A brief history of Blizzard’s canceled and unreleased games
From a certain point of view, Blizzard Entertainment looks like a developer with track record of producing a near-uninterrupted string of wildly successful games.
Founded in 1991 as Silicon & Synapse, the developer is best known for franchises like StarCraft and Warcraft that span decades. But to observe the studio by looking at its released games falls prey to the classic iceberg metaphor: You only see what’s above the surface. And that which lurks below is also part of the company’s success.
Today, Blizzard told Games4Life that its long-in-development massively multiplayer online role-playing game Titan is no more, but this isn’t the first time the developer has decided that a game is no longer worth pursuing. In fact, Blizzard has a long history of canceling games, and those who run the studio have been candid about its unreleased projects.
Perhaps the single most candid event took place at a 2008 DICE Summit talk. Blizzard was about to celebrate its 17th anniversary, and CEO Mike Morhaime said that the developer’s success is due, at least in part, to canceling projects that don’t meet its internal standards. Games like Denizen, Games People Play and Nomad were once in development either at Blizzard or a partner but never released.
We’ve compiled a list of the games that Blizzard was once known to have worked on but, at some point during development, decided against releasing or shelved indefinitely.
According to artist David Seah’s online portfolio, Crixa began its life as an “in-house test game” at Qualia Games in the mid-’90s. The developer and Blizzard entered into a 10-month development deal for the 2D shooter. Qualia delivered a final prototype before the game was canceled, he said.
“Alas, Crixa was deemed not competitive in the marketplace any longer, especially because another game with similar play mechanics had come out,” Seah wrote.”The numbers of the game were not promising, so we were cancelled.”
Games People Play
Little is know about this game, though the MobyGames database describes Games People Play as a “crossword/word-game” from the early ’90s.
According to author David Craddock, before the World of Warcraft team started working on the ground-breaking MMO they were prototyping a squad-based tactical game codenamed Nomad. It was based loosely on Games Workshop’s classic Necromunda, a tabletop miniatures game that Blizzard staff were playing as a hobby.
In Necromunda, warring bands of heavily armed gangs fought skirmishes against one another deep below the hive worlds of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The author of Stay Awhile and Listen, a book about Blizzard, described the Nomad to Shacknews in 2012.
“In the game … players would build up squads of soldiers, upgrade their abilities, find new guns, and go online to challenge other players’ armies,” Craddock said. “Others on the team favored an adventure/RPG more in the vein of Final Fantasy. Many of the team members were growing frustrated. Some wanted to settle on a direction and hit it hard, others didn’t care for one direction or another and wanted to do something else.”
After greenlighting what would become World of Warcraft, development on Nomad ended.
Pax Imperia 2
Pax Imperia 2 began as a development collaboration been Blizzard and Changeling Software. Announced during CES 1995, the sequel to the 1992 real-time space strategy game was originally slated for a Christmas 1995 release on Mac and Windows PC. By mid-1996, Blizzard sold rights to the game to THQ, who partnered with Heliotrope Studios to release it in 1997 as Pax Imperia: Eminent Domain.
Blizzard would release its own science fiction RTS, StarCraft, in 1998. Nordic Games acquired the rights to the Pax Imperia franchise in early 2013 as part of THQ’s bankruptcy auction. Press play below to see a trailer for Pax Imperia 2 from YouTube user BlizzardArchive.
There’s not much information about Shattered Nations, but a trailer from YouTube user Kanal tilhørende jaltesorensen for the turn-based strategy game reveals a futuristic world where peace was replaced by pain, devastation and death. “A winter that lasted for over two decades has left this world barren and desolate,” the narrator says. In the wake of that disaster, humanity lives in scattered civilizations, remnants of now-shattered nations.
Check out the trailer below to see Blizzard’s XCOM-like RTS that was announced at E3 1995, canceled not long after and whose developers migrated to the original StarCraft team.
Blizzard unveiled StarCraft: Ghost, a third-person shooter set in the StarCraft universe, during the 2002 Tokyo Game Show. At the time of the announcement, the original StarCraft had been released four years earlier. StarCraft 2 was eight years away.
