Battle Rigs (AKA Construction Derby) is a cancelled vehicular combat game that was in development by Rage Software Sheffield around 2000 – 2001, planned to be released for the original Xbox and PC. At the time the team was mostly known for their work on Gun Metal and Incoming, proving their skills with first person and third person shooters. In Battle Rigs players would have been able to build their own sci-fi tank / spaceship to fight in single player and online multiplayer deathmatches.
While Battle Rigs was never officially announced before being canned, former Rage developer James Sutherland found a playable prototype of their lost project and shared one screenshot on Twitter.
Around 2002 The Collective, the team behind such games as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marc Ecko’s Getting Up, pitched a Witchblade beat ‘em up for the original Xbox, but unfortunately it was quickly canned. The studio developed many tie-in games based on popular intellectual properties (such as Star Trek, Men in Black, Star Wars, and the cancelled Dirty Harry) so we can assume they pitched many, many more similar projects to publishers and IP holders, but most of them were never fully developed.
This cancelled Witchblade video game was probably one of the latter, and by looking at The Collective work on the Buffy beat ‘em up we can speculate it would have been quite similar to it if only completed. As far as we know the team prepared a playable demo for Witchblade, possibly by reusing animations / models from their Buffy video game. Unfortunately as this project was never officially announced, we don’t know any more details on what they planned for the franchise.
Some 3D models created for this Witchblade Xbox demo are preserved below, to remember the existence of this lost project.
Although the main Call Of Cthulhu tabletop RPG campaign takes place mostly in the 1920’s, the Delta Green setting puts players into modern times, in the shoes of agents of the fictional U.S. secret organization of the same name. Their mission is to deal with aliens and paranormal investigation, keeping their existence a secret from the public. This would be often done ruthlessly and by any means necessary, throwing conspiracy fiction into the horror formula of the Cthulhu mythos.
Flying Lab (a Seattle-based studio) was collaborating with the creators of the tabletop game, Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy and John Scott Tynes (with the latter being brought in as a member of the studio and serving as lead designer) in order to bring Delta Green to life as faithful as it could be to the source material. Whole new characters and stories were written exclusively for the video game, and apparently these ideas would end up being used in the tabletop game itself later on, as this adaptation would have been considered canon.
Although the tabletop game focuses on role-playing, the video game would translate into a strategic and tactical experience. Initially development focused on delivering an X-Com-like feel and style of control, with the player ordering a squad of agents from an isometric camera angle. One or more characters could be selected at once, given a command, and they would carry out the order. However, it was decided later in development that this approach was not enough, and the scheme was changed to a third-person camera angle, with each team member being able to be controlled directly if the player so wished, with orders given through an on-screen “playbook” and prompts. This gameplay style would probably have been similar to later strategy games such as Valkyria Chronicles, with the major difference being that Delta Green would play in real-time.
The similarities with X-Com wouldn’t end here, however: Delta Green was to feature a planning aspect between combat, with the player being able to recruit agents and allies as they see fit by spending resources. You could also upgrade the organization’s effectiveness through research. For example, a first encounter with a monster might have ended with the agents’ weapons being completely ineffective against it: a better tactic would be to focus on collecting a sample from the enemy and bringing it back for analysis. This would result in a squad that would now be better prepared to deal with the new threat and could come back with new weapons to deal with it. But of course, once the team returns to that area, they could be facing groups of enemies that are now more prepared to deal with them as well.
With any game built around strategy and tactics, A.I. was a very important aspect for Delta Green and Flying Lab were aware of this. One of their major focuses during development was to create an A.I. that would not frustrate players, fully capable of taking action by itself. Agents in Delta Green would be aware of their surroundings and would act with a certain degree of autonomy. They would take cover when under attack, hold their fire until their teammates were safely out of the way and coordinate their actions when carrying out an order (such as breaching a room). This would eliminate micromanagement, leaving the player to simply provide macro-tactics and decide how to approach a problem, letting the A.I. agents doing the rest.
On the horror front, Flying Lab wanted to keep the game consistent with the Cthulhu vibe. This meant keeping the actual monsters and horrors to a minimum, as they thought slaying creatures that are supposed to terrify you in large numbers only causes their impact to be heavily diminished. With this in mind, most of the enemies the player would encounter would be cultists, humans driven mad by old, demonic deities who would employ everything from conventional firearms to magic and artifacts against them.
The environments would evolve based on this philosophy as well, with early levels taking place in the easily recognizable real world (such as run-down subway stations and apartment buildings), but progressively being replaced with more bizarre and supernatural locations. The latters would include the submerged cities of the Deep Ones and even an alien base on the Moon, which would feature artificial gravity and navigation on geometrically impossible structures inspired by the works of M.C. Escher.
To help build this effective horror atmosphere, Delta Green was going to be powered by a modified LithTech Jupiter engine, developed by Monolith for their upcoming game No One Lives Forever 2. Inspired by the early looks the public got into Doom 3 and Halo 2 during the time of Delta Green’s development, Flying Lab licensed Jupiter in order to add cutting-edge lighting and character models to their game. This tech would be used for some interesting gameplay mechanics, for example a certain type of monster was able to disguise itself as a member of the team and would be completely indistinguishable from a human, with the exception of the shadow they cast. Flying Labs would also employ a bit of trickery in order to achieve high fidelity models: they took a 300.000 polygon model, created a lighting map for it, and then simplified the model back to around 3.000 polygons. By putting the original lighting map on top of this lower quality polygon map and letting pixel shaders do all the work, it would cast lighting on the geometry without it actually being there. This would create models that looked extremely detailed, but not nearly as resource intensive. Tynes would describe the results of this technique at the time as “the most realistic playable characters ever seen in a game, period.”
