Nintendo

Thieves World (Bits Studios) [N64 – Cancelled]

You might remember a game called Rogue Ops that was released on Xbox, Gamecube and Playstation 2 way back in 2003. Well, this game wasn’t always called that way. When the developper Bits Studios started the project during the Nintendo 64 era, this was called Thieves World. We are lucky enough to have a gameplay video of how the game would have looked like, right down here:

As written in the video description:

“Thieves World was a n64 game developed by bits studios in 1999. When the n64 life cycle ended development was moved to the ps2. This is a prototype of the game running on the ps2. It’s basically a mix of the n64 assets with a new main character, added “nextGen” special FX and such… the game will keep transform and later be released under the title Rogue Ops. This video was recently unearthed by a ex bits employee. The n64 rom or early ps2, gamecube or xbox build are still lost to this day.”

As the video suggests when it starts, Thieves World was a working title so it is possible that it would have had a different name had it been released on the Nintendo 64 back then. During the video, we see the female main character infiltrating what seems to be a well guarded bank. There are guards with guns, she shoots darts from afar to put them to sleep and she can also ambush them in close quarters. Thieves World had a more stealth approach to its design than Rogue Ops and this is confirmed by one of the programmers who worked at the company Bits Studios at the time.

Please read below part of a very interesting interview we had with Mr. Frederic Villain about what it was like to work for this company and the projects Bits Studios had at the time like RiQa, Muzzle Velocity (Die Hard Vendetta) and Thieves World. The full interview was published in our Unseen64 bookVideo Games You Will Never Play”.

Unseen64: What happened to RiQa and Thieves World? There is a lot of confusion about these two unreleased N64 games and we’d like to finally find out the truth. We know that they were two different projects but it seems that the released Rogue Ops took some elements from both. Is this true? Why were they cancelled and how much was done on the Nintendo 64?

Fred: “When I joined Bits Studios with other ex-employees/friends from Haiku Studios, the main focus of the studio was RiQa for N64. A very ambitious third person game with a main female character called RiQa. As far as I can remember the team had already been working on the game for a couple years. I was assigned to the project and worked on various gameplay and VFX tasks as well as the support of the infamous 64DD as the content of the game was supposed to be huge. The project had a lot of difficulties on the tech side and the team was fighting between the ambitions and the hardware/software limitations.

At the same time Nathanael Presson which I knew from Haiku, was working on creating a new multiplatform engine for the company. I was working on and off with him to add support for the N64 to the engine. After 6 months at Bits we presented the tech to Foo Katan (the boss of the studio) and he was sold. While the RiQa engine iteration cycle was very slow (level made in Max and long building times to get it on console), we had an Editor/Engine that allowed LDs to create levels in the Editor (using Booleans and Portals inspired from the original Unreal Editor) and allowed them to play directly on the console by a press of a button. This was the beginning of the “Thieves World” project, another third person game with a female lead (at the time Tomb Raider was an inspiration for everybody and female leads were very popular!).

Thieves World, in turn, had a lot of ups and downs. After a few more months the RiQa project was cancelled and the focus of the studio became “Thieves World”. We continued working on the engine and the gameplay of the game for several years. At some point another team in the Studio started developing Muzzle Velocity, which later on became Die Hard: Vendetta, using the same Editor/Engine and we contributed to support this team. We had some problems on the creative side on TW and we spent a lot of time iterating on the design. As the N64 life cycle reached its end the decision was made to move on to next gen and we had to upgrade the engine significantly to push the tech to benefit from next gen consoles hardware.

A lot of people left the team in the years after this reboot and at some point I was the only original member of the team left. The game was almost canned but we signed a deal with Kemco and the game was ultimately rebooted to become “Rogue Ops”. The original TW project was supposed to be a stealth, no weapon game, which created a lot of issues on gameplay side. Kemco decided to introduce more shooting and we finally got a game. TW was not inspired by other titles at the time like MGS or Splinter Cell, it was actually imagined before or at the same time as those games. But the development cycle was so long that at release time those games had long been released.”

Unseen64: Jas Austin (another former Bits Studios developer) told us that Thieves World almost became a Rare game: is true that they wanted to move development from Bits  Studios to Rare? We wonder if Thieves World could have became a Perfect Dark spin- off. After Rare and Nintendo published the original Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64,  they also wanted to release a quick sequel called “Velvet Dark” that would have been a third person action / stealth game.. maybe the two projects are related.

Fred: “Yes as far as I can remember Jason is right! While the TW game had design difficulties, Bits Studios was audited by Rare. A presentation of the game and the tech was done to Rare after several months of audit and while the tech was recognized on N64, Rare did not decide to acquire the game or the studio. They were already working on Perfect Dark at the time and some concepts in both games are similar, but this is as far as it goes regarding the history between those two games.”

As mentioned in the written interview, the reason why Thieves World didn’t happen is because the N64 had reached the end of its lifecycle and a decision was made by Bits Studios to move this project to the next generation. This meant rebuilding the game and transfer as much as possible to their new project. Thieves World was in production for a few years after RiQa was cancelled, so we can assume it got quite far in development. They did, however, experience creative hardships and spent a lot of time on the design side of the project.

