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Development Hell: Sequel Cancellations

Game development is hard and requires a lot of moving pieces, money, time and patience. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know anything about making a video game, that’s a different beast. I only chose to talk about games for the rest of my life which is way easier and less stressful.

I applaud game developers and think that a lot of the issues they go through with game development, whether it is work related or in their personal life, is relatively tone-deaf. People who make video games sacrifice time with their family, their marriages, seeing kids growing up and overall their own sanity to chase a dream to ship a game they can be proud of. And when those projects are canceled, we as gamers don’t see that side of the heartbreak. We’re upset because we’re not getting that cool thing but someone who just devoted four years to a project has the bare minimum to take from it. But when everything works out and is successful it has to be one of the most rewarding feeling a developer can have.

But when everything works out and is successful it has to be one of the most rewarding feeling a developer can have. Ratings are high, award nominations are thrown out and a fan base is made. Once the demand is there and the money is right, a sequel is the next step. But those sequels, even for loved franchises, don’t always ship.

Again, game development is hard and it’s even harder when something is cancelled. Fans are upset, developers are upset and people lose money and their spirits. But if a game already has a successful first entry, what would lead the sequel to be cancelled? I picked a few sequels that were cancelled for various reasons and did the research. Here we have four examples of games that were cancelled for one reason or another that games face all the time. Well, one example might be a little unique.

Star Fox 2

Following the success of Star Fox on the Super Nintendo, it would seem like a great idea to make another on-rails shooter for the same console, right? Nintendo teamed up with Argonaut Software again to work on the second installation in the franchise set for release in 1995, but one huge issue loomed on the horizon, new hardware.

The game entered the final stages of development and was a fully finished product. It was even playable at a 1995 Winter Consumer Electronics show. Awesome, so what happened? Unfortunately for Star Fox 2, it fell victim to the evolving gaming industry. The Nintendo 64 was ready to release, and at that time Star Fox 2 was cancelled. The N64 was due out earlier but didn’t launch on time making a bigger gap between Star Fox games than intended. Nintendo wanted a break from 3D games as they made the shift to their 64-bit system.

Dylan Cuthbert, a programmer on Star Fox 2, shared this info during an explanation for the cancellation:

“If Nintendo released another 3D game on the Super Nintendo, then it would be compared with the PlayStation 1, and the quality was completely different… Star Fox 2 was disappointing but I could understand the reasoning – the PlayStation and Saturn had come out and were obviously superior to the SuperFX chip.”

Unfortunately, we never got Star Fox 2, but not all is lost. We did get Star Fox 64, which is my favourite in the franchise, which more than made up for the cancellation of the game. Miyamoto has gone to say that a lot of ideas from Star Fox 2 influenced the N64 title. Such as All-Range mode, Multiplayer Mode, and Star Fox scenarios. All in all, Myomoto estimates 30% of Star Fox 64 is taking from Star Fox 2.

Prey 2

The original Prey game launched in 2006 to some pretty positive reviews and a few months later a sequel was announced. After the announcement from the original developers, 3D Realms, Zenimax (the parent company of Bethesda) acquired the rights to the Prey franchise. This first hiccup should be a little bit of foreshadowing for what’s to come. After the acquisition, Human Head Studios was tasked with taking on Prey 2 but didn’t start production until 2009. Human Head’s associate producer had said the three years leading up to this point was just “bouncing around ideas” and 3D Realms had announced the game too early.

After two years with Prey 2, Human Head Studios was ready to show it to the world and did they ever. Prey 2 was a huge hit for E3 2011 and earned multiple award nominations from different outlets and caused plenty of hype. But that’s kind of where the good news ends as the further and further this game was in development the bleaker its future became. Human Head was gearing up for a release in 2012 but unfortunately, that never came to fruition.

