Many video games never see the light of day. While some are developed and canceled in secret, only for their existence to emerge years later, others' cancelations are much more infamous because of how public they are. One of the Nintendo Wii's most infamous canceled titles is a horror game called Sadness.
While this horror game that pushed the best-selling system to its limits never saw the light of day, its ambition and even some story elements and themes clearly inspired The Medium, one of the first major Xbox Series X console exclusives of this generation.
Sadness was announced all the way back in 2006 before the Wii was even released. This horror game was set in the past and would push the Wii hardware to its limits with a lot of Wii remote functionality and a black-and-white aesthetic. It was in development at the Polish developer Nibiris, but remained trapped in development hell to the extent that it never saw the light of day.
While Nibris was eventually shut down, a core team from the Polish developer went on to create Bloober Team, the studio that developed The Medium for Xbox Series X. While The Medium has its own identity thanks to an ambitious Dual Reality gameplay gimmick that would never have been possible 15 years ago, you can clearly see the roots of Sadness within The Medium.
Spoilers for The Medium follow.
The most overt connection this canceled game has to The Medium is that one of the main characters is actually named Sadness. This is almost certainly an intentional nod to the canceled title and its influence on The Medium.
The games also share an unsettling tone, a focus on psychological horror over violent jump scares, a parent-child dynamic, and even fixed camera gameplay. The closest we ever got to a full plot synopsis for Sadness was from an interview with writer Adam Antolski with N-Europe.
"The main character, Maria Lengyel, a woman of Polish-Hungarian roots was supposed to arrive in Lviv [Ukraine], and the city was supposed to change in the bare moonlight into a somewhat gore-covered place," he explains. She would also have a blind son named Alexander who she'd have to take care of.
"The main heroine would see visions, which were supposed to include her memories from the past," Antolski said, "therefore the player wouldn't be sure if she really was seeing monsters or if she was just mentally insane." While it isn't exactly the same, a major part of The Medium is delving into the memories and pasts of the many victims at the Niwa Hotel.
At some points in the game, players control another Medium named Thomas and are even able to go into the past and experience key moments in the lives of other characters. While none of these scenarios take place in the same setting as Sadness, there's a clear connection in how both games would address past trauma.
The idea for Maria's visions could have also evolved in Marianne's ability to see into the Spirit World, and definitely have the player question Marianne's sanity at some points. The mother-father dynamic between Maria and Alexander could've evolved into the father-daughter focus we see with Thomas, Lillianne, and Marianne in The Medium.
Lots of intriguing story ideas for a horror game were clearly conceived for Sadness but weren't ever fully achieved until The Medium. So why did Sadness never come out?
Bloober Team founder Piotr Babieno explained what went wrong with Sadness in a September 2020 interview with GamesIndustry.biz, saying, "In the end, we realized that we don't have the experience and the people who we hired didn't have the experience either." Babieno says that this experience caused him to "put the ambition to create huge [narrative] horror games into my pocket."
This can even be seen with The Medium, which was announced back in 2012 but put on ice until the technology and developer's talent caught up to the idea. Bloober Team eventually achieved recognition through games like Layers of Fear and Blair Witch. Clearly, the success of those games led to The Medium being a larger-scale release.
After 15 years, The Medium was able to tell a compelling, woman-led horror story when Sadness couldn't. While The Medium has its flaws, the ambition is undeniable and impressive. At the very least, it finally fulfills some of the ideas that were first presented in a failed video game that was announced 15 years ago.
The Medium is available now for PC and Xbox Series X.