Posted on April 29th, 2010 3 comments
It must’ve been the 2002 Tokyo Game Show where they first introduced StarCraft: Ghost to the general public. I remember covering it for GamePro. There was a press conference in a suite inside the hotel that Makuhari Messe is right next to, and Blizzard said they were announcing their next big release there the day before TGS began. Which makes sense, right? Asian people were crazy about Blizzard games even before WOW, after all.
That’s why it was a little head-scratching when Bill Roper came out and introduced a console-exclusive action game set in the StarCraft universe. People looked at each other oddly. Fennec Fox (argh) was apparently aghast. You could even see the confusion among the Korean game-media outlets in the room with us. Nobody owns any consoles in Korea! And if they do, they’re piratin’ anyway! (That’s an exaggeration, of course, but not by much and especially not at the time.)
A few months later I got a chance to visit the developers at Nihilistic for GamePro, either for a preview or a cover story; I forget at this point. They were in Novato, at the far end of San Francisco’s northern bay area, in a large warehouse-type facility. I don’t remember much about Jacob Stephens, head designer and the guy who gave me a full playthrough of Ghost’s first demo level — the one where it’s night and raining and you’re trying to dodge around a bunch of Terran guards. I do remember that he was very enthusiastic, and that the whole studio seemed really relaxed and confident about what they were doing. I also remember that you could bring your dog into work pretty much whenever you wanted, which I thought was a pretty incredible perk. Maybe that’s why everyone was so chill.
That 2003 Ghost press run that I participated in was about the last anyone heard from Nihilistic for a very long while. They were silent for a year until they “completed their contribution” to the project in 2004, as Blizzard so diplomatically put it on their now-defunct Ghost FAQ page. The publisher handed it over to Swingin’ Ape Studios (makers of the completely forgotten but still very good Metal Arms), nothing further was heard for another year, and finally Blizzard just up and bought Swingin’ Ape and did the game-publisher equivalent of whistling innocently and pretending that they never mentioned anything.
I’m not sure anyone gave Nihilistic much of a chance after they and Blizzard parted ways, but they’re still around, most recently doing Zombie Apocalypse on PSN/XBLA. They’ve moved to different office space, but it’s just down the street from the old one on this business card and (apparently) off the same exit from US-101. Stephens himself moved on to Crackpot Entertainment, one of the Gamecock Media Group-funded outfits; they made Insecticide and that appears to be it. Come to think of it, I may’ve talked to him during the media event Gamecock held in Austin back in ’08 without realizing that I’d met him before. That’d be a bit embarrassing.
I think most agree at this point that Ghost was a pretty great action game but a poor fit for Blizzard and the image in game-dom they are trying to keep. It’s sort of like Warcraft Adventures in that respect, except that Ghost had a lot more promise.