Game Zero (Zoonami) [GameCube – Cancelled]

Game Zero (Zoonami) [GameCube – Cancelled]

Game Zero (later known as Project Z3796WP) is a cancelled sandbox action platformer that Zoonami has been developing from 2000 to 2002 as an exclusive game for Nintendo’s Gamecube. The project became popular in 2000 as one of the early games announced for the – at the time – new Nintendo console, when former Rare employee Martin Hollis opened his own software house. Unfortunately Game Zero was never shown to the media and it was quietly canned after about 3 years of development.

Martin started working at Rare in 1993 when he was hired to work as a programmer on Killer Instinct. After KI was completed he found out that Nintendo was about to acquire the license to develop a game based on the new James Bond movie – at the time still without an official name. It seems that Rare’s founders Tim and Chris Stamper were initially not sure about working on a James Bond tie-in, but Martin successfully offered himself to direct the project. In 1997 Goldeneye 007 was released for Nintendo 64, becoming one of the most popular titles ever produced for the console.

A game more different than the others

After Goldeneye, the same team started working on Perfect Dark, but in 1998 Martin left Rare with the project still unfinished. He wanted to explore the world and to work on something more exciting and original than a sequel. As we can read from an interview with Gamasutra in 2007:

Gamasutra: Why didn’t you do another Bond game?

Martin Hollis: We were offered the sequel. The rest of the team were keen, and in one respect, out of all of them, I was the one most likely to say, ‘Yes’ because I loved Bond. But I was able to say, ‘No’ in a second. A lot of the high level decisions on Perfect Dark were made to try and be different to GoldenEye but still reuse some expertise and engine. Really though, I needed to work on a game more different than Perfect Dark for it to be interesting.

After leaving Rare, initially Martin traveled to South East Asia for half a year and then went to America to collaborate with Nintendo Technology Division. They were busy working on the new “Project Dolphin” 128 bit console, only later renamed as GameCube. As he still wanted to work on innovative games, in 1999 Martin went back to Cambridge, United Kingdom, to set up an experimental indie studio, named Zoonami Ltd. The original Zoonami team was composed just of a few people: Martin Hollis, David Jones, Edward Sludden, Gareth Rees, Paul Hankin and Richard Tucker. Zoonami soon created their first concept, an interesting and mysterious game that was internally nicknamed as “Game Zero”.

An exclusive game for Gamecube

Thanks to Martin’s good relationship with Nintendo, Zoonami signed a collaboration with them to develop this concept into an original GameCube exclusive title. As soon as gaming websites and magazines found out about the deal, rumors started to circulate about a possible new GameCube first person shooter, authored by the lead director of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. That was so far away from the truth.

Probably most journalist did not know the main reason why Martin decided to left Rare in 1998, or they would have easily debunked such rumors. Zoonami wanted to create something original, not just duplicate Goldeneye. To give their fans some hints about what they were really working on, the team published a curious “censored pitch letter” on their official website in 2002, with a short description:

“We are currently working on a game, but we’re not at liberty to reveal very much about it yet. You might want to check out some of the unfounded rumours about it. Meanwhile here is the project proposal, from our files”

game zero Zoonami pitch proposal

There are some key concepts that should be noted in this image: esoteric taste, small planet, telescope, device. After this letter, nothing more was announced about Game Zero, no screens or videos were ever released and Zoonami has gone quiet for a few years. Then in 2004 they announced another pitch named “Funkydilla”, an original one-button music game – that unfortunately never found a viable publisher.

In July 2004 they updated their Website posting a placeholder image with a “spy-themed” desk, showing a gun, a pair of glasses, a briefcase and some top-secret documents. This rendering fueled rumors about Game Zero being a new espionage or hitman-themed FPS for GameCube, but both the press and gamers did not know that the project was already been canned since 2 years at that point.

game zero Zoonami FPS website placeholder

Zoonami disappeared again until 2006, when they finally released their first commercial game, Zendoku, for Nintendo DS and PSP. The studio only released 2 other games before closing down in 2010: Go! Puzzle for PSN and Bonsai Barber for WiiWare, both in 2009.

Game Zero, finally unveiled

What exactly was Game Zero, how would have it been played and why was it cancelled? The main cause for its cancellation was that the concept they were trying to develop was too complex for its time, due to technical and marketing reasons. Game Zero would have been an original sandbox action platformer set in destructable voxel levels: players would have been able to mine rocks and terrains, gaining items and resources to build new structures.

game zero, zoonami's gamecube title that sounds a little like minecraft

Does it sound a bit like Minecraft? We asked to Martin if Game Zero could have been a sort of ancestor for Notch’s popular sandbox game:

“Ancestor isn’t quite the right word. After all I believe nobody connected to Zach of Zachtronics (Infiniminer) and to Notch of Mojang saw any part of GameZero. There’s a connection. Minecraft has created its precursors.”

