"The first one with the guy crying is a game I was making with Jasper Byrne for a jam a few years back," Cavanagh said. Jasper Byrne is the mind responsible for Lone Survivor. "Basically it was an RPG about dancing and some other stuff. You went around this big town with lots of different nightclubs, learned some cool moves and got into dance offs. We only worked on it for a couple of days."
The second clip, of a series of cascading numbers on an RPG-esque map, comes from the first game Cavanagh ever tried to make in Flash. "It's based on an old C64 game I like called Overload," Cavanagh said. In Overload, players could increase the numerical value of a tile, which would in turn increase the value of its neighboring tiles and gain territory. "I really like that ruleset of single moves having unpredictable cascading results, and I was trying to make something that would feel a bit like that, but have a little more predictability to it, to allow you to make more complex plans."
The next two milliseconds of the Vine, which show a set of ASCII characters and a menu, are from an abandoned roguelike. "I really like this idea," Cavanagh said, "enough that I probably shouldn't say much about it. It'll probably resurface in something else eventually." Sadly, not everything was laid bare during our correspondence – some secrets remain so.
A blurry pink something
appears next, which is a screenshot of "____" – pronounced phonetically as Four Letter Word
. Even that, however, is not the game's actual title (above), which is written in an alien language Cavanagh has yet to translate publicly, as is the rest of the game. Four Letter Word
was originally designed as a game for a fictional console, the NYX.
Over time, Four Letter Word
has become an elephant's graveyard of sorts, housing gameplay mechanics from other abandoned projects. Beyond the screenshots we've collected in this gallery, and the fact that Four Letter Word
has been intentionally designed as "inaccessible, ugly," and "almost unplayable
," little else is known about what the game is or does.
"You're not playing as the cat in this one," Cavanagh said about the next clip, a blurry shot of a pixelated kitten. "You're playing as a woman who's collecting cats. It was a kind of survival game where you played as the last woman alive, but there are still insects and cats. You're supposed to go out and rescue the cats and bring them back to your apartment, find food for them, look after them and that sorta thing. It never really came together."
"The next one is Nexus City
," he said. "Let's keep moving, " he added with a sad-face emoticon.Nexus City
is perhaps the most public of Cavanagh's abandonware, as screenshots of its development have sprinkled the designer's blog for years. The project began in 2010 as a collaboration with writer/indie dev Jonas Kyratzes
, initially starting out as a relatively small idea that grew massively in scale over time. Cavanagh had even started development on a Nexus City
spin-off game, Selma's Story
, to introduce players to Nexus City
's vast world.
"Near the end of 2012, I made the very difficult decision to abandon Nexus City
(and it's spinoff game, Selma's Story
)," Cavanagh wrote on his blog
in early January. "I've been thinking of Nexus City
as 'the thing I'm working on' since 2010. As a result, for a long time now, I've felt like I wasn't really in control of what I can work on. Promising games would come along, and I'd stop myself from getting too deep into them, because I had to finish Nexus City first."
"Everything became a big ordered list of what I could work on and when, how long I could spend on it," Cavanagh continued. "I don't think that's creatively healthy."
Still, not every one of Cavanagh's lost projects will stay lost, as is the case with the Vine's next example, which Cavanagh has referred to before as Isothingy
"I'm really excited about this one," Cavanagh told us. "I'm also going to finish this one someday, probably – once I can figure out exactly how to. The video clip of this one is a little deceptive, since it makes it seem like the game is 'about' that mechanic, and it isn't, not even a little bit." The clip in question shows a brief glimpse of a pink-haired girl in a blue, isometric world, where a series of perception-tricking blocks fall into place and form a walkway.
So if that's not the hook, what is the gameplay really all about? Well, Cavanagh isn't saying, at least not yet, though he did say that it's "been so difficult to figure out how to do it properly."
The last short clip, which is perhaps the least Cavanagh-ish of this first sample group, is a first-person shooter (top, right) originally created for last year's 7DFPS
game jam. "It started as a purely mechanical thing, but during the week I was struck by story inspiration, and it became about that instead," Cavanagh said.
"Which is why it's not finished - even though I love story driven games, writing is by far the hardest part of this whole game development thing for me. Like, I remember spending three weeks agonizing over the 18 lines of text in the first version of At a Distance
– by the time I released the game I just took them out completely."
Stay tuned for part two of Terry Cavanagh's unfinished business, where we examine a second Vine, the ongoing battle between between arms and legs, and a kissing simulator.