How many video games have you played during your life? Do you think games are a form of art that should be preserved? What if we told you that there are thousands of interesting games you'll never play, all of which could be lost forever? It's true, there are many cancelled titles that are often lost to video game history. While video games may not be largely considered to be on par with paintings and statues, they are still art on their own, just like books, movies, and music, and like other works of art, video games have their own lost works. Games that were cancelled, never released, and often not even known by the general public. Unfortunately, there is no proper museum dedicated on saving them.
In 2016 45+ writers and editors from the Unseen64 collective published a physical crowdsourced book to educate the gaming world on the history of video games as an ephemeral art form. There's plenty of examples of what gaming history is losing every day. Now we are re-publishing the whole book into smaller eBooks - divided into chapters - so even more people could be able to read this interesting collection of forgotten stories, interviews, games and concepts.
Hopefully, by reading this book, more gamers, developers, youtubers, gaming journalists and historians can look back at what could have been and as a result raise awareness on the preservation of lost games: to see the hidden stories that played a part in leading gaming culture to where it is now.
The Unseen64 crew excel themselves with this research around PC games that never made it out, including a Jade Empire sequel, Myst IV, and a bunch of other rare titles. – Simon Carless
Article by: Luca Taborelli (monokoma)
To describe the PC gaming market is one of the most difficult tasks one could try to achieve. With its long history and multi-layered series of topics, from hardware evolution to digital distribution, the new wave of indie developers and cheap game bundles, in this book we can only give a light recap about what it means to play games on a personal computer. Once upon a time, computers were huge and expensive mainframes that only scientists, universities, governments or big industries were able to buy and manage.
Luckily in the '80s computers became much smaller and cheaper, consumers started buying them for their homes to keep working on files while not at the office, and for personal use or to help their children learn something useful for their future. And behind word processing and learning software, soon computer games took their place in entertainment as another way of using those grey boxes just for fun. Hardware such as the Atari 800 and ST, Apple II, Commodore VIC-20 and 64, IBM PC, FM-7 and Towns, ZX Spectrum, MSX, NEC PC-88, C-98, Sharp X1, X68000 and Amstrad CPC were just a few of the popular brands owned by people from all around the world, in the early days of personal computers.
Each of them had its own pro and cons, with more or less powerful tech, but even low res, janky 2D arcade games, RPG and text adventures were enjoyed as the most advanced interactive entertainment in those years. Such titles as Zork I (1980), Ultima (1981), King's Quest (1983), The Black Onyx (1984), Elite (1984), The Bard's Tale (1985), Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985), Starglider (1986), Space Quest (1986), The Last Ninja (1987), Maniac Mansion (1987), Pool of Radiance (1988), SimCity (1989), Prince of Persia (1989) and Populous (1989) are some of the classic games that teens and adults played during that decade.
In 1981 Microsoft released DOS as the operating system for IBM PCs and it soon became the standard interface for working and playing on a computer. To run a game in DOS was still not an easy task, as you had to type different commands to config and start a program, something that was not suited for younger kids. Computers were not intuitive to use and most games were played with keyboards (and sometimes with a mouse), characteristics that helped to shape the PC gaming market towards teens and adults.
You had to be able to read, write, solve cryptic puzzles and organize complex strategies to enjoy the best games on PCs. After the American videogame crash in 1983, Nintendo were able to resurrect the console market by promoting their NES as a toy for kids, and even if adults played Super Mario Bros, Zelda and Duck Hunt too, the computer remained a more "serious" place for games.
You could easily put your DuckTales cartridge in a NES, press start and have fun for just a few minutes, but to enjoy something like SimCity you had to know how to run it on a PC and invest hours to understand how to best manage an urban simulation. In the '90s the computer gaming market had its own set of characteristic and classic genres that cemented PCs as the ideal platform for simulations, point and click adventures, strategy titles and first person shooters.
Those were the years with successful releases as Monkey Island (1990), Wing Commander (1990), Loom (1990), Sid Meier's Civilization (1991), Alone in the Dark (1992), Wolfenstein 3D (1992), Sam & Max Hit the Road (1993), Star Wars: X-Wing (1993), Master of Orion (1993) and Day of the Tentacle (1993). And then came Doom (1993), taking computer games to a new high for graphic, style, gameplay and multiplayer modes, starting the FPS craze in full.
Doom also showed that a small indie studio could create a major hit: computers were (and still are) the main platform to develop games even without big budgets or support from a famous publisher. While to create games for consoles requires specific development kits, permits or contracts with the hardware manufacturers, computers are a free market where everyone with a great idea, time and talent can develop something good.
Publishing games online in digital form became a new way to sell products without the need of traditional shops and distributors, sometimes by letting people to try the first few levels of a game for free and then shipping them the complete version by post (with companies like Apogee Software making lots of money following this system). However, it was still difficult to run games on a PC through DOS or similar operating systems, but in 1995 Microsoft released Windows 95: the life of users and developers became much easier.
On PC people could play such games as Full Throttle (1995), Command & Conquer (1995), MechWarrior 2 (1995), Warcraft II (1995), Diablo (1996), Duke Nukem 3D (1996), The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996), Age of Empires (1997), The Last Express (1997), Baldur's Gate (1998), StarCraft (1998), Grim Fandango (1998) and Roller Coaster Tycoon (1999). Another huge technical leap was made with the introduction of CD-ROM, giving more space for games that could use full motion videos with digitalized environments and characters. Games like The 7th Guest (1993), Star Wars: Rebel Assault (1993), Myst (1993) and Phantasmagoria (1995) would probably not have been created without the more capacious CD format.
