The Kings of Vapourware 2013: Video Games in Oblivion
What is vapourware? “Vaporware is a term in the computer industry that describes a product, typically computer hardware or software, that is announced to the general public but is never actually released nor officially cancelled.”
As far as video games go, it’s a product that is all bark and yet no bite. There’s a lot of talk about it, but nothing in the way of screenshots or videos (particularly gameplay footage) that actually showcases the game.
Vapourware titles and games “in development hell” have become synonymous. The latter is often just a more flattering euphemism for the other.
There are certain qualifications that a game must meet in order to belong to this club. It must be in development longer than the average game. Nowadays this could be anything from a year to three years. It really depends on the scale of the game, how many people are working on it, etc., but generally if it’s more than three years in development, it qualifies.
That isn’t it. There should be a general lack of media depicting the game. This means screenshots, trailers, gameplay footage and/or news or updates of any sort. This sort of thing can easily be faked however by using what’s referred to in the industry as bullshots, or tech demos. This happened with some famous examples such as Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever.
So who are today’s (and tomorrow’s, and next year’s) Vapourware Kings? Let’s have a look:
Developer: id Software
Total time in development hell: 5 years
Doom 4 was hinted at in 2007, at id’s own QuakeCon, and later in 2008 it was announced that it was in production. All we knew at that point was what id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead had told us: the game was likely going to be set on earth, much like Doom II: Hell On Earth, but it wouldn’t be a reboot like Doom 3 was for The Ultimate Doom. Then we heard virtually nothing about it for some time, and it missed several QuakeCons and E3s, until 2012, when leaked concept art of the game surfaced online. These pictures seemed to confirm what had originally been rumoured – that Doom 4 would indeed take place on earth. However, Matthew Hooper, creative director at id, denied that these screenshots had anything to do with Doom 4.
It was revealed in 2013 by several media outlets that the game, during it’s development cycle, had undergone a restart at least once, and that featured in the game would be a human resistance of some sort, probably not unlike that in the Terminator films, and would also include squad-based combat, cutscenes and scripted sequences, which resulted in a resounding boo all over the internet. Indeed, the sources close to id claimed that it was average at best.
Predicted date of release: Since all planned sequels to the by-all-accounts mediocre Rage have been cancelled, it’s expected that the focus will be entirely on Doom 4, and ZeniMax, id’s parent company will be looking to push that out as soon as possible. Having said that, personally I’m not even holding my breath for any news of this game at this year’s QuakeCon. All big id announcements traditionally happen here – even more often than at E3. I would say that the game, given that there’s not even a hint of any gameplay footage out there of any kind, will likely not even see 2014, never mind this year. 2015 is playing it safe.
Half-Life 2: Episode 3
Total time in development hell: 6 years
After the release of Half-Life 2, Valve adopted a new strategy (at least for them) when it came to developing games. They decided to go the episodic route which would see episodes of Half-Life 2 released, which were realistically nothing more than glorified expansions, sort of like Opposing Force or Blue Shift for the first game. In fact originally it was planned to have a plain old expansion in the form of Aftermath – the working title.
The first episode took about a year and a half to get out of the door, and the second took another year and a half. And the third? That was scheduled to be out in 2007, but still hasn’t been released. The last anyone heard of that, it was rumoured that a deaf character would be involved in the game somehow. It wasn’t enough to have a mute in the form of Gordon Freeman, then, obviously.
It’s been nearly 6 years since Half-Life 2: Episode 2, and virtually nothing apart from a few hoaxes, concept art, and T-shirts with the famed lambda symbol (with a 3 in the corner) on them has appeared. It has missed countless E3s and other expos in that time. There’s nothing to say that the game is actually real at all. Episodic gaming may have worked for Telltale with its popular Sam & Max and The Walking Dead series, but for Valve it ended up being an epic fail of note. Maybe it’s because they’ve spent too much time fiddling around with Portal, Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2. They got side-tracked.
Predicted date of release: Seeing as it has been years since the release of Half-Life 2, and the Source engine is now long in the tooth, Valve really has no option if they want to stay current and above all relevant, but to use a new engine, or at least heavily modify the existing one. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see this game even in the next few years. Personally I think they may cancel Episode 3 and go with Half-Life 3, a full sequel. Evidence of this is the fact that in 2012, Valve announced that Half-Life 3 would be released at some point.
Developer: Gearbox Software
Total time in development hell: 6 years
During the court battle between then developers of Duke Nukem Forever, 3D Realms and Take Two Interactive, it was revealed that there was another Duke Nukem title in development. This one was called Duke Begins, and it was being handled externally by Gearbox Software, as part of a publishing deal that 3DR had made with Take Two Interactive in 2007 for $2.5 million. It was suspected because of the title alone, that the game would be a reboot of the series.
