Microsoft

Project Carbondale (Sega) [Xbox, PS2 – Cancelled]

Project Carbondale is a cancelled survival horror game that was being development by SEGA in 2003 for Xbox and Playstation 2. While the game was never officially announced, the public found out about its development thanks to a few articles published online by various websites, including The Southern Illinoisan, in which they wrote about Sega employees exploring the city of Carbondale (Illinois) to take inspiration and capture reference for the project.

“CARBONDALE – Aliens have landed in Carbondale and they are killing anything that moves. Your natural instinct is to flee, but a severe mid-winter blizzard has cut off all hopes of escape. Quick! Grab a gun, a sledgehammer, a scythe, any weapon you can get your hands on. Your only hope for survival is to stand your ground and fight – in the mall, the old Carbondale high school, city hall, even the sewer system if you have to. This is a fight to the death and it’s going to be bloody.

The battle isn’t real, though. It’s one of the biggest video game releases of 2004 being developed by Sega. Thousands of people, maybe even millions, will be fighting to save Carbondale from alien beasties next year. “Initially Sega said ‘We want to place this game in a small town,'” said Cord Smith, product manager for Sega of America. “Initially they said an East Coast town, but they just wanted something that wasn’t the West Coast. (The Japanese game designers) are familiar with San Francisco and California culture, but to them, that’s not America. America is what’s between the two coasts.”

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Smith is now spending nine days leading a team of eight game designers from Tokyo around key Carbondale locations, including University Mall, the old high school central campus, the police station, city hall, water treatment plant, local homes and apartments, and yes, even the sewer system. “They’re soaking all this in, with the biggest smiles on their faces,” Smith said. “They keep saying this is kind of what they imagined, but they’re blown away that everyone has a yard, everything’s beautiful, everything’s so lush and green.”

The game’s designer, Shinichi Ogasawara, says bringing the design team all the way from Tokyo to see the Midwest for themselves is the best way to create a realistic small-town environment. The team is shooting digital videotape and still photographs that will be used to provide the textures of the games’ three-dimensional environment. Some team members photographed close-ups of anything that could be interactive, such as light switches and the weights used by Carbondale firefighters. Other team members photographed walls, ceilings, floors and artwork hanging on walls.”

Shinichi Ogasawara had previously worked on many different light gun arcade games, such as “Gunblade NY: Special Air Assault Force”, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “The Maze of the Kings”, but it seems this would have been his first console project.

At the time, Cord Smith was resigning from SEGA and about to join Ubisoft, but his sister was the acting City Attorney of Carbondale, and – through her many city contacts – he was able to grant unlimited access to many locations that could have been used in the game: the abandoned high school, hospital, shopping mall, fire station, police station (and armory and shooting range), water treatment plant, and even the underground waterways & sewer system. The team met in Illinois and toured together for multiple days at the various sites.

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As far as we were able to gather, Carbondale was being developed for Playstation 2 and Xbox, but at that time, many devs were also looking into next-gen tech. We were told that the early prototype of Carbondale seemed to be on the PS2. Unfortunately it appears that this early prototype simply wasn’t of high enough quality to receive the green-light for its next milestone, but there is not enough info available to know exactly what happened to the game, and additional details about its gameplay mechanics are scarce.

It seems that the game was meant to be a traditional survival horror with moments of more “bombastic action”, potentially through the invasion of alien enemies. People who talked with Ogasawara at the time got the sense that they wanted it to be SEGA’s answer to the Resident Evil franchise, featuring a much more realistic Western setting (hence the research), but also SEGA’s leanings towards action and arcade-like fun factor.

We were able to exchange a few emails with Cord, who shared a few memories about this lost game and their Carbondale exploration:

“One of my favorite locations was an abandoned high school. The city had built a new one and left the old in an eerie state, with lots of books, equipment, and other items left behind. We visited it at night, so it was as if a apocalyptic event had occurred and everyone evacuated in a hurry. In other words: perfect video game reference.

