With E3 just around the corner, there are a bunch of rumours flying about regarding what games the big publishers will reveal when they take to the stage in Los Angeles. While some rumours sound a little far-fetched, I’m going to be vetting as many as I can in the run up to the big event, deciding on how likely the most plausible ones are.
The rumours are only going to get worse as we get closer to E3 with more and more purported leaks being published on places like Reddit, ResetEra, and Twitter. Just yesterday Walmart Canada’s digital store began listing a string of unannounced games. Spelling mistakes, other errors, lack of box art, and no original IPs all suggest that the contents of ‘leak’ were false. Still, I’m going to try and track down the truth of them all. Think of this as your E3 rumour fact-checking service.
Oh God, what have I got myself into.
Just Cause 4 – Outlook good
Avalanche Studios haven’t talked about a sequel to their tropical sandbox but there is a ton of evidence pointing towards a sequel, and one likely to be revealed at this year’s E3.
First and flimsiest is the potential Walmart Canada leak.
— Wario64 (@Wario64) May 9, 2018
On May 9, a load of unannounced games appeared in the digital storefront, Just Cause 4 among them. The leak is very dubious, in that there are a number of errors – such as a listing for Forza Horizons 5. If there is a new Forza Horizon on the way, the next numbered sequel would be 4, not 5 – and it wouldn’t be a plural of Horizon.
Let’s move onto something more concrete.
Just Cause 3 was released on December 1, 2015, but in September of the same year the game’s principle designer, Francesco Antolini, started work as a game director on an unannounced project based out of the New York offices. That project is coming up on being almost three years old now; a ripe time to be revealed.
In February 2016, a job listing revealed that the New York office was looking to hire a destruction designer. The role required “Creating complex 100 component scaffolding that can be pulled down, apart, and blown up in creative ways,” “Figuring out how to arrange propane tanks on a single pallet to maximize its emergent possibilities,“ and “Debugging why Antenna A falls apart when someone sneezes but Antenna B seems to be indestructible despite ostensibly identical setups.” Delightfully, the final qualification for the role is “Experience building a Rube Goldberg machine.”
Just going to leave this here:
In May 2016, the New York team went on a field trip to a botanical garden:
— Avalanche Studios (@AvalancheSweden) May 30, 2016
Many staff say they’re working on an unannounced project in their LinkedIn profiles.
Square Enix, publisher of the Just Cause series, haven’t revealed sales figures for Just Cause 3, but in their 2016 report, published after the financial year ending in March, they said the game had made “a solid start.”
With everyone I’ve approached on the project remaining tight-lipped, I can’t say what Just Cause 4 would feature, but there are hints that it might have official multiplayer support, rather than having it modded in later by the community as with previous Just Cause games. Back in 2016, Avalanche studios hired Cameron Foote, the lead on the Just Cause 2 multiplayer mod (which stalled development of the Just Cause 3 multiplayer mod).
However, Foote might be working on something else entirely. It appears that Avalanche Studios are currently working on two unannounced titles. Just Cause 4 could be one of them, the other is something studio founder Christofer Sundberg tweeted about in October 2017.
I’m looking for a game designer, w/ experience from PvP and PvE for future games we have in the works for release in 2020.
— Christofer Sundberg (@CHSundberg) October 23, 2017
There is a job ad for a gameplay programmer based out of the Stockholm offices where the person hired would be “working on our next self-published title.” Just Cause is a series that has always had a publisher. While it could be that Avalanche have acquired the rights and the funds to develop Just Cause 4 wholly on their own, we can’t ignore the fact Avalanche has the capacity to develop two triple-A games at once – Just Cause 3 and Mad Max were released within months of each other. It’s also worth noting that Antolini isn’t the only game director at Avalanche Studios. Another member of the Just Cause team, Emil Kraftling, became a game director too, though in January 2017. Kraftling could well be heading up the team making the game due for release in 2020.
Another advert is for a technical director of multiplayer. While this could be for a possible Just Cause 4, the significance of the role suggests it is for a project earlier in development, so I suspect it would be for Kraftling’s team, rather than Antolini’s.
Forza Horizon 4 – Signs point to yes
This rumour originally appeared in a thread on ResetEra, posted by Klobrille, someone with a history of accurate leaks. Among a list of other leaks, they wrote, “I would love playing Forza with the rising sun on the Horizon.”
So, Forza Horizon 4 to be set in Japan?
There is a lot to support a new Forza Horizon. For one thing, since 2011 there has been a new Forza game every year, alternating between the Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon series. Last year was Motorsport 7, so it would stick with tradition if we saw a new Horizon released this year.
Playground Games are currently hiring for two projects. Project 2 is “an entirely new AAA open-world action / RPG project” based out of new offices in Leamington Spa (we’ll come back to Project 2 later). Project 1 is based out of Playground’s old office space in Newbold Terrace. There is little to go on from the open positions, except for the graduate environment artist – “Experience of real world environments an advantage though not essential.”
