Teebo & Kai was to be an online cooperative, Sci-Fi, 3D platformer developed by Escape Factory and commissioned by Valve. Escape Factory is not a studio many have heard of, and for good reason. The company never released any major games on consoles, just a few casual games like Overball and STX for the PC. Founded in 2000 by Ed Allard and James Gwertzman, the company only lasted 3 years before the company was shut down. Throughout their short existence, the company worked on only 2 major projects, Teebo & Kai and a cancelled entry in the Space Quest franchise.
Very little is known about Teebo and Kai, and the information available contradicts one another. A now delisted video by Tyler McVicker claims that the project was in development for the original Xbox and explains his story for how the project came about’:
“Microsoft approached Valve Software around the year 2000 in order for Valve to create an exclusive title for the then upcoming Xbox. Quickly following the first couple of meetings and contract signings between Microsoft and Valve, Valve put together a team.”
This claim contradicts various sources such as James Gwertzman’s LinkedIn profile and the Escape Factory website (which was updated multiple times during the early 2000s), the latter of which provides a timeline of the entire company’s life and claims that the studio was in fact an independent developer doing contract work for Valve. Not only do the sources claim that they were independent, these sources claim that Teebo and Kai was in development for the PC and was actually a “cooperative platform game prototype” and not a full game.
Another illusive aspect of Teebo & Kai is the gameplay. It was to be an action platformer with online components running on the GoldSrc engine, but very little is known about the moment-to-moment gameplay beyond that. The project would have taken place on an alien planet, with many strange and unique locals that players can visit. Temples, towns, and strange rocky areas are a small fraction of what the supposed game could have had players visit.
Teebo & Kai also would have featured very unique enemy designs for the time. 3-eyed monsters with mouths on their stomach, giant frog creatures with cameras, and gummy bear-like aliens would have filled out the project’s lush planet. Another piece of concept art for the game features flying machines that seem to be enemies, which could be evident of other enemy types in the project.
Another major deviation between the Tyler McVicker video and other sources is the outcome of the project. The previously stated claim that the project was only a prototype and was worked on for a year is further supported by a Powerpoint presentation given by Gwertzman called What to do When it All Goes to Hell: Escape Factory Post-Mortem which gives a detailed timeline of Escape Factory.
While the timeline states that the project was only worked on for 8 months, and was the project only ended because the demo was completed, the Tyler McVicker video also went on to explain their version nature of the project’s cancelation:
“About 2 years in Gabe Newell walked into the office at Valve headquarters that this team was working in, cancelled the project, fired the entire team, and decided that porting Team Fortress to the Xbox was the better option.”
Despite these contradictions, all information on the project confirms that Escape factory then went on to use the tech and progress made on Teebo & Kai to work on a revival of Sierra’s Space Quest franchise. This project was also cancelled later on, after a series of developmental problems.
Article by Alex Cutler