Cliff Bleszinski shows three games that could have been

Dragonflies

The games industry is an oft-cruel place. For every game that gets greenlit for production, another dozen ideas are rejected. With his studio – Boss Key Productions – now closing its doors after the failure of Radical Heights, head man and former Epic lead Cliff Bleszinski has been sharing concept art and pitches on Twitter for a trio of games that publishers rejected before Nexon decided to fund development of LawBreakers.

Of the three rejected pitches that Bleszinski shared, ‘Dragonflies’ (as seen above) is probably the most traditional, but still something that I’d want to get my hands on. A singleplayer/co-op game about samurai/ninja clans that operate out of massive airships and ride high-tech gun-toting dragons against an undead army.

The game looked to have some very neat character designs. I especially like the peg-legged samurai guy down below. Also some art of the various dragon eggs you could find out in the world, and the adorable little lizard-babies that would hatch from them. Quite how the game could be so cute and so edgy at the same time is baffling. It’s like How To Train Your Dragon, but metal.

The problem with Dragonflies was its ambition. Blezinski estimated a 40 million dollar budget for the game, which is a hard sell for most publishers. A multiplayer arena shooter is undeniably cheaper to produce, and less of a financial risk if it tanks.

The second rejected pitch was for a game called DogWalkers, formerly known as Project Rover. It was envisioned as a VR multiplayer team-game not entirely unlike World Of Tanks, with multiple players crewing giant quadrupedal mechs.  Someone handling repairs, someone driving, others manning the guns and so on. The initial inspiration was the WW2 tank film Fury.

While there’s less art for DogWalkers than the other pitches, it’s another immediately appealing concept. It’s easy to see why it was rejected though, considering that VR is still finding its footing and headset manufacturers haven’t even decided on a standard for controllers yet.

The last pitch was for Donuts! Another VR game, it was to be optionally multiplayer, possibly a nod back to Epic’s Jazz Jackrabbit roots, and was primarily inspired by ’80s arcade racing game Toobin. Cute cartoon animals ride rubber rings through rivers and rapids, with the players paddling with their hands to rotate and speed themselves along.

It had some really cute ideas on top of the obvious visual charm. Cans of ginger beer floating in the water could be scooped up and used in a multitude of ways. Drink them for health, shake them and throw them at other players to use as explosive weapons, etc. I can’t imagine how frustrated Boss Key must have been after having that one rejected, and seeing the mechanically similar Sprint Vector so well received.

It’d be an ideal game to play sitting down as well. Sprawl out in an armchair and flop your arms out over the sides for the authentic rubber ring experience. But sadly, it just wasn’t to be. Blezinski is keen to reiterate that these weren’t just his own concepts, but studio-wide collaborative designs that Boss Key Productions poured a lot of heart and hope into. It’s a shame they never came to be, and I hope that the now-scattered studio staff (currently being snapped up by other companies) get to work on their dream game someday.

33 Comments

  1. Someoldguy says:

    I’d be so up for How to Train Your Dragon, metal style… or one based on Anne McCaffrey’s dragons, for that matter. Probably need a new computer to run it, ofc.

  2. mitrovarr says:

    I don’t know why companies think multiplayer games are less of a risk than single player or single/multi games are. Sure, they cost more to make, but unless they’re total garbage you’ll get at least some sales, and they have a long tail of sales and things like bundle inclusions down the road. Multi only can make tons of money, but when they fail, they can fail utterly and make no money at all. And it can just be a matter of entrenched games in the genre, or what is trendy at the moment, not quality.

    I mean, I literally can’t make a better example of the high risk of multiplayer games than Lawbreakers. But they weren’t the first to fail so hard.

    • RedViv says:

      They were just a tiny bit too far ahead in production before Blizz announced Overwatch, but then their (or Cliffy’s) attitude in promotion did not help. When you aim for a lifestyle game genre, you don’t just run around insulting the competition. That worked in the 90s Gamer Attitude era, does not today.
      If you want to stand out, make the game stand out. Telling folks that YOUR game is the SERIOUS one, while Overwatch is “for those anime people”… is a bad choice.

      • mitrovarr says:

        I dunno, if you’ve ever seen the Overwatch or Paladins forums, there are always a million people complaining that the games are going low-skill, with new heroes/champions being both overpowered relative to older ones and far to easy to play. So the high-skill argument wasn’t really a bad idea.

