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A character hangs off the side of a big rig
Eight Days concept art
Sony Interactive Entertainment

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The story of Eight Days, one of Sony’s canceled big bets

We look back at Sony London’s dropped PlayStation 3 buddy-themed action game

The developers gathered around the caskets, mourning the loss of two friends. People were “gutted,” one at the funeral recalls. Sure, the bodies were printed-out pictures — of video game characters, no less — but the sentiment remained. After two years of work, developers at Sony’s SCE London Studio had to say goodbye to Eight Days, an ambitious narrative action game Sony had just canceled.

Announced during Sony’s 2006 E3 press conference, Eight Days was a look at what the seventh generation of consoles was capable of — entertainment products rivaling the biggest blockbusters in terms of action, production, and star power. It was big, bombastic, and positioned as the future of AAA video games.

And then it never came out.

Sony announced the cancellation in 2008. Since then, SCE London Studio, now SIE London Studio, has focused on the SingStar series and a variety of games for PlayStation Move and PlayStation VR.

But though Eight Days never saw the light of day, it has lived on in the game industry’s collective mind, often popping up in lists of “heartbreaking” canceled games and videos speculating why Sony would walk away from the title.

We recently talked with five former developers on the project, piecing together the story of Eight Days, and how Halle Berry, the Burnout series, a prison break, and Michael Bay all factored into the mix.

Block Man

Before Eight Days, there was Block Man: a prototype testing the waters of what could be possible on Sony’s then-upcoming PlayStation 3 console.

Block Man, as the name implies, was a gray box demo starring a character made of cubes, a prototype for what would now be a standard third-person shooter. But at the time, Block Man was, as many interviewed for this piece say, an impressive tech demo for what the next generation of video game consoles could deliver, especially when it came to damage and destruction models.

“It had all the third-person shooter gunplay you could want,” says a designer on Eight Days, speaking to Polygon anonymously without clearance of their current employer. “It had cover, it had blind fire, it had aim down sights with third-person, it had damage destruction, it had effects. It was really slick.”

Announced at E3 2005, the PlayStation 3 was one of the most highly anticipated consoles of the time. Following the massively successful PlayStation 2, Sony positioned the PlayStation 3 as a generation-defining piece of hardware, announcing alongside its new console games such as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Killzone 2, the first tease for what would become Red Dead Redemption, and tech demos from Epic Games, Square Enix, and SCE London Studio.

At the time, the Eight Days team didn’t have a name, story, or gameplay to show. Instead, the studio brought with it a tech demo showing the damage and destruction its new engine was capable of. For a little over a minute, with then-president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Phil Harrison narrating, explaining to viewers that they were seeing how powerful the PlayStation 3’s Cell processor was, the world got its first look at Eight Days — in the form of an exploding gas station. SCE London Studio also revealed The Getaway 3 at the event, which was in development on the floor above the Eight Days team around the same time.

The next year, in March 2006, at the annual Game Developers Conference, SCE London Studio gave attendees their second glimpse at Eight Days. During Sony’s keynote at the event, called “PlayStation 3: Beyond the Box,” the team showed a tech demo for its dynamic destruction systems — with a car being riddled with bullets, falling apart in real time.

“The engine lead guy, they had to fly him in to [GDC] because the build was pretty unstable, so he had to kind of control it because if you went too close to the car everything would just crash,” says Manne Öhrström, tools lead on Eight Days. “So he was standing there in the background of this huge crowd, super nervous, had to do this shooting thing, and if he would get the wrong angle or whatever the whole engine would crash and blow up.”

Behind the scenes, SCE London Studio had been building a team for its new project, not only hiring game developers, but also tapping Hollywood, bringing people on board with film and visual effects backgrounds. The studio wasted no time pitching prospective employees on its new project, positioning the then-unnamed game as a high-budget interactive action film, where, as principal animator Jim Jagger recalls, players would “blaze a trail of destruction across America in the ultimate Hollywood action movie experience.” It was to be a buddy-action game where two main characters fight their way across the United States, though the studio never fully nailed down the game’s narrative during production, team members say.

“I think we were keen to get the high-level concept that we could tell people as they joined the project,” Jagger says about the early days. “It was geared towards putting the player in the greatest action movie that had ever been made.”

