The Mythology of Unreleased Games
Also known as, “When will the project that you announced twenty years ago but not yet released nor mentioned in the last decade come out?”
Here’s a little experiment you can do at home: Open your favorite social-media website and navigate to one of OWI’s pages. Start looking at comments and while it might require a bit of scrolling, you’ll eventually find peculiar comments talking about games you might have heard about, but aren’t sure what they exactly are. Names like SligStorm and The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot get brought up. Some fans might even reply with varying levels of excitement if you ask them about these, yet the meaning behind them are mostly lost to myths and accidental misinformation.
I would like to make one thing clear before we proceed. When I write “OWI” in this article, I mean the company who released AO/AE and who later reorganized and teamed up with JAW. While some might think this is a moot point as the company is still the same, I’d reassure these people, that it is not. The founders and name might still be the same, but OWI has greatly changed both in size and composition over the years and blaming (or praising) the new team for the old one’s decisions is foolish.
So, what are these projects? Why do people still bring them up after close to one and a half decade and where have they heard about them? Let’s find out.
It might appear a bit backwards to first explain who “committed the crime” before even explaining what the “crime” itself is, but in this case it is necessary that the reader knows the characters of the story before I can talk about the games themselves. Especially, since there is a single entity, who stands behind a lot of these rumors.
Who is this criminal mastermind then? This scheming villain, who charms and deceives the poor fans? Well, turns out the answer is much less dramatic to what I’ve been playing it up to. Most of the projects people still lament can be traced back to OWI’s popular weekly Q&A, Dear Alf. Putting jokes aside, I am of course in no way thinking or saying that these acts were malicious, on the contrary, I’m inclined to think that whoever posted under the name “Alf” was just as stoked about these projects as the fans this person unwittingly set up for disappointment.
Looking at some of the answers given over Dear Alf, a trend quickly becomes apparent. Either Alf or the rest of OWI’s/JAW’s marketing department incites hype over a newly announced game. Alf then refuses to divulge into details, but tells just enough to spark up people’s imaginations, then something happens and OWI/JAW decides to cancel the project, which leads to the vital part: Instead of admitting that the game will likely never see the light, Alf downplays it with apologetic comments like, “We never throw any ideas out” or that “It’ll be done one day.”
At this point, you might be inclined to say “Screw Alf then, he caused all of this”, but I believe that’s not a fair approach. While he’s the source, the effect has been exacerbated by the fandom tenfolds. A lot of people are incapable of accepting that times have changed.
While these accusations might sound judgemental, that is absolutely not my intention, especially since I am in no way above blame either. Just a few years ago, while I wasn’t knowing any better, I was part of the crowd, asking for things I didn’t even really understand. But now that I was finally able to put that behind myself, I hope to help others achieve the same with this post.
The Usual Suspects
Now that I’ve explained the “who”, it’s time to speak about the “what”. Here you can read about three games that get brought up the most, despite their existence hardly being more than wishful thoughts.
Wil: Story: In a Slig Birthing Complex an Albino Slig Larva is born. Like many creatures in our world, Sligs don’t much care for such mutants, so they kill it.
Except this particular Albino Slig Larva manages to escape. The game (which is about the length of the Slig Barracks level in AE) is all about getting the larva to escape the complex. It would have featured two minutes of film, too.
The entire premise of SligStorm’s story.
Despite popular rumors, SligStorm is nothing more than an idea OWI lightly experimented with (strictly on the theoretical level!) in their early days. The planned game was about an albino Slig, who is almost killed by his brethren for being a deviant. It would have been as long as the Slig Barracks level in Exoddus, featuring two minutes of cut-scenes. However, it never got this far and instead was scrapped in the idea phase.
This, however, didn’t stop OWI nor the fandom, who spoke of SligStorm as something that will eventually happen:
Alf [Dear alf; August 2011, Volume 1]: SligStorm is one of those ideas we had that didn’t get far, but it’s still in our “One Day” drawer.
While Alf later tried to temper expectations, the fact that JAW has announced at the time that they intend to pick up on OWI’s abandoned projects, along with an April Fools post resulted in the confusion that still causes people to expect SligStorm to come out.
Alf [Dear Alf; August 2011, Volume 2]: SligStorm wasn’t so much cancelled as never started or announced.
I left out a few details for brevity, but this article on TOL should scratch that itch and is also an excellent example of the fandom still waiting for the game:
TOL: Nonetheless, Oddworld Inhabitants haven’t forgotten SligStorm, and the ideas for it may yet be seen in some form in the future.
Amusingly, however, the TOL post isn’t entirely wrong as the albino Slig did appear in one of Oddworld games, albeit just as an easter egg. Still, if one pays attention to the patrons at Alf’s bar in RuptureFarms, they might find that one of the Sligs there has suspiciously pale skin:
The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot
The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot (abbreviated: BBoFK), was a planned Oddworld (and later non-Oddworld) game developed by OWI, using Stranger’s Wrath’s engine. However, the game hardly had the chance to even enter production as soon after announcing the game OWI closed its gates.
David Fried: I’ve heard nothing… I did hear about Fangus when I was leaving. That was supposed to be the next project that everyone would work on. Had some interesting concepts in it, like battle armor that could be blown off the character.
