Xbox 360

Hero Mix [Cancelled – Xbox 360]

Hero Mix is a cancelled music game / music tool that was in development by 7 Studios around 2010, planned to be published by Activision on Xbox 360 (and possibly Playstation 3). As you can assume by its title it was meant to be part of Activision’s Hero series of music games, composed of such games as Guitar Hero, DJ Hero, Band Hero and the cancelled Sing Hero, Dance Hero and Drum Hero.

Activision never announced this game officially, but some screenshots with mock-up UI were found online by fans in 2013. By looking at these we can speculate you would have been able to mix together different songs by playing some kind of rhythm game. Basically it could have followed the same premise of other Hero music games, but with mixing mechanics instead than playing a plastic guitar or DJ set.

In the end the Hero music game market collapsed and Activision just canned all the remaining projects still in development:

“In October 2009, following the completion of DJ Hero, Activision laid off an estimated 30 people from 7 Studios, about half of the team. In February 2011 Activision announced to discontinue all music games series. On 9th February 2011 staff members confirmed that 7 Studios had been shut down.”

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Revolver (Jade Empire 2) [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Revolver is the codename for an ambitious action RPG that was in development for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 by BioWare with the help of Big Sandwich Games. The project started around the same time as they were working on the first Mass Effect for Xbox 360 (announced in October 2005). While Mass Effect would have been their major exclusive for Microsoft’s home console (PC version of ME was released 6 months later), Revolver was meant to be their new multiplatform series and many resources were put into the project, taking about 5 years to develop.

Unfortunately, in 2009 the game was canned for a series of complex reasons and Bioware never officially announced Revolver to the public, without showing any images or releasing any info. While it’s already unfortunate that we will never be able to play an original BioWare title, the story behind Revolver becomes even more tragic when one finds out that the project was initially started as another, most-requested-by-fans game: a sequel to cult-following, martial arts RPG Jade Empire.

To understand better what happened to Jade Empire 2 and the importance of Revolver in Bioware’s market strategy, we have to dig down to remember what the studio was doing before being acquired by EA with 3 major ongoing series (Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Star Wars: The Old Republic). In the mid ’90s BioWare became a favorite team to western RPG fans thanks to cult classics such as the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series. At the end of the ‘90s they wanted to enter the console market and developed MDK2 for Interplay (published in 2000 for Dreamcast and PC), creating a quality third person action-shooter loved by fans and the critics. Unfortunately, it did not set the market on fire as they could have dreamed for.

The real console success for Bioware arrived in 2003 with the help of LucasArts, when they released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the original Xbox. Still, part of the success was because of the popular Star Wars series, not for a proprietary IP, and BioWare wanted it all. To try to create a new successful IP and to be able to win the average console owner, Bioware decided to embrace a more action oriented combat system suitable for controllers. The results was one of the best action RPGs released on the Xbox: Jade Empire, published in April 2005.

Only a few months later Microsoft released their Xbox 360 and Bioware was already working on 2 exclusive titles for the new hardware: Mass Effect and Jade Empire 2. As reported by Gamespot in November 2005, BioWare co-founder Ray Muzkya told to the press:

“BioWare definitely plans to continue the Jade Empire franchise […] The Jade team did a great job with the first game in that series; we have great teams working on all of our games here. We’ve also said in the past that we’re working on not just one, but two Xbox 360 titles. Enough said.”

We don’t know what exactly happened after that, but it’s possible that the not-as-high-as-expected sales for the original Jade Empire on the Xbox made the team rethink their Xbox-only strategy and the future of their Jade Empire IP. Bioware decided to also develop this new project for PS3, creating a new role playing experience that could have matched the titles from their golden age of Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.

While the first-person-RPG-shooter style of Mass Effect sounded like the best type of game to sell to the Xbox / Halo crowd, Jade Empire 2 was chosen as the core to develop a new action RPG series for both consoles and PC. After only a few initial concepts, the mythical chinese martial-arts setting of Jade Empire 2 was dropped in favor of a more urban, near-future sci-fi settings. With the Jade Empire IP removed from the project, Bioware labeled it with the codename “Revolver”, a title without any particular meaning if not for the same initial letter of the R: drive on their shared network in which files for the game were stored. Other rumored codenames considered for the project were Rainbow, Razor and Riverdance.