But all has been silent as far as that title is concerned – for about the last 4 years now. In 2009, development on this title was completely halted. In that time, Gearbox has developed and released Borderlands, Duke Nukem Forever (although most of the work was handled by 3DR and Triptych – Gearbox did the multiplayer bit, and the console versions with the help of Piranha), Borderlands 2, and Aliens: Colonial Marines (once again, just the multiplayer). But there’s no word on Duke Begins, apart from an article in the October 2011 issue of Official Xbox Magazine.
Predicted date of release: Gearbox has other projects in the pipeline such as Furious 4, which is basically a spinoff of Brothers in Arms – probably it’s one truly original series to date, besides Borderlands. Speaking of which, don’t be surprised if there’s a Borderlands 3 sometime in the future. That’s practically a given. Given the fact that they took so long to get ACM out of the door (and it was awful after all the waiting), I wouldn’t be too hopeful. Gearbox apparently stated that they would resume work on Duke Begins after the release of ACM, but it might be another few years before Duke Begins ever reaches shelves. But rest assured it will happen at some point seeing as they now own the Duke Nukem IP after having bought it from 3DR, so they’d have to be either mad or stupid to not do anything with it.
Developer: Nihilistic Software (past), Swingin' Ape Studios (past)
Total time in development hell: 11 years
StarCraft: Ghost was to StarCraft what Renegade was to Command & Conquer: a third-person shooter set in the same universe as the strategy series. How can that go wrong, right? Well, it went wrong, unfortunately.
The game was first announced in 2002, and was put on “indefinite postponement” in 2006, after years of being in development hell and having been outsourced by Blizzard to two consecutive developers. The game was supposed to follow the adventures of Nova, a Terran psychic operative referred to as a ghost (similar to Kerrigan) – she was seen in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and has also appeared in a book based on the StarCraft universe, called StarCraft Ghost: Nova. It has been said that Ghost wasn’t actually ever officially cancelled, and it might well be a project that Blizzard will resurrect at some point in the future. Blizzard stated that the success of World of WarCraft and development of StarCraft II were largely responsible in taking up available resources.
Predicted date of release: Blizzard has – at the time of publication – just released Heart of the Swarm, and will now likely set to work on Legacy of the Void. That and there will likely be more content for World of WarCraft. I wouldn’t hold my breath for any time before 2016 for any new developments on Ghost. A release is certainly not even going to happen that same year.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Developer: 2K Australia (past), 2K Marin (current)
Total time in development hell: 7 years
In 2010 it was announced that there would be an XCOM FPS, which would be made by 2K Marin, the same people who handled BioShock 2. The game had previously been developed by 2K Australia, right from 2006 – before the first BioShock had even been released.
Not too long after that, word of another XCOM game, this one by Firaxis, got out – and this one would be more true to the original series. That became the XCOM that everyone focused on, and “the other XCOM” faded in to obscurity. XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released last year and went on to achieve critical acclaim. And the XCOM shooter became just another vaporware title.
Then in 2013, the official website was taken down, and all the videos of the XCOM FPS disappeared from 2K Marin’s official YouTube channel. To be exact, they were made private. It was speculated that the game had been cancelled. But then a source spotted a domain name that had been registered, hinting at a game called The Bureau. This was said to be the long lost XCOM game. And right they were, because not long after this happened, it was announced that the game would from now on be known as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. Whatever its name, it still looks intriguing, and serves as a prequel to the original series. And you can’t ever really go wrong with a prequel or a reboot. There’s a lot of them around nowadays, and most of the time they tend to do well.
Predicted date of release: The game has an August 2013 release date, so if not by the end of 2013 (which I would say is likely), early 2014, definitely. There’s absolutely nothing holding the game back now as far as I can tell.
Jagged Alliance 3
Developer: Strategy First (past), Akella (past), F3games (past) bitComposer Games (current)
Total time in development hell: 9 years
A proper sequel to Jagged Alliance 2 has been stuck in development hell for years. In 2004, two games in the Jagged Alliance series were announced: Jagged Alliance 3D and Jagged Alliance 3. Jagged Alliance 3D was supposed to be a fully 3D version of JA2, and was handed from Stategy First to Game Factory Interactive and the developer MiST Land South. Jagged Alliance 3 was internally developed at Strategy First for a while, until it too was outsourced to Akella and F3games. A release date was set for 2008, but then this was pushed back to 2010, because the graphics were not up to snuff. Then Akella stopped development and eventually this led to bitComposer Games acquiring the rights to the entire series, planning to release Jagged Alliance 3 in 2011.