Thing is, they had already terminated the people who would be able to make that a reality (in my opinion). So it was kind of doomed from the start.
As far as Fangus, I don’t… remember much. I didn’t see anything that they were doing. And literally 1 month into pre-planning for pre-production, everyone was let go.
In stark contrast, Alf said the following about BBoFK:
Alf [Dear Alf; August 2011, Volume 2]: The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot was simply the project we were working on when we stopped all internal game development back in 2005. There was nothing wrong with it, production was going well thanks to the robustness of the Stranger Engine. We’ve still got all that development on disc, so we might return to it one day.
The game itself would have featured the titular character, Fangus Klot, a shepherd who was ousted from his home and taken as a pit fighting slave by a group of cat-like mafioso. The setting is interesting and worth a read, so similarly to SligStorm, I’ll leave a link to its TOL article.
The Hand of Odd
The Hand of Odd (which I’ll be referring from now on as “HoO”), was OWI’s attempt at breaking into the RTS scene, albeit with way too big plans and way too late.
To show just how big these plans were, let me quote Alf once again:
Alf [Dear Alf 1]: Think eco-extremists versus corporate greed. It’s Exxon vs. Greenpeace and you get to choose which one you want to be. There are three sides, or ideologies, wrapped into one playing field. You will be able to choose between one of three master characters for three different races. Each of these three characters will have the ability to control masses of their own kind. Each of the three has interests that conflict with the others. It can be played competitively, or cooperatively, or you can just exist and experiment while nurturing a particular world. You may choose to have full-scale conflicts, or just make a lot of moolah via destroying it.
We are also out for something that can be left on and grow while you’re not even home. We’re after fully persistent universes that have a life of their own. Eco-system simulation is a big part of the next level for the Oddworld games. We really want you to take ownership of the world, and then deal with the inevitabilities that arise out of your behavior of your forces.
So, what this post promises is an always online RTS with 9 different classes and several approaches to gameplay. Considering this was posted in 2000 (so two years before Warcraft 3 came out), it’s easy to realize probably most of these bold claims had no real thought behind them as something like this wasn’t achieved even now, twenty years later.
The same Dear Alf post contains a much more tempered description too, which is weird to see after its boasting counterpart. Though perhaps this can be explained easily, if one accepts the reasoning that OWI was entirely unsure about the scope of the game and just wanted to excite people by saying big words.
Alf [Dear Alf 1]: Hand of Odd is about us using the technology of Munch, enhancing upon it, and bringing it into the multiplayer world of gaming. How many players will be able to interact at one time is still yet to be determined. If we can get 8 players at one time for Hand of Odd we will be happy. It will be enough. If we can get more we will be ecstatic.
Hand of Odd will not be an online community in the way that Everquest or Ultima Online are. But we do plan to take advantage of features like downloadable units that will help to keep the world fresh even after it’s been out there awhile. Our most important function will be speed. We’ll take advantage of as much as we can until update rates become an issue. There as so many questions that relate to the multiplayer Internet capabilities that are yet to be answered technically, that we can’t lock down to the degree that we would like yet.
To make matters worse, OWI released a few short clips from the game, further causing people to believe HoO’s imminent approach:
Credit, where it’s due, Alf did try to temper expectations about when the game is going to come:
Alf: Hand of Odd is not yet.
Alf: Hand on Odd. Heeheeeheee! No. There are rumors about Hand of Odd, but we’re not working on that right now.
Alf: Neeeooowwwellluhahhaaaaaauhm, we’re not even in production for OHOO.
Alf: Hand of Odd is still not on the production schedule.
However, all of this was undone in 2011, when he said the following:
Alf [Dear Alf; August 2011, Volume 1]: Oddworld: The Hand of Odd will be delivering next year.
Alf: [Dear Alf; August 2011, Volume 2]: Hand of Odd fell off our radar as production on Munch progressed. It was a tortuous and torturous labor for so many reasons, and we ended up in a position where the only way to deliver a completed game was with an engine that couldn’t possibly power what we wanted Hand of Odd to be. There was just no sense in returning to it at the time. But as you should know, it’s re-entering production soon.
Albeit, interestingly just a few months before, in February, 2011, Alf also said the following:
Alf [Dear Alf; February, 2011]: Ideas never go to waste here at Oddworld, and Hand of Odd is still among the concepts rattling around. The games industry is very different to what it was a decade ago, and our eventual plans for Hand of Odd will probably differ accordingly, but for now it’s not something we’re building.
Ultimately even though this one year date passed, the game didn’t come out and Alf didn’t ever speak about it again, except for one time:
Alf: Nope! Hand of Odd is an ambitious project, and it will take long enough just to decide what exactly we want from it.
As for why the game didn’t happen, Lorne Lanning recounts the story of how he met Robert Kotick (then-CEO of Activision) in a toilet, who warned him not to proceed with HoO’s development. Lanning seemingly took this to heart as soon enough the game was dropped and never pursued again.
Of course, the list goes on. OWI had several projects throughout its existence which are only artificially kept alive as myths and legends in the fandom’s collective consciousness. Wage Wars, Citizen Siege, the planned social-media games, all things some people likely still expect to see, but after reading this post I hope at least for some it becomes apparent: Fifteen years have passed, it’s about time to let go.