Pitched and ditched

Will Wright, Lorne Lanning, and Dylan Cuthbert discuss some games that could have been, and why they never were.

SIDEBAR:The process of pitching games can be a lengthy process full of pitfalls, and not even the best and brightest of developers are guaranteed to have their ideas approved. As a companion piece to GameSpot's in-depth look at the pitching process, here are a handful of anecdotes about games that could have been:

Lorne Lanning, president of Oddworld Inhabitants I pitched to a big publisher a game about dogs called Pound Dog. There were about 15 people in the room, and they all loved the pitch. It was gonna be great, but then one guy, who of course doesn't play games and is about to retire, says, "But who wants to be a dog?" Everyone looks at him 'cause he's the boss, then they come looking back at me, shaking their heads and saying, "Yeah, but who wants to be a dog?" Six or seven months later, Nintendogs came out to huge sales. If the capacity of your vision for what titles could be and what makes them resonate with an audience is "who wants to be a dog," then OK, go make your next shooter with 2 percent new mechanics and better graphics.

Will Wright, designer of SimCity, Spore

There are things I pitched that I, in going over the development process, decided to drop for one reason or another. I've always been fascinated with airships, and I wanted to do a game about the Hindenburg. And it was originally conceived as a cross between Myst and a flight simulator, if you can imagine that. You basically wake up on the Hindenburg. You're all alone. It's flying toward Lakehurst, New Jersey. You can walk anywhere on the ship. You can turn lights on and off. You can steer. You can adjust the engines. But every time you come into Lakehurst, it blows up. And you have to figure out why, and it becomes like this weird mystery flight simulator thing. I'd still love to do that.

Oddly enough, every time I talked to people about this game, the one thing they all got hung up on was, wasn't that a Nazi airship? Which was interesting because [Nazi air force commander Hermann] Goering hated it. In fact, the guy who built it really had to sign this deal with the devil to get the Nazis actually to finance it because the Nazis wanted to use it as a propaganda tool. And they painted a swastika on the tail, and they'd fly all these propaganda missions. And so it got inexorably linked to the Nazis, unfortunately for the inventor. But it was a beautiful craft. And I just thought it was a wonderful kind of cool idea for a game.

Dylan Cuthbert, Q Games founder, PixelJunk Racers and StarFox developer
Many years ago, we fleshed out a game on the PC with similar elements to Spore. We had fractally generating worlds and buildings/towns and creatures that evolved. Also, we made it LAN playable with up to 16 players and experimented with distributable networking so the game could possibly run with hundreds or thousands of people. The world also had a fully developed and simulated ecosystem with humidity, winds, temperature fluctuations, and so on affecting plant life and types of terrain (you could actually watch hurricanes form from the overview map).

All in all, it was actually quite cool, even if I do say so myself, and we showed it to a hell of a lot of publishers, and they also thought it was cool, but none of them would risk money on something of that experimental scope. After about a year of talking to Microsoft, they funded us to prototype it as a game, rather than an experiment, but it got dropped when they started refocusing stuff in their Japan studio.

I should have taken it to Will Wright.

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