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.
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 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.
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!
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.
At the time Cyclone Studios was mostly known for BattleSport, a “futuristic sports game” published by 3DO in 1997 for their 3DO console, Playstation, Sega Saturn and PC. In BattleSport players battle in small arenas controlling armored hovercraft. The main objective is to shoot an energy ball into a target to score points, while killing your opponents. You could somehow imagine it like a mix between “Rocket League” and “Quake 3 Arena”.
BattleSport was popular enough to deserve a sequel and soon Cyclone Studios started working on BattleSport 2 which was officially announced by 3DO at the time, originally planned for the ill-fated 3DO / Panasonic M2. As wrote by Gamespot:
“Battlesport II (working title) Another former M2 title, Battlesport II is a futuristic sports game planned as a PlayStation-only title due spring of ’98. The first Battlesport game was originally released on the 3DO console system, and it is due for the PlayStation soon through Acclaim.”
“3DO has secured approval from Sony to develop a sequel to BattleSport, one of the better titles for the original 3DO hardware. The game is currently under the working title of BattleSport 2 (no big surprise there) but it may end up as BattleSport Extreme among other possibilities. It has not yet been decided whether the game will focus more on combat or sports, but, “It will be drastically different than the first,” according to a 3DO spokesperson. BattleSport 2 is slated for an early 1998 release.”
Some more details about the game were shared by former Cyclone Studios President Helmut Kobler, in a short interview posted in 1997 on the n64.com website (now closed):
“N64.com spoke with Cyclone Studios President Helmut Kobler, who gave us an idea what the game will be like. “We definitely want to bring a version of BattleSport to N64,” said Kobler, the 28-year-old former University of California at Berkeley student. “We’ve spoken with Nintendo, they’ve given us the OK to make it, but right now we’re focusing on bringing a little more order here in-house before we move on to anything else.”
Cyclone will orchestrate a Nintendo 64-specific title, with loads of changes, abilities no other system will have, and has yet to decide which system the game will be developed for, 64DD or N64 cartridge. “Battlesport is born to be on a system like N64,” Said Kobler. “And there is a possibility of the game going four-player, if two systems could be hooked up. As far as I know, a link up is a possibility, but I can’t speak for Nintendo. […] But we’ll only do the game when we feel it’s right. We’re a small company, and we like it like that, so we need to be ready, and need to manage our resources properly.”
Kobler’s plans to make a version of BattleSport for Nintendo 64 include alterations like improving the graphics so that tanks and arenas will contain a quantifiable leap in polygons, and special effects that will include smoke and exhaust, and an altogether far more detailed world. “You wouldn’t just see a flat wall area, crowds, color, and much more would be seeable. And tanks could destroy certain parts of the arenas,” Kobler says.
[…] Lastly, explained Kobler, the game will have new parts to it, which add to the strategy. “Some of the new elements will include underground and above-ground tunnels to hide from the enemy, and pits as well,” he added.”
In the end BattleSport 2 was still primarily in development for Playstation, but unfortunately it seems that Sony, 3DO and Cyclone Studios were not exactly sure how to enhance this sequel. As we can read in an interview with Lance Lewis (former Cyclone developer):
“MT: What is the current status of 3DO’s BioSwarm for the Playstation?
LL: We actually finished a playable level to demo at E3 in 1998, although it was never shown there. In defense of the game, I think it had really begun to take shape, and it was quite unique. However, this was one of those projects that just had too many “red flags” around it from day one. It was originally a sequel to the 3DO Multiplayer game BattleSport. I believe Sony wasn’t too keen on the idea, so it was redesigned and called N.R.G. (energy… get it?). Again, it wasn’t received too warmly so it was redesigned again to become BioSwarm. All of this was going on while the game retained that same engine, presenting a problem for the design team. I feel technology should be built to house a game, a game shouldn’t have to be restricted by pre-built technology. Now, there was nothing wrong with the technology, it was great in fact… but… it was built to do a particular style of game, so every design after that was obviously going to be limited. Upper management really didn’t care about details like this and so once again the 3DO theme: “Re-use, re-use, re-use…”
Unfortunately Lance Lewis passed away in January 2018; family and friends organized a “celebration of life” ceremony for him in San Jose.
To learn more about this lost game we got in contact with James Hampton, former Lead Game Designer at Cyclone Studios on BioSwarm, who recall when he started working on the project:
“Eddie Ruvinsky and Rob Adams were the lead programmer and artist on the team, and together they put together a playable level that featured these articulated hover ships that Rob had designed. When I started at Cyclone Studios, I was tasked with building a game design based on this prototype.
I agreed that the ships were fun to zoom around the arena they built, and wanted to add some unique mechanics that could help the game stand out in the vehicle combat genre. As a group we brainstormed and came up with a bunch of pop-culture inspired enemies and arenas.
