Djinn is a cancelled action RPG planned initially for PC and later also for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The project was in development by Castaway Entertainment, a talented team founded in 2003 by former developers who left Blizzard North, some of which were previously working on the cancelled version of Diablo 3. Djinn was quite hyped at the time because of its connection with the Diablo series and many RPG fans were eager to see more from the game, promising hundreds of hours of adventure, exploration and rare loot. Unfortunately before its cancellation not much was ever revealed about Djinn, its gameplay mechanics or plot, but thanks to the finding of its pitch document we can now learn more about this ambitious project.
Castaway wanted to create an innovative role playing game with a story told in real time, while players were actively exploring its world and listening to the protagonist’s comrates. This team of characters following the protagonist could have been similar to the “pawn” system used many years later in Dragon’s Dogma, but with heavy interconnections with the main storyline:
“The idea of a next-generation, greatly upgraded Diablo II on console forms the basis of the concept and marketing strategy for our newest game, Djinn. Djinn is a real-time 3D action roleplaying game of heroic risks in an island world of ancient mythical beings and forbidden magic. With non-stop pacing unfettered by text dialog choices, and featuring larger than life ruins, temples, and legendary creatures, Djinn reveals a real time story told not by signpost NPCs but by your very traveling companions”
“Our unique twist on companions is the Crew concept. The crew members are intriguing, multi-purpose characters who are also lesser heroes in their own right, much like the Argonauts (the Greek heroes who made up the crew of Jason’s ship Argo). They can be added or removed at any time to the questing party, and each one has unique powers that the player will enjoy experimenting with. In combination, crew members may reveal additional abilities.”
Djinn’s gameplay would have been inspired by many more games other than the popular Diablo 2, adding physics-based combat and environment interaction, plus a series of “cards” that could change the game’s world and how players could interact and fight in this world. We could imagine it as an ambitious mix between Psi-Ops, Phantom Dust, Baten Kaitos and Hand of Fate:
“Djinn combines Diablo II quality, item collection, tactical equipment and skill choices, and dynamic, user-friendly combat; Phantom Dust playfield interaction and destruction; Psi-Ops physics-based combat; Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal’s varied attacks and situational awareness; and Magic: The Gathering’s highly addictive collectible and customizable booster packs.”
“We will be showing off our combat moves, interactive environments and highly vertical levels using advanced physics. Players will be able to do many things with our physics engine, including: Push victims off ledges or slam them into spikes; Drop objects onto targets far below; Knock over pillars and break platforms, in order to damage opponents; Knock back enemies who fall down with rag doll physics; Create “domino” effects where one object knocks into another.”
“Djinn is designed to be a modular system that allows the player to make significant changes to their own game play experience. A player may alter their character’s skills, reconfigure their quests, select their companions, and even make changes to the world itself. These modifiers are contained in virtual “cards” that the player may collect, trade, buy, or sell with other players. “Cards” are currently being used as a metaphor for a system of tokens that can be applied within the game. The final game pieces will most likely take the form of artifacts or scrolls, not tarot or playing cards. Regardless of how the player wishes to manage their cards, everyone begins with a basic set (a virtual deck) that contains five types of cards: Skill Cards, Hero Cards, Quest Cards, World Cards, and Crew Cards. By playing combinations of these five types, the player is able to explore different locales over and over with very different experiences.”
By mixing and organizing different decks of cards, player could have been able to customize their gameplay experience, to make it their own personal adventure:
“Skill cards are a collection of spells and physical talents that the hero can use to affect the world. Most, but not all, are combat related. These cards are further divided into seven sets: Sorcery, Curses, Enchantment, Archery, Brawling, Proficiencies, and Swordfighting.”
“Hero cards are similar to skill cards in that they provide the player character with additional abilities. Hero cards are also different in that the abilities they provide are usually on a grander scale than skills and the frequency in which they are available to apply is much lower.”