A character from the game Eight Days
Eight Days concept art
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Studio members interviewed for this piece still speak highly of the team on Eight Days. Mike Best, a technical animator on the project, says the animation crew was a “dream team,” adding, “It was an outstanding animation team, probably one of the best I ever worked with.”

Jagger, too, makes specific note of the concept art team, saying, “I’ve never worked with a team [as] talented as they were.” On that team were artists like John Clark, who would later design Harry Potter book covers, and Ravi Bansal, the art director for creatures in the 2019 film Detective Pikachu.

But SCE London Studio wasn’t just filling the development team with world-class talent. It was also filling its new game’s cast with celebrities — or trying to, at least.

The studio constantly referenced Michael Bay, director of the Transformers and Bad Boys series, when pitching ideas for Eight Days. It wanted to shoot for the director’s level of action, bombast, and, specifically, explosions with the game. It even used the portmanteau “Bayhem” when describing the project internally. It also looked to bring on star power for the project. Ving Rhames signed on to star as one of the main characters of the game — and was featured in a later trailer — with actors Dennis Hopper and Gary Oldman brought on board to play the game’s antagonists. Buster Reeves, stuntman for Christian Bale in The Dark Knight, was brought in for motion capturing movements and stunts.

“[Reeves] was probably the best stuntman I’ve worked with,” says Jagger, who later went on to work on Grand Theft Auto 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2. “He did all the stunts for our main actor, for our main player character, the white guy. The way that he just [dove] into cover, his physicality, that’s something that we really wanted to get into the game.”

The studio also approached John Travolta and Halle Berry for roles, though it wasn’t able to strike a deal with either.

SCE London Studio was going big with its PlayStation 3 debut. But, as the studio would soon learn, it was not a friendly console to develop for. Trouble would follow.

Interaction

A year after the exploding gas station, Eight Days made its proper debut at E3 2006 during Sony’s press conference in what appeared to some to be a gameplay demo.

The trailer — a two-minute shootout outside a diner, with characters jumping in and out of windows and taking cover behind cars as glass flies around them, ending with a semi truck smashing through buildings — looked like a technical marvel at the time. “Special effects in every sequence of the game were awesome,” Marc Nix at IGN noted in his preview. Alex Navarro of GameSpot said the game “looked really, really good,” adding it was “easily one of the best surprises of the conference demos.”

But while the press at the time largely agreed the game looked good, it was split on whether it looked too good to be actual gameplay. This ended up being a theme with a lot of early PlayStation 3 trailers, as Sony tried to pass off CG trailers for games such as Killzone 2, MotorStorm, and the aforementioned Eight Days as real gameplay.

“It wasn’t real, no,” Öhrström says about the trailer, laughing.

Other team members confirm this, pointing out that the video had been outsourced rather than made at the studio.

In fact, there wasn’t much of the game itself that SCE London Studio could have shown. The Block Man demos created during the game’s pre-production phase hindered development on the game itself — specifically, getting them to run on the then-unreleased PlayStation 3. As the studio developed Eight Days, it simultaneously developed its new proprietary engine, slowing production down as the latter team worked on creating an engine that could run on Sony’s newest console.

“The engine team had a pretty hard time figuring out what the hell to do with the PlayStation 3,” Öhrström says. “You know, it’s just Sony’s style — they just give you a piece of incredibly complicated hardware with very little advice or instructions [on] how to program it and it’s just incredibly complicated.”

“The PS3, the way it was developed at that point is it mostly [came from Sony] Japan, obviously, and the core tools [were] developed at a very kind of base level,” Best says. “They don’t concern themselves at all — or at least didn’t at that point — with any kind of higher-level tools. At least at that point, they [left] that up to the developers.”

The technical issues aside, developers say they were excited by the work going into Eight Days. They were making, they say, a game full of design choices that hadn’t been done at the time.

Eight Days was to be a linear action game, full of large-scale set-pieces. Players would enter a level, engage in various firefights, go through an elaborate set-piece, and then head to the next level via arcadey Burnout-style driving. The story would take place across eight days, sending players to various states across the U.S., including Texas, Arizona, New York, Colorado, and California. “Each of these different levels would be completely different in terms of gameplay and in terms of the feel to it and everything,” Öhrström says.

