The Quests That Got Cancelled

It’s a great time for RPGs at the moment, with just about every name, flavour and celebrity from the old days finding a new lease of life through Kickstarter and a freshly hungry audience. Most series and creators though have had at least one game fall prey to development hell – sometimes with their ideas resurfacing in later titles, sometimes with everything simply lost to time. Their levels of completion vary dramatically, but here are some of the games we never got to play…

Baldur’s Gate III: The Black Hound (Jefferson)

While we finally have Pillars of Eternity as an unofficial Baldur’s Gate III, it’s a real shame the original never got off the ground. The Black Hound was to be a story of cause and effect, completely unrelated to the previous games’ Child of Bhaal, focusing on a more open world than the previous games and a potentially fascinating mechanic. The Black Hound was to be a manifestation of guilt, bound to the player, who becomes something of an arbiter for the characters encountered.

Quests would have offered repercussions for both actions and inaction – not saving a town from evil invaders for instance could have ended up with it being conquered during the course of the adventure, instead of its fate being saved for a card after the final boss. It being the start of a new trilogy (the expansion Throne of Bhaal being a chapter), those could also have bled through into the two planned sequels.

Sadly the game got axed late in development, and Interplay lost the Dungeons and Dragons license. Josh Sawyer would subsequently begin a plan to make the game in Neverwinter Nights, before realising that it was just too big a project for spare-time work. There was also some murmuring from Overhaul Games about creating an official Baldur’s Gate III project that for a while looked like it might be The Black Hound, though it’s since been announced that if one happens, it’ll be its own thing. As for the team, they moved on to a brand new project – Fallout 3. Unfortunately, no, not that one.

Fallout 3 (Van Buren)

Van Buren has little to do with the Fallout 3 we finally got, though Obsidian’s New Vegas would pick up quite a few of its plot ideas and locations in variably changed forms. Caesar’s Legion was in it for instance, albeit in a much less prominent or developed form, along with locations like the NCR controlled Hoover Dam. Van Buren, though, was primarily going to be Fallout in a 3D engine, with the player awakening in a prison cell and then being pursued through the southwest by robots on an ultimate mission to prevent a mad scientist creating a second holocaust… as if that had worked out particularly well for the guys who tried it in the previous games. It would have featured turn-based and realtime combat, though with turn-based the focus, and most of the game had been designed by the time Bethesda bought the license and work on the game stopped.

Most of the design documents have subsequently been made available, right here, along with a tech demo of what was going to be the tutorial. It’s extremely shaky, and don’t expect much in the way of actual game, but still interesting. Whatever your feelings toward Bethesda’s completely different take on the license, it’s hard to imagine Van Buren having gotten half as much traction as the full-3D version, although Bethesda’s release did mean old-school Fallout fans had to wait for Wasteland 2 to get back to what they liked.

The only thing original creators Interplay were left with after the Bethesda sale was the right to make a Fallout Online… and even then, only in theory. There was immediate trouble with Bethesda over who owned the actual IP, which at least led to some memorable quotes like these:

Bethesda wants you to say, look it is only the word Fallout and that is all they get to do and they get to slap it on some game. What game do we slap that mark on? Do we slap it on a game where people are losing their hair and as hair falls out we say, okay it is a Fallout game? Do we put that on a game that says that there are people falling out of windows and when they hit the ground we kill them and we say that is a Fallout and they are falling out of cars or do we put it on some car racing game set in a time that is not an apocalyptic time like a Fallout game?

In the end, neither company ended up making a Fallout Online, with Zenimax turning its Bethesda-licensed MMO interests to a disappointment called The Elder Scrolls Online, and the well-chewed carcass of Interplay launching one of the least compelling crowd-sourcing campaigns in history – a ‘return of Black Isle’ involving none of the actual people who were part of the company, to create a Not-Fallout game called Project V13. Unlike most crowdfunded projects, it wasn’t even to make the game, but to create a proof of concept for the game, with donators not even promised a copy of the finished game if it happened. Spoiler alert: It didn’t even get close.

Ultima X: Odyssey

Few beloved series have ended on quite such a staggering low as Ultima IX: Ascension. Its crimes and disappointments are well enough chronicled, we need not linger on them here. What made Ultima X such an odd prospect though wasn’t simply seeing EA trying to follow up one of the biggest bombs since Fat Man and Little Boy, but that Ultima IX had ended with both the death of its main character and the series villain. Not exactly sequel bait.

