Nintendo

Lethal Encounter [N64 – Cancelled]

An article published in the August 1998 issue of the beloved Edge Magazine is all the information that we currently possess from Lethal Encounter, developed by Digital Image Design, a British software house that had earned its place in the market with its cutting-edge PC flight simulators and training programs for the military. What could have taken Digital Image Design, the studio behind titles such as F29 Retaliator, Epic or F22 Air Dominance Fighter out of its comfort zone in the personal computer ecosystem and aim for the Nintendo 64, a Japanese console that by then had clearly lost the lead against its most direct generational rival? According to studio co-founder Martin Kenwright, interviewed in Edge, although Digital Image Design managed to have their ambitious 3 Dream engine running on the first PlayStation, the ongoing development process of the PC title EF2000 (a critically-acclaimed combat flight simulator that served as sequel to their previous game TFX) and perhaps the already crowded market that Sony’s machine amassed, made them give up on that train and instead engage with Nintendo’s 64-bit system, whose kits were already in their possession.

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Back in 1989 and after having worked for two years in the British software company Rowan Games, Kenwright founded Digital Image Design together with Philip Allsopp and they quickly specialized themselves in the flight simulator genre with the launch of F29 Retaliator, while also exploring other fields, such as science-fiction with Epic or arcade with the Robocop 3 version for Amiga, Atari ST and PC. These would however constitute exceptions, as the majority of the company’s titles would remain true to their simulation roots. Even if the company, which would continue expanding until reaching the 80 in-house employees, was making a hefty profit offering their products to notorious customers such as the Royal Airforce or British Airways, they quickly determined that the videogame simulators payed better than their real life counterparts, so around 1997 they started widening their reach and quickly turned to the blooming console market.

lethal-encounter-nintendo-64

Surprising as it might have seemed back in the day, Nintendo 64 was the platform of choice of Digital Image Design’s next outing, Lethal Encounter; almost antipodal to the company’s previous work and instead presenting players with a fairly straightforward, arcade-style third person action game. We must however not forget that given the company’s background with more strategic and complex titles, it is indeed very possible that the developers had envisioned the addition of more strategic elements to the gameplay. At least we do know that Lethal Encounter was definitely not going for realism in regards to its plot, which involved an alien invasion poisoning the Earth ‘via giant terraformers laid beneath ancient historical sites such as the Incan city of Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat and the Nasca Plains’, as described by Edge in a short preview. According to the few details available, it is unlikely that the title had any resemblance to others available on the system. Nintendo 64 did amass a quite generous library of 3D action games but few of them had the player in control of a tank and consequently the most obvious comparisons could be made to BattleTanx: Global Assault or perhaps more accurately, and due to the arcade and science-fiction setting, to the Landmaster levels of Starfox 64 (known as Lylat Wars in Europe), although it seems quite unlikely that Lethal Encounter would have chosen an on-rails gameplay like Nintendo’s title instead of a free-roaming one.

At the end of 1998 however, circumstances changed drastically and Ocean Software, which had been until then the sole publisher of Digital Image Design’s titles, became Infogrames UK, completing an acquisition process that the French holding company had already started back in 1996. This situation led Infogrames to also start a takeover process upon Digital Image Design, eventually causing the departure of six key members, including co-founder Martin Kenwright. It is therefore not preposterous to assume that the studio’s delicate position, with some of their most prominent members gone led to the eventual abandon and cancellation of some of their titles under development, situation which most probably affected Lethal Encounter but did not prevent Digital Image Design from still releasing Wargasm, another PC title that broke away from the usual flight simulator genre, offering instead a complex, real-time strategy game in which the player could take control of various tank models, infantry troops and even helicopters, offering an interesting mix between action and strategy that most probably met and even exceeded the company’s original ambitions in Lethal Encounter.

The departure of Kenwright was not the last staff exodus Digital Image Design saw, with an important part of the total workforce parting ways after another sale of the British studio, this time to Rage Games and the subsequent formation of Juice Games after Rage went under in 2003. Kenwright on his side went on to form Evolution Studios, a software house which reached notorious success as one of Sony’s first European development teams with the World Rally Championship franchise for the PlayStation 2 and afterwards with the PlayStation 3 launch title turned into their own IP, MotorStorm.

Thanks to Ross Sillifant for providing these pages from Edge magazine!

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Raid Over the River [DS – Cancelled]

With a title probably inspired by the classic River Raid for Atari 2600, Raid Over the River is a cancelled shoot ‘em up that was in development in 2006 for Nintendo DS by the infamous Nibris studios, the team behind the cancelled survival horror “Sadness” for Wii. The interesting part about this lost DS game is that time travels and multi-dimensions would be featured in the story, letting developers to add a good number of original levels set in different time periods and places.