Towards the end of 2011, production on Prey 2 had stopped as it reached the Alpha state. Cancellation rumours began in 2012 as Bethesda announced they were going to miss the 2012 release window and in August of that year the publisher had removed the title from their website completely. Welcome to development hell everyone.

If things weren’t murky enough, production moved to the Austin (Texas) division of Arkane Studios (who were working on Dishonored at the time). Soon rumours began to circulate that Bethesda was shopping the title around to other developers, that Human Head’s version was nowhere near complete and that there was an internal struggle between Bethesda and Human Head including Bethesda attempting to buy out Human Head causing them to stop working Prey 2 as a form of a strike. Once Arkane Studios were approved to work on Prey 2, they scrapped what Human Head had made and began their own version of it.

Prey 2 was officially cancelled in 2014. Pete Hines, vice president of PR and marketing at Bethesda had this to say of the cancellation:

“It was a game we believed in, but we never felt that it got to where it needed to be –– we never saw a path to success if we finished it. It wasn’t up to our quality standard, and we decided to cancel it. It’s no longer in development. That wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s one that won’t surprise many folks given that we hadn’t been talking about it. Human Head Studios is no longer working on it. It’s a franchise we still believe we can do something with — we just need to see what that something is.”

Though not all is lost, we are still getting the Prey reboot in May. Arkane Studios seems to have had a better time developing the newest Prey game and it looks promising.

Time Splitters 4

The Time Splitters franchise isn’t talked about much anymore, simply for the lack of a recent title. During the days of PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube this different flavor of shooting game was well received and popular among my circle of friends, at least. Using its own unique style to combine map settings ranging from all different time periods and using a variety of silly characters. The character selection screen was a rush to call ‘dibs’ on the monkey in Time Splitters 2. So why haven’t we seen another game in this series that strays away from the cookie cutter shooters of today?

Fans of the series remember a time when Time Splitters 4 was happening, being in development and getting ready for official announcement. You can date early development back to around 2007, though it wasn’t clear at the time what platform Free Radical was developing for, they did announce there was to be another Time Splitters game. Early marketing for the title had the fan base excited but that hype wasn’t able to help Free Radical as the company was having some heavy financial issues during this time. The financial hardships most likely stemmed from the total disappointment of their game Haze, and when Lucas Arts pulled them from working on Star Wars Battlefront III.

Luckily for them Crytek jumped and bought the company, thus changing their name to Crytek UK but by 2009, the Time Splitters project had been put on hold. The buyout of Free Radical was the first major speed bump in development for Time Splitters 4, the another reason being, there was just no faith in the title or the popularity of the franchise. Lead programmer on Time Splitters Future Perfect said in a 2011 interview with CineBlend,

“Future Perfect didn’t perform as well as expected in the shops. Although fun to make, without stellar sales figures a further TimeSplitters game was going to be a tough one to sell to publishers. It’s a hard game to summarize in an easy sentence like ‘car modding racing game’ or ‘third-person stealth game.’

Which, financially-wise, was probably a good decision as Time Splitters Future Perfect sold around half a million units based on a VGChartz estimate. Again, that’s just an estimate but considering the game was on three platforms and considering the install base of the PlayStation 2 (by 2012 the PS2 had sold 155 million units) that’s not the most promising figure.

The other reason why we never saw Time Splitters 4 is Crytek UK had said they wanted to focus on other projects first. Lead animator James Cunliffe said in the same 2011 interview, I think we just felt that the franchise was well-received but we had other things we wanted to try before going back to it. We weren’t in any particular hurry to rush into TimeSplitters 4.” Those projects ended up being the multiplayer modes of Crysis 2 and 3 and work on the Xbox 360 version of Warface. Unfortunately, in 2014 Crytek UK was all but shut down officially after a series of layoffs and selling their intellectual property, Homefront.

