Switchblade 2 is side-scrolling action title originally developed by Core Design and published by Gremlin Interactive for Amiga in 1991. A Famicom / NES port of the game, created by Kemco, was slated for release in november 1992. The player controlled a soldier, nicknamed “Switchblade”, who had to save planet F-S5 from an alien invasion. As in similar action titles, he was able to double jump, use blades, guns, and collect power-ups for the latter. More weapons and upgrades could also be bought in the store.
It’s unknown why Kemco never released their version of Switchblade 2 or if it had any major difference compared to the original Amiga version, graphics aside.
Game Zero (later known as Project Z3796WP) is a cancelled sandbox action platformer that Zoonami has been developing from 2000 to 2002 as an exclusive game for Nintendo’s Gamecube. The project became popular in 2000 as one of the early games announced for the – at the time – new Nintendo console, when former Rare employee Martin Hollis opened his own software house. Unfortunately Game Zero was never shown to the media and it was quietly canned after about 3 years of development.
Martin started working at Rare in 1993 when he was hired to work as a programmer on Killer Instinct. After KI was completed he found out that Nintendo was about to acquire the license to develop a game based on the new James Bond movie – at the time still without an official name. It seems that Rare’s founders Tim and Chris Stamper were initially not sure about working on a James Bond tie-in, but Martin successfully offered himself to direct the project. In 1997 Goldeneye 007 was released for Nintendo 64, becoming one of the most popular titles ever produced for the console.
A game more different than the others
After Goldeneye, the same team started working on Perfect Dark, but in 1998 Martin left Rare with the project still unfinished. He wanted to explore the world and to work on something more exciting and original than a sequel. As we can read from an interview with Gamasutra in 2007:
Gamasutra: Why didn’t you do another Bond game?
Martin Hollis: We were offered the sequel. The rest of the team were keen, and in one respect, out of all of them, I was the one most likely to say, ‘Yes’ because I loved Bond. But I was able to say, ‘No’ in a second. A lot of the high level decisions on Perfect Dark were made to try and be different to GoldenEye but still reuse some expertise and engine. Really though, I needed to work on a game more different than Perfect Dark for it to be interesting.
After leaving Rare, initially Martin traveled to South East Asia for half a year and then went to America to collaborate with Nintendo Technology Division. They were busy working on the new “Project Dolphin” 128 bit console, only later renamed as GameCube. As he still wanted to work on innovative games, in 1999 Martin went back to Cambridge, United Kingdom, to set up an experimental indie studio, named Zoonami Ltd. The original Zoonami team was composed just of a few people: Martin Hollis, David Jones, Edward Sludden, Gareth Rees, Paul Hankin and Richard Tucker. Zoonami soon created their first concept, an interesting and mysterious game that was internally nicknamed as “Game Zero”.
An exclusive game for Gamecube
Thanks to Martin’s good relationship with Nintendo, Zoonami signed a collaboration with them to develop this concept into an original GameCube exclusive title. As soon as gaming websites and magazines found out about the deal, rumors started to circulate about a possible new GameCube first person shooter, authored by the lead director of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. That was so far away from the truth.
Probably most journalist did not know the main reason why Martin decided to left Rare in 1998, or they would have easily debunked such rumors. Zoonami wanted to create something original, not just duplicate Goldeneye. To give their fans some hints about what they were really working on, the team published a curious “censored pitch letter” on their official website in 2002, with a short description:
“We are currently working on a game, but we’re not at liberty to reveal very much about it yet. You might want to check out some of the unfounded rumours about it. Meanwhile here is the project proposal, from our files”
There are some key concepts that should be noted in this image: esoteric taste, small planet, telescope, device. After this letter, nothing more was announced about Game Zero, no screens or videos were ever released and Zoonami has gone quiet for a few years. Then in 2004 they announced another pitch named “Funkydilla”, an original one-button music game – that unfortunately never found a viable publisher.
In July 2004 they updated their Website posting a placeholder image with a “spy-themed” desk, showing a gun, a pair of glasses, a briefcase and some top-secret documents. This rendering fueled rumors about Game Zero being a new espionage or hitman-themed FPS for GameCube, but both the press and gamers did not know that the project was already been canned since 2 years at that point.
