Heist was a stealth action/adventure game being developed by TrapDoor, the independent studio responsible for 2012’s Warp. It was planned as a digital title for Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and PC platforms.
The Indie Stealth Game That Never Was
Work began on the project codenamed Heist in early 2012, “almost immediately after” development on Warp had commenced, according to one former Trapdoor employee. The game was a high concept, ambitious experiment in creating a 2D stealth experience with slick visuals, seamless combat and intelligent, dynamic AI.
The greater narrative planned for Heist still mostly eludes us, but the central premise revolved around the player assuming the role of a nameless thief to infiltrate a number of top security complexes, stealing valuable items of interest and escaping undetected. Enemy forces carried taser weapons capable of downing the player in a single hit, meaning stealth was key.
Guards concept art:
The protagonist was equipped with a set of advanced spy gadgetry, including shoes that could defy gravity; allowing the player to stick to walls and hang from ceilings. They were also provided with the handy ability to instantly change their outfit on the fly via cloaking technology.
Proof of Concept
Following several months of development, the team at TrapDoor had put together a short prototype for the game. This early demo lasted little over a minute, but was a fully playable vertical slice running live in Unreal Engine 3 on PC hardware. According to one of our sources, the build recycled a lot of assets created for Warp in order to cut costs.
The Evolution of Heist
The original vision for the game’s hero, as seen above, was a fashionably dressed white male with long hair, whose standard choice of clothing included sunglasses and a scarf draped over his shoulder. This design for the character was used only briefly, but was able to make it into the playable test build. However, his appearance seen in the video was only ever intended to be a temporary placeholder, as one artist explained:
“The hero was very stereotyped at first, classic James Bond style but a bit more laid back character still white-cool-bad ass-no brainer attitude. We did the prototype and demo very fast so the main character was created in a very short period of time.”
As they continued to experiment, the character evolved into a slightly younger hispanic man with a somewhat more casual dress sense. There were concepts drafted for his father, who was also a thief, which we understand would have become an important component of the story.
“After the demo I had more time to think and research and I went for a mixed POC, South-American type and a very different silhouette as well as more original/unique proportions overall. When you are a small studio you need to create original material and interesting visuals to get away from the more common AAA realistic titles. Not only the gameplay should be more creative but the graphics as well.”
Another member of the main cast in Heist was the hero’s unnamed love interest. TrapDoor had intended to mould a subversive, strong and capable female with this second playable character, as a former artist of the company, Thierry Doizon explained on his blog:
“I wanted to do something different for the Hero’s love interest, to move on from the traditional sexist and stereotyped representation and the female tropes in the game industry. She was supposed to be a thief too, probably even better/fun than him, however I didn’t have enough time to spend on researches, such a shame, she was my favorite character.”
After 6 months of experimentation, honing in on the direction they wanted Heist to take, the project’s fate was prematurely sealed. It was strictly a business decision that unfortunately killed the game, or due to “a weakening online console market”, as Doizon put it.
“It was a devastating but justified decision”
TrapDoor instead chose to focus one of their two other titles in the works, Warp, which was also the only game they were ever able to complete. However, the lack of success the title received left the indie developer unable to continue. On December 16, 2012, without any formal announcement or acknowledgement by the press, the company quietly closed its doors for good. The team, comprised of industry veterans from Ubisoft and Gameloft, disbanded; but not before sharing some tantalising details of the game Heist could have been.
“When you are a small studio you need to create original material and interesting visuals to get away from the more common AAA realistic titles. Not only the gameplay should be more creative but the graphics as well.
I wanted to experiment a lot with some cool shaders and textures for those characters but we decided to can the project before it would cost too much. Unfortunate but that’s the reality of production and budget” – Thierry Doizon
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It looks freakishly good! Such a waste. The animation style reminds me of that of Peter Chung (Æon Flux, the TV show, not the shitfest of a movie adaptation).
Nice post, as always.
Thank you Andoni! Maybe one day someone will be able to create a full site dedicated to cancelled indie games :)