All is not lost for Time Splitters fans, in 2012 it was revealed some fans were giving a green light to make a Time Splitters mod using CryEngine 3. It was later announced that members from the Free Radical group would also be working on this new project. Using assets of all three games in the series the new project was titled Time Splitters Rewind. To the tune of a petition that gained 75,000 signatures, Crytek granted the team the CryEngine 3 for development. The latest update has stated the game has a release window of 2017. Cross those fingers, Time Splitter fans.

Fez 2

The growing power of social media has been able to give us ways to communicate with almost anyone and everyone. Whether that be a direct message, a comment or a tweet, our communication ability has grown immensely. And while plenty of nice things are shared online all the time, usually it’s the super negative stuff that gets a reaction and spreads faster than anything. The negative comments usually come from the vocal minority of a fan base, if they’re unhappy they’ll let you know where as the fans who are totally content will enjoy the product and continue on. Content creators know this, it’s nothing new but a content creator who doesn’t have the thickest of skin or the best ways of communicating their message can easily fall down a hole of continued negativity. All of this leads us to the cancellation of Fez 2.

Polytron launched puzzle, platformer Fez in 2012 to a favourable response from critics and fans alike. The indie darling was nominated for a few awards throughout the year and even winning some from multiple publications. Which lead us to the 2013 Horizon Indie Game Press Conference which was happened during E3. Fez 2 was held until the end of the show in the classic, “one more thing” closing announcement. If you’re unfamiliar or need a refresher, E3 is held in June. Fez 2 was cancelled in July.

philfishnoxbox

Fez creator Phil Fish was criticised by game journalist Marcus Breer on GameTrailer’s show Invisible Walls in which Breer called out Fish (and Jonathan Blow) for refusing to respond to the Game Informer’s questions regarding rumours of the Xbox One allowing indie developers to self-publish their games. Fish didn’t take to the questioning favourably and blew up on social media over it. And then lashed out at Breer on Twitter after his rant went public.

What Breer was basically saying in his rant was that Fish was playing to one side of the media. Letting gaming outlets talk about his game, promote it and run press releases, which was all good fun for Fish but when time came for something that didn’t directly give Fish positive buzz, it became an issue. And while Fish had no issues giving out quotes about his game to the press, he didn’t enjoy the extra questioning and requests for quotes from the press about other topics. The media was supporting Fish but Fish wasn’t supporting the media. Once he was pushed to the edge, Phil Fish’s outburst was a big topic of controversy.

Fish said of Breer, “Hey fuckface. the thing with us “tosspots” “hipsters” is that we’re not beholden to media leeches like you. — @Annoyedgamer [Breer] compare your life to mine and then kill yourself. After a few flavorful tweets directed at Breer, Fish wanted to clarify that he didn’t want to comment on the Xbox rumour until the news was official, even if that is true he had a pretty funny way of showing it. After the first wave of hateful tweets, Fish continued with, im done. FEZ II is canceled. goodbye.to be clear, im not cancelling FEZ II because some boorish fuck said something stupid, im doing it to get out of games.

And that was it, Fez II was cancelled, gone forever. The announcement was a surprise to the rest of the staff at Polytron who haven’t worked on anything since. Phil Fish has said that Polytron and the Fez property are up for sale.

Those are just four examples of cancelled sequels that I chose to run with. Sorry for the lengthy write-up but I hope you enjoyed the information and possibly learned something new about one of these situations.

The video game industry is built on hype and excitement. Announcing a new game or a sequel to a popular game can be a big deal and a huge moment for a lot of people. But a cancellation can be absolutely soul crushing for fans and developers alike. We need to be able to understand that making video games is hard, and we should temper expectations with any announcement. You’re more than allowed to be excited about something but when a situation turns bleak, prepare for the worst.

All I ask is, is when a cancellation happens, let’s try to be a better video game community and be understanding. We typically don’t know who is at fault when things go down. So instead of being negative to a developer or publisher, let’s be supportive and hope we get something like a Time Splitters Rewind or Yooka-Laylee. Just don’t act like Phil Fish.

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