The core idea for BioSwarm (as seen in the storyboards for the intro movie) was that a pair of intergalactic garbage men come across Earth, and when they see how polluted Earth is, they saw as the perfect landfill to dump their toxic waste on. This space trash turns out to be these energy based creatures that travel in swarms which defended itself by bringing stuff to life to fight for them. Each of the arena would be set in different kinds of trash themed locales such as ‘Silicon Slums‘ (where old computers parts and monitors go to die), a nuclear power plant, and even a Vegas like level that focused on ‘trashy pop culture’. Example: in the Automobile wrecking yard level, the swarm summons a boss monster whose body is made up of automobiles and car parts (this is the enemy creature seen in the BioSwarm poster and video). This initial build included a subtle easter egg in that a lot of the cars used in the boss monsters body were based on the vehicles the dev team drove to work every day.
The amazing art duo of Rob Adams and Mark Dixon came up with some excellent concept art to show what these new kind of enemies could be.”
BioSwarm’s gameplay was quite different from its early conception as BattleSport 2. Sports’ mechanics of scoring points by shooting balls in a target were dropped in favor of a more combat-focused gameplay, merging cult classics vehicle combat games such as Twisted Metal and Vigilante 8 with an interesting “flocking Artificial Intelligence”.
As told us by James:
“The goal for the BioSwarm player was to round up these alien energy creatures that defended itself by bringing inanimate objects to life to act as their protectors. Sort of a science fiction take on rodeo lasso-ing using these Hoverships to chase down, lasso and capture the ‘swarm’ of creatures. The Swarm used a “flocking” AI algorithm which resulted in these dynamic movement patterns of the swarm moving as one.”
The team worked hard on BioSwarm until April 1998, when Cyclone Studios were fully merged into 3DO and the project was cancelled so that they could instead focus on titles based on their “Army Men” franchise. They developed “Army Men: Air Attack”, published in 1999 for Playstation, Nintendo 64 and PC.
Before BioSwarm got canned the team was able to develop a “pre-alpha” version, which offered a taste of what the moment to moment gameplay was like. While not everything was implemented, you could control a hover ship in an environment inspired by Three Mile Island / nuclear plants and chase down the swarming creatures and zap them. This early demo was presented to the executives at Cyclone and 3DO, as well as a handful of journalists from some of the game magazines publishing at the time (such as EGM). We hope one day someone could rediscover BioSwarm‘s playable demo to share and preserve it online.
On a curious note, years later after Cyclone Studios merged with 3DO their former office space was used by Thomas Dolby’s company Beatnik to work on audio software solutions and games for Macromedia and shockwave.com. James remembers Dolby shown him a demo of Beatnik’s software remixing “She Blinded me with Science” in the same conference room they used to pitch game ideas while at Cyclone.
Huge thanks to James Hampton for helping us preserving more details to remember this promising lost game. All BioSwarm art was developed by lead artist Rob Adams and Mark Dixon. Also thanks to Ross Sillifant for the contribution!
The 16-bit era is often mentioned as the Golden Age of Gaming. A graced period that gave us hundreds of awesome classic games. It was a time when 2D game development was maturing and lots of ideas from the 8-bit generation would be revamped with new technology and graphics. Some old concepts and gameplay would still do pretty well in 16-bit, others had to be reworked and adapted, while still using similar and already successful mechanics. The latter is the case for Dwagons, our featured game.
In Pengo the player must navigate through a maze and push ice blocks to defeat every enemy on screen in the shortest time possible. In Sokoban a more strategic approach is needed: the player have to move and fit blocks into specific areas to open the next level. Both had very simple but very successful formula for the 1980’s gaming market.
Dwagons would add a little more depth into the “static-screen block pushing” type of game in “a combination of adventure, strategy and arcade“. It would feature multiple-themed levels, co-operative multiplayer, multi-layered puzzles and a lot of secrets to uncover, everything wrapped in a cartoon-like medieval fantasy theme.
Developers even thought about other gameplay elements like magic spells, teleporting blocks, rafts to move through water places and trap doors that could make the player backtrack. By that time, gameplay variety was a central idea among gamers and developers and core mechanics for puzzle games were evolving (see Capcom’s Goof Troop for the SNES for example).
We don’t know how close Dwagons was from completion or how much of the game had actually been made, but judging from screenshots and detailed previews it seems it was already in a pretty advanced stage. It even had a whole scenario and a plot of its own. Two dragons (Dwagons) named Snort and Snail set on a quest to retrieve the Magic Talisman of Power and rescue their brother, Snarf, captured by the evil Lord Flame.
Imagitec was responsible for a variety of arcade game ports released mostly on Atari and Amiga platforms. They worked with other companies such as Atari Corporation, Gremlin Graphics, and Electronic Arts until early 1997 when Imagitec was purchased by Gremlin and renamed Gremlin Interactive Studios.”
Thanks to Marçal Mora Cantallops and Grzegorz for the scans!