Come Midnight was a game in development at People Can Fly from 2004 to 2006 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, with an intended release date of 2007. With a genre that is hard to define, according to the developer’s former leader Adrian Chmielarz, the game would have been a mixture of Adventure, Action and Survival Horror with heavy 1940’s noir and supernatural themes, something akin to a mixture of later games such as L.A. Noire and Uncharted.
The idea behind Come Midnight, a “dream project” for Chmielarz, was born right after development on the First Person Shooter Painkiller ended. Painkiller had been successful, but because of contractual details it had brought little money into People Can Fly. According to Chmielarz:
“Painkiller didn’t make us rich. It was made for a flat fee, an embarrassingly low one compared to what a production of this quality usually costs. We never saw any royalties, despite the game’s success and countless sequels and remakes. But we did manage to save some money. (…) So we moved to a new place, and started working on a new project.”
He goes on to reveal some details:
“An action-adventure pulp that mixed the worlds of Raymond Chandler and H.P. Lovecraft. A story about a private detective able to communicate with the dead. (…) After a few months, we thought we had enough material to start shopping the game around.”
The game would focus on a private investigator named Mike Elroy, who had temporarily died at some point and managed to come back – this time with the ability to see into the afterlife, with a major mechanic of the game being the ability to see the last few seconds of someone’s life by touching their corpse.
In 2004 People Can Fly put together a tech demo for Come Midnight, and invited all the major publishers to their studio in Poland to take a look at what they had been working on. Most of the reactions seemed to be positive at the time but after this showing, the studio waited in vain for a call from at least one of the publishers:
“Nobody was getting back to us. We were running out of money, and it was time to panic.”
There was a deeper meaning behind this silence, as the studio learned later on that everyone seemed to expect an encore of Painkiller out of People Can Fly, and were too afraid of betting on such a unique project at that point in time. Unfortunately, Come Midnight had to be put aside in favor of the studio’s survival.
“Through the grapevine we learned that even though people liked the game, they were scared of investing into an action-adventure, and, more importantly, they expected a shooter from us. Come Midnight was dead.”
Disillusioned, and to keep afloat, People Can Fly started work on a shooter called “Ravenwolf”, another title that would end up never seeing the light of day. It was somewhat of a spiritual successor to Painkiller and with a heavier emphasis on the storyline than its predecessor. The studio put together a demo for the game in a few short months, and sent it out to publishers. People Can Fly was back in business:
“We worked our asses off on a demo for a couple of months, and sent it out. The phones started ringing. Ravenwolf was about to happen, the studio was about to be saved.”
But during the development of Ravenwolf, something unexpected happened. While the guys from People Can Fly were at a convention, they were suddenly approached by a man who introduced himself as a representative from THQ and claimed he had been wanting to contact the studio. They asked if it had something to do with their current project, but the reply was about to fill the small Polish studio with hope for a better one: THQ wanted to make Come Midnight.
The studio was reinvigorated, and for the next two years worked harder than ever. By 2006, the game was well into production, with the whole game designed on paper, and a lot of the assets completed. Chmielarz claims that in about two years’ time, Come Midnight would have been finished.
However, THQ had other plans. In 2006, the publisher simply pulled the plug on the project, and apparently cut all contact with People Can Fly. Although an official reason has never been given, Adrian Chmielarz believes that it had something to do with the company pulling out of development in Europe and wanting only one project left for release from that territory.
“Rumour was that THQ was getting out of the development in Europe and they were killing European projects left and right. Supposedly, it was between us and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. They chose the latter, and, to be fair, that was probably the right choice. Still, they acted awful throughout the whole ordeal.”
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl, developed by the Ukranian company GSC Game World, was almost completed, while Come Midnight was only a third of the way in development, and eventually saw a release in 2007 after being in development hell for over half a decade.
The cancelation of Come Midnight left People Can Fly in a bad financial situation. Now with no game left to work on and with little money left, they acquired a license to the Unreal Engine hoping to recapture their Painkiller magic with a new shooter. The prototype that followed impressed Epic Games themselves, who bought a majority share of the company in 2007 and eventually fully acquired it in 2012, and the prototype would go on to evolve into 2013’s Bulletstorm.
After being rebranded as Epic Games Poland from 2013 onwards, People Can Fly split from Epic Games and became an independent studio once again in 2015, after which they started work on Outriders, a First Person Shooter to be published by Square Enix in 2020.
Adrian Chmielarz had left Polish developer he co-founded by the time Bulletstorm was released. He formed his own studio, The Astronauts, with some of the former developers on Come Midnight and still hopes to revisit the noir stylings of their cancelled project one day.
However, the rights to the game are now owned by THQ Nordic, the new name Nordic Games adopted when they acquired most of THQ’s properties after the company’s bankrupcy, and getting the Come Midnight name back at this point in time seems unlikely.
“Realistically, it’s never gonna happen. I still want to go back to pulp noir in the future, though, but that’s a whole different story for another time.”
Article by António Pedro Pinto