Waaaaaaaay back when I first started at BlizzPro, one of the first scoops I picked up was about Mike Booth, former CEO of Turtle Rock Studios and director of the original Left 4 Dead. Booth had left Valve for Blizzard, and came on as a game director for an unannounced project, for which he was hiring producers and artists as of December 2013.
At the time, we thought that Booth may have been given the reigns of “Project Titan,” which earlier that year was announced to have been “reset.” When the Overwatch trademark was revealed some months later, that sparked those fires again, though nothing was certain. When Titan was later cancelled completely, there was still no noise out of Booth.
Finally, with the announcement of Overwatch at BlizzCon 2014 and the recognition of Jeff Kaplan as the director, and with no Mike Booth to be seen, the mystery continued. And now that mystery has seemingly come to an unsatisfying end.
My project wasn't a good fit for #Blizzard and I left the studio in June to start something new. On to the next adventure!
— Mike Booth (@_MikeBooth) July 31, 2015
Given how quietly Booth was able to enter and exit the company, he almost feels like a shadow. Sometime during 2013 he joins Blizzard and pitches (or was pitched) a project, Blizzard likes the concept and makes him a director, giving him the resources he needs to develop the idea further, but then two years later, Booth leaves with the line that the “project wasn’t a good fit.” Assuming that Blizzard gets to keep whatever Booth developed for them, and that he specifically stated that he’s left to start something new, it’s highly unlikely that Booth would try to resurrect the project himself with another studio.
In addition, given that same line about it not being a good fit, there’s a solid chance that this project will basically go on the same dusty shelf as Starcraft: Ghost and Warcraft Adventures and never be spoken of again. Those projects are infamous because they were announced before it was certain that they’d be released (they also are two examples of Blizzard collaborating with a third party studio to produce the game, something they’ve never done since), so in a way, the fact that we have no idea what Booth and his team were working on within Blizzard means that we can’t really get too upset that it’ll never see the light of day.
Put another way, Blizzard doesn’t want to disappoint their fans by announcing a game only to ultimately release nothing. That’s part of why Titan was never officially announced, even if it was officially cancelled (and even if plenty of sources indicate that Overwatch was ultimately born from the ashes of Titan’s seven-year-long development).
For my piece? Knowing about Booth’s innovations with AI as expressed in Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2, and CS:GO, I can’t help but think that he was working on something that could have been revolutionary in terms of artificial players. Speaking more broadly to his impact on the rest of Blizzard, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn if the scripting done to make garrison characters behave dynamically in Warlords of Draenor was something that Booth assisted with, though we have no way of knowing that for sure. I’m especially sad that Booth’s departure means that the likelihood of a “Mann vs. Machine“-styled co-op mode in Overwatch is probably not as high as it is without him, but given Blizzard’s laser-focus on that game’s team fight design, maybe a mode like that was never in the cards to begin with.
Either way, Booth has moved on to greener pastures, and unless someone at Blizzard is willing to reveal any details about what he was working on, whether at gamescom next week or BlizzCon, it’s likely that we’ll never know what he and a team of AAA devs were building.
If you’ve got a hot tip on what Booth was doing or just want to sound off about his departure, let us know in the comments.