Raid Over the River backstory was posted by IGN and Eurogamer:

“The main character of the game is pilot David McBride, a 40-year-old veteran of Operation “Sand Storm”. He discovers, by a total chance, the plans of the “Molayarius“, a sect cultivating traditions of the Knights Templar of Grand Master Jacques de Molay crest. They aim to summon the demon Bafometonto the world. David aims to to destroy these plans, but he finds himself in a world and an epoch of danger as he is flung through time, is led and perhaps misled by the seductive but dangerous Anna, and is constantly under fire as he flies through 10 levels of shooting and flying action all around the world and across time.”

“The action begins in Peru, where archaeologists uncover a strange artifact that can be used to travel through time. According to Deutsch-Everett theory, which is all about the temporalist’s paradigm, it says here, it’s impossible to travel within your own timeline. Because that would be ridiculous. However, you can visit future or past Earths from other dimensions, obviously. As a result of this discovery, the Temporal Advanced Research Projects Agency is established to send intrepid types to these different dimensions and seek out any potential threats. You play TARPA pilot Carrie Colins, 29, and it’s your job to deal with some scouts from another dimension who pop up on Earth at the start of the game.”

It seems that even Nibris were divided in different dimensions where the game had two different storylines.

Story, Arcade, Dogfight and Survival modes over six campaigns in different time periods and dimensions were planned, with levels set in ancient Greece, Europe during World War II, Soviet Russia during the Cold War, present day USA, Germany in 2018 and Japan during a far away future. Nibris planned to have different vehicles for each time period and dimension, such as old bi-planes, sci-fi jet planes and dragons. Power-ups and special items would have also been available to the players to improve their fire power and each vehicle had many different movements options, to rotate, nose dive and dodging hits. Coop multiplayer was also planned to be added to the game.

DS specific features would also been implemented into Raid Over the River, being able to use voice command and the touch screen to launch special attacks. Unfortunately Raid Over the River was never completed: just like it happened with Sadness, Nibris were not able to secure a publisher for their project and they had to stop working on it before to finally close down in late 2010.

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GUNNARr [Nintendo DS – Cancelled]

GUNNARr is a cancelled side-scrolling action RPG that was in development by BlossomSoft for Nintendo DS in late ‘00s. This was just one of the many games that the team was working on at the same time, along with Western Lords (GBA, PC), Sagrada Guardians (DS) and Mimic Book (DS), unfortunately neither of them was ever completed. GUNNARr was meant to have some kind of innovative gameplay mechanic, but not much was ever revealed about it.

A few general details were posted by Elder (the game producer) in 2007 on their old forum:

“Spelled ‘GUNNARr’, the particular meaning of this title is kept a mystery. The project is slowly coming into focus, intended to follow Mimic Book’s release. The game is an alternate for ‘Oracle Adventure’, a fantastic sidescroller adventure/RPG game intended for Nintendo DS. Furthermore the key-concept of this game also hides what I think is a fairly ingenious feature, but well, like Mimic Book, it’s preferable to wait before divulging anything. The story takes part in a post-apocalyptic and vacant fantasy world, vaguely inspired by some Norse legends. Here you can view some abstract mockups, therefore some aspects are subject to be modified later, and naturally, the innovative key-element of this game isn’t shown on these images. But, at least you know that a 2D adventure game is underway during spare time at this moment.”

In 2008 the GUNNARr was already put on hold, as we can read from an interview by RPG Land:

Joseph: Judging from your forum posts, you’re working on five projects (Project Eden, Mimic Book, GUNNARr, Sagrada Guardians, and Western Lords). What can you tell us individually about each of these games?
Elder
: “During the recent years many game concepts crossed my mind, and I still aspire to complete each of them. I started with Western Lords/Sagrada Guardians in 2004, but I couldn’t complete it due to inexperience and tight budget. Besides, it was a GIGANTIC project. But it’s thanks to this project that I could develop various facets of my skills. Mimic Book and GUNNARr were two other game concepts I started to elaborate later. And both games were splendid even though they were less ambitious than Western Lords in term of development and budget, BUT I never expected that my determination would suddenly start to diminish considerably after many personal events in my life such deaths, love pain and aging. I started to realize that life wasn’t eternal, and time wasn’t infinite for me. Therefore I had to find realistic solutions to reach my goals, and finally, I started to work on Project Eden, which is 95% completed. I should note that Mimic Book and GUNNARr are both very special, and I will develop them once my budget get better. I have Nintendo platforms in mind for them.”

In December 2008 BlossomSoft released their first commercial game “Eternal Eden” on PC and the team is still making games, working on Eternal Eden 2 and a 3D reboot of the first title.

