Nibris, Digital Amigos and Frontline Studios
Nintendo's devotion to motion-based gameplay during the seventh generation of video games brought them a lot of success, though it did come at the cost of it's hardcore following. The system appealed to many who had either never played video games previously, or had long ago abandoned them as a pastime. The motion-based controls were intuitive enough that almost anyone could pick up and understand how to control what was happening on screen. The control scheme didn't end up changing the world as many thought it would, but in the lead-up to the release of the Wii, the possibilities of what one could do with those controls seemed endless. Nibris was a small developer based in Poland that had dreams of their own and they would be one of the first companies to announce a title in early-2006 for the upcoming console, at the time still only known as the Revolution. Sadness would, unfortunately, never see the light of day and the continued lack of progress over it's four years of supposed development has made people ask, was Sadness at any point a real game?
Sadness was first announced in March of 2006 with a live-action trailer released shortly afterwards that gave a small glimpse into what players would be doing in the game and how the Wii Remote would be utilized. The most immediately striking feature of the game was the black-and-white nature of the graphics, which tied into the Gothic horror feel the game was trying to invoke. The game centered on an aristocrat woman named Maria Lengyel and her son Alexander set in the Russian Empire prior to World War I. The game followed Maria after a train she and her son were on is derailed, resulting in the two of them having to survive against supernatural threats inspired by Slavic folklore out to get them. As a result of the accident, Alexander is struck blind and would exhibit unusual behavior over the course of the game. The game would have had a branching story or some sort that would lead to ten different outcomes for the characters. The developers suggested that the game would run around 15 hours.
As the game was never shown in a playable state, firm details on the gameplay are a bit sparse. The single trailer released shows a player swinging the Wii Remote to do things such as scare off rats using a torch, tossing a rope, and to knock over boxes while running. The developers also said that players would be able to use any of the interactive objects in the game as a weapon and there would be neither a HUD or any in-game menus in order to increase the sense of immersion for players.
Initially development of the game was split up among three companies: in addition to Nibris, Frontline Studios was taking care of the programming and Digital Amigos was in charge of the visuals. This partnership didn't last, however, as Frontline was eventually pulled off the game due to 'artistic differences'. It was first aiming to release in 2007, but later had to be pushed into 2009. During this period of time, nothing else was ever shown off from the game, despite Nibris announcing a new trailer would be released in 2007 and that the game would show up at the Game Developer's Conference in 2008. The failure of the company to show off ANYTHING from the game beyond that initial trailer led some in the press to assume the game was vaporware. This assumption was only strengthened by their failure to show up at E3 2009 despite making an announcement they would do so and it goes without saying that they missed their 2009 release date. Nibris never officially cancelled the game, but when the website for the company went offline in 2010, it was clear that the game was truly dead.
In 2009, an ex-Nibris employee named Adam Artur Antolski was interviewed by the website N-Europe and provided a bit of background information over Sadness' failure. There were apparently some severe issues between Nibris and Frontline Studios that kept the project from getting past the concept phase. Apparently there had been no consensus on the particulars of the game beyond what had been completed in the concept stage, resulting in a series of missed deadlines that put a strain on the development. According to Antolski, the only actual 3D asset that had been created was a minecart of some sort. Apparently, at the time he was working for Nibris, the company may have had at most ten employees and didn't even have any development kits for the Wii on hand, just dev kits for the Gamecube. Unfortunately, by the time that Nibris cut ties with Frontline, it may have been too late to save the game. Nibris only ever successfully finished one game, a DSiWare game called Double Bloob, and ceased game development shortly after the website went down. It seems that, simply put, there was no one in charge of the overall vision of the game, no one to pull to two teams together and define a coherent vision for what Sadness would be. Without a unified vision for all companies to get behind, the development just floundered for years until, finally, the game drowned.
While we were never able to see the game in any playable state, I can't help but think there was some potential in the title. Certainly the story sounded, at lease on paper, to be compelling. I think it's great they were attempting to explore Slavic folklore; most games that use real-world mythologies tend to use the tried-and-true Greek myths for their basis, so it's always great to see someone explore something much more obscure. But we can't ever know how the game would have felt in action and whether it would had suffered from the less-than-precise motion detection from the original Wii Remote. Strangely enough, in 2014 Sadness briefly returned to news headlines when it was announced that HullBreach Studios was working with Cthulhi Games in order to bring the game to the Wii U. Unfortunately, just as quickly as hopes were raised, they were again dashed when it was revealed that the two companies didn't actually have the rights to the Sadness IP and that for the time being the rights were being fought over by four different studios. As of 2020 that seems to have been that last word on Sadness, a vision that offered some unique prospects, but failed to ever materialize as anything remotely close to a real game.
Edited by Inzoreno