The Games that Weren’t: StarCraft: Ghost

April 25, 2012

Long before StarCraft II was a thing, fans of the RTS hit were ravenous for more games in the rich science fiction universe that Blizzard had created. The decision to make Ghost a first-person shooter was somewhat unusual, but not unprecedented. EA had done something similar with Command & Conquer earlier that year. It didn’t do well, but that was mainly a result of quality concerns, something that Blizzard obviously never worries about thanks to their philosophy of quality over pretty much everything else.

What It Was: Starcraft: Ghost, an FPS sequel to Brood War.

What Happened: After four years and two developers, it was “indefinitely suspended.”

Why We Wanted It: A StarCraft version of C&C Renegade, but with Blizzard quality? Yes please.

Starcraft: Ghost was set to take place about 4 years after the events of Brood War and placed players in the shoes of a Terran ghost named Nova, who was sent on a mission to uncover the truth behind a secretive project called Shadow Blade that seemed to involve some kind of hybrid of Terran and Protoss technology. This was intended to be a side-story to the main storyline of StarCraft, so even though it took place at the same time that StarCraft II eventually did, it could have coexisted with the current games, providing background on events in the games.

The gameplay, as fitting a Terran ghost, would have been stealth-based, in a way that Sam Fisher could only dream of. Ghosts are equipped with cloaking devices that entirely hide them from visual surveillance. Even when invisible, though, enemies could detect her some other way and hunt using other methods. Simple puzzles were planned to be used for various actions, such as bypassing security. As for the combat, it would have involved various actions that would be familiar to anyone who has played Splinter Cell, such as instant stealth kills, dangling from pipes or ziplines and shooting enemies and various other melee moves.

Multiplayer was also designed into the title, with the genre standards like Deathmatch, King of the Hill and Capture the Flag, only one side played as Terran and the other played as the Zerg. Gameplay was class-based, with the Terrans featuring Marines, Firebats and Ghosts and the Zerg having Zerglings, Hydralisks and Mutalisks.

You know, now that I think about it, it sounds like the single-player game would have been almost exactly Splinter Cell with the Zerg and Protoss replacing the various terrorist organizations. That sentence makes it sound even cooler than before, too.

Nearly from the beginning, the development of Ghost was plagued with trouble. Nihilistic Software was originally tabbed with its development in late 2001, but less than a year into development the entire team assigned to Ghost resigned at the same time. The reasons behind this are still unclear, but Nihilistic continued with developmental duties for another 2 years before Blizzard took it from them and reassigned it to Swingin’ Ape Studios, while reassuring gamers that there was nothing wrong and it would in fact be released on time in 2005, though at this point, it was already two years late.

In May 2005, Blizzard bought Swingin’ Ape Studios, leading many to believe that development was going smoothly, despite the cancellation of the GameCube version of the game. A year later, with the Xbox and PS2 on the verge of being obsolete, Blizzard announced that Ghost would be suspended while they considered moving the development to the 360, PS3 and Wii. By this time though, Blizzard was starting work on Starcraft II and raking in the money from World of Warcraft. Over the years since its postponement in 2006, opinion has been split publicly over whether Ghost would ever see the light of day, with various Blizzard employees and even Michael Morhaime going back and forth from year to year on whether development would ever resume. In 2011, though, it seems the final nail was placed in its coffin when Morhaime said that the project was now in a position where it would never be able to succeed.

Elements of the game’s story are referred to throughout Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, while a series of books based on the side-story that Ghost was meant to be have been written and released over the last six years. While we will likely never see the actual game, at least we’ll get to experience parts of the story in various forms, which is more than we can say for a few Games that Weren’t.