In that time, several spiritual successors have been released. This includes Jagged Alliance: Wildfire (basically a commercialised mod for JA2), E5 Brigade: New Jagged Union, Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge, and most recently Jagged Alliance: Back In Action, which is really a remake of Jagged Alliance 2 – the most popular game in the series. The last true Jagged Alliance game to many though, was probably Unfinished Business, a standalone expansion/sequel to JA2, back in 2001.
Predicted date of release: Jagged Alliance 3 has changed developer and publisher hands so many times over the last better (or worse) part of a decade, with several release dates for the game having been missed. Virtually nothing has been seen since screenshots and a trailer were released years ago. This is sadly what happens when you outsource games to Russian developers it seems. Sorry to say it, but they never made good cars; what makes you think they’ll make a good video game? We’ve waited for JA3 for nearly as long as it took the Berlin Wall to come down, and haven’t read any news about it since 2012. It's not looking good for 2013, but possibly next year. It can't go more than 10 years, surely. Surely.
Developer: Eidos Montréal
Total time in development hell: 4 years.
Thief was first announced in May, 2009, and was said to be one of the industry’s worst kept secrets at the time. It was originally branded as Thi4f, and the l33tsp33k title didn’t go down well with most. The game then virtually disappeared for several years with not much news on the project. There was only one photo which surfaced online which it was claimed showed off Thi4f in action, but one could barely make out what was going on, on-screen.
Come 2013, and more news started to come forward, as we finally got details on the game along with a teaser trailer and several screenshots. There were mixed feelings to be had, as we learned of some of the features that would debut in this title – rope arrows are missing once again, and this time Stephen Russell isn’t there as lead vocal actor, both of which resulted in a collective “F@ck you Eidos!” in every single Thief community on the internet.
But they did one thing right, and that was to change the name. It’s now just Thief – with the rather charming tag “What’s yours is mine” – instead of the other way around. The game is now a reboot of the series, although Garrett still seems to be missing one of his eyes, which happed in [spoiler alert!] Thief: The Dark Project [spoiler over]. So it remains to be seen how the developers will explain that one away.
Predicted date of release: The game is scheduled for a 2014 release, and it will likely be Q3 at the latest, in order to avoid the annual Call of Duty release in November.
Developer: Human Head Studios
Total time in development hell: 5 years
The original Prey spent about 11 years in development hell, having had development start in 1995 at Apogee, and was even teased as an upcoming title on the Duke Nukem 3D disc, before being put on hold indefinitely for the next several years, until it was shipped out to Human Head Studios.
So it’s little surprise that the sequel seems to be suffering from the same problem of getting out of the door. 3DR's Scott Miller hinted years ago not long after the original Prey came out that there was a sequel in development. In 2008, Radar Group, Scott Miller’s company, claimed it would manage the game, before Bethesda Softworks acquired the rights.
A trailer first cropped up in 2011, advertising this game with aliens and bounty hunters in it. And it looked good, except for the fact that it didn’t really seem to have much to do with the original game, released in 2006. Since then, we’ve neither seen nor heard much if anything about it. In fact it was speculated at one stage that the game had been cancelled – evidence of this includes the fact that the game was removed form the product page over Bethesda’s website. Bethesda has refused to comment on this and instead stated that it would definitely not make 2012, seeing as development had not been satisfactory that year.
Predicted date of release: Some retailers such as Amazon have the game set for a December 2013 release, but this hasn’t been confirmed by either the publisher or the developer. I have a feeling it won’t happen in 2013 – that’s almost certain. People have for the most part all but forgotten about this game, and it would be financial suicide to release it any time before the end of the year at this rate. Likely next year at the very earliest.
What is the one game presented here you want to be released?
Other vapourware games we would like to see before the end of the century: Agent (Rockstar), Six Days In Fallujah (Atomic Games), Rainbow 6 Patriots (Ubisoft), THEY (CD Projekt RED).
Past Vapourware Kings
Duke Nukem Forever
Released: 2011; Total time in development hell: 14 years
Released: 2006; Total time in development hell: 11 years
Released: 2012; Total time in development hell: 11 years
Team Fortress 2
Released: 2007; Total time in development hell: 8 years
Black Mesa (standalone mod for Half-Life 2)
Released: 2012; Total time in development hell: 8 years
Aliens: Colonial Marines
Released: 2012; Total time in development hell: 7 years
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Released: 2010; Total time in development hell: 7 years
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
Released: 2007; Total time in development hell: 6 years
Released: 2001; Total time in development hell: 6 years
I Am Alive
Released: 2012; Total time in development hell: 5 years
Max Payne 3
Released: 2012; Total time in development hell: 3 years
Released: 2000; Total time in development hell: 3 years
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