        I mean personally I absolutely
        love the idea of a hero shooter with no crutch-characters like Mercy, Moira, or Brigitte. And I love the idea of floaty UT2004-style movement. So you’d think I’d be all over this. And I would have been, if it hadn’t been so obviously DOA.

        • Excors says:

          I think the important part of your observation is that there a million people on those forums. Being welcoming to low-skill players is clearly a successful approach.

          In Overwatch it seems even diamond players are widely considered to be alright but not particular skilful, and not indicative of how the game ‘should’ be played in discussions around meta and balancing, yet they’re the top 10% of competitive players. The overwhelming majority of players (including me) are really bad at the game. The game needs to be designed to be just as much fun for really bad players as for good ones, else it will only appeal to an unsustainably tiny audience.

          • mitrovarr says:

            But that’s what competitive matchmaking is for! You don’t need crutch characters and matchmaking in the same game. In fact, it causes huge problems – most of the game’s high-skill characters are much worse than low-skill ones until you get into very high ranks, and then they only draw even to low-skill ones, not pull ahead. So, at my rank (high gold/low plat) a lot of heroes are basically unplayable, including my very favorite hero (Ana). I was a bigger asset to my team with 10 minutes in Moira than I was with 35 hours on Ana, and that sucks. And I’ll probably never be good enough to play her without disadvantaging my team.

          • Excors says:

            Matchmaking might allow fair fights between bad players, but I don’t think it’s enough to make the game fun. If you’re really bad at aiming, playing Widowmaker badly against other bad players is typically not very enjoyable. (Especially when you get kicked for being AFK because you missed every single shot for two minutes). Having aimless heroes like Mercy or Winston means you can be properly involved with every fight and feel like an effective part of your team, which sounds more fun, and you can still work on developing other skills (positioning, ult timing, etc). Similarly, players with good aim but bad positioning can avoid picking Winston and go Soldier or whatever, so everyone has a way to maximise their effectiveness and not be held back by their weakest area.

            Ana’s problems don’t seem to be skill-based, she has around the second worst win rate at every rank from bronze to GM. I think the buffed Mercy and Moira are just better healers overall, and Ana simply needs buffs to match them.

        • rpsm1a says:

          What’s “millions” times $60 I wonder?

        • Linkblade says:

          @mitrovarr. So you like UT2004 movement? Did you try TOXIKK? It’s really good and also got a free version to test.

    • Excors says:

      You might spend, say, $20M making Lawbreakers and it flops and you’ve lost $20M. Or you might spend $20M making Overwatch and it succeeds wildly and you make literally a billion dollars, plus ongoing revenue from loot boxes and esports for many years. Even if there’s only a 10% chance of success, that sounds like a worthwhile investment (at least for people who can easily afford to write off a few hundred million before getting a hit; don’t risk your entire life savings like this).

      A single-player game may have less chance of totally flopping (since it doesn’t require a critical mass of players for matchmaking to work), but it costs a lot more to develop so the potential loss is much higher, and the potential reward for a hit is much lower. The expected return on investment should be much more predictable on a single single-player game, but if you can only afford to develop one SP game vs three MP games then it may be less risky to hedge your bets with multiple smaller MP games.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        This is generally sound except

        and the potential reward for a [single-player] hit is much lower.

        This is not really true, unless you’re counting on hugely milking the F2P / loot box potential. Nearly all of the best-selling games have, at minimum, a large single-player component and an audience which never touches the multiplayer. Even a game like WoW is undoubtedly propped up by a ton of people who spend 99% of their time soloing.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      It’s extra insane when you see indies or small studios making multiplayer-only games. That’s, uh, brave.

      By avoiding the cost of creating content for a single-player game, you’re promising that your game mechanics are rich, compelling, and unique enough to attract and hold a sizable audience. It’s not impossible, but it certainly is rare.

      • mitrovarr says:

        It’s especially insane when they go up against huge studios with giant marketing budgets. Like, Lawbreakers could be better than Overwatch in literally every way, and it still would have lost.

        Add another scoop of insanity for not being FTP. You’re asking everyone who wants to play your game to bet $30 on it finding an audience. Yeah, I ain’t taking that bet. “I’ll wait and see and maybe buy it if it does…” said everyone.

