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Cyberpunked: the Fall of Black9

Erin Hoffman | 20 May 2008 13:15
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The reality was Black9 was 85 percent complete and would never see the light of day. All we had suffered and strived for - the trials, the frustrations, the sleepless nights, the triumphs - was for naught. This child, named but not yet born, fought for so desperately in the preceding months, had been taken from us.

Dishes Served Cold
After what happened with Black9 and the eventual utter failure of their other games in the AAA market, Majesco was sued by its shareholders, who kicked out a majority of its executive board. The producer that terrorized Taldren didn't last past the game's cancellation. I'm told Majesco is a very different company now. But what happened with Black9 is the explanation for a great many canceled games, and changed forever the way the 40 of us working on that game thought about the industry.

The game, now, is a ghost, a haunting relic of a dream that never was. I kept a build of its final state for a long time, though it would be months before I could stand to load it. The experience is eerie, moving through a game that is so close to complete; and yet, in the eyes of the world, it never existed. It reveals a patina of age as time passes, increasingly becoming an artifact. It is a brief trip through a parallel universe.

Black9 was something special. Project cancellation under any circumstances is hard, but Black9 would have been one for the record books - yet its message has never been spoken, its world never inhabited. It was one of those games that, maybe not for millions, but for many, would have changed lives. It was ludological literature.

If you're lucky in this business, you touch a game like that a couple of times in your career. These are the games we all seek, the games that stick out between licensed franchises.

A handful of words can't express exactly what made it so special, and a lot of it is individual; my Black9 is another person's licensed media tie-in sequel. With the field expanding into games that can teach, games that can heal, games for entirely new audiences, I find myself involved with all of these things, pushing the boundary of what a game can fundamentally do. But a big part of me is still waiting for another Black9.

The core lesson Black9 taught me, which can be applied to so many of our interactions, from romance to politics to commerce, is that you have to be able to walk away. You have to be able to walk away.

And be careful what you love.

Erin Hoffman is a professional game designer, freelance writer, and hobbyist troublemaker. She moderates Gamewatch.org and fights crime on the streets by night.

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