of the universe—from the regrettable prequels to the questionable sequels—into one proudly comprehensive package.
The funny thing? Battlefront 2 could've also been a lot bigger. Voice lines in the files insinuate that once upon a time, EA was considering hero units like Ahsoka and Padme. I find the latter entry particularly interesting, if only because Padme seems like a no-brainer for any wide-ranging Star Wars project. I love the idea of her having a special ability tied to her sonorous, senatorial diction. A potential Battlefront 3 seems like a longshot at this point, but I'm still holding out hope.
If you've followed videogames for a long time, then you might remember the mounds of controversy that dogged the release of L.A. Noire. The game was the product of frequent crunch, which was brutal enough to make headlines long before labor issues at studios were a point of major scrutiny. (That's saying something!) And yet, all of that overtime still left a lot of content on the cutting room floor. Brendan McNamara, L.A. Noire's director, mentioned that 11 missions—pertaining to fraud and burglary—were planned and abandoned as deadlines loomed.
I know Banjo-Kazooie isn't a PC game, but this story is weird enough that I think it merits inclusion. In the second world of Rare's eternally beloved platformer, Treasure Trove Cove, you can find a weird little mausoleum with a matrix of letters on the floor. It seemed to have no real purpose—it didn't appear to be a keystone of a puzzle or an easter egg—until a few Banjo-Kazooie megafans found that you could use this matrix to input lengthy, verbose codes that would allow players to unlock a handful of mysterious collectibles left to molder in the game files. Within the Banjo-Kazooie lexicon, these collectibles were called "Stop 'N Swop" items, and they're the bones of a scrapped feature that intended to connect the original game to its sequel, Banjo-Tooie.
The idea was that you'd obtain one of those items in Banjo-Kazooie, boot down your Nintendo 64, replace the cartridge with Tooie, and be granted access to an additional perk in the sequel to reward your hustle. This was a bold technical undertaking in the late '90s—how exactly was an offline, 64-bit console going to retain the data after a reset?—so it probably shouldn't be surprising that the mechanic was eventually abandoned. And yet, decades later, Rare did finally follow through with the Stop 'N Swop feature after the release of Banjo-Kazooie on Xbox Live Arcade. Collect the Stop 'N Swop items in the Microsoft version, and you'll unlock a few doodads in the underrated, scarcely remembered, Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts. I can only imagine on the fateful day that Banjo-Threeie makes it to our hard drives, we'll be Stop 'N Swopping through countless cosmetic skins, all tiered by rarity. The end is nigh!