However, a recent tweet from Playground’s official account showed a team collected together in the Newbold Terrace offices:
— Playground Games (@WeArePlayground) May 4, 2018
The team includes a number of new hires, but more than ten Forza Horizon veterans, many of whom have worked on the entire series. And one of those new hires has worked on a designer on six different racing games and no other genre. While Playground are working on multiple projects, it certainly appears they have kept their racing team together.
Gears of War 5 – Outlook good
The future of Gears of War wasn’t really in doubt – it’s one of Microsoft’s biggest series, Phil Spencer hinted at a sequel back in January, and job ads to work on the Gears of War series have been popping up on both The Coalition Studio’s and Splash Damage’s websites.
However, it may be much further along in development than you would expect, with evidence suggesting it’s been in the works within a month of the release of Gears of War 4.
In November 2016, a month after Gears of War 4 launched, The Coalition hired a senior character concept artist. Throughout 2017, The Coalition Studio hired more concept, character, vehicle, weapon, and environment artists. While these new hires could have been to work on the DLC that The Coalition released in December last year, another environment artist was hired – after The Coalition had stated in October that the final maps for Gears of War 4 had been released.
While Klobrille also suggested The Coalition are working on a Perfect Dark reboot, I didn’t find any evidence of that. Whereas multiple new hires say they’re working on the Gears of War series.
In January and March of this year, The Coalition hired storyboard and cinematic artists, both of which are roles the team are unlikely to need for anything other than a new title. It may also mean that Microsoft will be ready to show a cinematic of a new Gears of War at this year’s E3.
Also in January, production company Storylab Production’s About Page briefly said that “StoryLab’s current relationship with Microsoft’s ‘The Coalition’, helping to produce the new ‘Gears of War’ franchise and other new gaming IPs, is an exciting ongoing relationship.”
There are currently multiple open positions at The Coalition and Splash Damage – with Splash Damage stating they are to work on the Gears of War series – including a lead game designer role, who would have a specific focus on driving “the co-op multiplayer experiences set in the Gears of War universe.” The Coalition is also looking for a senior multiplayer level artist. Again, in October 2017, The Coalition said the final new levels for Gears of War 4 had been shipped.
Fable 4 – Signs point to yes
Lionhead might have been shut down but, according to Klobrille and Eurogamer’s sources, Fable isn’t dead. Klobrille says that a UK studio is behind the return to Albion and Eurogamer claims it is Leamington Spa-based Playground Games, Forza Horizon’s developer.
Artwork from cancelled Fable Legends.
There’s a tonne of evidence to support these claims. In November last year Gamesindustry.biz reported that Playground Games had opened a new studio in Leamington Spa and started a significant hiring spree to scale up their development capacity. The new studio would be focused on an “open-world action RPG” and, major players in this new team had already been hired: Kojima Productions veteran Sean Eyestone was on board as production director, Rockstar North’s Will Kennedy was on board as chief designer, and Hellblade’s Juan Fernandez de Simon was on board as principal combat designer. Other hires in the last year have premium game industry experience, one for instance spent 12 years working at Bioware as a senior artist on the original Mass Effect trilogy and Anthem.
At the time of publishing, there were 17 positions open for the RPG project on Playground Games’ careers page. As a suggestion of how early this project is in development, the project still needs a creative director and technical director. The Audio programmer job ad posted on March 15 says “You will join the team and project at an early stage”.
Perfect Dark – Reply hazy try again later
The Klobrille post didn’t mention Gears of War 5 but suggested that The Coalition were collaborating on a new Perfect Dark. “I would love to play around with Ms. Dark again. The Coalition should definitely help if it’s a 3rd person game. I mean … Not them alone obviously. “I didn’t come across any hires to suggest that was the case, but that certainly doesn’t discount the possibility.
As to collaborations with The Coalition, back in January a company called Storylab Productions briefly had a page up saying that they were working on a New IP with The Coalition. The page was swiftly taken down but not before it was archived.
Now, Perfect Dark isn’t strictly a new IP, but then it likely wouldn’t come back as a straight sequel of Perfect Dark Zero, the game released on Xbox 360. And, if Klobrille is right, and the game is a 3rd person title, then it would be a significant departure from the other games in the traditionally first-person Perfect Dark series.
The Coalition may well have the capacity to work on multiple triple-A games, especially if it is collaborating with another development studio (Storylab work with The Coalition as a mocap studio, so it would need to be another company). Storylab’s about page (again, archived) says that “StoryLab’s current relationship with Microsoft’s ‘The Coalition’, helping to produce the new ‘Gears of War’ franchise and other new gaming IPs, is an exciting ongoing relationship.”
Certainly, it appears The Coalition is working on more than just Gears of War. What that is, though, isn’t clear.
We’re going to be adding to this as all the way up to E3. If you have a rumour you want vetting, let us know in the comments below.