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The Terror of Tech Town [NES Power Glove – Cancelled]

The Terror of Tech Town (also known as Tektown) is a cancelled NES game that was in development since late ‘80s by Mattel for their classic Power Glove motion controller. Players would move their “robotic hand” through corridors in a series of hi-tech buildings, interacting with objects and resolving puzzles to open doors and finally escape from the town.

Originally listed alongside with other Power Glove titles (Super Glove Ball, Glove Pilot) in an article published in “Compute!’s Guide to Nintendo Games” in 1989, Tech Town was later marked as to be released in Spring 1991 during the Official Power Glove Game Players Gametape VHS Volume 1.

One presumed screenshot of Tech Town seems to have been published in a Power Glove Press Kit showing an updated version of a 1985 Commodore 64 tech demo titled “Time Crystal”, created by Jim Sach. After Jim worked for a while on Time Crystal for Amiga, it seems he managed to sign a deal with Mattel to create a Power Glove version but we are still not sure if the project is the same as Tech Town, as concept gameplay footage of “Time Crystal Powerglovelooks really different from confirmed Tech Town gameplay footage from the Game Players Gametape (as seen  in the video below).

The Power Glove Press Kit describes Tech Town with “As you travel through the “corpor-hoods”, the Glove can open doors, search through corridors, and even travel through time and space” so is still possible that the “outdoor environment with dinosaurs” could have been a different section of the same game in a different time. We could see more from the game in the soon-to-be-released The Power of Glove documentary, as another presumed screenshot from Tech Town was published in their Kickstarter campaign page.

In the end only two games created specifically for the Power Glove were ever released by Mattel: Super Glove Ball and Bad Street Brawler. The other 3 games announced (Glove Pilot, Manipulator Glove Adventure and Tech Town) vanished forever after the company and the market lost faith in the accessory.

Thanks to Maik for the contribution!

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Velvet Dark [N64 / GameCube – Cancelled]

Velvet Dark is a cancelled spinoff / sequel to Perfect Dark, the cult classic FPS developed by Rare Ltd and published for the Nintendo 64 in May 2000. A few months before Perfect Dark was completed, Duncan Botwood (Production Designer on GoldenEye and Level Designer on PD), Steve Malpass (Designer on PD) and possibly a few more people from the original team started to work on this new concept, that would have featured Joanna Dark’s sister: Velvet.

velvet dark: joanna's sister

The relationship between Joanna and Velvet was never fully detailed in Perfect Dark, but Velvet is a playable character in the coop and multiplayer modes, and she is also unlocked from the start to be used as a bot in single player. We can assume that early work on Velvet Dark begun in late 1999 as in january 2000 Rare filed the trademark for the title and later in february 2000 they even registered the domain name for www.velvetdark.com.

Velvet Dark would have been a third person stealth / action game and not a first person shooter as the original Perfect Dark, as Rare wanted to expand their franchise in different genres, especially when such games as Metal Gear Solid and Symphon Filter were super popular on the Playstation. At the time Nintendo wanted to publish cool third person action games for their 64 bit console, so much that in mid 1999 they announced the Tomb Raider inspired RiQa, a collaboration project with Bits Studios that unfortunately never seen the light of day. Rare were also interested in explain more about Velvet’s mystery and her backstory, other than to take advantage of their new Vicon 8 optical motion-capture system that would have been ideal to use for a realistic third person game.

Velvet Dark render for Nintendo 64 and GameCube

Unfortunately not much was done Velvet Dark before its cancellation: a design doc and some concept arts / renders were made but in the end the project was not green lighted for full development. A photo of the cover for Velvet’s design doc was shared on Twitter by Gregg Mayle in July 2015 and it was marked with the date 30 October 2000. If our speculations are correct, the small team at Rare spent about 1 year on Velvet Dark and many gameplay elements were already detailed.

velvet dark design doc by rare ltd

From the design doc index we can read that Velvet would have use some kind of “serum” to gain new abilities, maybe something similar to the “Nectar” featured in Haze by Free Radical Design, the studio composed by a few former Rare employee. There could also have been squad-based strategy elements (probably an evolution of the bot commands used in Perfect Dark N64) and a possible GameBoy / GBA compatibility. As a spinoff and spiritual sequel to GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, multiplayer was also considered for Velvet Dark.

In August 2000 Nintendo officially announced their GameCube at Space World 2000 and one of the tech demos shown at the event was a 3D rendition of Joanna Dark, implying that a new FPS by Rare was already planned for the new console. Even if some work on Velvet Dark was undertake at least till October 2000, we can assume that the game was not developed further because they decided to switch all resources to create the new Perfect Dark Zero, a popular FPS needed to be successful in the American market. A third person action / stealth game was not Rare or Nintendo’s priority anymore. Rare’s last game for the Nintendo 64 was then Conker’s Bad Fur Day, released in March 2001.

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