In the press release announcing the game, which was being co-developed with Nihilistic Software, CEO Mike Morhaime tied development into Blizzard’s history.
“Our roots are based in console gaming, and we look forward to developing this universe for the next-generation console systems,” Morhaime said. For perspective, in 2002, Nintendo was selling the GameCube, Microsoft released the original Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 2 had been on the market for two years. Xbox 360 wouldn’t arrive until 2005, with PlayStation 3 and Wii following in 2006.
Originally slated for a “late 2003” release, StarCraft: Ghost was delayed multiple times. By June 2004, Nihilistic was out, and Blizzard had partnered with Swingin’ Ape Studios to finish the console game. The following year, Blizzard canceled the GameCube version. By early 2006, Blizzard placed StarCraft: Ghost in suspended animation as the developer researched new consoles. When Morhaime spoke at DICE in 2008 about Blizzard’s canceled projects, StarCraft: Ghost was notably absent from the slide in which he listed the games the developer had walked away from. The CEO told MTV Multiplayer that year that the game was never actually canceled.
“It never was technically canceled,” Morhaime said. “It’s just a focus thing for us right now. We’ve got a finite amount of development resources and a lot of different things that we want to focus on so there’s always the possibility, but right now we’re spending our time on World of Warcraft and our expansion Wrath of the Lich King and StarCraft 2.”
Though the game remains in limbo, Blizzard did release a novel, StarCraft: Ghost – Nova, in 2006. Written by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Nova tells the backstory of the game’s titular protagonist, who also appeared in a StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty mission. Check out the video above from YouTube user Phillip S. to see StarCraft: Ghost in action and the video below from YouTube user Sumac Xu to see the game’s opening cinematic.
Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans
In March 1997, just over a week before Comet Hale-Bopp made its closest approach to Earth, members of the Heaven’s Gate cult watched in anticipation and Blizzard announced a point-and-click adventure game. Set in the Warcraft universe, Warcraft 2: Beyond the Portal players would return to Azeroth Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans, which was scheduled for a holiday 1997 release for Mac and Windows 95.
“With Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans, our goal is to recapture the elements that make adventure games great,” Blizzard co-founder and president Allen Adham said at the time. “Players will be immersed in the world of Warcraft with a rich storyline, character interaction and extensive exploration.”
Blizzard touted its plans to partner with Animation Magic, an animation studio with locations in the U.S. and Russia, to bring more than 70 animated characters, 40,000 frames of “feature-film caliber animation” and Hollywood voice talents that included Peter Cullen, the voice of the Transformers’ Optimus Prime.
Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans was initially delayed into 1998 before being canceled. In 1999, producer Bill Roper told GameSpot that Blizzard evaluated the game in the context of what adventure games had become and decided against further development — and therefore its release.
“I think that one of the big problems with Warcraft Adventures was that we were actually creating a traditional adventure game, and what people expected from an adventure game, and very honestly what we expected from an adventure game, changed over the course of the project,” Roper said. “And when we got to the point where we canceled it, it was just because we looked at where we were and said, you know, this would have been great three years ago. But we have to go someplace new and someplace different. And we just didn’t set ourselves up to do that.”
Like StarCraft: Ghost, the narrative survived the game’s cancellation, and author Christie Golden wrote a novelization called WarCraft: Lord of the Clans, which is available as a mass market paperback.
A video appeared on YouTube in 2010 purporting to show an alpha version of the game. Press play above to watch a video from YouTube user Unofficial Blizzard Channel to watch an animated story trailer. Press below to watch a video from YouTube user ZeppMan217 that contains about 10 minutes of fully animated and voice acted gameplay.
The latest addition to the list. After seven years in development, Blizzard told Games4Life that its next-gen MMO is no more. For more on the decisions that lead to Titan‘s cancellation, be sure to read our interview with Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime and its senior vice president of story and franchise development, Chris Metzen. You can catch up on everything that the MMO might’ve been in Games4Life’s Titan breakdown.
Charlie Hall contributed to this report.
Update: We have updated this article to reflect that Nomad was a game influenced by, but not licensed from, Games Workshop’s Necromunda.
Cancelling Titan was the ultimate proof of Blizzard’s strength, not a weakness