“World cards are played just before an adventure begins and they primarily modify the playfield based on their description. This diversity will add to the game’s capacity for exploration and replay as well as reward the player for his efforts. Examples of world altering effects include decreased gravity, slowing of time, always daylight, and dampened magic. World cards’ other function is largely altering the parameters within the quest such as experience, gold, type and number of enemies, and value of dropped items.”
“Quest cards serve two purposes. They specify the goals that a player must accomplish in order to continue in the narrative and/or receive rewards. Quest cards also define the amount and type of modifications that may be applied to quests. For example, a player may activate a quest card that tells him to slay an evil ogre in order to rescue a wise man. It may further define the quest by limiting the number of world cards to three and allowing two crew members to accompany him.”
“Crew cards define the non-player characters that can be included in the hero’s party during a quest. Different cards may describe the same crew member at differing ability levels or slightly different skills. While these cards are played at the time a quest card is used, crew members may be swapped at any time during an excursion by sending one member back to the ship in exchange for another member.”
Thanks to its card-based modular system, Castaway planned to add more content, expansions and micro-transaction in Djinn, preceding a gambling alike economic system heavily used today by AAA games a free to play titles:
“Through online play, players can access purchasable add-on content that allows them to endlessly customize their gameplay experience using a drop-in card system. These quest/item collections would be very addictive purchases, something like collectible card bonus packs. Using our adaptive content generation technology to generate both quests and rewards, we would ensure that no two players receive the exact same experience or item set. Online trading of cards, special unique cards, and sharing card benefits with online teammates will make this a revolutionary method of delivering new features to players, as well as increase the desire to purchase more cards.”
“An addictive quality created by random reinforcement of behaviors, much the way playing a slot machine entices a gambler to keep putting coins in the slot. Payoffs are given just frequently enough to keep a person playing, but not so often as to make the gamble predictable.”
“By carrying over this addictive gambling and customizing to online content purchasable as low-cost transactions, Djinn will run on a business model new to video games but already well tested in the collectible card market.”
The world of Djinn would have been divided into different islands, somehow like in Zelda: Wind Waker, using a ship to explore the sea and reach new areas. By finding or buying rare cards players would open up entire new islands or even magical planes that were previously inaccessible. Players could also find unique ship modifications: for example, some mods would be linked to their monster kills, like a head of a unique creature mounted on the prow of the ship. Other modifications could have included a special ship-borne weapon like a magical ice ballista that could be added to the ship, or even a potent magical enchantment.
We could also relate Djinn multi-islands world to the popular One Piece manga, with the game planned to offer ship-based adventures through many different and bizarre islands, with special events (such as a waterspout that leads up to a city in the clouds), trade routes, new monster ecologies, secret locations (often magical in nature), charts and secret treasure maps. Inspirations from classic literature such as Sinbad, Ulysses, and other famous sea captains were also reported in the pitch document: Castaway wanted to focus Djinn on heroic combat, bold exploration, and the discovery of forbidden artifacts of power, all within a vast ocean world of magical islands and storm-tossed, sea-serpent infested waters.
In the same pitch document we can also read a brief overview for the planned story:
“There have always been the Djinn. They are beings of varied form, enormous power, and eternal life. But they have one great flaw: distrust. It is because of this overwhelming suspicion that they have been unable to create anything greater than themselves.”
“When the Djinn discovered what men could do, they became jealous and enraged. They turned on mankind and strove to obliterate him from the world. They almost succeeded, but some men studied the Djinn, and learned the ways of magic. These few we know as the magi. After almost wiping out every city but those on the edges of the great continent, a band of mages came together and formulated a plan. They reasoned that though they could not extinguish the Djinn from the world they could contain them. So they created magical vessels numbering seven hundred by seven hundred to imprison the Djinn.”