Even if Revolver was never officially announced by BioWare, in the last few years the internal codename was revealed through many different resumes, articles, interviews, reference footage and demo reels, allowing the world to find out about this lost title. While Revolver was already in development and Jade Empire 2 canned, in 2007 Eurogamer asked BioWare co-founders if they had plans to create a sequel to Jade Empire:

“It’s an IP, it’s a setting that we were really passionate about, and we still are. Both Greg and I were big believers in the IP… We’re just looking for the right way to deploy it.”

The studio really wanted to create the greatest western action RPG ever conceived and they started brainstorming ambitious features that could evolve the genre into a new standard. It seems that they exaggerated those ideas as while Revolver was still in its early stage, many of those features were already being cut. As wrote by an anonymous developer who worked on the game:

“While still working on Mass Effect, I’m included in some of the Revolver meetings. Revolver is at that interesting point where things start getting cut. This is good. The project had a whole lot of things up in the air, a ton of features that were each individually doable but way beyond the scope of the project when taken together (unless we had more funding than any other project and weren’t planning to ship until 2012).”

Even with many of its features removed, the game was still too big for BioWare. To fulfill their vision for Revolver they soon hired Big Sandwich Games to help with the development: a team funded by ex-Rockstar Vancouver employees. This could not have been just a coincidence as Revolver was meant to blend sandbox open-world urban games like GTA and classic action RPGs, using “super powers” (such as the ability to jump from one skyscraper to another) to move around the city, as in Crackdown, Prototype or Infamous.

Players would have explored the game’s world using exaggerated parkour movements, jumps and climbing as seen in the Assassin’s Creed series, while fighting enemies with the over-the-top, responsive combat style of Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden. All of this while keeping the same story-focused narrative of classic BioWare titles, but in non-linear branching paths. Writers and developers soon found out that merging a free roaming open world game with a complex narrative was not without problems:

“So we’re trying to figure out how flight messes up plots – which plots can be broken by you being able to fly into an area that you’d ordinarily have to walk through (and thus run into encounters that advance the plot). […] In Jade Empire, there were encounters that you could skip, definitely, but there was no way you were gonna skip an entire dungeon – the dungeons were just too expensive and too few in number. […] Right now, we’re focusing on making dungeons (where here, “dungeon” means “an enclosed area with a bunch of combat in it”) that give the players multiple reasons to go inside – so the player doesn’t have to make the choice between getting content or missing content for roleplaying reasons.”

Revolver wanted to allow players to enjoy a story focused RPG in a sandbox world by giving them multiple ways to receive important quests from different people. If we would miss (or kill?) a character with a key-quest, the game system would offer the same or a slightly different quest from another NPC, giving more freedom on how to freely explore the world while still following the main storyline that writers wanted to tell. A similar conversation system to the one used in Mass Effect was also planned, with dialogue to resolve as some sort of “puzzle” and different answers for different “morality alignments”.

A lot of time was spent on creating concepts and prototypes to better understand what the team would have been able to do. At some phase of development the team also experimented with a cell shading engine, similar to what happened to Borderlands. Before it was canceled in 2009 it seems Revolver was close to the end of pre-production, meaning that the core gameplay, story and features were set.

“We have a demo that looks better than many finished games and gives a pretty good look at the directions we intend to go on look and feel.”

What happened to Revolver? While the game was never officially announced or canceled, there are a series of possible reasons for its demise. Mass Effect became a HUGE commercial and critical triumph and every doubt about being able to be profitable with a new IP were wiped out: now BioWare had its own Star Wars series. They did not need to experiment with another new IP as Mass Effect was already more popular than what they could have dreamed. Mass Effect 2 was later released on Playstation 3 too and it soon became a consolidated multiplatform franchise.

If that was not enough, in October 2008 the studio announced another big project that in the following years would have taken a lot of their resources: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a MMORPG set in the Star Wars universe. To keep up with SW:ToR’s development, BioWare had to open a new studio in Edmonton and they even asked for help from Big Sandwich Games. As they already had a strong collaboration with BSG, the team could have moved from Revolver to The Old Republic.

We also have to remember that in October 2007 BioWare was bought out by Electronic Arts and they had the final word on which games had to be completed or not. When the financial crisis of 2007 – 2009 hit USA and Europe, lots of gaming studios closed down and many projects were canned. It was not a time for experimental, overly-ambitious games and EA decided to cut funds for Revolver and for another original BioWare project for next gen consoles, titled “Agent”.

