As a journalist I’ve been lucky enough to broach a number of big exclusives and work on some great articles, but the ones I’m most proud of collect, preserve and report how games change during development. I work with universities, museums and the original developers to uncover the design documents for these games, then usally write up my findings for the Gamer Network, including Eurogamer and RockPaperShotgun.
For example, did you know that Warren Spector’s original design document for Deus Ex set the game in a Russian-occupied Texas? Or that a cancelled Thief sequel led by Ion Storm’s Harvey Smith would have rebooted the series in a modern setting? Did you know that Doom was originally planned as a four-player co-op game?
I strongly believe that design documents and the processes by which they evolve are a tragically under-reported aspect of the games industry. As a journalist I’ve spoken and written at length about the need for the publishers and developers to preserve the history of the medium, before this information is lost for good.
I’ve long admired Luca and the rest of the Unseen 64 team, who have formed a community around their desire to collect information on cancelled games. Over the last few years Unseen64 has, along with The Cutting Room Floor, become one of the biggest and best sources of information about games that never saw the sun.
So, when Luca told me was planning to publish a book about the games they’ve explored, I was honoured to contribute a foreword to the book, as well as my own research into a number of games such as Deus Ex 3: Insurrection and Thief 4: Dagger of Ways.
The completed book, Video Games You Will Never Play, took two years to write and is over 500 pages long. It includes analysis of over 200 cancelled games and projects, including Jade Empire 2, the port of Halo to Nintendo DS and the Sleeping Giants RPG created by Warren Spector’s Junction Point Studios.
You can buy Video Games You Will Never Play from either Amazon or Createspace, in full colour or black and white. The editions are identical, save for different front covers and that the black and white version is a bit cheaper.
In 2014 I spent six months researching two cancelled Deus Ex games that had been in production at Ion Storm Austin before it collapsed. Neither of the games were announced at the time, but with help from the Dolph Briscoe Archive at the University of Texas I was able to uncover design documents, concept art and more.
Both games were cancelled ahead of release and suffered from protracted, troubled development. The first attempt, called Deus Ex: Insurrection, was led by Art Min – a long time collaborator with Warren Spector. The second, called Deus Ex 3, was developed by Jordan Thomas, who later worked on Thief, BioShock and The Magic Circle. I spent a long time speaking to both Art and Jordan about their visions, the collapse of Ion Storm and the legacy of Deus Ex.
Each of the games would have been very different and Jordan’s in particular sounds especially exciting – an open world version of Deus Ex that would have been similar in structure to Crackdown. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and the studio was closed by Eidos before development began in earnest.
Here’s a quote from Jordan Thomas about the closure of the Ion Storm and his feelings about it almost a decade later.
“There’s a reason the place closed and it was chiefly hubris. There are many people who will tell you that the publisher f***ed us but, no. No. The method failed. Making a smaller, more intimate Deus Ex was on nobodies mind. Including mine.”
In 2015 I gave a lecture at Videobrains in London about my exclusive research into a cancelled Thief game that was in development at Ion Storm before it’s collapse almost a decade previously. The lecture was based on an article I wrote for Eurogamer, in which I interviewed a developer who worked on the project and shared some of the original design documents.
The game itself was called Thief 4: Dagger of Ways and was designed chiefly by Harvey Smith, who later carried at least part of that vision over to Dishonored. Thief 4 would have been a modern day reboot of the Thief series, reviving the characters in a dark and seedy inspired chiefly by Blade and Silent Hill.
This Christmas I’ve bought Unlimited Hyperbole back for a special episode, during which I threw the microphone into the crowd and asked you, the listeners, to send in submissions telling me the answer to one question.
If you could change one thing about your involvement with games, what would it be?
I was astonished by the responses which came back and I’ve presented them all here as straightforwardly as I can, with as little droning and editing from me as possible. Settle in for a longer, rougher and more optimistic episode of Unlimited Hyperbole than ever before, with submissions from the following delightful people and a download mirror provided by Split Screen…