Ultima X never sounded like a particularly great idea to me, and I suspect it would have been a tough sell. It took place in a dreamworld, the land of Alucinor, set in the post-ascended Avatar’s head, with his arch-rival and evil self the Guardian battling his mind for dominance. It was to be something of a single-player and multiplayer hybrid (not a million miles from series creator Richard Garriott’s own Shroud of the Avatar, really), in which players would join with friends to try and advance by following the Eight Virtues in a world of choice and consequence. The stock example went like this:

A hooded guy asks you to get his gold medallion back that has been in his family for centuries. He tells you who stole it and where that person could be found. Once you find the thief, he tells you that he only stole the medallion so he could sell it and buy bread to eat. From here you can either be Compassionate by giving him some bread, letting him live, but taking the medallion back; or practice Justice and kill him, taking the medallion to its rightful owner. When you return to the hooded guy who gave you the job, you find out the medallion isn’t his, but another person’s who got robbed by the foodless guy, and now you can either Honor the agreement and leave with your payment, or be Honest and take the medallion to its real owner, killing the person who gave you the job.

Not included there is the more likely option, biffing everyone over the head and taking all their shit, as Ultima Online demonstrated players were endlessly more likely to do. (A similar idea was of course planned for Garriott’s Tabula Rasa, though never really came to pass. Hopefully Shroud will handle it better.) Players who did max out their virtues though would become extra-powerful, and come to represent the spirit of the Avatar himself. We can but hope they were thinking of Steve.

Odyssey was at least going to look pretty and run a hell of a lot better than Ascension, being based on the Unreal engine. Being a 2004 game though, it feels unlikely it would have been able to offer the depth required to be more than just bashy-smashy MMO stuff – though it was looking to do actual combat instead of auto-attacks – or to have stood more of a chance than the rest against the all-powerful Warcraft juggernaut. We were not to find out though, when EA decided “Nah” and moved the team back to working on Ultima Online. And speaking of Ultima Online…

On page two…Ultima Online! Plus The Witcher, Torn and Project Titan.

45 Comments

  1. mgardner says:

    This post makes me sad.

    • Jaevel says:

      Me too. Especially the Fallout post.

      It’s been said before but man, what if that would have been the number 3. *fires plasma gun in excitement*

      • Darkheart says:

        I enjoyed Beth Fallout 3 for what it was. It was not *Fallout 3*. If you want something close to an actuall Fallout 3 I urge you to check out Underrail: link to store.steampowered.com

        It’s still in EA but almost finished and feature complete. It should see its v.1.0 release summer this year, but you can already get dozens of hours out of it. I love it so far. It’s a proper hard old-school post-apocalyptic RPG. Now go get it!

    • melancholicthug says:

      Hey, at least we got Black Isle/Obsidian back for New Vegas! Beth’s FO3 was one of the worst RPG i ever played, tho.

      • Vin_Howard says:

        Fallout 3 wasn’t _terrible_, but it did suffer from Beth’s terrible writing (not Skyrim bad, though), some poor design choices, and really is lackluster compared to what I describe as the greatest singleplayer game I have ever played (Fallout: NV). I am mourning the fact that Fallout 4 will be another Bethesda rpg…

        • Jaevel says:

          Well I played through Fallout 3, twice, but always felt something was wrong, can’t really point out exactly what…

          And as for Underrail, I purchased it way back on Desura before it was available on early access. Last i checked it was coming along nicely. Maybe i should take a look at it again. After i’ve slayed this humongous backlog of mine. :)

  2. Anthile says:

    Also Fallout Tactics 2 and Meantime.
    Still holding out for a Meantime kickstarter post-Tides of Nutella.

  3. metric day says:

    “finally using a better engine than the Ultima VII one that powered Savage Empire and Martian Dreams,” Ultima VI, surely? Otherwise I’d be looking for copies of those games right about now.

    • Damn Rookie says:

      Yes, I believe you’re indeed correct about them being Ultima VI based. Also, I just wanted to say you can get both Savage Empire and Martian Dreams for free on GOG, if you’re interested in trying either of them.

      • metric day says:

        Whaddya know, I ended up looking for those games! Thanks for the tip.

    • ansionnach says:

      Yup, they used the Ultima VI engine. Would have loved to play Arthurian Legends.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yep, typo. The U7 engine was awesome.

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        gritz says:

        IIRC some total lunatic was remaking all of Savage Empire in U7 (or at least Exult)

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          Andy_Panthro says:

          There has been a lot of work on an upgraded Ultima VI engine, which looks a hell of a lot better, called Nuvie:

          link to nuvie.sourceforge.net

          It’s open source, and should be able to play U6, Savage Empire and Martian Dreams (Not sure how it handles the Worlds of Ultima games, I’m guessing not well if at all, but you can complete Ultima VI in it.)

