The premiere game of Tomonobu Itagaki‘s Valhalla Game Studio, primarily made of ex-Team Ninja members Devil’s Third was released in 2015 to incredibly divisive reception. This would come as no surprised as the title was in development on and off for the good hunk of six years. Starting development as a Microsoft published Xbox 360 title only to move to a multiplatform title under the now defunct THQ, only to soon after transfer to the Korean Publisher Doobic, a partnership that promised mobile and PC releases as well, who too would end up going out of business, finally resting on the Nintendo WiiU as a Nintendo published title.
The game was first formally announced at E3 2010 by THQ,(who later that year would announce the ill fated Insane) after Itagaki met with Danny Bilson, who would stay with the game until the end. Announced as a PS3/360 title the game looked to be an action game with a deep focus on mixing gunplay with melee combat. While that much is true in the final WiiU release, one big change can be seen right away. Despite being used for the reveal trailer and title logo, the 3 characters that had been shown would end up replaced by the new protagonist Ivan. Not much is actually known of the original cast of three, but the male character focused on in the trailer bears a resemblance to a villain in the final game named Big Mouse. Another change that can be seen is the excursion of wall running in the final release.
The game would not be shown off more until another trailer the following year, this time focusing on the Japanese celebrity Hard Gay (Masaki Tsumitani) going on a tour of Valhalla’s studio. Despite being four years before the eventual release, in this video a boss (Saha Grundla) and many characters from the final game can be seen.
Another drought of information would come, this time for three years until randomly showing up at E32014, this time by Nintendo. The game had made a drastic change from the last time shown and the lead protagonist was the easiest to see. This would be the first time the game would be shown off in any real detail including a multiplayer mode, according to Itagaki a main reason for Nintendo picking the title up to begin with. The title would then release the following year, despite promises of Nintendo polish, the title would be plagued with issues relating to framerate and lower end graphics, which would give off a very last-gen feel. The contributing factor to polish issues comes from the title shifting through almost as many engines as it did publishers. Starting from proprietary to the Darksider’s Engine, ending with Unreal 3.
Despite the lukewarm reception of the WiiU title in most regions outside of Japan, Valahalla also released a multiplayer-only PC version in Asian territories and their subsidiary Soleil is developing the upcoming Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strike for current consoles. Valhalla also opened up a headquarters in Vancouver to watch over each of it’s subsidiaries.
The story behind The Outsider is closely linked to David Braben, a prolific game designer, recognized as one of the most influential figures in the industry, and to the company he founded, Frontier Developments. Braben started actively working in video game development in the early eighties while still being an undergraduate at Cambridge University and delivered his first title Elite in 1984, in a joint effort with fellow university colleague Ian Bell.
Elite was published by British software house Acornsoft, which mostly specialized itself in developing educational applications for the BBC Micro and the Acorn Electron, released in 1981 and 1983 respectively for the UK market by the now defunct Acorn Computers Ltd, also based in Cambridge.
Elite was revolutionary in several regards. For one, its deep mechanics and open ended nature, a revolutionary approach in a time when games used to be intense experiences set to just take some minutes of the player’s time. But it also became widely recognized for the technology running behind, being the first title to include hidden line removal in its tridimensional engine, a crucial first step in the transition between the primitive 3D wireframes and into what the more complex rendering engines would be capable of doing in the upcoming years and decades.
After the success of Elite, Braben delivered Zarch for the Acorn Archimedes, another family of home computers and the first general-purpose line produced by Acorn. Zarch would be subsequently ported to other contemporary systems under the name of Virus. It was just after this that Braben started work on the long-anticipated sequel to his awarded title Elite, named Frontier: Elite II, as well as foundation of his own game development studio, Frontier Developments Ltd, company which still nowadays operates with Braben as its CEO.
After publishing yet another entry in the Elite series, called Frontier: First Encounters and a sequel to Virus for the PlayStation, titled V2000, Frontier was keeping a steady flow of own-produced games covering different genres and platforms. From several expansions of the Rollercoaster Tycoon main series to A Dog’s Life for PlayStation 2 and two entries in the Wallace and Gromit game series, among others.
However, the title discussed here was anticipated to be the most ambitious project Frontier had worked in so far. Announced in the E3 2005 in Los Angeles, The Outsider was an action thriller with strong sandbox roots set to take place in the city of Washington DC and some nearby real world locations, such as the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Joint Base Andrews, and the Newport News Shipbuilding, where panic and martial law has taken over after the Air Force One has been shot down. The main character, CIA operative John Jameson has been wrongly pinned with the crime and must explore the city as a fugitive, fighting back when necessary and finding the clues to clear his name; all while running away and – ideally – keeping a low profile towards police and army forces.
