Some of these projects were simply too ambitious, promising technology that even the developers hadn’t embraced yet. Others simply run out of money, experienced repeated set-backs (Duke Nukem Forever, anyone?) or simply didn’t exist in the first place. If you’re thinking of a career programming games or developing hardware then maybe you could learn a thing or two from some of these entries.
Phantom (Phantom Entertainment)
In 2002 the Phantom was announced as a games console capable of playing PC games, which at the time meant head-to-head competition with Windows as a gaming platform. Whilst this sounds far-fetched (especially for 2002) the team behind Phantom actually had some pretty good ideas, including content delivery.
The Phantom was never meant to have an optical drive – instead games were to be delivered via a revolutionary new on-demand download service. Had it worked and been released then the Phantom would have enjoyed a huge library of existing games.
A working prototype was seen at E3 in 2004, with a release date tipped for November. As the team had yet to develop the online content delivery system, this date slipped as did others and in 2006 the Phantom was removed from the company’s website. Phantom Entertainment now make the Phantom Lapboard, an all-in-one keyboard and mouse, as their sole product.
Action GameMaster (Active Enterprises)
Not as famous as the Phantom but in many ways equally as ambitious, the Action GameMaster was announced at CES 1994 as a device with a truckload of compatibility. At the time Active Enterprises were a small company that solely manufactured unlicensed video games, though they had some pretty big plans for the GameMaster.
The console was to be a handheld portable device, capable of playing NES, SEGA Genesis and Super Nintendo cartridges via additional adapters to be sold seperately. Also planned was CD-ROM support and a TV tuner for peering into its 3.2″ colour LCD screen for hours on end.
With a projected retail price of $500 (at the time!) the GameMaster disappeared along with Active’s other video gaming ventures later in ’94.
Shenmue III (SEGA/AM2)
The perfect example of epic storytelling and thoroughly engrossing gameplay suffering at the hands of poor sales – Shenmue III is still in limbo. The original two games received critical acclaim, with the first selling 1.3 million copies, and Shenmue II a disappointing 400,000. Japanese games gurus Famitsu have tipped Shenmue III as the second most-wanted sequel to a video game franchise, and there is an army of dedicated fans online rallying Yu Suzuki (the legendary designer) to finally bring his finished story to the interactive screen.
The truth is that despite SEGA’s willingness to work on Shenmue III, funding is still an issue. Speaking at the Games Developers Conference in 2011 Yu Suzuki said “I think SEGA will let me make it…it’s a matter of budget…we have to make it in an affordable way.”
Fans still hoping for the sequel might want to hit up fan site Shenmue Dojo which features an active forum community that’s continually pining for Shenmue III.
Elite 4 (Frontier Developments)
The original Elite was written by David Braben and Ian Bell for the BBC Micro and released in 1984. The first game to use wire-frame 3D graphics and featuring an open-ended game model, Elite shot to success on each subsequent system it was released on. Two sequels exist, Frontier: Elite II and Frontier: First Encounters, with the latter released in 1995.
Since then fans of the series have waited patiently for the release of Elite 4, with David Braben claiming in 2006 that the game will be made once his team had finished another game, The Outsider. Since then development on The Outsider has also ceased, though the game hasn’t been cancelled (uh-oh, sounds like more vaporware to me).
As recently as 2011 Braben said that “it would be a tragedy” for Elite 4 not to be on the drawing board, though I suspect that drawing board has gathered quite a lot of dust. You can play the original Elite in your browser using an Java emulator, and find out how to reach the fabled “Elite” ranking in this guide.
Project Milo (Lionhead Studios)
Here’s an interesting one – there are conflicting reports over whether Project Milo was ever a game at all, despite being shown at E3 2009 to demonstrate the (then unreleased) Kinect. Milo was said to have an AI system that learns and responds to human actions, such as waving or speaking, and this was demonstrated at the show.
A year later, and Project Milo was nowhere to be seen at E3 2010. A month later and a Microsoft employee claimed that the game wasn’t a game at all, and was never planned for release. After further conflicting reports from Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux, the game’s existence was heavily disputed in November 2010 by both a Eurogamer report and another Microsoft representative.
Apparently Molyneux is using much of the technology developed for Project Milo in his upcoming Fable: The Journey Xbox 360 title, which features Kinect support.
So what have we learned? Well, if you’re going to go into the interactive entertainment business the first thing to remember is not to make promises you can’t keep – both the Phantom and Gamesmaster are proof of this. Better marketing (especially outside of Japan) might have saved Shenmue II and spurred the development of the third game, whereas Microsoft and Lionhead Studios probably should have confirmed Milo’s existence as a mere tech demo from the get-go.
Do you remember any of these titles? Do you still believe in Shenmue III? Do you have any favourite instances of vaporware? Let us know in the comments!