Zoonami disappeared again until 2006, when they finally released their first commercial game, Zendoku, for Nintendo DS and PSP. The studio only released 2 other games before closing down in 2010: Go! Puzzle for PSN and Bonsai Barber for WiiWare, both in 2009.
Game Zero, finally unveiled
What exactly was Game Zero, how would have it been played and why was it cancelled? The main cause for its cancellation was that the concept they were trying to develop was too complex for its time, due to technical and marketing reasons. Game Zero would have been an original sandbox action platformer set in destructable voxel levels: players would have been able to mine rocks and terrains, gaining items and resources to build new structures.
Does it sound a bit like Minecraft? We asked to Martin if Game Zero could have been a sort of ancestor for Notch’s popular sandbox game:
“Ancestor isn’t quite the right word. After all I believe nobody connected to Zach of Zachtronics (Infiniminer) and to Notch of Mojang saw any part of GameZero. There’s a connection. Minecraft has created its precursors.”
In early october 2015 Martin even discussed about the similarities between Game Zero and Minecraft at the “[Select/Start] PLAY” event at Viborg, Denmark, during his talk titled “How to Succeed at Designing GoldenEye. How to Fail at Designing Minecraft“. Unfortunately the destruction and building of voxels in Game Zero were too RAM-intensive to be suitable for consoles or PCs hardwares at the time. Zoonami did not want to continue working on something that was not keeping pace with their plans. The console gaming market was also one of their concerns as the most popular GameCube titles in 2002 were examples of traditional gameplay experiences (Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness, Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime and Star Fox Adventures) in contrast with the sandbox, open-ended gameplay design planned for Game Zero. In 3 years Zoonami did many experiments and created a playable prototype, but in the end they decided to cancel its development: it was not the right game and not the right market.
“At the time we stopped the project, we had developed a handful of levels with something of a platformer feel. The avatar and vehicles had antigravity movement mainly constrained to the ground, and the player discovered their goals were to navigate, to rescue a few characters from the level, and to collect items partly from the rock. The levels were fairly tightly circumscribed in space, much more like Mario 64 than an open world game.”
As it happened with Perfect Dark, Game Zero’s protagonist would have been a female character. But this time the game was set in a fantasy alien planet inhabited by strange yellow creatures. Players would have been able to explore different areas of the planet using vehicles and laser guns, in a cartoony graphic style created with simple voxel geometries. As they wrote in Zoonami’s original company profile:
“We know that the key element of a video game is fun. The most important thing for a game is not the number of features or objects or weapons or levels, or the special effects, not story, not sound, not graphics, not even characterization. All these are important and crucial to success, but subordinate to fun. We think it is important to provide new experiences for the player. Old games don’t get played much, not because they are bad games, but because they are old. To fulfil the player’s desire for variety we strive for creativity and originality.”
Unfortunately players never had a chance to have fun with Game Zero on GameCube and the project was later forgotten with the release of the new Wii console. When asked if it wasn’t “a bit depressing only to have released one game in seven years” in that same Gamasutra interview from 2007, Martin replied:
“If some of your projects don’t fail, that’s evidence you’re not taking chances. We are taking chances and a lot of our projects end up being cancelled or put on the shelf. I make the decision in most cases. Not every daring idea can be bought to fruition. […] This sort of thing happens in movies and TV all the time, although they don’t call it research. For every movie that comes out, there are hundreds of scripts. There’s a lot of work goes on behind the scenes that no one ever hears about.”
Although Game Zero was never released, we are happy we had the chance to hear a bit more about this interesting lost project and we could take a look at a few images of the unfinished prototype. Today Martin Hollis is still working on experimental concepts, as in 2013 when he designed an interactive project called “Aim for Love“, available to be played during GameCity festival of that year. Using cameras and big screens set in Nottingham’s Market Square, people from the crowd could play by “aiming” at other people and interacting with each other, in a strange mix between an alternative reality game and a social experiment.
