I had initially planned this post to coincide with the release of Duke Nukem Forever. But I guess there is a humorous irony in putting up a long delayed post long after the long delayed game it is tangentially about well after the subject is relevant. Better late than never I guess.
With Duke Nukem Forever coming and going, ending fourteen arduous years of development changes, complete teardowns, and myriad jokes and musings over what might have been, we are given proof that there is hope for all vaporware to rise from the depths of development hell. Of course Duke’s decade-long trek may also serve as a cautionary tale for others considering its almost universal panning by critics and players.
But let’s remain positive for a second. Duke Nukem Forever’s release is a reason for fans of long since abandoned projects to be cautiously optimistic. Long development cycles and cancellations don’t all end in tears after all. Alan Wake, which came out in May 2010, was in development for over five years. Earthbound 64, the sequel to my personal favorite RPG ever in the history of everything ever, was cancelled way back in 2000; however, the game was ultimately released for the Game Boy Advance in 2006, unfortunately only in Japan (although it was eventually brought stateside by Earthbound fans via a fan translation). And Mother 3 turned out to be a great sequel to an awesome game, capturing the quirkiness of its predecessor with a melancholy yet beautiful story (it also brought us Lucas, the tow-headed wrecking machine in Smash Brother Brawl). Seriously, check Mother 3 out if you know Japanese or are willing to enter the ambiguous territory of emulation (hint: possible future topic). The point is that these long projects can sometimes be worth the wait.
It is with all of this in mind, I want to tell you about my recommendation for the next vaporware to follow DNF into the realm of the living: Starcraft Ghost.
Initially announced in 2002 for the Xbox, PlayStation2, and Gamecube, Starcraft: Ghost was intended to be a an over the shoulder third person stealth game in which the player assumed the role of a Ghost named Nova. The ghosts were a stealth ops unit of the human Terran faction that for some reason undertook covert operations while wielding shotguns.
The game’s announcement was a pleasant surprise for fans as it was the first game set in the Starcraft universe since the game’s only expansion, Brood War, in 1998. It created enough of a buzz to warrant being the cover story in the November 2002 issue of Game Informer, dazzling fans gameplay shots and concept art promising oodles of sneaky stealthy action, fragging Zerglings and Terran Dominion lackeys, and laying down the hammer with glee-inducingly fun full 3-D nuclear strikes.
After reading the article and taking time to pull my jaw off the floor, I like so many other Starcraft fans were ready to lay their money down. But anticipation slowly dropped into disappointment. The project faced delays as its initial release date of late 2003 (according to the Game Imformer story) was pushed back to sometime in 2004 . Midway through 2004, the project faced another setback when Blizzard abruptly announced Nihilistic had been dropped from development, offering only a vague explanation for their departure. So, with that, Nihilistic moved on with nothing to show for their two-year tenure but some some impressive looking concept art and an absolutely epic opening cinematic.
Following Nihilistic’s departure, Blizzard called upon Swingin’ Ape Studios to finish the project. The only title the studio had produced was the third person adventure Metal Arms: Glitch in the System. At the 2005 E3, Blizzard presented playable demos and a newly-added multiplayer mode with an anticipated release date of mid 2006. But problems persisted despite, or maybe in spite of, the change in developers. In November 2005, the Gamecube edition was scrapped entirely citing a lack of online multiplayer support. That following March, Blizzard announced the indefinite suspension of the Xbox and PS2 versions, ostensibly marking the end of Nova’s solo adventure. Starcraft fans would have to wait another four years for another Starcraft game, when Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty finally hit store shelves.
With the project’s “indefinite suspension” you’d think that would be the end of it, but the game has found ways of resurfacing from time to time. In 2006, the game’s presumed story was ultimately released as a novel set in the Starcraft canon written by Keith R.A. de Candido released in 2006. Nova also made an appearance in a mission in the aforementioned Wings of Liberty. Also, since Blizzard never officially cancelled Starcraft: Ghost, every so often there are hints that they may take up the project again, despite the fact that Swingin’ Ape Studios is now defunct.
Will Blizzard ever release Starcraft Ghost? My thoughts are that if Blizzard intended on reviving the project it would have made sense to do it after they released Wings of Liberty. However there are still two more Starcraft games in development with Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void. I haven’t played Wings of Liberty, but my understanding is that Nova doesn’t play a huge role in the plot; my gut tells me Blizzard put her in as a nod to their long-suffering fans holding out vain hope for Ghost’s release. As someone who hoped against hope for Ghost despite the delays, the change in developers and (worst of all) the cancellation of the Gamecube version, I find teasing her in Starcraft 2 to be a cruel joke. But perhaps Blizzard will feature Nova more in the stories and generate some positive support for the game’s revival. In the indefinite postponement, hope springs eternal. And I mean after all, who really thought Duke Nukem Forever would ever see the light of day?
Which abandoned or cancelled game would you most like to see get a second chance? Leave your choices in the comments section.