We’ve all had that game that we were waiting for just to go and disappear on us. For me the title that pops to mind is Agent, a really great looking spy game made by Rockstar North that had a fun cheeky tone and one day Sony decided to pull the plug after years of saying “it’s coming soon”. A lot of times we stop hearing about development it or it just never makes the light of day, like film productions trapped in development hell the owners don’t want to give it up in case it becomes profitable down the road. An infamous instance of this is Brütal Legend which ended up buying itself out from under Activision to get the title out sans the forced Guitar Hero integration Activision was trying to include. The tech industry due to its nature of experimentation and iteration is especially prone to technology never making it out the door or interference by the “suits”.
Originally coined in reference to Ovation an early 80s software package that would bundle word processing, spreadsheet software, and database management software in to a single package (basically what Office would later become) it never happened. The company burnt through seven million dollars in venture capital funding (in today money that’s almost 17 million dollars in funding). Why? Because all that money went to marketing, shiny offices, and all the kinds of stuff it shouldn’t have gone in to but for a year it dwelled in that hazy realm of cancelled without being cancelled. From that Vapourware was born.
The reasons for software turning in to Vapourware are legion, it could be as mentioned spending the entire budget on marketing, it could be “dynamic personalities” (translate that in to power hungry lunatics), it could simply be a vision just too far beyond what the creators are able to achieve. There are an infinite number of why, today I’m going to talk about 5 cases of potential Vapourware, titles that are still too new to be reconciled to the bin of games that could have been contenders but have been playing with our emotions for so long no one has particularly high hopes.
One of the defining factors of Vapourware is that it is not cancelled but in a cycle of development clouded in the secrecy and ambiguity and all of the titles I’m going to talk about today are technically still in development even if they haven’t had updates on their status for in some cases years. All of the titles I’m going to talk about are ones we still can keep our fingers crossed for and hope will see the light of day soon but have no firm timeline.
Our first title is from the creators of indie darling Super Meat Boy, Team Meat called Mew-genics, announced on October 20th 2012 the game had a prodigious amount of press over the last two years.
This is clearly a game by people who are passionate and want to do something awesome, but as with people who want to do something awesome they seem to get caught up in the moment. Often there would be times where it would seem Team Meat would announce several new features so close together that news sites like Kotaku, IGN and Joystiq would be running multiple news articles in a single week. The problem is, often these were trivial announcements of a single new character, then announcing a new system being introduced, and then announcing a new music video that shows no game play but more animation after a while you start to get burn out.
In August of 2014 Tommy Refens of Team Meat admitted “shouldn’t have been talking about it as much in the beginning as we did, because the game expanded beyond what it originally was.” During ian interview with Joystiq at PAX Prime. The scope had changed substantially and basically barely resembled the initially announced title. By the time Team Meat put pawsed Mew-Genics (see what I did there?) there was already a substantial amount of negativity from the previously enthusiastic audience saying with the tone often being “believe it when I see it” regarding the title ever being completed.
Though on hold the title is not abandoned, essentially they have gone back to the drawing board and are trying to figure out what they are going to keep, in the mean time they’ve shifted development efforts to Super Meat Boy Forever a mobile version of Super Meat Boy with a hard deadline of the end of 2015 for this title it means the earliest we can expect to see Mew-Genics is 2016. The title seemed like a cheeky take on the Monster Rancher formula with a kind of sinister comedic undertone. It would be a shame to see it disappear in to the vapour.
Prey 2 was a follow up to the middling game from 2K and 3D Realms that was unique in that it introduced a Native American protagonist but didn’t really ever deliver very much. Touted as being revolutionary introducing teleportation mechanics this title was a piece of vapourware itself having been in development for eleven years. This appears to have been a habit of 3D Realms’ and like with Duke what we ended up getting was okay but not amazing and certainly not living up to the hype.