  4. int says:

    Wow, I’d never heard of that Witcher game.

  5. Wagrid says:

    This actually seems like a good place to ask – I remember hearing about an RPG way back when (around 2008/2009) on the BioWare forums when Dragon Age: Origins was still in development.

    I remember visiting the website and seeing assets and stuff, but it wasn’t very far along at all. Does anybody have an inkling as to what it might have been? I know it’s a real long shot.

    • horrorgasm says:

      Oh sure, I remember that one, where you killed monsters and got loot, sometimes in dungeons, right?

      • Wagrid says:

        Unbelievably vague description, right? As far as I’m aware the game never amounted to any more than a few art assets on a website.

        I’ve thought about it a couple of times recently and wondered what became of it, but unless I magically remember the web address it seems unlikely I’ll ever find it again.

      • Wagrid says:

        I am almost certain the game I’m thinking of was Project Offset. link to unseen64.net

  6. Viroso says:

    You know I thought Bethesda’s Fallout was a great transition to 3D. The feel of the game’s still there in a number of ways. From clumsy menus to dumb companion AIs getting in your way, it’s all there, but 3D. Really faithful to the original, if only a little less zany. Still humorous, silly, ridiculous though.

    I mean this with no sarcasm. The skills picked up playing FO2 transferred nicely to FO3.

    • Philopoemen says:

      i think most people’s (and disclaimer I mean me) issue with Bethesda’s FO3 is that it holds your hand quite a bit, and feels significantly less engaging. New Vegas is a different kettle of fish. I’m currently playing through a FO2 run using the Restoration Project which fixes a few things, and adds some others (my team is in power armor and so are their sprites!), and having recently played both KOTOR2 and Pillars, it’s just the way that Black Isle/Obsidian/Troika/etc made their games.

      Bobbleheads, quest markers, etc etc.

      I think FO3 is a good game, I just don’t think it’s a good Fallout game. But YMMV. I was hanging out for Van Buren after Tactics, as the combat was good, but it was the depth of the quests and ways to accomplish them in FO2 that made it such a good game. FO3 to me just lacked that.

  7. Deviro says:

    I’m surprised STALKER 2 wasn’t mentioned. Yes, I’m that guy who is going to say “But STALKER 2!” in every article that deals with RPGs as a genre.

    And to me no year is going to be Year of the RPGs without STALKER 2 being released.

    Come on GSC, you can do it! Come on!

    • caff says:

      I would love a new STALKER. A proper sequel made by the team who care and love the original. I would kickstarter the crap out of it.

    • SlimShanks says:

      Stalker! I’ll take any chance I can get to talk about Stalker on RPS!
      In my opinion, the single best element of Stalker is that it is one of very few games that lets you ACTUALLY explore places. With the possibility of even finding something interesting/useful. No waypoint, no quest, no ulterior motive beyond, ” I want to know what it is in that scary dark basement.” Not only because it could contain something useful, but also because you legitimately have no idea what might be in there. Because of the lore of the game, you could literally find anything. Maybe even a completely different ending to the game.
      Now that’s fun.

  8. Shuck says:

    Diablo III. Not the one that was released, but the one that was made by the original Diablo team at Blizzard North. I’ve seen it, briefly – they had a playable game with a good bit of content before Blizzard North was shut down and the team scattered to the wind. It used an evolution of the original engine from D1/D2, apparently allowing for some amazing vistas. Blizzard South threw it all out and started from scratch with a new team, only using a few elements from the pre-existing work.
    I also know that some years after Ultima Worlds Online: Origin was abandoned, EA tried their hand at another Ultima Online game. I don’t think they got nearly as far with that one, though.

  9. racccoon says:

    Its is a great shame that the Ultima X attempts never really made it. they would of worked and they were very nicely created animations for the time and seems the combat was exact as it should be.
    I do believe even though SOA has done a smidgen, tincy wincy bit, it just does not have anything I had imagined it to be, I believed it was going to be the Ultima X but better, I just expected more from Lord British in SOA, not the cheap ass thing made with beginners game maker set in a map feast & poor combat executions! Its a shame he believes SOA to be great!
    its same old same old as per usual devs never really listen to their fans much.

  10. geldonyetich says:

    …that Ultima IX had ended with both the death of its main character and the series villain, as well as the utter obliteration of the world. Not exactly sequel bait.

