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Hyper Scape and another visit to the games graveyard

Thanks for the memories.

A tweet from last week asked developers: "What's in your game graveyard? Games that were cancelled or no one can play anymore?" What followed was a wonderful, melancholic list of delights we will never get to play again, or never had the chance to play at all. Battleborn came up, and a Disney Infinity sequel. But also beloved XNA games and YA interactive fictions. The deeper you go, the more thrilling these games start to sound, the richness and imagination that is forever out of reach. I read and read and it was like descending through coral - all this brightness and life swimming past untouchable.

Games that are no longer available - and games that never made it to release - are a unique sadness to creators, I imagine, and a uniquely tantalising vision to players like me. I hope it's not wrong that those two responses coexist. And that idea - the game graveyard - is just perfect. We need a game graveyard, I think. Somewhere to wander amongst the stones and read the names, to be alone with thoughts of what might have been and how much work went into something that is now out of reach.

And we have game graveyards of a sort, of course. On Youtube I can see clips of Tabula Rasa - I can see the moment the servers were turned off. But I can also see stuff from The Outsider, the Washington DC conspiracy game that generated, amongst other things, one of the most intoxicating Edge features of all time. I read that piece and wanted that game so much. For the people who worked on these games, these video fragments are probably extremely painful, and I try never to forget that. But there's also a wonder. Games are so often about the things you can get, too often about the things you can get and the things you can work towards. See those mountains? It is an interesting experience to be granted a vision of something you are ultimately denied.

There's another graveyard, though. A very human - and as I've just discovered - distinctly imperfect graveyard. I heard last week that Hyper Scape is being shut down. Ubisoft's Battle Royale contender. I was always far too slow for the gameplay, which was blistering, a headlong pelt of bullets and lasers and shredded shields. But I loved the world. That map, a grey-box European city delivered in the kind of detail that only Ubisoft would go for. Like many Ubisoft games there was the question of how it came to be - was it off-cuts from an Assassin's or Far Cry? Was this model of Notre Dame originally intended for Watch Dogs? But that only added to the delight: a cut-and-paste city, a swipe file metropolis. Decked out in grey, yes, but also Thorntons selection box foils and flashes of neon colour.

Cover image for YouTube videoHyper Scape - Official World Premiere Trailer | PS4
Hyper Scape - the premiere.

I spent hours here, never playing the game really, but just exploring. Working my way to landmarks or away from landmarks. Marveling at the way a game never gave you the full map, just a chunk of it. I didn't love Hyper Scape, really. It was so much better than that. I loved the world of Hyper Scape. And that's not surprising perhaps. Battle Royales, more than any other genre, are their world. They ask you to fall in love with their landscape. And then you can often pretty much make up the way you play.

And so I went onto the Xbox this morning to download Hyper Scape for one final blast. But it's already delisted - for new downloads at least. All that work. All those developers who will now feel a twinge or something worse whenever they think of the hours and weeks and years they put into this.

I eventually found a stream on Twitch and realised that my memories of this game - and memory is the graveyard where Hyper Scape will ultimately live from now on - is already faulty. The world is far from a simple grey box: much more colour and texture than I ever recall it having. It bares only the vaguest resemblance to the game in my head. And of course that's the case. This game, every game, is far too complex to be captured in a youtube clip or in the coils and grooves of human recollection.

And yet! The graveyard of my faulty memory grows another district, with a cathedral, a tram, grey walls and Thorntons foil.