In early october 2015 Martin even discussed about the similarities between Game Zero and Minecraft at the “[Select/Start] PLAY” event at Viborg, Denmark, during his talk titled “How to Succeed at Designing GoldenEye. How to Fail at Designing Minecraft“. Unfortunately the destruction and building of voxels in Game Zero were too RAM-intensive to be suitable for consoles or PCs hardwares at the time. Zoonami did not want to continue working on something that was not keeping pace with their plans. The console gaming market was also one of their concerns as the most popular GameCube titles in 2002 were examples of traditional gameplay experiences (Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness, Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime and Star Fox Adventures) in contrast with the sandbox, open-ended gameplay design planned for Game Zero. In 3 years Zoonami did many experiments and created a playable prototype, but in the end they decided to cancel its development: it was not the right game and not the right market.

“At the time we stopped the project, we had developed a handful of levels with something of a platformer feel. The avatar and vehicles had antigravity movement mainly constrained to the ground, and the player discovered their goals were to navigate, to rescue a few characters from the level, and to collect items partly from the rock. The levels were fairly tightly circumscribed in space, much more like Mario 64 than an open world game.”

As it happened with Perfect Dark, Game Zero’s protagonist would have been a female character. But this time the game was set in a fantasy alien planet inhabited by strange yellow creatures. Players would have been able to explore different areas of the planet using vehicles and laser guns, in a cartoony graphic style created with simple voxel geometries. As they wrote in Zoonami’s original company profile:

“We know that the key element of a video game is fun. The most important thing for a game is not the number of features or objects or weapons or levels, or the special effects, not story, not sound, not graphics, not even characterization. All these are important and crucial to success, but subordinate to fun. We think it is important to provide new experiences for the player. Old games don’t get played much, not because they are bad games, but because they are old. To fulfil the player’s desire for variety we strive for creativity and originality.”

Unfortunately players never had a chance to have fun with Game Zero on GameCube and the project was later forgotten with the release of the new Wii console. When asked if it wasn’t “a bit depressing only to have released one game in seven years” in that same Gamasutra interview from 2007, Martin replied:

If some of your projects don’t fail, that’s evidence you’re not taking chances. We are taking chances and a lot of our projects end up being cancelled or put on the shelf. I make the decision in most cases. Not every daring idea can be bought to fruition. […] This sort of thing happens in movies and TV all the time, although they don’t call it research. For every movie that comes out, there are hundreds of scripts. There’s a lot of work goes on behind the scenes that no one ever hears about.”

Although Game Zero was never released, we are happy we had the chance to hear a bit more about this interesting lost project and we could take a look at a few images of the unfinished prototype. Today Martin Hollis is still working on experimental concepts, as in 2013 when he designed an interactive project called “Aim for Love“, available to be played during GameCity festival of that year. Using cameras and big screens set in Nottingham’s Market Square, people from the crowd could play by “aiming” at other people and interacting with each other, in a strange mix between an alternative reality game and a social experiment.

Thanks a lot to Martin Hollis for his help to preserve more info and images from this lost project in the Unseen64 archive.



Skies of Arcadia 2 [Cancelled – GameCube, PS2]

The original Skies of Arcadia was released in late 2000 / early 2001 on Dreamcast, and soon became a cult hit among JRPG fans. The game was developed by Overworks, a SEGA team composed of numerous legendary developers and designers, including Rieko Kodama, Shuntarō Tanaka, and Noriyoshi Ohba; who worked on past RPGs, such as the Phantasy Star series, Magic Knight Rayearth, Wonder Boy in Monster Land and the Sakura Taisen series. Hype was high and the final game was really one of the best japanese RPGs released in the ‘00, but unfortunately, it seems that Skies of Arcadia did not sell enough on Dreamcast (does anyone have official sales numbers?), maybe because of the low user base and the console early departure in early 2001.

skies of arcadia 2 cancelled

Sega was still confident about their sky-pirates project: they developed an enchanted PS2 and GameCube ports with added featured, to try to sell more copies and earn back some of the money spent to create the game. The GameCube version was released in December 2002 under the title “Skies of Arcadia Legends” but PS2 port was canned for some reasons, throwing away one of the biggest user base for RPG fanatics. As most Nintendo console, GameCube was not an easy console to sell third parties titles and with a lower percentage of people interested in turn based role playing games, Skies of Arcadia Legend bombed even harder than the Dreamcast version.

Before losing all faith in the game, Sega and Overworks were planning a sequel to Skies of Arcadia, as confirmed by interviews with developers from the original team. In June 2001 IGN asked to Noriyoshi Ohba about Skies of Arcadia 2 and he replied:

We’re considering a sequel to “Eternal Arcadia.” Regarding which platform, we’re still evaluating it.

In September 2002, before Skies of Arcadia Legends was published, Rieko Kodama told to Gamespy that work on the sequel was not yet started, but they really wanted to do it in the future:

I would love to make a sequel, but were really not working on it yet. […] We don’t know what platform we would make a sequel for, but GameCube has priority since Legend is coming out for it.

In march 2004 Ohba announced that they started some planning on the second episode:

The Skies of Arcadia sequel is in the planning stages at the moment.

