Microsoft surprised many people (and thrilled a few lifelong fans, myself included) when it announced a remake of the 2005 Xbox cult classic Phantom Dust on stage at E3 2014. Then, last February, development of the game halted when the remake's developer Darkside Game Studios reportedly shut down after its version of the game was canceled.
Fast forward to 2016, and Microsoft has gone all but silent on the subject of Phantom Dust. The last anyone heard, Xbox marketing head Aaron Greenberg said that while the game isn't currently in active development, he characterized it as a "passion project" for Xbox head Phil Spencer, and described the project as "not canceled."
Last week, Polygon sat down with Spencer himself to talk about the future of Phantom Dust. We asked the biggest question first: Is there any change to report in Phantom Dust's development status?
"No, not yet," Spencer said.
He continued: "I love Phantom Dust – I think the mechanics in Phantom Dust were ahead of their time, and I think about what today's platforms enable and bringing that gameplay mechanic and story and setting to even, frankly, the 360 – and we kind of did that with the back-compat stuff we did then – but definitely today's world would really help cement what that game could've achieved."
As to whether the development's rocky start would hurt the game's prospects, Spencer didn't seem worried.
"So... we started down a path with a developer, and it didn't work out. There's no — on my side, at least — nothing negative about that: it just doesn't always work out. [Microsoft Studios head of publishing] Shannon Loftis and I talk often about what we want to do with Phantom Dust, so it is a thing from the conversations. She has ideas that she's working on that she won't show me yet."
Looking back on the game's surprise 2014 reveal, Spencer says he regrets Microsoft's decision to unveil the game so early. "At some point, if I had to say it was a dead thing, I would just say it," Spencer said. "I do probably in hindsight, knowing everything I know now — which clearly I didn't at the time when we announced it — I feel bad that we stood on stage and announced something that now we're not delivering. That's never my goal. But we had a plan to actually go build the game at the time. So I'm still encouraged."
Asked whether he expected Phantom Dust creator Yukio Futatsugi to remain involved with the project, Spencer sounded confident.
"We obviously did Crimson Dragon with Futatsugi-san — he's a good friend, I know him," Spencer said. "He would definitely be attached to anything we would do with Phantom Dust, assuming his schedule allowed for it and everything else. I'd say from the Japanese sensibility he has, being a Japanese game designer, I'd want to make sure [he's involved] – because that is kind of core to what that franchise is about."
While Microsoft has not yet decided on a new studio for the project, Spencer said their criteria hasn't changed: "In terms of the studio that we'd find [for Phantom Dust], we'd want to find a good fit... I remember when we first announced that Killer Instinct was coming back, and when we announced who the developer was, we got a lot of 'Oh, they're not gonna do the job that everybody wants them to do!' And I think when people saw what they were able to bring: Even though they didn't really have a history of doing Killer Instinct, once we met with them, it was clear that those guys really got the IP."
To Spencer, hand-wringing over whether they select an Eastern or Western developer for the remake is misplaced: "For me, it's more about finding a team that really gets the IP and understands what it is than where they're from, and having Futatsugi-san involved with it would clearly help with making sure we don't lose that," said Spencer.