During that transition, sadly most people left Bits Studios. Mr. Villain was the only member of the project who stayed until the end and saw this Thieves World come alive as Rogue Ops when finally released on the new generation of consoles in 2003.

“But I am still proud to that day, it got finally released as Rogue Ops, even if it was not a massive commercial success”

The company Bits Studios has worked on quite a good list of games before it went under in 2008. As mentioned on Wikipedia, unfortunately the parent company ‘Playwize’ sold off all assets and technologies Bits Studio had due to overall poor sales.

Article by Alex (Brub)

Images:

On a last note, see below a Rogue Ops retro video commercial for comparison purposes. One wonders how different Thieves World would have been compared to Rogue Ops, but at least something came out of this cancellation.

 

Baten Kaitos 2 / 3 [Cancelled – Wii]

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a now cult-classic RPG developed by Monolith Soft and tri-Crescendo, and published by Namco for the GameCube in 2003. A prequel titled “Baten Kaitos Origins” was published in 2006 directly by Nintendo, which a year later officially purchased the majority of Monolith Soft’s shares from Bandai Namco.

baten-kaitos-3-wii-cancelled

Just before Nintendo’s acquisition of Monolith the team started working on the third Baten Kaitos, but the project halted when Namco sold them to Nintendo. We can assume this “Baten Kaitos 2” (as it would have been a sequel to the first game) would have been developed for Wii, as the console was released in late 2006 just a few months after BK: Origins. Yasuyuki Honne (director and producer for the Baten Kaitos series) unveiled some details about their “Baten Kaitos 3” on Twitter in September 2018, as translated by a ResetEra user:

“It’s been more than 10 years since the release of Baten Kaitos II, and even now it pains me that I continue to receive requests for a sequel. I think the statute of limitations has run out, so I can say a little bit about it. Immediately after the release of Baten Kaitos II, Namco (now Bandai Namco) worked on a sequel up until the pre-production phase, but just before Baten Kaitos III could become a reality, the story ended due to the circumstances of the involved parties.

If we made it, it would have been grand-scale game with settings at the bottom of the sea, on land, and in the sky. There’s a large amount of concept art for the sequel sealed away at Bandai Namco. Requests for a sequel should be directed not just to myself and Monolith Soft, but also to Bandai Namco.”

Unfortunately at the moment it seems unlikely that Bandai Namco would ever share or use concept art from this unrealized third Baten Kaitos project. The two released games sold poorly and even if Nintendo would have not acquired Monolith it’s possible that the game would have been cancelled anyway, just as it happened with the announced (and canned) “Baten Kaitos DS”.

baten-kaitos-2-wii-cancelled

As we can read on Wikipedia:

According to Sugiura, Monolith Soft’s relations with Namco had undergone a negative change after Nakamura retired as head of Namco in 2002, three years before the merger with Bandai. The company underwent changes and Monolith Soft felt they were being given less creative freedom, and the newly-created Namco Bandai was less willing to take creative risks. The company then received consultation from Shinji Hatano, an executive director at Nintendo, who advised them to continue creating innovative projects. Spurred on by Hatano’s supportive attitude, Monolith Soft decided to break away from Namco Bandai to become a Nintendo subsidiary; this provided Monolith Soft creative freedom in exchange for software development exclusivity for Nintendo platforms. Nintendo’s purchasing of the majority of Monolith Soft’s shares from Bandai Namco Holdings was publicly announced in April 2007.

After the cancellation of the third Baten Kaitos, Monolith Soft developed and released many new games loved by fans, such as Soma Bringer, Disaster: Day of Crisis and the Xenoblade Chronicles series. 

Bonk 64 (Ultra Genjin) [N64 – Cancelled]

Bonk (also known as “PC Genjin” in Japan and “BC Kid” in Europe) is the name of the main character in a series of platforming games that was started on the PC Engine in 1990 when the first title, Bonk’s Adventure, was developed by Hudson. Bonk soon became the mascot of Hudson in an 8/16-bit market filled with mascot-platformers (Mario, Sonic, etc.) and they released a few sequels for PC Engine and Super Famicom.

When Nintendo announced their Ultra 64 in late 1994 many Japanese companies started to plan 3D versions of their main properties for the 64 bit console and with the showcase of Mario 64 it looked like 3D platforming was finally finding its roots. At the time Hudson had a very good relationship with Nintendo, in 1997 they released Dual Heroes and Bomberman 64, while sometime later they also co-developed Mario Party together, a title that became a popular hit with the N64 user-base.

What most gamers do not know is that in 1995 Hudson in cooperation with A.I Studio (the team that already worked on other PC Genjin titles) were also planning a new, exclusive Bonk game for the Ultra 64, tentatively titled “Ultra Genjin”, that would have been the first 3D Bonk game to be released.