    That’s only the bad end if you cast the spell incorrectly.

    • geldonyetich says:

      Also, canceling Ultima Online 2 was one of the major causes of my Electronic Arts resentment. You don’t make a teaser that looks that awesome and then pull the plug, it’s pretty disrespectful to your fans.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      For some reason I had the Bob White plot in my head. It’s been a long, long, long time since I played Ascension and I’ve only played it the once because… it’s Ascension. The Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust of the Ultima universe.

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        gritz says:

        I love that I’m reading a modern PC gaming blog in 2015 and the author just said “the Bob White plot”. RPS gets it.

  11. Urthman says:

    For all it’s problems and failures, Ultima 9 basically invented the Oblivion/Skyrim/Gothic type of 3D open-world single-character action RPG.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Except for a tiny bit of the “action”, all of that was done years earlier with Ultima Underworld (1992), TES1: Arena (1994), and Daggerfall (1996).

      Once you have actual 3D hardware in the late 90s, sure, it’s possible to make a game which will also visually resemble later games. But I think people forget the sheer *quantity* of what Daggerfall did, if nothing else.

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        teije says:

        daggerfall was mind blowing at the time, in just how big and open-ended it was. And aimless too.

        And this post makes me sad too. BG and Fallout… What could have been.

      • Urthman says:

        Have you played U9? It feels much more like a proto-Oblivion than either Ultima Underworld or Daggerfall. The level of mundane detail in the world, the combat/spell-casting interface, the 3d design and scale and density of the world (UU is less open, Daggerfall bigger and emptier), the way weapons are modeled and how their animation is tied into combat.

        Ultima Underworlds 1&2 are vastly better games, but when I played Gothic for the first time, my first thought was definitely, “Oh. THIS is what U9 was trying to do,” rather than “Yay! A fully-3D Ultima Underworld!”

  12. Ooops says:

    Argh… Gaaaah… Nooooooo!!!!

    Ever heard of Spoiler Warnings??? Or should I thank you for saving me the huge time it would have taken me to play through the 9 Ultima games (+ spin-offs)?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Stop at Ultima VII.

      Just… yeah. Stop at Ultima VII.

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      basilisk says:

      You can easily pretend that Ultima IX is not canon, because it sort of isn’t. The question of what is and isn’t canon is extremely complicated in this series anyway, so no harm has been done. Ultima is basically three separate trilogies, kind of but not quite connected, the last one actually being a very loose quadrilogy or perhaps just a series of two related games followed by two barely related games. Maybe. So, yeah.

  13. bill says:

    Why the hell has there not been a decent ELRIC game????
    I think there was one, but it either got cancelled or it was so bad that it might as well have gotten cancelled.

    Also, not really an RPG exactly, but INTO THE SHADOWS!

  14. TomxJ says:

    I remember being so excited for TORN. Glad it got a mention.

  15. GardenOfSun says:

    B-but I kind of really liked Ultima IX back in the day… :/

    (Granted, it was my only Ultima)

  16. iainl says:

    Given that it was essentially the same thing, but an utter mess that technology wasn’t ready for, I do find it surprising nobody has made another attempt at Ultima now engines like Skyrim exist.

  17. Dances to Podcasts says:

    One thing that stood out to me is how grimy and grotty the textures in those old games look. Especially compared to that Overwatch art at the end. People might complain about new games being ‘cartoony’, but man, the good old days were bad old days sometimes.

  18. Rufust Firefly says:

    Homeworld: Dust Wars is one of those “could have been” games that’s kinda painful to think about. Giant artifacts in space, a non-retcon plot, corvettes that transformed into turrets… *sigh*

    Then there’s StarCraft: Ghost. Though I think the protagonist of that game made a cameo on SC2, but I could be mistaken.

  19. malkav11 says:

    Elder Scrolls Online may not have been a massive financial success, but for my money it’s a lot more interesting, enjoyable, and, well, Elder Scrolls-y than I was expecting it to be. And now I don’t have to pay monthly for the privilege of playing it it’s a lot more likely to see more of my time. I mean, I’d rather have a proper singleplayer (or at best, optional 2-4 player coop) Elder Scrolls game with the massively more interesting mechanics of ESO minus the worldbuilding and interactivity compromises the MMO design forces, but it’ll do.

    I’m still glad no version of Fallout Online saw the light of day. That was never, ever something I wanted, and there’s zero chance Zombie Interplay would ever have managed anything worthwhile with it.