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The Lost: Another Irrational Game That Could Have Been

by Joe Juba on Jan 22, 2010 at 11:44 AM

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We recently brought you an exclusive look at the trailer for one of Irrational Games scrapped titles, Division 9. However, long before that title was in the works, Irrational had another project that never saw the light of day: The Lost.

Unlike Division 9, which was only in the early phases of development when it was abandoned, The Lost was much further along. In fact, it was finished. However, the game did not uphold Irrational’s standards of quality, and the studio decided that withholding the game and eating the losses would ultimately be less damaging than releasing an inferior product.

“We ran into a publisher who wanted us to do a console game,” explains creative director Ken Levine. “We had never done a console game before, and my business partner had left to start the Australia studio. We didn’t really have a lot of technology people at the group, and the money we had to do the game wasn’t sufficient for the game we were planning on doing. We were pretty inexperienced at the time, and the publisher was inexperienced. They were trying to do triple-A titles for the first time, and that combination led to some problems.”

“It wasn’t that we didn’t believe in the game or that we weren’t excited about it,” adds art director Nate Wells. “But it’s that feeling you get when you’re trying to make art with your hands tied together. You know how you want it to be, and to see that you’re not going to be able to do it is just crushing.”

The Lost was a title about a waitress named Amanda who traveled through the circles of Hell in order to locate her lost daughter, fighting various monsters with a variety of weapons and special attacks. Of course, because it was set in Hell, there were also a lot of psychological horror elements to keep players on edge. “We always pitched it as Zelda meets Silent Hill,” says lead designer Bill Gardner.

A slew of problems, from too small a development team to technical issues with the game’s engine (the Lithtech engine from No One Lives Forever), resulted in an ever-decreasing scope for what would be possible in the final version of the game. When it was finished in 2003, The Lost was only a shadow of the game Irrational had envisioned. Rather than risk the studio’s reputation, the game was simply not released.

“The fact that we make games that people can count on the quality of is important to us,” Levine tells us. “You couldn’t guarantee sales, but you control quality a lot more than you control commercial success. While I think this game had some really cool stuff in it, we just couldn’t get the tech working in a way that would be competitive. I’m not going to kid you, the game is not good…I realized that we just weren’t going to make fans happy. It just didn’t work…as a company, confidence-wise, it really almost sunk us.”

Thankfully, Irrational’s bad experience with The Lost didn’t destroy the team’s will to make a console game. In fact, Irrational next console project would be hailed as one of the most ambitious and innovative video game achievements: BioShock. “We had to say to ourselves, ‘There’s no reason we can’t make a successful console game’ after having this experience,” admits Levine. “We had to just put The Lost behind us and move on to BioShock and say ‘Look, we can do this now.’ Because this really tested us. We ate the emotional and financial cost, and we moved on.”

To see concept art from The Lost and read the first page of a cutscene script, take a look at the image gallery below. After that, you can head over to our Irrational Hub for even more features about the unique studio. If you want more insight about what goes on behind the scenes at Irrational, check out its new webpage at