The game’s plot was to be heavily motivated by the fear of terrorist attacks present back then in the occidental society and was said to reflect how a single man could feel and behave after being cornered and seemingly having lost everything in life. It definitely reminds of other widely popular action thriller films and TV shows of the time, such as 24, Prison Break or the Jason Bourne series. But more on that last one later…
Just looking at the available screenshots and trailers gives the impression that the game was meant to be yet another sandbox / open world game where the player must navigate the city and fulfill a – mostly linear – set of missions; all while blowing up facilities or driving some vehicles in the process. However, Frontier’s ambitions with this game were going far beyond this. As the tagline on the British developer’s website explicitly says “(…) The Outsider stimulates characters’ motivations in an immersive, dynamic world and storyline. This gives the player genuine freedom to change the story outcomes in a way not seen before.”
The aim was to bring something closer to Elite’s openness into a different genre and offer the player a range of opportunities to explore and discover. For example, the player’s choice between a stealthy and a more brutal interaction with the environment would have led to different consequences in the story’s progress and point it into different directions. Even in-game dialogs were influenced by this pursuit of freedom, with a quite generous range of answers to choose from in conversations with NPCs, allowing the player to get different reactions from them or again, conduct the plot in different directions.
Unfortunately, the development process of The Outsider underwent some ups and downs that led to the eventual abandon it suffered, after reportedly three years of preproduction work and another two of actual development work had been invested on it. The original publisher, Codemasters dropped its support with the title very advanced in development, which caused the dismissal of around 30 Frontier employees and rendered the company unable to cope with the enormous development costs. The exact reason as to why Codemasters would suddenly drop financial support for a title almost close to completion seems to lie in an internal change of policies and realignment of priorities after purchase of the English developer and distributor by the Indian entertainment conglomerate Reliance Entertainment.
At least on paper, The Outsider was a very promising idea and this woke up the interest of Electronic Arts, company that noticed the resemblance between the game and the Jason Bourne franchise and proposed a reworking of the title to accommodate it in the Bourne universe, as from a market perspective it was safer to bet on well-known intellectual IPs rather than risking a lukewarm reaction with a new one. Sadly, this new iteration of the game did not go forward as negotiations did not fully fructify between both companies.
The Outsider has never been seen again since then, although Braben himself had stated back in 2011 that the game had been abandoned but not cancelled. A few years passed and Frontier kept themselves busy in the meantime with a hefty variety of titles, including new entries in the Roller Coaster Tycoon series, several Kinect games or the beloved Lost Winds and its sequel for Wii.
The latest first-hand information on the game came from Braben himself in declarations to Eurogamer during the Gamescom in 2014, where he stated that “it was stopped,” and “it probably is gone for good.” Considering how much The Outsider was aiming to revolutionize the story telling in games and just try to stick out from the rest of sandbox and action games, it is indeed a pity that we never got to experience David Braben and Frontier’s unique way of interactive storytelling by ourselves.
In 2014 Frontier Developments released Elite: Dangerous, the latest chapter in Braben’s space adventure series, developed thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The game has sold almost 2 million units in 2016 and while Frontier Developments seems to keeping up their promises with Elite, we’ll still miss what could have been with The Outsider.
Acid Rain is a mysterious cancelled Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 game that was being developed by Namco Bandai Games USA just for a few months in early 2009, probably by the same team behind their Afro Samurai game. A few concept arts from this obscure project were leaked online some years ago, and while we tried many times to get in contact with people who worked on the game, unfortunately we were not able to get any more details about it.
By looking at these images we can just speculate that the game would have been some kind of action / horror game, and it looks like it could have been an interesting one.
If you know someone who worked at Namco Bandai USA in 2009 and could remember something about Acid Rain, please let us know! In the meantime we’d like to preserve these concept arts in the gallery below.
Road Trip is a cancelled zombie-apocalypse adventure game that was in development in 2009 / 2010 by French studio Hydravision Entertainment (mostly known for the popular survival horror game Obscure) planned to be released on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Initially known as Project T, the game was meant to be a more mature and open-ended take on the “zombie survival” genre, with a gameplay mechanic similar to State of Decay (released only 4 years later) and a characters-driven storyline, with a strong, non-romantic relationship between the two main protagonists, a man and a woman, somehow similar to what Naughty Dog did many years later in The Last Of Us. Road Trip was ambitious in scope and was likely Hydravision’s last chance for success, as the studio went bankrupt in 2012.
Popular books, comics and movies such as The Walking Dead, World War Z, 28 Days Later, Life After People and I Am Legend were the main influences for Road Trip. The studio wanted to create an open ended survival-horror game focused on action, immersion, and the feeling of freedom, while keeping pressure on players as much as possible, to surprise them with huge zombie hordes.
