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So, What Happened to 'Routine,' That Promising Space Horror Game From 2013?

I want to start checking in on games that disappeared from the world, so we might as well start with one I can't forget.

by Patrick Klepek
Feb 2 2018, 5:00pm

Image courtesy of Lunar Software

Ever have one of those games you look up on Google every once and awhile, wondering what happened? You’ve given up on playing the thing, but still, you’re curious.

For more than five years, I’ve been looking forward to a horror game called Routine. The 2012 trailer teased a sci-fi thriller where players wander a space station, scrounging for resources, and hiding from menacing robots. The grimy Alien aesthetic pulled me in, and when I learned it was a non-linear adventure with permadeath and no HUD—the UI was supposed to communicate everything—I was completely sold.

That trailer promised a game in 2013. It is, of course, 2018. What happened?

It wasn't an an immediate bait and switch; the developer, Lunar Software, started giving regular updates every few months. In June 2013, we got a first look at gameplay. This is around the time when Routine went from “Oh, interesting” to “Oh, goddamn.”

Most of the trailer is quiet, dark, and moody. It’s unclear what happened on this station, but you seem to be the only one around, and things went very, very poorly for everyone else. You can sort through retro-futuristic computer terminals, trying to piece together what might have happened. Then, as you turn a corner: stomp, stomp, stomp.

A robot. You don’t know what the machine’s intentions are, but the sheer speed it's marching the hallway at, combined with the surrounding destruction, is foreboding.

Stomp, stomp, stomp. Stomp, stomp, stomp.

The trailer still gives me chills. I profiled the game on Giant Bomb later that year, as part of my annual Halloween coverage. Though 2013 came and went, in early 2014, the developers said they’d made “huge progress” but a “good amount of work” still needed to be done before they could provide another release window. If they said the game was coming in a few months and didn’t, they argued, that made nobody happy.

A number of months went by—six, in fact—before the developers resurfaced in late summer, confirming the game was still in development and “a lot has been happening” to finish Routine. To whit, the developers said playtests were “feeling a lot less playtesty.” A lot of games were flirting with Early Access, but that wasn’t in the cards.

“We want to thank you guys for the continual support,” reads an update from Halloween 2014, which brought a new desktop wallpaper. “We really appreciate it and hopefully one day we can return all that amazing love you have given us!”

In March 2015, the developers said they were painstakingly going through the game and replacing placeholder work—gameplay, art, story—to bring everything up to speed. This is usually the point in development when the team is no longer adding new things, turning their attention to tweaking, polishing, and refinement. More importantly, perhaps, was the team clarifying the game wasn’t dead and “progress is going great.” Yay?!

Routine once again went radio silent for most of 2015, returning at the end of the year, wherein the developers tried to (again) address why the game was taking so long:

“Routine is our first project as a team and while we do have some previous experience individually this has been a huge undertaking where we have clearly underestimated a lot of the workload. We are happy with everything we have learnt and we are still completely committed to releasing something that we are all proud of and hopefully something that you will all enjoy.”

Though nobody had seen new footage from Routine in some time, they did release a few new screen shots, suggesting work on the game continued. Routine wasn’t dead!

You couldn’t have been blamed for thinking that, though, given how little was said about Routine in 2016. But everything changed on Halloween: Routine now had a release date, alongside a slick trailer that played more like a horror movie than a game.

March 2017! It was time to get excited all over again. The developers had been aiming for late 2016, but figured Steam’s holiday sale would have proved too distracting. What was another few months, anyway? The game had been delayed for years.

“It’s incredibly motivating to read your kind messages even when development has took so much longer than expected,” said a blog update.

As it would turn out, it would need more than just a few months. As April rolled around, the developers came clean: Routine would not be coming out in March 2017. The big hurdle, they said, was the game’s multiple endings. They’d settled on two, distinct paths through Routine, but one was “not as strong as the other” and they hadn’t resolved it.

“We only get to release Routine once, and we want to make sure we do it right,” said the update. “We don’t expect the delay to add more than a month or two and when we next update, we promise to finally give you a clear release date with a game that we are proud of.”

That’s the last time I thought about Routine, figuring the developers would get in touch when it was time to hand out review copies. That “month or two” flew by without any public word on why a game that had felt nearly finished for several years still hadn’t been released. Nothing would be said about Routine in 2017, and the social media accounts for the game (and developers) went dark.

It’s been nearly a year since Routine blew past its “release date,” prompting me to send a note to the developers, hoping to find out more. Maybe the game was truly dead, and I could move on, crossing Routine off the list of games I absentmindedly dream about.

Or not. Hope springs eternal.

“Thank you for remembering Routine,” said the developers in a statement. “It honestly means a lot to us considering we have been very quiet for a long time now. We are indeed still working on Routine but things have been a bit rough on the personal side, the team is good and well though and we are going very strong!”

The team didn’t elaborate on what’s been “rough on the personal side,” but reiterated they are remaining silent, as they’ve done often before, to avoid raising expectations on when the game might be done. They may not know themselves.

“We just need to make sure that the game is at least 99% complete before we do that as we don't want to miss a release date again,” they said.

There’s reason to take that sentiment with a grain of a salt, of course; it’s been said time and time again. And yet, I take solace in knowing Routine isn’t dead—yet, anyway.

(Please be good!)

Are there games you’ve you been following that just seemed to disappear? Do you want to know what happened to them? Give me a heads up, and I’ll see what I can do.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

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