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!
The original Pilotwings is an arcade flying simulator developed by Nintendo and published in December 1990 as one of their first games for the Super Nintendo, soon becoming a cult 16 bit classic. Players can use different flying vehicles to complete various missions within a time limit, trying to get high-scores for such tasks as flying through rings and landing on specific parts of the levels.
A few magazines in mid ‘90s mentioned Pilotwings 2 in their news / rumors sections, but Nintendo never officially announced Pilotwings 2 SNES, so it could have been one of those fake speculations with no real evidences. Luckily a few years ago John Szczepaniak (author of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers books) asked to Dylan Cuthbert (who worked with Argonaut Software and Nintendo on such games as Star Fox and Star Fox 2) about Pilotwings 2 and Dylan confirmed that it was really in development for the Super Nintendo, using the Super FX chip 2. Dylan also mentioned Pilotwings 2 / Super FX 2 prototype in a Reddit AMA:
“I think it was just light experimentation, such as the FX chip based Pilot’s Wings experiment too, just to see what could be done and was quickly re-worked on the prototype N64 hardware. They were already experimenting with motion capture for better animation in 1995 or thereabouts.”
It seems that only an early prototype was created, but we really hope to see something more from it in the future.
If you had a Nintendo 64 back in the 90’s, you probably remember all the hype around its 64DD, the disk-based peripheral that promised some cool features for it’s time, including network capabilities, internal clock, additional storage and content expansion for N64 games. Unfortunately due to numerous delays and its commercial failure in Japan this add-on was never released outside of Japan, being discontinued after just 10 software published.
We could say the failure of the 64DD had direct consequences over the N64 game library. We all know about Nintendo’s complicated past with third party support, media storage and licensing issues. These were always key points for Nintendo and with the N64 it wasn’t any different. Their 64DD could have offered a cheaper support for third parties with more space for their games.
Even before its launch in Japan many European and North American developers were already working on 64DD games: after all this add-on was announced in 1995, prior to the N64’s launch. As you can imagine most of these 64DD games were either scrapped or ported to N64 carts.
One of these interesting but lost 64DD games is Project Cairo, a cancelled RPG planned by team Craveyard (Crave Entertainment). According to an IGN article dated 1997, Craveyard were “in negotiations to use a major comic book license for both characters and background story”, promising a new “fresh look for the genre with interesting, Americanized characters”.
We don’t know which comic book they planned to use (above are some examples of random fantasy comics from the mid ’90s, to have an idea of their style), but as told by Mark Burke (former Vice President, Product Acquisitions at Crave):
“If it was another anime RPG I don’t think we’d be making it. […] We think the art in the game is as good as if not better than that in Final Fantasy VII.”
It’s important to note that Craveyard shared their origins with Square USA. Legendary Ted Woolsey (responsible for many popular RPG localizations during the 16-bit era) moved out from Square with a group of employees when the company was moving offices back in 1996, founding a small team named Big Rain.
The name Big Rain wouldn’t last long as Crave Entertainment soon bought the company, changing its name to Craveyard and made them working on such games as Shadow Madness, a Japanese-inspired Role-playing game eventually released on Sony Playstation in 1999.
In the meantime Craveyard were also conceiving new ideas for Project Cairo, their ambitious RPG intended to take advantage of 64DD’s original features, scheduled to also be released in 1999. For Project Cairo’s scenario Craveyard were talking with a well known British fantasy writer (which remains anonymous) for a high-profile collaboration.
As told us by Ted Woosley Project Cairo never got past this early planning and “scenario” phase. It was soon clear that Playstation was the better console to develop for: it was cheaper and with a larger user-base already interested in RPGs. N64 was not selling enough to pursue full development of an exclusive RPG, especially for its postponed 64DD add-on. The team focused all of their resources and efforts into Shadow Madness: it’s currently unknown if their Playstation RPG took some ideas or mechanics initially conceived for Project Cairo.
Unfortunately Shadow Madness did not perform as expected: it was received with average reviews and poor sales. In the end Crave opted to pull Craveyard out of business and closed the studio. After Craveyard’s closure, Ted Woolsey joined RealNetworks (a provider of Internet streaming media) where he managed their online gaming client. In 2007 Woolsey moved to Microsoft Studios to work as Senior Director for the Xbox Live Arcade and in 20015 he became General Manager of Undead Labs helping releasing fan-favorite State of Decay.