Blizzcon begins in a few hours, and word on the street is that the powerhouse developer is set to announce a new game. Blizzard announcements are always huge, but more often than not they’re about an expansion, re-release, or sequel to an existing IP. Not that they deserve much flak for this, when you have franchises like Diablo, StarCraft, and the genre defining World of Warcraft, the possibilities even within those boundaries are endless and people will eat it up. Blizzard doesn’t seem like the type of company to release something that isn’t going to generate crazy amounts of sales, and when they do release something, they want to be completely sure fans are going to enjoy it. So before the chaos begins, let’s take a quick look at some of the games we almost got from Blizzard over the years.
AKA the game we almost got instead of World of Warcraft.
Many moons ago, a team at Blizzard were working on a tactical squad-based game based on a Warhammer-esque tabletop game called Necromunda. Players would assume control of a platoon of soldiers that could be upgraded, learn new skills and acquire new weapons and then battle other teams online. The development began stalling when the team split on which direction they wanted to go. Half the team wanted a tactical X-Com style approach and others were keen on something akin to Final Fantasy. Eventually two of the members who were deep into Everquest decided to pitch an idea to Jeff Strain, a senior programmer. Why not make a game like Everquest instead? Two days later Nomad got the axe and the team began work on WoW.
Lord of the Clans
I remember watching the trailer for this game when I got my first copy of Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal. This was way back in the mid-90s, when Lucasarts were at the height of the point-and-click adventure genre. Games like Monkey Island and Full Throttle were quite successful, and a lot of Blizzard employees were enjoying them in their spare time. Lord of the Clans would put players in charge of Thrall, a young Orc who begins as a slave and battles his way to becoming head honcho of the Orcish Horde. What was cool about this idea was giving players a chance to explore the world of the Orcs from their point of view. In a 1999 interview with Gamespot, producer Bill Roper shed some light on what exactly happened and why the game got cancelled: “When we got to the point where we cancelled it, it was just because we looked at where we were and said, ‘you know, this would have been great three years ago,’ but we have to go someplace new and someplace different.” There are several videos available on YouTube showcasing the game, including a 10 minute gameplay video.
“[In the game] players take the role of Nova, a lethal Ghost operative skillfully trained in the arts of espionage and tactical combat. Twenty years of ruthless physical conditioning and techno-psychological instruction have made Nova a being of terrifying potential. With the help of a determined group of allies, players follow a series of story-driven missions, engaging in a deadly mix of planetary battles and dangerous solo operations. To complete their mission objectives, players must execute intelligent tactical decisions while mastering an advanced arsenal of sophisticated weaponry.”
The game is now notorious for defining the term “development hell”. Never technically cancelled, the slide began in 2005, when the Gamecube version was cancelled. By the time 2006 rolled around, Blizzard put the game on hold while it took some time to get acquainted with the new generation of consoles beginning to roll out. Slowly but surely the game faded from memory, and was never really spoke about again. Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime explained in an interview with MTV that that Blizzard was focusing on other things, and while the game isn’t gone forever, it would appear that by this time we probably aren’t going to see an actual release.
This one stings a bit, specifically for the team that poured seven years into making a game that last month officially got shut down. Nobody really knows what Titan was actually about, despite knowledge that it would be a sci-fi MMO. Whether or not this was essentially WoW but in the StarCraft universe remains unclear, and until the inevitable flood of screens, concept art and video clips, will remain so. Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime and Senior VP of story and franchise development Chris Metzen spoke to Polygon last month describing what happened:
"We took a step back and realized that it had some cool hooks. It definitely had some merit as a big, broad idea, but it didn't come together. It did not distill. The music did not flow. For all our good intentions and our experience and the pure craftsmanship that we brought together, we had to make that call,” Metzen said.
Morhaime concurred, saying: "We didn't find the fun, we didn't find the passion. We talked about how we put it through a reevaluation period, and actually, what we reevaluated is whether that's the game we really wanted to be making. The answer is no."
Apparently the project was just too massive, too time consuming, and not financially viable, so they shut it down. With much reluctance and sadness it would appear.
There have been a few other games cancelled or shifted to other devs, Pax Imperia 2 and Shattered Nations come to mind, but these were minor compared to the drawn out and tortuous executions of Ghost and Titan. On the plus side, it’s nice to know that the folks at Blizzard know when to call it quits, and if a game just isn’t worth it they won’t continue for the sake of pushing an unfinished or low quality product out the doors. It will be interesting to see what they have up their sleeves for today’s conference.