Thanks a lot to Martin Hollis for his help to preserve more info and images from this lost project in the Unseen64 archive.
Zenith (also known as Climber in its early days) is a cancelled action / racing game hybrid planned for Nintendo 64 that was in development by DMA Design, the studio that created such popular games as Lemmings and the first Grand Theft Auto, other than cult titles as Space Station Silicon Valley and Body Harvest. Before working on the new 64 bit console, DMA already had a successful collaboration with Nintendo on the SNES with Uniracers, an original racing game in which players use unicycles to compete in high-speed tracks while doings tricks to gain more acceleration. In 1995 DMA pitched a new ambitious sandbox project to Nintendo for the yet-to-be-released Ultra 64: Body Harvest. Nintendo were quite interested in such an interesting concept, so they worked together with DMA for 2 years, before to split up because of delays and different views on how the game should have been played.
While Body Harvest was heavily publicized by Nintendo as one of the first games for their new console, another mysterious project was also in development at DMA for the Ultra 64, with a work-in-progress title of “Climber”. Climber was never shown to the public in any form but it quietly popped up in some early N64 release list, also to be published by Nintendo like Body Harvest. Without any more info about the project, some magazines even speculated that the game would have been a N64 version of Ice Climber, sometimes referring to it as “Ice Climber 64”.
Only many years later we found out that Climber was not related to Nintendo’s Ice Climber and DMA even changed the name of the project to Zenith after a while. The Zenith team was composed by a few young members of DMA Design: Andrew West, Richard Ralfe, Frank Arnot, Gary Thompson, Doug Smith, Paul Reeves and John Gurney.
As it happened with Uniracers, Zenith was going to have an original twist to the racing genre, in which players were able to choose among a good number of characters to combat and run to the top of various towers with different themes (for example medieval and wild-west levels), avoiding obstacles and fighting against other competitors. There was a wide variety of available characters in the early prototype of Zenith, such as humans, strange creatures and aliens. Characters were able to walk, run, jump, climb, hang and swing through the different hazards of the levels and had different combat moves, a few simple punch and kick moves plus a unique special attack.
In this old photo of Richard Ralfe (Level Designer on Zenith) taken at the DMA offices during the development of Zenith, we can see on the wall what could be a group image of some of the characters from the game.
From the few info available we can speculate that Zenith would have been a more complex and “mature” version of Iggy’s Reckin’ Balls (a rather obscure racing / action game with tower-based levels developed by Iguana Entertainment and released for N64 in 1998), mixed with a little of Super Smash Bros.
Unfortunately because of the many problems and delays with the development of Body Harvest, DMA Design decided to cancel development on Zenith and to move that team to help finishing their most important project for Nintendo. As we can read in an old article published on Edge Magazine issue 121:
On its return home, DMA noticed a distinct pattern emerging – more bad news. Body Harvest was being developed alongside another game called Zenith – an original mix of platform and racing action. Zenith was to be canned and several people were given the unpleasantly singular option of joining the Body Harvest project. It was a difficult situation and White found himself “trying to motivate people who didn’t want to be motivated.” When tensions reached breaking point, about ten people decided to leave en masse. White describes the episode as “a lot of fun,” in the same way that crashing your car is a lot of fun. It is easy to imagine that Body Harvest may never have reached completion without White’s intrinsic skills of diplomacy.
We tried to get in contact with people from the original Zenith team and they were able to share a few more memories about this lost game with us, but unfortunately they were not able to find any images left from the project. It seems than on the walls of one of the ancient buildings in the Java level on Body Harvest there is a texture that show characters from Zenith, hidden away as an easter egg from their cancelled title. If you are able to find this texture in Body Harvest, please let us know by email or in the comments below!
The project began midway into the year, in the aftermath of their previous Wii title, best known as ‘Project H.A.M.M.E.R.‘, which was shut down after a tumultuous development of 5 and a half years. ‘H.A.M.M.E.R.’, which had evolved into the more casually oriented ‘Wii Crush‘ by the end, was a costly misstep for both NST and Nintendo at large. Not only was the financial toll reaching into multiple millions of dollars, the company lost over half of its entire workforce during a staff exodus as a result of it, due to reportedly poor working conditions, and accusations of nationalism levelled against the management; among other reasons.