It made more sense from a marketing standpoint to focus on proven franchises rather than on expensive, still unfinished projects that could have failed. After about 7 years of difficult development in late 2009, BioWare were also finishing their work on Dragon Age: Origins, finally released in November of that year. The game became another huge success for the studio, with more than 3.2 million copies sold in just a few months. Unfortunately, Revolver did not have the same chance to prove its original open world gameplay and ambitious features. People that were working on the project were moved to more profitable games at BioWare, such as the money-making sequels for Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

This article was originally published in 2016 in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play

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Blood Dust (Visceral Games) [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3]

Blood Dust is a cancelled multiplayer shooter in development at Visceral Games / EA from presumably late 2008 to 2011. As it was in development during the “golden age” of online multiplayer on consoles, its main focus was to create a fun game to fight against friends and random people. Unfortunately, not much more is known about this lost project.

Rumors suggest the game started out as being just a multiplayer mode for the cancelled singleplayer game The Ripper, which was also in development by EA. After showing promising results, EA turned this “multiplayer mode” into a stand-alone digital-only project: Blood Dust.

The game was set in a ‘30s style world, where three factions fought over a drug called “Blood Dust”. These factions consisted of “The Crushers” (made up of former U.S army troops), “the Black Chamber” (a predecessor to the CIA) and a third “monster” faction. This was what an anonymous writer had to say about the game:

 “I got to test this game about a year ago. At that time, The Ripper was a super power-up you got in multiplayer – although I can’t remember the conditions required to transform (might have been a certain amount of kills in a row.) The Ripper was a juggernaut; you had super speed, throwing knives that were almost instant kills, and a brutal melee. It was a fun concept because it really took teamwork to take The Ripper down. The monster class was grossly overpowered at the time I played, but it was lots of fun. Different classes could climb walls, hang on ceilings, or see enemy heat signatures through walls.”

EA planned to publish The Ripper one year after the release of Blood Dust, but both games were eventually cancelled. After The Ripper was canned, Visceral Games Melbourne (the studio behind the titles) focused their efforts on Blood Dust, but without much luck. EA decided to close the studio in 2011 after all of their games were cancelled, apparently because it was too expensive to keep them alive.

Blood Dust was nearly 80 percent finished when it got cancelled.

Article by Vipaah, thanks to Raupidu for the contribution!

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Oliver Twist Video Game [PS3, Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Around 2006 – 2007 a video game based on the popular Oliver Twist novel by Charles Dickens was pitched by Electronic Arts for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, but cancelled in the end. The project was never officially announced by EA, but some concept art was found online in 2010. As wrote by Kotaku, by reading the few notes available, EA’s Oliver Twist video game could have been somehow similar to Assassin’s Creed:

“Looks a bit like a kid’s version of Assassin’s Creed, but with one potentially interesting concept mentioned in the notes, Oliver’s hunger levels affecting his pose and animation and, I assume, his vitality. Dearsley’s concepts show off Fagin, multiple versions of Oliver and the Bowstreet Runners.”

As far as we know this Oliver Twister project was conceived by an internal team at EA, as one of many pitches for new projects to be considered by the studio. Other unreleased ideas were Gun Head, a Road Rash reboot and Hurikan.

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Nomos (Haven) [Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Nomos (previously known as Haven) is a cancelled sci-fi action adventure that was in development by Coded Illusions for Xbox 360 and PS3. Not much is know about it’s settings and gameplay, but from what we gathered it looks it would have been set in some kind of alien planet threatened by a new world order regime. 

The project was started by the team in 2005, but in 2008 they had to close down because of lack of money to keep the studio alive “following the effects of the financial crisis that made it difficult to find a publisher”. Some of its former employees founded a new studio called Vertigo Games, reworking part of the ideas and 3D assets conceived for Nomos into a different game titled “Adam’s Venture”, released in 2009.

Some footage and concept art from Nomos was shared online by former developers, preserving what the team had originally in mind for their project.

“The level shown in the video is part of a bigger level known as the ‘Sanctuary’, which is an underground cave-system inhabited by a peaceful group of people who found refuge from the terror of a new world order regime.”

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