The mirrors behind the theater stage still had cosmetics nearby, the cafeteria had trays out on the tables, and textbooks were strewn about the classrooms. We split up into two teams, each with cameras and flashlights, and in one area I found a CPR dummy, which amounted to a dressed male mannequin torso. Without hesitation, I took it and returned to the main stairway near the school’s foyer. I could see the other team’s flashlights scanning the walls along the distant hallway, and faked a scream before sliding the torso along the floor towards them. As the seemingly severed body moved into the beams of their flashlights, the school erupted with the other groups’ terrified screams. And we laughed, and laughed. So much fun!”

We hope to be able to preserve more details and footage from the game in the future.

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Road Trip [Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

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. 

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

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.

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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 BookTomb 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: 

Project FUUB (Juice Games / THQ) [Xbox 360, PS3, Wii – Cancelled]

Project FUUB was a peripheral device being developed by THQ Digital Warrington (Formerly Juice Games) at some point between 2006 and 2010 for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii consoles. Acting like a set of four individual dice, which were to be bundled together as one purchase, the FUUB was predominantly aimed towards local group play. Each player would interact with one or more of the dice when playing one of the FUUB specific games designed for the device. The devices themselves were fitted with some physical sensors, though it’s not exactly clear what each device was actually able to monitor. We also believe that the FUUBs required a separate, external camera to track the their movement in 3d space, though this cannot be 100% confirmed.

Two games are known to have been designed for the FUUB, to varying degrees of completion. The first, titled “FUUB” was a simple, cartoonish Mario Party style game which you can see concept mockups for below. It’s not clear how far this game got into the development cycle, but it’s possible it never level the early conceptual stages due to the lack of actual gameplay or information available on it. Since it also shared a name with the device itself, it’s likely that the game was meant to come packaged alongside the FUUB device, much like Wii Sports did with the Wii.

A second game – tentatively titled “Quest for the Magic Stones” – was also being developed, which you can see footage of in the video below. A developer described the game as being aimed at “fans of the Harry Potter series” as it shared a mystical narrative theme, and was set in a magical dungeon. Several minigames were already implemented, including logic and physics puzzles, as well as a simplified take on the rhythm-based format of the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games.

Ultimately, the FUUB concept was scrapped as THQ were in the middle of realigning in their priorities, and as a result the studio’s focus was shifted away from physical releases, causing multiple projects to be scrapped. Two other projects – Split Shift Racing & Stormbirds – were also known projects that were also cancelled due to the change in direction.. The studio would go on to make Red Faction: Battlegrounds and Warhammer 40K: Killteam before being closed by THQ in 2011.

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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 3 [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PC]

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 3 is the cancelled third chapter in the popular RPG series developed by BioWare and published by LucasArts. The project was started by LucasArts in 2003 / 2004 when they canned another Star Wars MMO for console named “Proteus” and planned to reuse the same team and part of the already created designs to develop a new KotOR game. Unfortunately KotOR 3 followed the same fate and they later decided to cancel the project because of LucasArts’ financial problems, when the management did not want to invest money and time in such an expensive game.

A few KotOR 3 concept arts created during the design phase were leaked online and we can see new robots (Q-10), spaceships (Dashaad Fighter, Sith Troop Transport, Coruscant Vehicle) and characters. Some more details on KotOR 3 were published in 2008 in the bookRogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts”, in which they revealed that one of the new characters was a woman named “Naresha”.

“Upon the cancellation of the Proteus project, team and elements of the designs were applied to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 3, which, according to designer John Stallford, “got quite a bit of traction… we wrote a story, designed most of the environments/worlds, and many of the quests, characters, and items.” However, this new game direction fell victim to LucasArts hitting possibly the most difficult period in the company’s history.”

We can only hope that one day someone could share more artworks and info from the early development of KotOR 3.

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