    • April March says:

      Multiplayer games are a greater risk than single player games, because they don’t have long tails. If I see a single player game from seven years ago at a big discount, I might nab it even if I didn’t care much about it. The game is the game as it was, it hasn’t gone rotten. But a MP only game? If there isn’t a community around it large enough that I can find people to play somewhat easily, it’s not worth even five bucks.

      And if a community doesn’t form, a MP game can flop very quickly – a game that’s six months old, even a year can be dead on the water. Forget Lawbreakers, look at Titanfall. Meanwhile, unless a SP game is Aliens Colonial Marines levels of awful, a publisher can expect a big spike in sales after a year when it goes for 50% off.

  3. peterako1989 says:

    But of course we decided to make the MP FPS game that the market has already a ton of and not do the single player one where you raise and ride FREAKING DRAGONS!

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      It’s not a matter of ‘deciding’, at least not for the developers. These are games that they wanted to make, showed to multiple publishers and got repeatedly rejected.

      LawBreakers was the one that got accepted.

    • crazyd says:

      There are no games on the market like Lawbreakers. Overwatch comparisons are extremely shallow and surface level. They made a game that doesn’t play like anything else on the market, and did a good job at it. Lawbreakers wasn’t perfect, but you can’t act like it’s not unique. It’s a shame how the market reacted to it, especially the hardcore sorts that were outright cackling at the failure.

      • April March says:

        I played Lawbreakers. On a free weekend, but still. It wasn’t Overwatch, but it was certainly in the same ballpark, and didn’t bring that much new. The zero gravity mechanics were a gimmick that hurt the game more than it helped IMO.

  4. vahnn says:

    Too bad they went with Boring Generic Shooter #437, But With Gun-Propelled Zero-G Stuff, But Actually Is Less Fun Than It Sounds.

  5. fuggles says:

    That clearly should have been called two-bin.

    Here’s two ideas for free
    1) make a zoids game. 3v3 as per the cartoon where you run a team.
    2) make a dog walking game as that’s at least unique.

  6. something says:

    One triple-A budget game with mechanics that aren’t entirely clear how/if they’d work, and two VR games. Those are some nice ideas but I can see why the money peeps were cautious.

  7. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Oh, cool! I hadn’t read about any of this yet. I can see rejecting the dog one since the mechs aren’t cats, and the dragon one because you’re fighting undead, but that Toobin one really does sound like a perfect fit for VR, and fun besides. (Mostly-sarcasm on the first two but straight-faced on the third, to be clear.)

    There are of course a number of things which never even made it into a production version of the game they did get to make, among those a character with a different style of grappling hook action from the existing one, and another character with some interesting-sounding weapon/equipment interactions, but the thing I’ll link to here is a collection of screenshots of a map which was pretty far along in development – basically because I think they’re some nice pieces of environment art to behold.

  8. April March says:

    I certainly feel better disposed towards them now that I know that two out of three games they had planned had terrible, terrible puns for names.

  9. Alien426 says:

    I have a bit of a problem with the art from DragonFlies tweet series.

    First image: The rifle is fired while tucked under the arm (or held bazooka-style?) and she is still aiming through sights? What do you compensate with such a big sword? The dragon seems to be a lot smaller than in the other images.

    “Player characters”
    First image: Good size of the sword. But a rifle with a very spikey shoulder stock …
    Second image: How do you handle a sword where the handle is about as large as the blade? Imagine holding it in front of you … and then cutting down.

    I guess it’s “cool” fantasy art, but I would prefer something not as outlandish; something with a little thought given to usability.

  10. Ham Solo says:

    This doesn’t proof anything, it’s just art sketches. With the last 2 failures of his and his arrogant behaviour he doomed himself.

  11. Splyce says:

    I see nothing compelling here, at all. Tired, retred ideas and lazy concepts. Pretty sure I remember a non-Ninja/Samurai drgaon taking and riding MMO that flopped a few years ago. Tank crews in VR? Sign me up!

    Sigh. Games development is a tough racket. I feel bad for those that legitimately get screwed trying to work on their passion projects. Buts it’s a racket that requires market savvy and creativity to design and pitch projects. This all appears to be B-list crap in both ways.

  12. Steed says:

    Dang man, if only they’d got the green light for the Dragon thing instead of making Overwatch and PUBG/Fortnite clones a months after the originals came out.

  13. TorQueMoD says:

    Wow. Cliff just inadvertently destroyed my current project. I’ve been working on a 3D spiritual successor to Toobin for the past 2 weeks :*(

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