Nihilistic, Swingin' Ape and Blizzard recall 'identity crisis' that doomed StarCraft: Ghost

First-person spin-off to PC RTS failed to find a comfortable middle ground between action and stealth, before being cancelled after five years of development
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Some of the developers who worked on cancelled Blizzard project StarCraft: Ghost have revealed some of the troubles faced by the game.

Planned as a first-person shooter spin-off to Blizzard’s sci-fi PC RTS, Ghost took life in 2001 at third-party developer Nihilistic Software. After multiple delays, work on the game was shifted to Swingin’ Ape Studios in 2004, before being put on “indefinite hold” two years later – it was officially cancelled in 2014.

Polygon has an extensive look at the bumpy road taken by the overly-ambitious title, with devs at all three companies reflecting on the reasons for its demise.

Chief among these is a reported “identity crisis”, which saw Ghost fail to walk the line between stealth mechanics – such as the ability to cloak, move quickly and call down nuclear bombs as in the original StarCraft – and action-oriented gameplay.

"It started as stealthy, and we loved what the team had done, making levels based on sneaking and using the laser spot to drop a nuke and so on," said former Blizzard developer Chris Millar.

"But as we played the demos, there was a large contingency of people who believed it should be more action-based ... a certain amount of the team felt like an action game would be cooler."

Nihilistic’s Robert Huebner added: "The art style changed. We were chasing team co-op multiplayer that was not even part of the original design."

This was exacerbated by several changes of producer, and constantly expanding plans for the game – to the point where it was fully playable by 2004, but the “open-ended development timeline allowed for lengthy debates and significant iteration to occur without the team making progress toward a shippable title”.

Once it moved to Swingin’ Ape, the game’s age reportedly caught up with it and the planned PS2 and Xbox game found itself aiming for launch alongside the Xbox 360 – something that would’ve made the sizeable investment that much more costly.

"The trajectory was a problem," says long-term Ghost dev James Goddard. "It was good by most people's standards, but the technology was aging out.

"If you look at it that way, the decision makes a lot of sense. It's heartbreaking, but it makes a lot of sense."

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