[Page updated: 02/05/2015 with vidoc & development history]
Animal Wars was a tactical RPG for the Playstation 3 in development at Factor 5, Inc. between 2004 and 2006 with Sony Computer Entertainment on board as its publisher. It was planned to be released some time after Lair, which launched in August, 2007.
Factor 5’s Quirky War Game Made By 4 People
According to one former employee, work commenced on the title in 2004, “roughly around the time” pre-production on Lair began. It came about as a result of the multi-game contract Factor 5 signed with Sony to produce a number of games exclusive to their platforms. Until the deal expired, the company was set to have every project of theirs fully funded by the publisher, pending their approval. Every title worked on during this partnership was slated for release on PS3 only and Animal Wars was one of them.
Whereas Lair exhausted a great deal of the developer’s resources from beginning to end, Animal Wars was a considerably smaller project, ongoing in the background for a number of years. Its team was comprised of no more than 4 workers total: 2 designers, 1 dedicated artist and a single programmer. The game was so low down Factor 5’s list of priorities, that every developer assigned to it was at some point repositioned to work on Lair and/or other proposed titles.
Early concept art:
Early character exploration:
Animal Wars was set in “an alternate WWI universe with anthropomorphic animal characters”, one developer recalled. The assassination of “the Archduke Birdinand” (a parody of historical figure, Archduke Franz Ferdinand) in the game’s opening served as the catalyst for the great war its campaign would have centered on. The event would have ignited a global conflict between various nations of animals (e.g. felines, bears, foxes, etc.).
Its developers were hoping to build a unique story-driven experience out of Animal Wars. They had envisioned a rich world with great attention to detail and even went about creating propaganda posters and vintage style newspaper covers for inspiration:
The enemy faction consisted of a coalition between ‘Boarmandy’ (boars), The Black Paw (a rogue cat organisation responsible for Birdinand’s murder), bear soldiers, and the main villains, an army of wolves lead by the evil ‘Isegrimm’. An explosive introductory level was set to portray a savage air raid on a city inspired by London, as perpetrated by boars in ‘Big Bertha’ attack blimps. Players would have then found themselves following the exploits of a canine in an aviator jacket, the planned protagonist; although, other playable characters were being explored, too.
Among the various mission types mulled over during pre-production was one which would have flipped the scale of battle on its head and saw the player taking up the role of a mouse. From this perspective, regular soldiers would appear as humongous titans by comparison, as the mice performed daring espionage operations. Ultimately, this ambitious stage idea never got as far as being prototyped.
One source likened its gameplay, of which very little was completed, to Valkyria Chronicles. It was intended to be a strategy RPG with a turn-based battle system and a unique oil painted art style.
“The graphics were like Valiant Hearts but in 3D” – former Factor 5 developer.
Its concept of anthropomorphic warfare was deceptively innocent on the surface. Early sketches, for instance, depicted a number of particularly violent scenes, including a dog soldier posed atop a decapitated pig. Its artistic direction leaned dark in this respect, though it had yet to be determined how explicit the final product would be.
In what was said to have been a big contributing factor towards Sony’s willingness to fund it, the title was leveraging the work Factor 5’s people had previously done on the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games. It called upon their experiences moulding that game’s blend of ground and air vehicular combat, which the publisher was very keen to capitalise on. Boats and amphibious tanks would have featured, too.
As explained by one of our sources, a central part of its concept was that each of the vehicles would have, in some form, integrated attributes associated with different animals into their design and functionality:
“For example, I worked on making a jeep that would always land upright no matter how crazy you drove it (cat landing on all fours).”
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Among the few that contributed to Animal Wars throughout its lifespan, the enthusiasm for it was in abundance. One ex member of Factor 5 even took to NeoGAF some years later to exclaim:
“It was fucking amazing looking and was way better than Lair so it made all of us sad it got cancelled.”
One of our sources echoed these sentiments, saying that its apparent independence from Factor 5’s higher ups was much to its benefit:
“I was more excited about Animal Wars than Lair because it was a smaller team and upper management left it alone (upper management interference greatly contributed to Lair’s failure).”
Despite this, none of the excitement held internally for the project could ultimately prevent its demise, as the relationship between Sony and Factor 5 began to sour.
Pre-vis. character models:
In the beginning, the deal between them was forged primarily so that the San Rafael studio would reinforce the PS3’s launch line-up with an original IP, which would later turn out to be Lair. Any other projects they were behind, Animal Wars included, were largely a show of good faith on Sony’s behalf.
Crucially, Lair was first scheduled to be available for the PS3 within its first few months on the North American market in fall 2006. However, its development encountered many hurdles; chief among which was the higher ups demanding the addition of motion controls and the team simply struggling to get to grips with the console’s then perplexing development environment. Factor 5 was already a company of limited resources, but Lair’s troubled life cycle lead to a number of departures mid-development. This left them unable to fulfill their end of the contract and thus, requested the game be delayed into 2007.
The publisher’s response was less than understanding. They promptly cut off all funding to Animal Wars and redistributed any monetary assets designated for it into Lair. The developers weren’t willing or able to self-finance the remainder of the project, resulting in its subsequent cancellation. The move also put an end to a number of other propositions, including a shoot ’em up called Virus and a reboot of Turrican.
One developer we spoke with detailed how the game had reached the prototyping phase when it was shelved, but never left pre-production:
“At the time, we had a working biplane, tank, jeep and 3rd person character working… We had a vertical slice of a damaged town that the lead character (a greyhound in WWI aviator outfit) and the tank was able to run around. We also had a pretty massive terrain for the biplane to fly around (similar in size to what ended up in Lair).”
Prototype character models:
The former employee admitted that the prototype build suffered visibility issues, which they had not yet been able to resolve when development came to a close. These were caused by the dark colour palette employed by both its character models and environments, which would blend together unintentionally.
Animal Wars was never officially announced and its prototype materials were locked away by the management of Factor 5, Inc. during the company’s closure in late 2008.