Every game developer has a story about a project they worked on that never quite made it. In this new series, Lost, we ask studios of all shapes and sizes about lost games that’ll never be released.
Here, Oddworld Inhabitants’ co-founder and president Lorne Lanning tells the story of two doomed game projects – and a chance encounter with Bobby Kotick.
Hand of Odd
“It was designed as an RTS game with a twist. In the RTS genre, the dominant model has been, ‘each side deforests the landscape to build a military complex in attempts to declare victory over a defeated enemy that has done the same. Meanwhile, the environment is always the loser.’
The Hand of Odd was aiming to have an industrial class that followed the prevailing RTS paradigm, but while competing against an opposition indigenous class that harnessed its power not from the depletion of the environment, but from nurturing its growth, then harnessing its life force as a means to power an offense/defense system. Metaphorically speaking, a classic war zone that allows a Rupert Sheldrake vs Richard Dawkins war of ideologies. Players could choose between playing the industrial or indigenous class. Both are fighting over the same resources, but embracing their usage in polar ways.
“It was designed and documented and we started some preliminary development with assets, but the market changed quite rapidly first after the success of Warcraft 2 (which was a key inspiration and the RTS game we loved the most) but then a few sub-quality products hit the market and suddenly publishers were convinced that the RTS market was dead.
“It wasn’t that the game wasn’t working out, it’s that the market perceptions were rapidly shifting. I can remember exactly the moment when I realized we might be headed for trouble, and it wasn’t an internal production issue: I walked into the mens room at LAX airport, and standing next to me at the sink was Bobby Kotick. We started talking and he asked how it was going and what we were working on. I said, “We’re doing this new Munch game but also trying our hand an an Oddworld RTS game but with a twist.” He frowned and said “You don’t want to go there. The RTS market isn’t performing well.”
“It was at that moment that I knew we were in trouble. Activision wasn’t as huge as it is today, but anybody who knew Bobby Kotick knew he was super sharp. Weeks later the same basic perception was flowing through the industry, and our publisher was now going through an acquisition by a French publisher that was getting a reputation for being content risk averse. All things considered, we decided to put development on halt and wait it out for a more promising publishing climate.
“The work did help us to flesh out more of the Oddworld universe, and it has become a reference point ever since. As for future titles, we would like to embrace many of the ideals developed here, but it’s premature to suggest any particular developments. We learned to see the market in a wider angle way – when you can see the business climate tide is moving against your vision, it’s indicative that the challenge may prove greater than you’re able to overcome and it may have nothing to do with the quality of what you’re intending to deliver.”
“Citizen Siege was based in a near future where the policies of recent White House administrations continued onward unabated; ultimately landing us in a dark totalitarian landscape where people have been reduced to pure commodity. In this world, your healthy tissue is used as collateral against financial debt, and if you sink low enough, you can be ‘re-possessed’ piece by piece.
“The hero had been re-possessed, and was now encased in a cheap life support system as he traverses the economic divides of a dystopian city in a mad search to reclaim his body, and bring down the system that stole it. The powers your character employed where of an unworldly nature brought about by an alternative and illegal energy source. This device fuses to his mechanical body after you attempts to smuggle across an economic border. These powers were intended to play out much as we see the central character in InFamous Second Son demonstrates – we called our version ‘Z-powers’.
“We designed it and visualized it with a few hundred production paintings, but never entered a full on pre-production phase. The project was verbally green-lit, but we ultimately chose not to pursue any relationship with the publisher. From that point, we instead chose to shop it as a CG animated feature instead of working with a game publisher.
“We did manage to get a development deal as a rated R CG animated feature, but the product never got out of the early stages of development as the financial crash of 2008 started setting in. The risk-averse environment told us it was going to be a big uphill battle getting this film off the ground with the ill financial conditions that were boiling over in Hollywood. Ultimately we put it back on the shelf rather that fight an uphill battle with a rated R animated feature film. It was a tough sell in the first place, the financial collapse just made it all the more difficult.
“We had a total collapse of faith in our publishing partner. We learned that we had reached a point where we just didn’t want to be working with big publishers in the classic developer / publisher model any longer. We felt the model was severely broken while the incentives and fun in the process had been lost.”
You can find more concept art from Hand Of Odd and Citizen Siege here.