While the narrative conceit of the game taking place across eight days was set in place, developers say they never got far enough in development to choose exactly which states the player would go to. Set-pieces were supposed to be the main draw of the game — but, again, the team never got far enough in development to nail down all the specific events the player would experience. There was the diner that showed up in the E3 2006 demo, a prison break, and a shootout outside a gas station that resulted in a helicopter chase, with the two main characters hanging from a bank safe as it crashed through a freeway.

According to a 2008 leak, Eight Days would’ve had two playable characters. One would’ve been a bad guy on a revenge mission against the mob. The other, the good guy, a detective, would be going after the same mob for kidnapping his son. The two stories would converge at some point during the game. The leak also indicated that Eight Days would use the PlayStation 3’s internal clock to reflect the real-world time in the game — if the player were playing at night, it would be nighttime in the game, and so on — and would also incorporate Google Maps in some way.

Polygon wasn’t able to verify these details. While those we talked to say the story conceit doesn’t sound implausible, they weren’t able to recall specifics about the game’s narrative. Same with the game having two playable characters. Some say they remember the internal clock idea being tossed around, but not being fully implemented in the game. No one we spoke to recalled anything about Eight Days implementing Google Maps.

However, by 2006 standards, developers interviewed for this piece do say they were doing things that hadn’t been fully explored at the time, such as procedural landscape generation, motion-captured movement, dynamic destruction, and redesigning how a player interacted with the world around them.

“We had programmers that were prepared to push the tech and change the tools,” Jagger says. “I was kind of architecting this sort of movement system along with a designer who was directing what he wanted the game to be. I just felt really powerful, [like] I could deliver something responsive and fluid yet physical.”

“What we wanted to do,” he says, “was we wanted to feel you hitting that cover and feeling the pressure of the gun fight — ducking down and really interacting with the world.”

SCE London Studio’s new engine, as it came online, had, as Öhrström puts it, “a lot of awesome futuristic thinking.” But it also came with problems, developers tell Polygon. For one, it had a steep learning curve. Once you got the hang of it, the engine could allow quick iteration in development. But it had a lot of rules one had to follow first. “Vehicle creation, for example,” Öhrström says, “you would have to have exactly the right kind of setup for your engine and your gearbox and all this stuff, otherwise nothing would work.”

Some developers didn’t get the hang of it.

“I’ve seen all kinds of tech,” a designer on Eight Days tells Polygon. “I’ve never seen an engine that requires you to have everything completely squeaky clean. Before you export and see the game running on the kit, it runs a check and everything has to be pristine.

“To design, iteration is key. Quality is iteration times time,” the designer continues. “This engine, if I moved a vert [a single point on a triangle making up a mesh — the underlying geometric shape of objects in a video game], I had to make sure that vert was water-sealed and tight. I was just like, ‘Yeah, this is bad news.’”

Before long, that bad news would come to a head.

Swing of the ax

Along with the game’s engine and the PlayStation 3 being difficult to develop for, there were plenty of other problems affecting Eight Days’ development, and no two people Polygon spoke to agree on exactly what caused its cancellation. Some say the team was too big. Some say the game lacked solid direction and was too ambitious for the time.

[Ed. note: Harrison and Sony declined interview requests for this piece.]

“I think the biggest problem was the ramp-up of the size of the team,” Öhrström says, adding there were too many people “working in parallel” on the project too early. Estimates of the actual size of the team on Eight Days ranges from person to person, falling anywhere between 50 and 100 people. “It should’ve continued with a smaller team,” Öhrström says.

For others, the team was too small. To deliver a game with the scope and size SCE London Studio was shooting for, in Jagger’s opinion, the team should’ve been “hundreds” of people. “And we didn’t have that,” he says. “I think we would’ve needed more people to deliver it.”

An April 2008 feature from The Guardian about SCE London Studio pinpointed the team at 63 developers, with plans to scale up to 80 people with 40 outsourced contributors.

In June 2008, the ax fell. Sony announced it was canceling both Eight Days and its sister game The Getaway 3, saying in a statement that development would “cease immediately due to the redistribution of resources and budget.”