But the excitement was not meant to last. Flying Lab was aiming for a 2003 release for Delta Green: throughout the summer of 2002 they were in talks with several publishers in order to try to bring the game to the public. But what started off as a small PC exclusive eventually grew enough that it got in the Xbox Incubator program as well. This allowed prototypes to be easily created for the Microsoft console using standard PC tools. It seems Microsoft took an interest in Delta Green, but at some point backed out of the deal. It could be assumed that nobody else ended up picking up Delta Green for publishing unfortunately. Because of this the game never entered full production, despite the LithTech Jupiter engine allowing it to develop ahead of schedule.
At the same time Flying Lab was working on another game, Pirates Of The Burning Sea, an MMO set in the Golden Age Of Piracy that was eventually released in a beta testing state in December 2005, and officially released in 2008. From what can be pieced together, it seems Flying Lab chose to focus on their MMO after hitting trouble with Delta Green, and the game was shelved indefinitely at the beginning of 2003. Although Flying Lab hoped they could come back to the project at some point, it seems that never happened and Delta Green was never heard from again.
Flying Lab would continue to develop Pirates Of The Burning Sea for years to come, but would eventually go out of business sometime around 2012, when their publisher (Sony Online Entertainment) dropped the MMO from their catalog. Former members then founded another studio, Portalus Games, which continued maintaining the game until 2018 with a shrinking team, when they also closed doors. The game remains alive, but managed by a whole different company, Vision Online Games, with Flying Lab’s influence long gone from its virtual world.
Article by António Pedro Pinto, thanks to Majiki for the contribution!
Iceman is a cancelled puzzle game that was in development for GameCube, Xbox and Playstation 2 by forgotten studio Datura, formed in 2003 by former Infogrames developers. Up to 4 players could compete together in small arenas, but it’s not exactly clear how it would be played. By looking at available screenshots it seems you could collect crystals and possibly moving blocks / parts of the scenario.
Unfortunately Datura never found a publisher interested in Iceman: in the end they had to close down and cancel development of their game.
DogTag is a cancelled shooter that was in development around 2005 by DiezelPower for PC, Xbox and Xbox 360, to be published by British company Digital Jesters. It was going to be a third-person squad based shooter, featuring cover mechanics and basic orders that could be given to teammates. It would encourage players to use the environment for defensive and offensive maneuvers, with blindfire, flanking and enemies that would counter tactics being used against them.
For the gaming press some of its elements drew comparisons to other cover-based shooters such as Kill.Switch and the then-upcoming Gears Of War, but DogTag had a slightly different gameplay style in mind. By mixing the fast action gameplay of traditional shooters and the slower, tactical combat of games like Full Spectrum Warrior, DiezelPower wanted to create a breed of game in which both these styles would come together. It would create a gritty, but arcade-like tactical shooter, in which players would have to think to defeat their opponents, but could also have fun in fast-paced shooting. Online co-op was also going to be a major feature.
The story would have certainly helped with that grittiness. Described as “controversial” by publisher Digital Jesters, the plot focuses on one of the civil wars that frequently ravage a large number of nations in Africa. After a United States-backed group is forced to retreat from the conflict, the U.S. sends in a battalion of Marines to replace them. For reasons unknown, however, the colonel of this battalion revolts and leads a mutiny against his own country. The U.S. once again send in a small elite force tasked to bring the colonel back for questioning. Hell breaks loose when they arrive in Africa, as they are immediately met with heavy resistance from the rebelling American forces, starting a long fight that would pit U.S. soldiers against each other, something rarely seen in a video game.
The most obvious inspiration for the storyline would probably be Apocalypse Now, but it is also eerily similar to another controversial title that would come out in 2012: Spec Ops – The Line (which also featured streamlined tactical combat and a story about a U.S. force led by a mutineering officer and the special ops team sent it to capture him, with the setting changed to an evacuated Dubai stricken by a catastrophic sandstorm). But if the storyline in DogTag was intended to be as psychological or as critical of violence as it was in Spec Ops: The Line, it is unknown.
DogTag was to be released in 2006, and would have been a next-gen title at that point in time. Initially, it would only be released on PC and Xbox, but an Xbox 360 port was planned later on with added content. However, it seems the game was not meant to be.
Towards the end of 2005 publisher Digital Jesters became the center of controversy when it faced several accusations of wrongdoing from many of their business partners. These accusations included lack of payment for games developed by external studios, price changing and selling of games in territories not covered by their contracts, and doing business under different names in what seemed like an attempt to escape financial troubles. Despite a substantial investment that Digital Jesters claimed had left them “110 percent financially secure”, KaosKontrol (the company that owned DiezelPower) petitioned the UK High Court to force Digital Jesters into liquidation, in what is known as a winding-up order. Legal action was also threatened against the key people in the company directly and many of their publishing deals were cancelled. The Digital Jesters website disappeared not long after that.
KaosKontrol claimed that it still owned the rights to DogTag, that its development was not affected and was ready to seek out another publishing deal for their game. However, nothing else was heard about it. With the team presumably unable to find another publisher and left in financial trouble (and possibly accumulating legal fees) they had to close down some time afterwards. DiezelPower themselves seem to have survived in some form and are still around to this day, with their two most recent games, Nation Red and Versus Squad, being available on Steam.