While the original Playstation, the Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64 allowed console gamers to play in new 3D worlds, with the arrival of advanced graphic processing units computers were also able to easily produce 3D games better than any console at the time. Titles like Quake (1996), Tomb Raider (1996), Carmageddon (1997), Half Life (1998) and Unreal (1998) made gamers want to buy expensive hardware to maximize graphics and have good frame rate.
More and more PC games became cult hits, such as Fallout (1997), Dungeon Keeper (1997), Grand Prix Legends (1998), Thief (1998), Homeworld (1999), Outcast (1999), Planescape Torment (1999), System Shock 2 (1999), No One Lives Forever (2000) and The Sims (2000), while online multiplayer games found huge success with titles like Ultima Online (1997), Unreal Tournament (1999), Quake III Arena (1999), EverQuest (1999) and Tribes 2 (2001). Fan mods like Counter-Strike (1999) shown that independent developers with interesting ideas could also create a new popular title out of an existing product and at the same time PC games had the potential of getting infinite updates thanks to the fan community.
While the 2000's were seen by most publishers as the decade of consoles games thanks to such successful products as the PS2, Xbox and GameCube, PC pleased us with such important titles like Diablo 2 (2000), Deus Ex (2000), Black & White (2001), Serious Sam (2001), Dark Age of Camelot (2001), Max Payne (2001), Neverwinter Nights (2002), Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002), Battlefield 1942 (2002), The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002) and Freelancer (2003). In 2003, Valve released the first beta version of Steam, initially as a way to easily patch games for developers and users, but it soon became a popular digital shop for AAA and indie games published on PC.
Since the early 2000's, with the higher cost of development along with similar technical power of consoles and PCs, important games were released for all possible hardware, to maximize earnings and divide expenses. Even with a long list of great PC games, in the last 15 years there are not many PC exclusives from major publishers: Max Payne 2 (2003), Far Cry (2004), Doom 3 (2004), Half Life 2 (2004), F.E.A.R. (2005), Star Wars Battlefront II (2005), World of Warcraft (2005), The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006), Portal (2007), BioShock (2007), Crysis (2007), Team Fortress 2 (2007), Left 4 Dead (2008), Fallout 3 (2008), Borderlands (2009), Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Mass Effect 2 (2010), Assassin's Creed II (2010), Fallout: New Vegas (2010), StarCraft 2 (2010), Crysis 2 (2011), The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), The Witcher 2 (2011), Borderlands 2 (2012), Diablo III (2012), Bioshock Infinite (2013), FarCry 4 (2014), Metal Gear Solid V (2015), The Witcher 3 (2015), Elite: Dangerous (2015) and so on.
Is the PC market only a copy of what is released on consoles? No, that's far from the truth. PC is still the main platform for indie developers that can create original and experimental games, making them available to download online to a huge number of users… after all, who does not have a computer at home? One of the most successful videogames ever was initially conceived as a small indie project by a swedish programmer: Minecraft, released in December 2009 and now available on all consoles, smartphones and tablets.
There are many development tools available on PC, easy to learn and cheap or even free to use. As it happened in the early days of personal computers, teens are learning how to make games and along with experienced developers there are more and more titles released every day on PC. Of course, most of them will never became popular and only a few will sell enough to permit their creators to make videogames their primary job, but it's easy to understand how today everyone can find something new and interesting to play on PC.
Thanks to Steam, the new wave of indie devs found a viable platform to sell their creations and users are more inclined to buy something that will be listed in their Steam library. Digital games have found their right value, with Steam sales and indie bundles letting people own something only when the price is as cheap as they are willing to pay for. By comparison, traditional selling games through physical shops at full price sounds like a scene from a long lost era.
We can only name a few of the countless number of popular and original PC games released by independent studios in the last decade: Garry's Mod (2006), World of Goo (2008), Audiosurf (2008), Machinarium (2009), League of Legends (2009), Braid (2009), Super Meat Boy (2010), VVVVVV (2010), Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010), Terraria (2011), LIMBO (2011), The Binding of Isaac (2011), Bastion (2011), Dungeon Defenders (2011), FTL: Faster Than Light (2012), Dear Esther (2012), Hotline Miami (2012), Torchlight 2 (2012), Mark of the Ninja (2012), Thirty Flights of Loving (2012), FEZ (2013), DOTA 2 (2013), Antichamber (2013), The Stanley Parable (2013), SpeedRunners (2013), DayZ (2013), The Talos Principle (2014), Nidhogg (2014), Octodad (2014), Killing Floor 2 (2015), Pillars of Eternity (2015), Undertale (2015), Duck Game (2015), ARK: Survival Evolved (2015), Stardew Valley (2016) and many, many more.
PC games sales are higher than ever and while we don't know how the market will be in the next decade, we can assume that PC will keep its lead for core gamers. In 2015 the number of digital games released on Steam doubled compared to 2014, with about 3.500 new digital titles. In the same year there were less than 1.000 retail and digital games published on PS4 and Xbox One (source: EEDAR Insights @ GDC16).
With PC gamers expecting to pay less for games, with huge backlogs, free to play games and a wide selection of new titles to choose from, it's easy to see how developers will have to create original, high quality or offbeat products that resonate with the right public, to be able to stand out and sell enough. Since the early '80s, developing software for PC was simple enough for individuals and big studios, if you also keep in mind that most game making tools are used through PCs, it's easy to see how computers have the highest number of canceled projects that were once in development or just pitched.
It would probably be impossible to archive all the unseen PC games that were once conceived (how many unreleased RPG Maker titles are forgotten away in old hard disks?) but at least we'd like to remember some of the most interesting ones, planned by talented studios from all around the world. In the following pages we'll see many canceled ambitious projects that could have become new PC classics, if not lost in the huge limbo of failed videogames.