Understandably, the ordeal left NCL with trepidations about entrusting NST with another large scale project, but a small team of developers at the company remained optimistic that the subsidiary could still see a resurgence. They proposed creating a new game in the Wave Race franchise for the Nintendo Wii, which would have taken the series to new territory with the introduction of motion control.
The project was lead by experienced NST engineer, Yoon Joon Lee, and designer, Rich Vorodi. The two were previously a part of the last Wave Race game, Blue Storm, which released in 2001 at the launch of the Gamecube. Vorodi, in particular, had been involved in a variety of ways: he had a hand in the both physics and level design, as well as voicing the character, Ricky Winterborn. Partnering with engineer/programmer, Jonathan Bryant, they began to develop a test prototype to present their ideas to Nintendo’s higher ups.
At the heart of the concept was an experimental, new control scheme, which revolved entirely around the motion sensing tech of the Wii remote. Users would hold the controller in a horizontal position with both hands over its face, emulating the handlebars of a jet ski. Tilting left and right steered the direction of the watercraft, while twisting it forward and backwards controlled acceleration. The device would vibrate when the virtual handlebars were tilted to their furthest limits. There was consideration for utilising the Wii remote’s speaker to blare out engine noises, too, but it is unknown whether or not this feature was implemented into the prototype build.
Control concept images:
By connecting a Wii balance board peripheral, it was possible to add an extra dimension of control to the game. Applying pressure to either side of the board would enable the player to perform sharper turns to help negotiate more trickier courses. An alternative system to the lone Wii remote was on the table also – in the form of the Wii remote & nunchuck combo. This worked by holding the two on their side, facing each other; similar to the controls of the ‘Power Cruising‘ mini-game seen in Wii Sports Resort:
It was theorised that adding these new, more physical control elements with “real world turning” and tilting would lend themselves well to Wave Race – helping to mould a more “realistic” experience for the player.
On August 27 2009, Nintendo of America filed a patent to protect the new control scheme that NST’s developers had created. The filing covered not only controls for jet ski games, but all vehicles controlled by handlebars. In the patent’s documents, for example, we can see that motorcycles were used as a primary example:
After a brief development of no more than 3 months, work on the prototype concluded, and the group presented their pitch to NCL’s board. One source related to the studio claimed it had generated considerable interest among members of NoA and NCL alike, but it was ultimately shot down regardless. After the demo was tested by those present, complaints apparently were levelled at the game’s motion controls; specifically, that they simply “didn’t feel right“. Nintendo therefore declined funding to the project, and full development did not proceed, ending work on it as a result.
Peaky Blinder is a cancelled sidescrolling platform game that was in development in 1994 by Storm / Sales Curve Interactive (SCi Games) for SNES, MegaDrive / Genesis / Mega CD and GameGear. Our friend Ross Sillifant found a short article about this lost game in Mean Machines Sega Magazine Issue 15, while the title was also in a release list for SNES published in N-Force Magazine Issue 09. Not many info are available, here’s what Mean Machines wrote about the project:
A trashy terror of the raving underworld is making his debut on the Megadrive and Mega-CD pretty soon, courtesy of Storm. Peaky Blinder is apparently a cult hero on the rave scene and features on loads of t-shirts. Such is his popularity (although we’ve never heard of him) that Storm has built him an entire identity and a ritzy story line to accompany him. Peaky was borne from a fusion of trash, mass media, toxic waste and dumped video carts – sounds pretty disgusting, which of course he is. But an inner Peaky yearns to break out of his foul exterior and live in a suburban house with frilly pink curtains and longs to be kind to animals. With this in mind, our whiffy hero sets out thought his dire world’s underground system and roams around the inner city slums where anything can happen – and usually does. Peaky’s a bit unique in that he can change his physical form to suit and combat his hostile surroundings (there has to be some compensation for being a mutant scurf-ball from hell we guess). Not seen much on this yet but we’ll bring you the full gen in a future issue.
If you have more info about this lost game, please let us know in the comments below!