Another case of 3D Realms talking a big game the title was originally announced in March of 2008, 3D Realms though has undergone some “issues” (which has pretty much closed shop) selling off and licensing IPs Prey started trading hands and eventually becoming the property Bathesda and Zenimax who were rumoured to have cancelled the project in 2012 but in 2013 Kotaku announced Arkane Studios the makers of Dishonored and Bioshock 2 (both solid games) had taken over which makes sense given their relationship with Bathesda who would not want to waste money on an IP they have lying around(and given the similar vibe that Dishonored had to the trailers for Prey 2 they are a logical fit). Current rumor is the title will drop in 2016 though Bethesda is still being cagey about saying anything. If this is true it will make it an 8 year cycle of development with at least two if not more developers touching the code. Still fewer years than Duke took and fewer developers but really 3D Realms should have been more careful with their ideas!
Beyond Good & Evil 2:
Like Prey Beyond Good & Evil was a game that was not entirely a commercial success, released in 2003 (and subsequently re-released in 2011 in HD re-mastered form) the game is a quirky action adventure game with a photography mechanic and martial arts. One of the few games to feature a female protagonist the game is a joy, critically praised and with awards heaped upon it. Unfortunately, Ubisoft didn’t bother to focus on marketing it much (maybe thinking all the critical buzz would carry it through) and instead focused on Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
The title released to an overcrowded market in the midst of a gaming glut that saw several titles to terribly during their initial sales period. The title was pretty much considered a dud. Similarly to Psychonauts though the continued critical acclaim led to a cult following so in 2008 when a teaser trailer was released for an unnamed game that featured the lead characters of Good & Evil the crowds went bananas.
The Last Guardian:
The work of esteemed development team Team Ico creators of classics Ico and Shadow of the Colosus in many ways this team defined the aesthetics of modern “art games” with stunning visuals, incredible music and nuanced story telling with a robust emotional core. The Last Guardian or as it’s known in Japanese Hitokui no Ōwashi Trico was announced in 2009 but had apparently been in development since 2007. The target release date for the title was 2011 and it was to be a Playstaton 3 exclusive.
Much of the team behind the title had now left working on a similar project named Vane and while not cancelled it was in that perpetual state of limbo creative titles often find themselves. Sony’s Scott Rohde has insisted it’s still in active development and is going to be just what the fans want but there is no date and no solid news and in many ways it may not be a good environment. When announced it would have been a unique title but as many others have pointed out the market has changed, there is now a robust array of titles that use the same kinds of techniques they practically invented for modern games and the creative impact the title may have previously made could well be drowned out by the chorus of voices that now fill that space.
Star Wars: 1313:
The least likely to happen is sadly, in my geeky mind, the one I was looking forward to most. Star Wars: 1313 was announced at E3 in 2012. Featuring next generation graphics and game play it’s set on Coruscant's level 1313 during the “Rise of the Empire” era of star wars taking place between five to ten years before the battle of Yavin.
Unfortunately LucasArts have a spotty history when it comes to delivery with many titles going through tumultuous development cycles and often feeling broken upon release (I’m looking at you Force Unleashed). Fuel was added to the fire when Walt Disney acquired Lucas’ empire in 2013. Everything was put on hold and LucasArts, laying off a majority of their staff, was transformed from a developer in to an IP clearinghouse coordinating development efforts between Disney’s internal software development team and external partners.
Still for some time there was radio silence but things looked particularly bleak when EA was given the rights to future Star Wars development. Given their owning Bioware creator of several beloved Star Wars games this seemed like a natural fit but with no word on the project it becomes quite disconcerting. Later in January 2014 1313’s trademark was abandoned which certainly doesn’t look good for the future of the title.
That being said, it is rumoured that Boba Fet will play a substantial part in the upcoming new universe. This is a game that was well in to development, gameplay trailers show a robust game with the kind of action focused gameplay that is quite appealing to many right now and squarely situated in a period that Disney is exploring with their current stable of new universe titles this would make a logical extension of that project.
As always when it comes to vapourware one can dream let's just hope they don't turn in to nightmares.