BackSpace is a cancelled sci-fi RPG that was in early development by Obsidian Entertainment from January to April 2011 (around the same time they were finishing Dungeon Siege III), to be published by Bethesda on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The project was pitched as “Sci-Fi SKYRIM with Time Travels” and it was led by Jason Fader (who also worked on Obsidian’s cancelled Aliens RPG, Fallout: New Vegas, and the System Shock remake at Nightdive Studios).
While the game was quickly canned by the studio and it was never officially announced, Kotaku published a short article on the game in 2013, showing off remaining concept art created by Obsidian and sharing a few details on its gameplay:
“BackSpace is a single-player action-RPG set in a scifi space environment with simple elements of time travel. The combat is paced similarly to Skyrim, but slightly faster since there is no concept of blocking. The easiest way to look at it is a mix of Mass Effect, Borderlands, and System Shock 2 for gameplay and setting.”
“It was to be developed in some sort of partnership with Bethesda, I’ve heard, and it’d use the same engine as their ridiculously-successful role-playing game Skyrim. Although BackSpace wasn’t an open-world game, players would be able to travel between a number of planets as well as one large space station.”
“This station is huge,” a BackSpace design document reads. “It can be compared in size to The Citadel of Mass Effect [or] Babylon 5. The station has several locations devoted to diverse research fields which would allow us to have vegetation overgrowth, high-tech disasters, and mutations of science as visual themes.”
“[…] a technical error would fling your character ten years into the future, and you’d spend a bulk of the game hopping back and forth between the time of the attack and a dismal, alien-occupied future. Quests in the game would task you with hopping between timelines in an attempt to save humankind.”
In 2017 Jason replied to a few questions on Reddit, sharing even more details on what happened to BackSpace:
“I was working closely with Bethesda on BackSpace. Since there were no other projects lined up after the Old World Blues team finished their work, I took it upon myself to try to find another project for the company. I reached out to Bethesda and directly asked them what type of game they’d be most interested in publishing next. From there, I started working on a pitch based on a prior game I made, ThreadSpace: Hyperbol (story only, not gameplay). The gameplay was something designed around Bethesda’s interests at the time. No other publishers were pitched on it, to my knowledge, but there was interest from a 3rd party in creating a TV show based on it.
I actually started working on the project a bit before that by myself after hours. Probably as early as October (2010). It was an “after school project” for a very long time, and after a few months, more and more folks would join me after hours to volunteer their time to help. I don’t think we actually worked on it by day until the final month for the prototype. Then the layoffs happened. Then I stuck around for a few more years. Then the big layoffs (including me this time).”
In April 2011 Obsidian had to lay off part of their team, including many of those developers who were working on BackSpace. With financial difficulties in keeping the team active they worked on South Park: The Stick of Truth and many cancelled ventures (such as Stormlands for Microsoft), until they found success on Kickstarter with Pillars of Eternity.
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