Unfortunately the Ultra Genjin team was still not used to creating 3D platforming games and they were not sure about how to develop this new version of Bonk or how to implement its characteristic 2D design into 3D graphics. In the end they decided to cancel the project and focus on other titles. The images you can see on this page are the only remaining documents on the development of Ultra Genjin with the first draft of Bonk in 3D.

bonk 64 Ultra Genjin Nintendo64 cancelled

bonk 64 Ultra Genjin Nintendo64 cancelled

After some years Hudson and A.I took the early work they had done on Bonk 64 to develop Bomberman Hero which was finally released in 1998 on the N64. As we can read in an interview by GDRI with Shouichi Yoshikawa:

GDRI: What happened with Ultra Genjin [N64]?

Yoshikawa: Ultra Genjin was being planned during the game industry’s transition from 2D to 3D games. I studied the practical aspects of this quite a bit, but I think that nobody really knew what should be done with games at the time. As a result of trial and error, we were able to adapt the design for Ultra Genjin to Bomberman Hero.”

The last original Bonk game released for consoles remains Cho Genjin 2, published in 1995 for the Super Famicom and the series never had a proper 3D incarnation. Other 3D Bonk games were cancelled many years later including Bonk 3D for Nintendo 3DS and Bonk: Brink of Extinction for Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Because of several financial losses Hudson sold most of its shares to Konami and in 2012 Hudson Soft Co. Ltd completely ceased to exist and fully merged with Konami, losing all of their IPs. It’s currently unknown if we’ll ever see another Bonk game in the future. 

Satellite Man [SNES – Cancelled]

Satellite Man was a scrapped, albeit completely finished, game for the SNES by Japanese developer T&E Soft. The game was a comedic side-scrolling brawler akin to Final Fight that featured Satellite Man, a superhero who could harness the power of satellites, as he attempted to make his way to the moon to save it from an evil mastermind who claimed it for himself.

Details of the game are scarce as few people have seen it and it is unlikely that any of it remains to this day, but descriptions of the game by its developers reveal that the game had an absurd sense of humor, such as the fact that the titular hero is broke and has to hitch a ride to the moon on a NASA rocket ship.

The game’s bosses reflected this comedic style as well with “Baron Engine”, a man with a v8 engine for a body who chased the player around in a child’s toy car, a bee who carried explosives appropriately named “Dynamite Bee” and “Captain Go”, an Apollo Lunar Module with a dangling body and a face of a man from T&E’s sales department.

satellite-man-snes-super-famicom-cancelled

Unlike some of the other side-scrolling fighters at the time Satellite Man was single player only and had a button for punches, kicks, grabs and special attacks.  There were three special attacks, two of which were the ability to shoot down a damaging beam from a satellite and the ability to create two shadow versions of yourself to help fight.  These special moves were unlocked by filling a recharging “satellite bar” and the player could use three special attacks in a row if the bar was fully charged. In an attempt to make the game seem more like an American comic book the developers added text bubbles like “BOOM” and “POW” that would pop up when enemies were hit.

Despite being 100% finished after half a year of development the game never saw the light of day.  This was mostly due to the fact that one of the developers handed a copy of the game to company co-founder Eiji Yokoyama and promised him he would laugh every 30 seconds, to which Yokoyama responded by not laughing once throughout the entire game.

The developers also chalk it up to the fact that T&E had recently worked on the SNES version of Rise of the Robots, a critical and financial failure that is lauded as one of the worst fighting games of all time, and didn’t think they could sell another fighting game so soon afterwards. As many other lost SNES games, nothing remain from Satellite Man, only a sketch and a few memories in an interview by John Szczepaniak with former T&E Soft developers, published in “The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Volume 2” book.

Article by Tristan Avery, thanks to John for the contribution! 

LEGO Racers: The Video Game [DS, Wii – Cancelled]

In late 2008, the next year’s LEGO sets were released “early” (this isn’t unusual for LEGO sets). What was unusual was the ad on LEGO Racers set boxes advertising an unannounced game; “LEGO Racers: The Video Game“.

lego racers the video game ds wii cancelled

People speculated on who was developing the game, and for what platforms it might be released (it was often confused with an unrelated web game, LEGO Racers Challenge, developed by NetDevil). On Brickset.com they wrote:

This is the first non-licensed LEGO video game to be released since 2006’s BIONICLE Heroes. It is also the forth racing-centric LEGO video game to be released, after 1999’s LEGO Racers, 2001’s LEGO Racers 2, and 2002’s Drome Racers.

It also wasn’t the only mysterious game advertised on set boxes – other sets advertised “LEGO Space: The Video Game” and “LEGO Castle: The Video Game“, both for Nintendo DS. Eventually it was found that those two games – along with “LEGO Pirates: The Video Game” (which hadn’t been advertised on set boxes) – were all merged into one game, LEGO Battles, after the set packaging had already been finalized.

But that didn’t explain LEGO Racers: The Video Game. Years passed without word of it, until in 2013 a developer from Firebrand Games posted samples of work he’d done on the game, and stated it was unreleased. Included were four rendered videos (showing three car models and an animated minifigure), and two in-game screenshots.

The developer said the game was for Nintendo DS, but the screenshots show higher graphical quality than the DS is capable of, and are 640×456 – a standard resolution for Wii games. Going by other games by developed by Firebrand, it seems likely the game was planned for both systems.

Thanks to jamesster for the contribution!

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