The news came just a few weeks after Shuhei Yoshida replaced Phil Harrison as president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios; Harrison later joined Atari, before moving on to ventures at Microsoft and Google. Shortly after Yoshida took his role, Sony conducted an internal review of all its upcoming games, and concluded that “with the incredibly strong list of exclusive first party titles coming up both this year [2008] and in the near future, resource[s] should be reallocated to enhance those projects closer to completion.”

Yoshida later told MCV it wasn’t that Eight Days was “failing” as a product, but said that its lack of online play, something Sony was leaning into at the time, was “part of the consideration” in canceling the game.

“As I say, there are many projects we want to do and we look at many different angles for them, such as profitability, how long it may take, and where it fits in the portfolio — along with other strategic aspects that we are trying to [deliver] for the platform,” Yoshida said.

In 2009, SCE London Studio’s then-creative art director Nicolas Doucet told GameSpot that neither Eight Days nor The Getaway 3 had been abandoned by the studio, “just put to one side,” but to date, nothing has materialized again publicly. Internal footage of the game later leaked online.

A big rig truck crashes while flying in the air
Eight Days concept art
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Respect

Eight Days’ cancellation didn’t exactly come at the eleventh hour; the game was still pretty far from release. “I think realistically we were probably a year away from beta,” Best says about the game’s cancellation.

“I mean, we had a working prototype and the game mechanic was in there,” he continues. “Yeah, I would say at least eight months to a year, probably, away from beta.”

Nevertheless, developers were heartbroken over the game’s cancellation. Despite their trials and tribulations developing Eight Days, a lot of people on the team were passionate about the project. “And a lot of people were laid off,” Best adds. “So it was horrible. It was one of those mass layoffs; they’re always completely crappy. It was one of those just calling people into the office to say, ‘Yeah, it’s canceled. Off down to the pub.’”

Developers on Eight Days all met at a bar right by SCE London’s office in the Soho district on Marlborough Street — “I’m not sure if the bar actually had a name at the time,” Jagger says — to mourn the death of the game and the team. They even invited people who had left the project early to come to the event, with many showing up to celebrate the ambitious game they’d worked on together. SCE London Studio turned the get-together into a makeshift funeral, printing out pictures of the main characters and displaying them in handmade coffins.

“I think people were really upset at that time. They needed to just talk about it, get it [out of] their system,” says Öhrström, who left before the game was canceled but came back for its funeral. “There was a lot of passion and a lot of sadness, and I think there was a lot of good intentions with the game.”

“I think we just took it really hard,” Jagger says. “I know I did.”

The silver lining of the game’s cancellation and the layoffs, developers tell Polygon, is that Sony took care of the team. Those not laid off were moved onto other projects within SCE London Studio, such as EyePet. Others were given jobs at studios under the Sony Europe umbrella. The publisher also allowed people working on the project to take videos and art from the game with them on DVDs, using footage of the unreleased game on resumes, which helped net people new jobs within the industry.

“I mean, testament to Sony,” Jagger says. “I know the game was canceled, but they really tried to look after everybody there and they tried to get everyone on other projects. I think there were a few redundancies, but the severance pay was very good.”

A general sentiment shared among people Polygon spoke to is that Eight Days was just too ambitious for the time; the PlayStation 3 wasn’t ready for the kind of game SCE London Studio wanted to make. Were the game in development today, some believe the story would be different altogether — that it would’ve been released, but might not have been the spectacle SCE London Studio was shooting for back in 2006. “I think now it would’ve been a less [impressive] game, less revolutionary, shall I say. A bit more like a standard game,” Öhrström says.

But more than a decade after its cancellation, developers interviewed for this piece still speak highly of Eight Days; numerous responded enthusiastically to interview requests. While they express disappointment over the game not coming out, no one we spoke to had anything overtly negative to say about Sony or their experience on the project.

“I think we were all kinda bummed out that that never came to fruition,” Best says. “But, you know, from a studio perspective, it’s kinda like, yeah, it was a nice studio at that time. Definitely. Nice place to work and nice team. Really good team.”

“And that’s what I loved about it — everyone felt really great about it,” an anonymous designer says. “To me, that means these people were great. It’s really unfortunate they weren’t able to make the game. There was a lot of different factors that contributed to it, but everyone’s just good people. And that was, like, respect.”