“Playing the role of a renowned ship captain, the player will gather a crew of heroes in order to rescue a princess from a recently released ancient Djinn. Competing with a brash woman and a duty-bound captain of the guard, each with their own ship and crew, the player will adventure to strange and dangerous islands of seers, Cyclopeses, and sphinxes to find the princess, only to be tricked by the Djinn and trapped in a tormenting illusion inside the Djinn’s bottle. After a daring escape involving enemy fortresses and a trip over the edge of the world, the player will face not only his feelings for the woman who thwarts him at every turn, but also the man who seeks to stop him for the good of the kingdom. Finally, the player will confront the Djinn in the Sultan’s palace itself and re-imprison the Djinn for the safety of the world.”
Full development of the game was started in 2004 thanks to money from Electronic Arts, a promising partnership that could have provided all the funds needed to make Djinn a new, popular AAA IP:
“Electronic Arts, the world’s leading interactive entertainment software company today announced an exclusive worldwide publishing agreement with start-up development studio, Castaway Entertainment. Based in Redwood City, CA the independent game studio currently includes eight creative, artistic and technical staffers, who are credited with the creation of blockbuster hits Diablo(R), Diablo II(R) and Diablo II(R): Lords of Destruction expansion pack. Development of a new action-RPG title is already underway, and the team is beginning to staff up to produce this major title. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.”
Unfortunately after a year the partnership with EA dissolved and Castaway tried to find another publisher, pitching the project to different studios. The team was especially eager to work on “next gen” (at the time) consoles, during a time in which console games were the most successful in the market and publishers were searching for new IPs to sell to Xbox 360 and PS3 owners:
“We recognize that the amount of resources that a publisher puts into Djinn will determine the kind of game that Castaway can create. If a publisher wanted to create an AAA title which had cutting edge graphics, advanced gameplay, and high potential for replayability then a higher investment (in terms of both time and money) will be required. We believe that we have the right combination of team and technology to make that investment profitable in the long run. We can work with publishers to find the optimal balance of investment and risk to make the best game possible.”
“Our goal is to use our expertise to create an intense but elegantly simple Action / RPG for next-generation consoles. We are aiming at the same level of quality and mass sales as console classics such as Final Fantasy VII or Legend of Zelda: the Ocarina of Time, using the sophisticated PC-style approach of believably and deep gameplay to take Action / RPGs to a new degree of quality. This approach will be ideal for the discerning older, hardcore, or early adopter audience on next-gen consoles. The success of products like Goldeneye 64 or Grand Theft Auto 3 demonstrates that a PC-to-console approach can result in a big hit. Our concept for Djinn takes the best aspects of PC gaming, plus the special strengths of Diablo and Diablo II, and applies them to console.”
It’s not clear if they ever found another partner interested in funding Djinn for PC and consoles, but unfortunately the team had to close down in April 2008 because of lack funds to continue working on their games. Other than Djinn, Castaway Entertainment were also working on Civil Warriors, a mysterious real time strategy game for Playstation Network.
After the closure of the studio, former vice president Stefan Scandizzo shared a video from an early Djinn prototype and said:
“After five years of secrecy, I’d like to show the public what we were working so hard to develop. Djinn is an action-RPG in the spirit of our former work, but with full 3D [graphics], interactive environments, [non-player character] companions that aided the player and told the story as the game progressed. The video is of a fully playable demo from early in 2005 (so it was developed before the current consoles were available).”
It’s such a shame to see a promising game like this one to fail because of lack of publisher, but as we often learn on Unseen64, videogames are money-driven products and cannot be completed without enough funds. In the end, Castaway’s only released title was Yaris, an Xbox Live Arcade advert-game given away for free to promote car manufacturer Toyota’s line of subcompact cars.
“Envisioned as a cross between Diablo and the popular Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, Demonborn drops up to 10 competing players on a variety of battlefields, asking them to complete an array of cooperative and competitive objectives with customizable characters. The game is designed to grow beyond the original release, with new skills, equipment, levels, and characters either packed in to full expansions or added by way of microtransactions.”
The project was initially funded by Challenge Online Games, but in late 2009 the publisher dropped the project when they were purchased by Zynga, and Big Tree Games were again left without support to complete their game. A sad ending for such a talented and ambitious team.
Thanks to More Museum for the contribution!