Microsoft

Wrench (Ensemble Studios) [Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Wrench is a cancelled car-combat game that was in development by Ensemble Studios since the early ‘00s, and in its latest form it could have been published by Microsoft for their Xbox 360. It was developed as an internal demo and cancelled before being officially announced to the public, but bits and pieces of its history were shared online by former Ensemble devs such as Rich Geldreich:

“Unfortunately, mostly due to limited funding, our XNA demo didn’t see the light of day. This R&D and tech would later be used in a prototype at Ensemble named “Wrench”, then in a really cool internal demo Ensemble Studios got to show to Bill Gates in 2004 named “SevenDemo”. SevenDemo was a physics and graphics demo we put together in about 10 days to demonstrate what the still in development Xbox 360 console would be capable of doing. I was told he was very impressed. A few months after SevenDemo was shown, the Wrench prototype game was canceled (see below), so I rolled onto Age of Empires 3. Later, I used a lot of this tech in what would eventually morph into Halo Wars.”

“I first worked on the rendering and shader code of a prototype 3rd person car combat project named “Wrench” (also see here). After Wrench was canceled (this kind of game just didn’t match our strengths, honestly), I helped modernize and optimize Age of Empire 3’s graphics engine. (Age3 looked really good already, but Wrench had rendering and lighting tech that pushed the game even further.)”

“The team at Ensemble made this demo with the Wrench prototype code in approximately 7-10 days, where it was known inside Ensemble as “SevenDemo”:

“Video of the never before seen “Wrench” graphics/physics engine technology demo shown to Bill Gates by Ensemble Studios (Dallas, TX) in early 2004. We put this D3D9 shader model 3 demo together in roughly 7 days, but we had been working on the tech for around 18 months. The prototype AMD graphics cards we were using at the time became unstable at high clock frequencies, so we unfortunately had to show it at only 640×480 or 800×600 resolution with no AA. The real-time participating media effect used on the entire scene (pay attention to the light rays poking in from the front garage doors as they are riddled with bullet holes) consumed around 40% of our entire GPU budget. This effect is 100% dynamically computed by ray marching through dynamic 16-bit spotlight shadow maps, and was a very advanced effect for 2004. This demo shows light prepass rendering, HDR rendering, omni light shadows via dual paraboloid shadow maps, spotlight shadow maps, and dynamic light scattering effects on the omni/spot lights. Much of this engine code wound up shipping in Age of Empires 3 and Halo Wars.”

Also Richard wrote on Twitter:

“The Wrench gameplay prototype was a 3rd person outdoor car shooter. We had multiplayer working. The prototype was coming along, but I think Ensemble got pressured by Microsoft to pivot back to RTS game prototypes. This led to the “Phoenix” prototype, which then led to Halo Wars 1”

It’s interesting to notice that Phoenix was also the name of a cancelled RTS in development by Bungie for the first Xbox, but as far as we know it was not related to Ensemble Studio’s canned project. Unfortunately Ensemble Studios was closed by Microsoft in late 2008 after publishing Halo Wars. Some of their cancelled games were revealed in an article about the “last visit” at the studios by Gamasutra, with titles such as Agent, Bam! and their Halo MMO.

If you know someone who worked on Wrench and could help us to preserve more screenshots or videos from this lost game, please let us know! 

Tower (Grin) [Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Tower is a prototype for a cancelled team-based third person shooter for Xbox 360 and PS3, that was in development by Grin, the team mostly known for such games as Bionic Commando Rearmed, Wanted: Weapons of Fate and the cancelled Final Fantasy Fortress. With its arcadey graphic and gameplay, Grin probably desired to create a simple but fun online multiplayer experience, possibly to publish it digitally on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Store.

As you can imagine from its title, Tower offered multiple-floors arenas with an interesting gameplay mechanic: players would have been able to freely move around all surfaces of the towers, walking on walls and ceilings. This would have created many different approaches to combat, as you and your enemies could shoot and run around from multiple places.

Not much more is known about this lost game. In the end the project was halted (along with their other canned games: Streets of Rage Reboot, Strider, Wanted 2) because of Grin’s financial difficulties that eventually bankrupted the company. In the gallery below you can find some screenshots and footage from an early build, preserved to remember its existence.

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Timeless: Chronicles of Atlantis [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Timeless: Chronicles of Atlantis is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Dubai-based Vertex Studios around 2009, planned to be released for Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3. You can imagine it somehow similar to Uncharted (2007): a cinematic action adventure, but set in multiple timelines (from modern day Dubai to a Spanish village in 8 AD.) and with multiple playable characters.

As we can read at Emirates247:

“It is based on time travel where you can control a local character who goes back into time and into the future. There are multiple characters and environments.”

More details can still be found in a 2009 article from Arabianbusiness:

“Timeless: Chronicles of Atlantis. Timeless is set to be a next generation action adventure game in which gamers play a character from Dubai who travels through different settings and different time periods. The game is being made for the PC and next-generation consoles such as the Xbox and Playstation 3 and whilst Chronicles of Atlantis will include multiple playable characters, multiple weapons and multiple enemy types; the game’s settings will also vary from an apartment in modern day Dubai to a Spanish village under Muslim rule in 8 AD.

Timeless could have 8 or 9 levels with around ten hours game-play and three difficulty levels. The game will include multiple approaches to different puzzles; so, one player might progress through a stage by adopting a stealthy approach, while another player might want to fight their way through a stage.

Once Timeless has gone through the whole production process, it will undergo localization and focus group testing, and once it has a publisher, the game will be released worldwide, with Vertex Studios saying that the release date is predicted for some time in 2010.”

By reading this we can assume the team never found a publisher for their game and in the end they had to close down after releasing just a few smartphone Apps. Footage and screenshots from an early Timeless: Chronicles of Atlantis demo are preserved below, to remember the existence of this lost project.

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BOOM: Unleashed (UTV Ignition) [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360]

BOOM: Unleashed (AKA Project Amazons) is a cancelled online multiplayer focused first / third person shooter / brawler for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, in development by UTV Ignition Games Austin (formerly True Games, which made the MMO Faxion Online) around 2010 – 2011 before their closure. While the project was never officially announced, its title was trademarked in January 2011 and rumors about its existence started appearing online.

Players could use many transforming weapons and vehicles / mechs hybrids. You could customize your character with different heads / torso / legs, choosing your weapons then join in post-apocalypse cities to hunt down other players. When using weapons there was a classic first-person view, then when riding vehicles / mechs it would change into a third person view. Vehicles could transform depending on the terrain and combat strategies, for example a bike transforming into an over-bike in water or a car becoming an anthropomorphic mech.

BOOM: Unleashed was canned just some months into development: as far as we know UTV Ignition also planned a single-player campaign, set in levels being destroyed by natural disasters. As it happened with many other cancelled games during the economic crisis of the early ‘10s, we’ll probably never see much more from this lost project.

Thanks to Dan and The_Phantom_Mask for the contribution!

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Oregon Files: The Video Game [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360)

The Oregon Files is a cancelled action game / third person shooter based on the book series written by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo. It was in development around 2008 – 2009 by Sensory Sweep Studios, planned to be published for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

As we can read on Wikipedia:

“The books follow the mysterious “Corporation” and its leader Juan Cabrillo. The “Oregon Files” come from the name of the ship on which the Corporation is based, The Oregon is a high tech ship owned by a private secret service organization called ‘the Corporation’. It is disguised as a rusty old tramp steamer.  In reality it is an extraordinarily sophisticated intelligence-gathering vessel with luxury facilities and top of the line technical capabilities.”

The game was cancelled when Sensory Sweep finally close for bankruptcy, with employees working without being paid for months. As we can read on Mobygames:

“The company filed for bankruptcy in September 2005, but kept all projects going with two name changes (including Fooptube). In early 2008 the employees stopped receiving contributions, even though their paychecks were still deducted for the next few pay periods. Soon after that the paychecks bounced and Sensory Sweep lost Brash Entertainment as a big client when it folded at the end of 2008.”

What remains of the game today is just some concept art, preserved in the gallery below to remember the existence of this lost game.

Among Sensory Sweep other cancelled games there are such titles as Crash Tag Team Racing DS, Time Traveler, Raphael and Sentient.

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