First announced in 2014, Michel Ancel’s open world survival title has been radio silent for years.
Many games come and go from the spotlight in the minds of gamers throughout their development. Often seeing dips in popularity soon after they’re announced, and popping back up once the game nears completion and their eventual releases. If everything goes according to the plan, a major video game never quite goes away, and is never quite forgotten after its announcement, but perhaps keeps a little bit of distance before that final marketing push leading up to the launch. There is sort of an unspoken rhythm to it. As with anything, there are some exceptions to this though, and they usually consist of games that are, for one reason or another, and to one degree or another, in development hell.
This is what makes the PS4 exclusive Sony published game WiLD a bit of a concerning situation. WiLD was revealed way back in 2014 at Gamescom and stunned audiences with its vast world, beautiful landscapes, and fairly unique concept. Using the magic of a Neolithic shaman to possess various animals throughout a prehistoric continent is a fascinating concept to be sure, but WiLD seemed to be pushing the idea to some very interesting extremes by giving you complex tasks to accomplish with the various strengths and weaknesses of bears, eagles, rabbits, wolves, and so on. Mixing the tried and true open world format with a fairly unique take on strategy and a fun art direction.
The game was elaborated on even more at the following year’s Paris Games Week, which showed much more of the lavish landscapes and the game being demoed in real time, showing just how in depth it can get if the player decides to play it in a thoughtful way. It was also fairly apparent that the game was fairly far along with its development as it was running quite well. The high point of the demo showed the player using a group of ravens to distract and pester a rival tribe as a precursor to a full-frontal attack from a marauding bear. This cleared the path for the shaman to continue pushing forward to the next area of interest. Since then, more information has come out about WiLD here and there, including some online functionality, and it just seems to get more and more impressive. So, as to the concerning part; we haven’t really seen anything about the game since 2015. Five long years have passed since the enthusiastic marketing campaign began and just simply stopped dead in its tracks. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to see that this probably wasn’t the plan. Somewhere along the line, something, somewhere, has likely gone wrong.
Surely open-world games are a challenge to make and can be rife with issues and unforeseen obstacles. Understanding this, and seeing what an open-world games can require of even the most seasoned development teams behind long-running franchises like Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto, it’s not too hard to imagine that perhaps Wild Sheep Studio has bit off a bit more than they anticipated chewing. If that is the case, then we could be in for even more of a wait than we’ve already seen.
If you check the developer’s website you will likely learn nothing other than that this game still exists, and if you check PlayStation’s website you’ll see about the same. In fact, even a google search will reveal little more than its mere existence and a handful of tweets poking fun at its notable and extensive hiatus from the gaming conversation. This could mean a few things, but most likely, Wild Sheep is likely working hard with their heads down, trying to overcome whatever issue was encountered around 2015. This could be an adjustment to the art style, a switch to the marketing style, or maybe even a total overhaul of the mechanics in some way, like going from a set predetermined world to a more randomly generated style of development. Something like that might seem like a big reversal this late in the game, but crazier things have happened, and it would explain the silence. Why speak about a project if you’ve largely started from scratch and have nothing to show? This is what many games do when they are in the middle of some sort of overhaul; keep things quiet until there is something to talk about.
Despite all of the relative silence, Michael Ancel, the game’s lead designer, did randomly decide to post some images of the game in early 2017, so that, if anything, can serve as a small indication that things aren’t totally bleak just yet, and the game is still well on its way in its development cycle.
Another theory, and a far more convoluted one, is that Michael Ancel has been pulled away from WiLD to work on another project, Beyond Good and Evil 2; another game that was probably announced too early and has seen its share of disappearances from the limelight. This could potentially have some truth to it as both teams behind these games have close ties to Ubisoft, and perhaps somebody over in the Beyond Good and Evil 2 side of things was willing to write a bigger check than Sony. This could easily cause WiLD to be put on ice for a while, without being cancelled, until Ancel’s work was completed with that game and could return to WiLD. Again, crazier things have happened. If that is the case, then there’s no telling just when WiLD would get back on track, as Beyond Good and Evil has been just as silent for almost just as long.
Something else to consider is that, now that we’re in the year of 2020 and a new round of consoles are on the very near horizon, any game that has been falling behind schedule is wise to consider switching over to those newer consoles, or at least having competent versions available for them. Despite whatever other issues might be or were going wrong with the game, the fact that a Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 version are now being thrown into the mix, either as replacements or as additional versions, is surely going to add some months if not years to the development cycle.
At this point, there’s not much left to speculate on without going far deeper into multiple more layer of assumptions than we already have. All we know is that it’s not cancelled, and we can probably responsibly assume that it won’t be. For a game to exist for this long and not ever release would be a huge loss for all parties involved and that would make very little business sense to anyone. There’s no reason to invest this much time and energy into anything and have it all just add up to a cancellation. Surely that does happen, but odds are that’s not the case here. Likely, it is being worked on diligently by at least some fraction of the team that started it. We just don’t know what aspect of it has caused the trouble or whether or not various personnel issues are related. It could just as easily be some sort of a combination of all of the elements I mentioned above as well. It’s tough to say for sure. All we know for now is that the game is likely on the way despite its various bumps in the road.