In late 2004, Rieko talked again about Skies of Arcadia 2 in an interview with german Man!ac magazine (issue 1 / 2005) in which she said:

MAN!AC: There were rumors about a sequel (to Skies of Arcadia) or a “Gaiden” episode. Can you tell us something about that

Rieko : We had plans, but the other team members are currently working on other projects such as “Sakura Taisen” – this means SoA2 is currently on hold. Anyway I would be very glad about a new episode with the sky pirates.

In 2003 Overworks was absorbed into SEGA WOW and only a year later the team was split again because of another Sega company restructure: people that worked on Skies of Arcadia were scattered around on different games. As far as we were able to gather, not much was ever did for Skies of Arcadia 2 but at least a few ideas and concepts seem to have been brainstormed by the team, still hoping to release a sequel on GameCube or Playstation 2. In 2006 Nintendo and Sony released their new consoles (Wii, PS3) and whichever plans Sega had for a new Skies RPG on GameCube or PS2 will never see the light of day.

skies of arcadia valkyrie

Even without a sequel, love for Skies of Arcadia is still strong at Sega. Vyse, Aika and Fina, three of the main SoA protagonists, were added as bonus characters in Valkyria Chronicles, released in 2008 on PS3. Vyse is also a playable character in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, released in 2012 for different consoles / PC and one of the game’s tracks, Rogues’ Landing, is based on Skies of Arcadia’s world.

Thanks to Mario for the contribution! 

Nintendo’s Harry Potter [Pitch / Cancelled – N64, GBA, GameCube]

Nintendo’s Harry Potter [Pitch / Cancelled – N64, GBA, GameCube]

In 1998, Nintendo of America’s internal team, Nintendo Software Technology developed a pitch to lock down exclusive access to the Harry Potter rights. Had it been successful, Nintendo would have secured the rights to produce all adaptations of the book series for the indefinite future in video game form; potentially preventing the eventual movie adaptations from being created altogether.

Nintendo and the Harry Potter license

Nintendo’s vision for Hogwarts.

According to one former artist of the studio, a sudden order from Nintendo’s management halted work on their three titles in development at the time (Ridge Racer 64, Bionic Commando and Crystalis) when news arrived that the license was to be auctioned off. This was a blanket license covering all formats of adaptation, including not only video games, but TV and film as well.

“The license went up for sale and all these major media companies were putting together pitches.”

The studio was then split into two: the primary group focused on devising on a pitch for a third person adventure title, whilst a smaller team worked on a potential game based around quidditch. The latter division reportedly included Marvel comic book artist, Adi Granov, who was responsible for character art.

Nintendo pitch for Harry Potter games

Hogwarts Express concept art by Nintendo ST.

Nintendo ST aspired to develop the adaptations themselves, with versions planned to be released on Nintendo 64, Gameboy Advance and later Gamecube; as well as any of Nintendo’s future platforms further down the line. These releases would have coincided with the launch of each new book.

“All together it was only a week of insanely furious scribbling things to the digital artists to create animations for mock game demos”

The license holder, JK Rowling, agreed to view Nintendo’s presentation, but this was not without some trepidation among the members of Software Technology. Our source alleges that there was a disagreement at one point over which art style would be most appropriate for the franchise. Towards the start, there was a push for character designs inspired by those of the first book’s cover art by Thomas Taylor. However, it wasn’t long before the studio’s higher-ups took against this idea and forced it in a different direction:

“…it went against all my instincts based on what I had read quotes from JK about keeping it strictly British, and I had to revamp my initial designs and go more manga/Japanese – I had a big fight about that, but my boss insisted”

Harry Potter concept art for Nintendo games

Hagrid’s Hut concept art.

We have unfortunately been unable to post images of these characters, since Nintendo would not allow its artists to share any of them publicly.

According to our source, the crew developing the quidditch game proposal had wanted to follow a similar route with regards to character design:

“[Name redacted] did get to do a more realistic take – I remember his Hermione being really nicely realized, but I doubt he saved anything from those days.”

Ultimately, Nintendo’s bid was declined by JK Rowling. Our source revealed that the writer turned it down in favor of several other proposals by media giants with greater resources, such as Disney and Universal. Whereas Nintendo was only able to offer forays into the realm of video games, these larger companies had the ability to spread out into TV and film; as well as gaming.

Rowling, in the end, sold the rights to Warner Bros. for a reported £1m. WB would later contract Electronic Arts to create video game adaptations of their film series based off the books. The first, Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone was released in 2001.



Ace Squadron [Cancelled – GameCube / XBOX / PS2]

Ace Squadron is a cancelled flying shooter that was in development by Atomic Planet for the Playstation 2, GameCube and Xbox. The game was set in World War II and offered various arcade air-combat missions to play and as we can read from the official press release “gamers will be given the opportunity to shout ‘Tally Ho!’ and dive their trusty Spitfire into a dogfight with swarms of Nazi aircraft. There are scores of missions to play, from the heady days of the Battle of Britain to dangerous raids on secret weapons factories in the last days of the war, and dozens of different and powerful warplanes to fly, such as the majestic Spitfire, the nimble Mosquito and the sturdy Lancaster”. The project was never released for unknown reasons and we don’t even know if the game was finished or not as the few screenshots available look like target renders and not actual gameplay.



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