Road Trip was meant to be different from other third person shooters in that the player was going to have to deal with a constant sense of omnipresent danger. Instead of being in a shooting gallery and just walking toward the enemies, the player would be pushed into difficult situations and forced to figure out the best way to deal with the situation. Players would have never been completely safe in Road Trip: infected could be already roaming in the areas or appear suddenly. Zombies could pop up at anytime and from anywhere like open doorways, through windows, and even from the ceiling. These monsters would never give up, and they would hunt their prey aggressively as they were able to scale most obstacles.
Luckily players could use the environment to protect themselves, taking refuge inside a building and barricading it (pushing furniture in front of an exit to block it, closing and locking doors, windows, shutters, nailing wood boards on exits, etc.), slowing the enemies down while fleeing or using various items to help kill dozens of zombies at once (shooting a gas tank, wired grenades, etc.).
In this post-apocalyptic zombie world cities have been deserted (they are too dangerous, plus diseases are spreading quickly because of all the rotting flesh). A small proportion of the population has managed to adapt and survive in suburban areas, but most died in the first few days. There’s no electricity to be found, but petrol is still usable, providing you can find it in abandoned gas stations.
A reboot of Tomb Raider was developed by Crystal Dynamics and released in 2013 to welcoming applaud and incredible reviews. However, it seems that the development process took a rather sharp turn. This new Tomb Raider project was started in early 2009 and was originally meant to be a much more different game than the final one. Dubbed Tomb Raider: Ascension(not to be confused with the 2007 fan-made movie), its conception was a world away from what gamers got in the end. Taking inspiration from such titles as Resident Evil, ICO and Shadows of the Colossus, Lara’s reboot début was to be filled with giant supernatural enemies, a child companion that followed Lara, horse combat and explorations in a lavish open-world environment.
Concept art was already released immediately after the initial game announcement which holds lots of things not included in Tomb Raider’s final draft, and the concept lead many people to believe Tomb Raider was going to become something of a horror-genre game. Before the final Tomb Raider 2013 was released, EIDOS published a promotional Digital Book “Tomb Raider – The Final Hours” containing images and a video with the lost Ascension prototype:
“The Tomb Raider name never appeared on Guardian of Light and there was a reason – Crystal was saving that for the next project, what was internally known as Tomb Raider 9, or Tomb Raider: Ascension. Obvious biblical references aside, the team led by creative director Tim Longo was asked to come up with a radically different approach to a Lara Croft adventure. And that’s exactly what they did.
In early design meetings the team started thinking about other games that could inspire a new approach. The emotionally rich role-playing game Ico, the survival horror of Resident Evil, and the towering mythical creatures of Shadows of the Colossus all served as early inspiration. In Longo’s first pass at the design Lara Croft teamed up with a 6-year-old girl named Izumi […] as they adventured through a mysterious island inhabited by ghosts and monsters. Izumi would crawl into small places to help the player, thus creating asymmetric gameplay.
Eventually the player would dicover Izumi’s magical ability to manipulate water and interact with the island. After a few months of work the concept was deemed too ethereal and difficult to understand for Tomb Raider. Izumi was excised and at first replaced by a monkey that would accompany Croft on her adventures. When that didn’t work out the kids and animals were replaced by a more menacing presence on the island: colossal monsters.
In this second full pass at the concept design Lara would ride on horseback and battle against these monsters as they hurled trees at her in sequences reminiscent of a God of War game. Further refinement of the colossal monster concept shifted the art direction into the real of horror, with large zombie-like creatures that would roam a fog-soaked island.
What was intended as a confidential focus test from the Nielsen Group soon became public when one of the participants leaked images and details onto the internet during the summer of 2009. A “Rumored Leaked Photos of Tomb Raider Reboot” thread of the Tomb Raider forums quickly amassed some 3,687 posts from fans who expressed shock over a game that was more Resident Evil or Silent Hill than Tomb Raider. Others worried that setting a game entirely on an island abandoned the Indiana Jones-like globetrotting that was a hallmark of the series. […] Ultimately the horror direction was a shocking twist and focus tests confirmed that the team was “moving in the direction of making the greatest art house game that no one would ever play” […]
In the final game plot there are still some nods to the Ascension name, as we can read in Wikipedia:
Escaping the ancient monastery where she is taken by the Oni, Lara hears from Sam that Mathias is going to put her through the “Ascension“, a “fire ritual” to find the next Sun Queen that will burn her to death if it is unsuccessful. […] Lara realizes that the Ascension is not a ceremony to crown a new queen, but rather a ritual that transfers the original Sun Queen’s soul into a new body; the Sun Queen had learned to become effectively immortal by transferring her soul into a young girl’s body each time she grew old.
Below is listed the most significant changes to Tomb Raider in list form: