Microsoft

Split Shift Racing [PS3, Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Split Shift Racing is a cancelled arcade racer that was being developed by Juice Games (AKA THQ Digital Studios UK) for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Set in a distant sci-fi future, the game was due to take place in a chaotic “open world” environment that spanned both urban and rural terrain, and featured a transforming mechanic that allowed players to alter their car on the fly.

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Juice games had just finished work on Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights when they began working on the concept for three new games at the start of 2009. Alongside Split Shift Racing, the staff of 80 at the THQ-owned subsidiary were also working on the cancelled flight-sim Stormbirds, and a third as yet undiscovered game and peripheral project titled “FUUB”. Before this, the studio enjoyed two successful game launches with the original Juiced, as well as a PSP spin-off called Juiced: Eliminator, and the team would go on to release Red Faction: Battlegrounds and Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team under the new moniker of THQ Digital Warrington.

Details on Split Shift Racing are lacking, thanks in part to an existing NDA still covering the project. However, we can piece together some of the puzzle from talking a number of sources and various bits of portfolio work by artists that worked on the concept. One source described the project as a “futuristic open world racing title”, which is backed up by some of the concept work on display below, each one showing off designs like semi-holographic digital signboards and geometric sci-fi car models.

It’s not clear just how open the world was going to be in the final product, but an early UI concept design showing a map overview by another artist from the project suggests that instead of having one massive, sprawling world to explore, players would instead have the choice of going to one of several “zones”, each with their own theme. In this instance, we can see the Earthquake Zone, which seems to sport a large portion of off-road terrain, along with a small city pocket in the corner. This is supported by another concept image, this time for the main menu, which features a “Zone” option for players to select.

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Perhaps the most interesting feature was the ability to alter or transform your vehicle to suit the situation. Thanks to a couple of other concept pieces, we can see that the controls have four different functions mapped to the face buttons. These include Speed, Hammer, Climber, and Agile configurations. It’s not clear how each mode affected your vehicle’s performance, but it’s probably safe to assume that Speed was for racing, Hammer for taking down other drivers or breaking through debris, Climber for scaling rough terrain, and Agile for control during aerial jumps. Players could unlock new versions of vehicles from one of the four different styles by playing, and whilst there was an XP progression system in place to allow players to advance, it’s not clear whether unlocks were tied to this system or whether they had to be earned by winning races and events.

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Network features were also set to appear heavily in the game, with a strong focus on asynchronous multiplayer pitting people against each other in a variety of leaderboard challenges and events across each zone. This would have been coupled with an “Activity” page that tracked the player and their friend’s accomplishments, race times, and high scores in the form of a daily feed that others could leave comments on.

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Despite most of the information surrounding Split Shift Racing being under NDA, there are still a few images of in-game footage that show off what we might have seen if the game ever made it to its final release. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether the game itself ever made it to a playable state.

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Development on Split Shift Racing began some time in 2009 under the management of producer Tim Preece, and would go on into the early stages of development until it was cancelled some time during 2010. This saw the development team moved onto other projects, with the majority starting work on Full Impact, a classic American car destruction derby game that would also go on to be cancelled. This string of failed projects can attributed largely by the shifting focus of the company, and THQ’s own goals during the time after purchasing Juice Games in 2007.

With the studio itself undergoing a transition away from boxed retail products and moving solely into digital goods, Juice Games was also undergoing its transformation into THQ Digital Warrington. Unfortunately, as the market continued to shift, THQ decided that instead of using the studio to develop new IP, they would utilize the Warrington-based team to develop secondary games based on THQ’s pre-existing IP, which gave rise to the digital-only Red Faction and Warhammer games in 2011.

Shortly after releasing the first of their two digital games, THQ Digital Warrington was then closed down by THQ in June 2011 due to “lacklustre sales of Red Faction: Battlegrounds”. Talking to Eurogamer, an inside source who worked at the studio claimed that THQ had cancelled several projects over the years, and that they “struggled to find an idea THQ were happy with”.

[EDIT]: Shortly after posting this piece, we received some information that confirmed our report. We also received some extra background information on the project, and some minor clarifications which are posted below:

  • The screenshots containing “real cars” were in fact for a separate project, simply titled “Concept”. This was going to be a “realistic racer” that was set to follow after the release of Juiced 2. Only one track was ever made for this concept however, and the game was never developed further.

  • Split Shift was originally going to be called “Arc”, but the studio had to change the name as there were rumours that the PlayStation Move controllers were going to take that name. The studio didn’t want to risk a dispute, so instead opted to change the name proactively.

  • There were several race events already in the works, ranging from traditional time attack and head to head races, to more original concepts. One such event, called XP scramble was described as a race that “had you running around finding XP orbs that launched randomly from a set point”.

  • As suspected, the cars did have the ability to transform. The four different modes players could transform between were a default car, a racer, a quad bike, and a motorbike. One source described the process as such: “Each offered a different way to race and was up to the player when you wanted to switch.”

  • The first area, pictured in the images above, was a mountainous region that was fully playable and near completion when the game eventually got cancelled. A second area described as “An apocalyptic sinkhole” had just entered the early stages of development but never managed to get much further than a rough concept. One source describes how the whole team was taken to watch the disaster movie “2012” to help give them some inspiration for the sinkhole map.

  • The size of the mountain region was approximately the same size to that of the city area in Burnout paradise
 
Djinn (Castaway Entertainment) [PC, Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Djinn (Castaway Entertainment) [PC, Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

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.

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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.”

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“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.”

 

The Guardian [XBOX – Cancelled]

The Guardian is a cancelled adventure game that was in development in 2002 / 2003 by The Whole Experience (WXP Games) to be published by Capital Entertainment Group for the original Xbox. The game’s protagonist would die in a car accident during the introduction and then players would use his ghost to interact with NPCs to resolve different tasks. The Guardian featured an interesting gameplay mechanics involving NPCs hidden thoughts, that could have been read by the ghost, absorbed and used to manipulate the thoughts and reactions of other NPCs. Evil ghosts would also appear during the adventure, suggesting some kind of demonic presence to be eradicated from the game’s world as the final objective.

WXP created a great playable prototype to showcase their game’s main features, in collaboration with Seamus Blackley and Kevin Bachus, but unfortunately the project was canned in late 2003 when Capital Entertainment Group had to close down for lack of funds.

After The Guardian’s cancellation WPX worked for Activision on Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball for Xbox, in 2007 they released “Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action” on the Xbox 360 and worked on other projects for Majesco Entertainment, Disney, NVIDIA and Sierra Online, but in the end the studio closed down in 2010.

Thanks to EDW for the contribution!

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Attack of the Killer Rabbids from Outer Space [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U]

Attack of the Killer Rabbids from outer Space, later retitled Killer Freaks from outer Space, was a first person shooter developed by Ubisoft Montpellier that would eventually become ZombiU for the Wii U.

Originally planned as an untitled horror shooter for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2010, the game was already intended to be a part of the Rayman spinoff series Raving Rabbids wherein earth was attacked by a much more frightening “cousin” of the Rabbids. Early concept art depicts them as being very similar looking to the Rabbids but with sharp teeth and, in some instances, missing their eyeballs. Also revealed in concept art were designs for different types of enemies such as a basic trooper, a shield trooper, a giant Rabbid, UFOs, and a variety of other alien vehicles.  Multiple soldiers can be seen fighting the Rabbids in some of the art, suggesting that would the player would not only be taking the role of one of these soldiers, but there would be co-op multiplayer as well.

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This more “mature” tone and the level of violence in the game began to cause concern among the game’s developers as they felt it was begin to stray too far from the child friendly franchise.  “We thought about making them cousins to the Raving Rabbids,” designer Jean-Karl Tupic-Bron stated in in an interview with Polygon, “but quickly decided to split [it off]- This is not what Raving Rabbids is all about.

In response to the issue they changed the invaders from “Killer Rabbids” to “Killer Freaks” and officially revealed the game under that title at E3 2011 as a launch game for the Wii U.  While the Freaks remained very similar to the Rabbids in size and stature they were given a much more reptilian appearance to differentiate them from their earlier counterparts. Set in a post-apocalyptic London, the game pitted 1-4 players against hordes of the Freaks with an arcade run n gun style of gameplay complete with a point system. An early trailer and gameplay video revealed a variety of weapons that could be used against the Freaks ranging from handguns and shotguns to a buzzsaw launcher and electricity gun.

Despite the early footage getting a positive response the team still wasn’t satisfied with what the game was turning out to be.  The driving force behind this was their desire to create an experience tailor suited for the Wii U, something that the fast paced shooter that they had made didn’t deliver on. Another reason was that the Freaks, despite being well liked by the team, were too small and forced players to look towards the ground for a majority of the game.  It is because of these pacing and gameplay issues that the team decided zombies were the next logical step.

Many of the aspects were completely overhauled in the transition to ZombiU, with Tupic-Bron citing the one vs many book and film I am Legend as a major inspiration towards the change.  First and foremost the pace of the game was significantly slowed down, hence the change to zombies as they are generally depicted as being slow and stumbling.  They introduced a focus on preparation, patience, and inventory management as opposed to the frantic gameplay in the previous installment.

This allowed them to utilize the Wii U pad more effectively, as it was now used for vital gameplay features such as displaying the map and organizing the player’s inventory.  They also abandoned the more comical aspects of the game in favor of a darker and more serious toneCo-op was also removed and instead was replaced by a unique “one death” in which every survivor the player controlled only had one life, and the next survivor the player controlled would have to make their way to the now zombified previous survivor and kill them for their supplies.  One of the only aspects that remained relatively unchanged was the vs multiplayer in which one player would control an army of aliens/zombies with the game pad, while the other would try and survive as long as possible with a Wii-mote and nunchuck.

ZombiiU was released on November 18th, 2012 and ports for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC were released on August 18th, 2015.  News of a sequel in development began to spread when creative director Jean-Phillipe Caro mentioned working on a prototype, but It has since been 100% denied by the Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot as the game was not financially successful for the company.  It has been more recently revealed that this proposed game would have re-instated co-op gameplay like in the previous installments.  Ubisoft Montpellier continues to work on big franchise games such as the next Ghost Recon and the sequel to their cult hit Beyond Good and Evil.

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Whore of the Orient (Team Bondi) [Cancelled]

Whore of the Orient is a cancelled game from Team Bondi and Kennedy Miller Mitchell, it was a spiritual successor to L.A Noire and planned to be released for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Like L.A Noire you would play as a detective but this time in 1930s Shanghai, it would also use the motion scan technology that was first used in L.A Noire. From leaked gameplay in 2013 it showed that the game had a focus on hand to hand combat, but still retained the usual cover shooting mechanics found in L.A Noire. In interview with Eurogamer Brendan McNamara (writer and director at Team Bondi) described the game saying “It’s pretty interesting. It’s one of the great untold stories of the twentieth century. So I think it’ll be good”

When Team Bondi sought a publisher for Whore of the Orient, it was reported that no publisher was interested due to claims of poor working conditions during the development of L.A Noire. When Team Bondi closed it’s doors in 2011 its assets were sold to Kennedy Miller Mitchell where development continued, and Warner Bros Interactive had taken interest in the game, but later abandoned the project in 2012. In 2013 it was rumored that the game had been put on hold and in June of 2013 it was reported that Kennedy Miller Mitchell had revived $200,000 of funding from an investment board. It was then reported that Whore of the Orient was set for a 2015 release date, but that never happened and we would not hear anything more about the game until 2016. In June of 2016 in an interview on the GameHugs podcast with Derek Proud (former producer on Whore of the Orient) he was asked “so will we ever see that game” and he replied “I don’t think so“.

There are still screenshots of the game on the internet, the aforementioned 2013 leaked footage of the game can also be found online.

Article by Nathan Coe.

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