The peculiar clash of dragons mixed with electronic dance music did nothing for me. PlatinumGames’ new IP, Scalebound, was officially cancelled in January and If it had come out I would have barely raised an eyebrow as it passed me by (well, I might have given it a small shrug.) I was still saddened, however, by the unfortunate news as it was another AAA game which boasted a concoction of absurdity, colour and variety which would not see the light of day. Loathe it or love it, Scalebound was going to be unique – its headphone wearing protagonist guaranteed it.
It’s depressed me further to hear the game was cancelled because it was announced too early which caused pressure on PlatinumGames’ Hideki Kamiya and his team, Xbox division head Phil Spencer said in an interview with GameWatch. According to the site, Spencer said it was possible because the game was revealed so early, fan input influenced the development and both Microsoft and PlatinumGames were worried they could not meet fans’ expectations.
From what has been said, I believe it was ultimately the right decision. If the creators had no idea what direction they wanted to take the game in and no belief they could produce a good enough experience then, well, fair enough.
But – there is always a but – I do have some serious issues with what has happened. It is more of a gripe with the general gaming industry though if I’m honest.
The first thing I want to question is if the development problems started with the game being announced so early in its development stage why was it? I think I have the answer. Microsoft were in desperate need for first-party, console-selling games. Seven months after Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 were released to the public there was no doubt Sony were running rings around them. Microsoft were behind in sales and in gamers’ minds alike after their focus on being the home entertainment console rather than a gaming machine sent mixed messages to the gaming community, causing many to abandon the Xbox.
With Sony so far ahead Microsoft needed to bring in as many guns for their 2014 E3 presentation and Scalebound was one of the games they used to try to draw the gaming world’s attention away from the PS4 and towards the Xbone. And in spite of Microsoft only catching up to Sony in the past 12 months, Scalebound had done what it could, it had piqued an interest – even if it was because they thought the protagonist was too big for his boots. PlatinumGames had an invested audience. But it has proved to be their downfall.
So three years later, the game has been cancelled and it is supposedly down to fans who had expectations the developers felt they could not create. This is perhaps my biggest issue with what has happened to the game and is one which needs to be addressed in the gaming world as it is not just AAA titles which suffer from it – audience input affecting the development of the overall experience. This is a particular problem with early access games where players will have a back-and-forth conversation with the developers, telling them what features they want to see and what the eventual product should look like.
I can’t imagine anything worse.
If someone was looking at every paragraph I wrote, telling me what they liked about it and what should change and what they want the outcome of the overall article to look like, I’d go mad. It would end up as a piece far from my initial idea and would no longer be what I had wanted to create.
I realise an article is completely different to a videogame and I’m not writing this article and putting a price tag at the end but I can sympathise with the amount of pressure the developers would be under, what PlatinumGames were under, having an audience second guess your work.
Now we don’t know to what extent Kamiya and his team were influenced by community feedback, they may have just had an idea that was unfortunately going nowhere, but for Microsoft wanting to join forces with PlatinumGames there had to be something there. Let us not forget, PlatinumGames have created some fantastic games like the Bayonetta series and their most recent release, Nier: Automata, which were received well by both critics and gamers. I believe whatever form Scalebound would have taken, there would have been a big enough audience which relished the game.
My other bugbear with the players having an influence on the outcome of the game is we usually don’t know what we want. in my wildest dreams I would not have thought a turn-based, hard-as-balls strategy game where you fight against an alien threat, combined up with a perma-death mechanic and ironman mode would be my type of game. However, with over one hundred hours between Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within and more than 30 hours in its sequel, the XCOM series has been one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had and turned me on to myriad strategy games which I have adored.
If you had asked me three years ago what I wanted in a game it would be completely different to know and even then, what I say now isn’t what I really want. I believe the games we fall in love with are those which we have not experienced before. I had played nothing like Zelda: Ocarina of Time when I first set foot in Hyrule it remains to be one of my favourite open-world games. Joel and Ellie’s relationship in the Last Of Us shocked me with the amount of affection I could offer pixels on a screen. And Invisible Inc, with its cool spies and beautifully designed mechanics which work on such a refined level astounded me. These are games that have set a standard for other games in my find, templates to which I compare other games by and what I love about them I struggle to find in other experiences. They were unique.
By no means am I saying Scalebound would have been one of those games. It might have ended up like a generic fantasy game with an average storyline, ‘good enough’ combat and a multiplayer mode shoved in for good measure. But it is a damn shame we will never know. A game hindered by its premature announcement and crippled by a zealous community which had shown it more interest than it can handle. With Beyond Good and Evil creative director Michel Ancel’s tears of relief at E3 this year following the official announcement of a sequel to the original which was published 14 years ago, I hope somewhere in the future we see this game resurrected for better or worse.
Hopefully it won’t take more than a decade.