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The brutal reality that led Lionhead to cancel its GameCube-exclusive Unity

Ex-Lionhead staff look back on Jeff Minter's cancelled music shooter Unity and the circumstances that led to its demise.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

November 15, 2023

2 Min Read
Key art of the Hero for Lionhead Studios' Fable II.
Image via Lionhead Studios.

"Lionhead had a bit of money, we were an interesting company. [...] I said, ‘Lionhead will give you some money to build whatever you like.’ So that’s how we ended up on that journey with Unity."--Pete Hawley, video game producer on meeting designer Jeff Minter

Twenty years ago, Lionhead Studios revealed Unity, a visual synthesizer shooter for the Nintendo GameCube whose production was headed up by Gridrunner designer Jeff Minter. The game was one of several projects created by satellite studios like original Fable creator Big Blue Box, but was canceled the following year. 

In a new retrospective from Time Extension on the would-be game, then-associate producer Brynley Gibson said Unity's cancellation was somewhat necessary for Lionhead, albeit one he regretted doing. Speaking bluntly, he noted Lionhead's other projects kept Unity on the back burner and that something ultimately had to give. 

"None of us on the Lionhead side were like, 'We have to make this game,'" he recalled. "Fable was in the shit, The Movies was struggling to get going, and Black & White 2 was late. [...] It didn't make sense from the capacity we had, headspace-wise, to work on it."

Producer Pete Hawley helped get Unity off the ground at Lionhead, having pursued Minter in the hopes of securing a partnership with Minter. In speaking with the outlet, Hawley revealed Minter gave Lionhead frequent updates on Unity's status but was more focused on its visualization rather than making it playable. 

When Hawley left Lionhead for Sony in late 2003, he brought Gibson on to ensure Minter's project could still make a case for its existence at the studio. Unity began to come into focus over the following year, but Hawley's absence made a notable impact on its prospects of seeing release. 

Hawley told Time Extension as such, saying when a "chief sponsor" leaves a company, "generally that’s when projects can get in trouble. [...] Had I stayed on and been there, I would have obviously kept pushing because.... for something so unique, it does really need a product champion."

Regime changes often occur at studios that go through upheavals of the high-level kind. This can be even more true for developers working on multiple projects at once, each of which has the potential to elevate (or sink) its company should things go wrong. 

Gibson acknowledged his inability to champion Unity at Hawley's level back then, admitting he was "very green" at the time and "could've supported Jeff better. Could [Pete] have pulled it through? Possibly! It was probably a critical wound him going, but also, the game didn't shine. Maybe if it was given more time, it could've."

Time Extension's full writeup of Unity's troubled development and the relationship between Minter and Lionhead can be read here.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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