Aquaria is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Lobotomy Software for Nintendo 64 and Playstation. It was described as having a feeling similar to SEGA’s Nights Into Dreams, but underwater and with full 3D levels to explore in every direction. If you played Exhumed / PowerSlave on Saturn or Playstation, you probably remember it was quite good for its time: a Metroidvania adventure in first person view, before Metroid Prime even existed. Aquaria could have been another cult-hit by the same team, but unfortunately we never got the chance to see more from the project. It was just mentioned in old gaming magazines, such as in GameFan Magazine Issue 5:
“Currently Lobotomy is working on both games, with the company’s 20-or-so staff split roughly down the middle on each project. They have a number of games on the back burner, including PowerSlave 2 (a 3rd person Tomb Raider style adventure starring a young King Ramses), Aquaria (like Nights underwater, but with full 3D control) and a PC strategy game called Gothic. They are currently in the process of applying to become and N64 developer (Aquaria will be their first N64 title) and never miss the opportunity to snatch a quick game of Death Tank during lunch breaks.”
“Lobotomy’s first N64 game, Aquaria already looks fantastic. The graphics run at 60fps and are apparently some of the best seen. Enix are converting the game to PlayStation.”
C&VG probably confused Aquaria with Aqua Prophecy or another cancelled Enix game for Playstation. Thanks to our friend Ross Sillifant in 2015 we published an interview with Brian McNeely (former Lobotomy Software developer), who shared some memories about their work on Aquaria:
“We had a playable demo of Aquaria up and running on PlayStation. It was a free roaming third person underwater adventure game where you controlled an alien merman character. The Nights comparison ties into how fluid the controls were. You could do various dolphin-like acrobatics to maneuver through the environment. In addition to the playable demo I had the majority of the design pretty much completed but when the company began to close its doors we had to stop development. At one point we were contacted by Sega to possibly make the next Ecco the Dolphin game and we sent them our Aquaria prototype, but that never panned out. If you’ve ever played Ecco the Dolphin Defender of the Future you can get a pretty good idea for how the core character controls and camera system for Aquaria were designed.”
In 1998 Lobotomy’s talented developers were acquired byCrave Entertainment and the team was renamed to Lobotomy Studios, to work on aCaesar’s Palace game for the Nintendo 64, but after a year of development the game was postponed and eventually cancelled. As we can read on Wikipedia, at that point Lobotomy Studios was closed and employees were let go or given the option to be relocated to another position at Crave Entertainment.
We hope one day someone could find screenshots, footage or even the playable Aquaria prototype: it would be great to preserve more documents of this lost video game.
Thanks to Celine and Ross Sillifant for the contributions!
Spy Hunter Returns (AKA Spy Hunter Millennium) is a cancelled 3D racing game / adventure that was planned by Midway for Nintendo 64. It’s not clear which team was working on this project, as a new Spy Hunter for Nintendo 64 was listed by different magazines / websites with different names and developers, sometimes confusing it with the “next-gen” (PS2, GameCube) Spy Hunter developed by Paradigm. In Electronic Gaming Monthly (Issue 102, January 1998) the N64 game was titled “Spy Hunter Returns”, in development by Midway:
“With games like GoldenEye 007, Mission: Impossible and the jaw-dropping Metal Gear Solid making headlines recently, it’s no surprise that espionage games are suddenly en vogue. Spy Hunter Returns is one driving game Midway is said to be bringing to the N64 somewhere around 1998 or 1999. As one could expect of a N64 racer, SPR will be in 3D, but the game will also feature adventure elements, fast action and, of course, gadgets galore. […] On a related note, Midway is looking to support the 64DD in a big way, and Spy Hunter Returns is thought to be one of their key games to utilize Nintendo’s add-on.”
“Digital Eclipse is finalizing Spy Hunter Millennium for N64. […] Details on this remake are not clear, but the game will have a polygonal 3D engine. Many different vehicles will be playable, such as cars, boats and planes. Millenium should be released in late 1999.”
While it’s unclear what really happened with this project, we assume Midway was really working on a new Spy Hunter for Nintendo 64, but we may never know nor see more about this lost game
Sports Immortal is a cancelled over the top sport / action game that was pitched by Iguana Entertainment / Acclaim as a possible new Nintendo 64 project. A few pages from the design doc were shared on Twitter by its designer Jools Watsham:
“Unearthed an old design doc I created 20 years ago! It was an extreme futuristic sports series for the Nintendo 64, called Sports Immortal. Good times!”
“It was never playable, sadly.”
“Immortal Hockey came first (for coin-op). I then later incorporated it and expanded on the idea for N64 with Sports Immortal series.”
As we can read on the design doc:
“The aim of the game, score the most points. To do this most effectively, score as many goals as humanly, or non humanly, possible. Points rewarded for goal scoring are far higher than combat points. 1 Goal 10 points, 1 Hit 1 point.
Many scoring techniques and combos are possible to perform within the Immortal world. player can shoot straight for the goal by pressing A button once. Hold A button to build up power shot which can also be sot straight at goal with tremendous power.
Power shots are where the major “hooks” of Immortal Hockey will come into play. Each goal has a power zone surrounding it (like the 3 point zone in basketball). When a player performs a power shot in the power zone by using stick & button combos they will perform crazy, exaggerated twists and rainbow spirals, slamming the puck home in tremendous style & power. Stomp your opponent into the ground. Serious pay-off value like those found in NBA Jam – you’ll just wanna do it again, and again..”
Redemption is a cancelled action adventure in development by Cranberry Source, that may have been published by Philips Media Interactive for Nintendo 64. While it remains an obscure and forgotten project, from what we have gathered it could have been quite the original and revolutionary game for its time, merging many different genres and viewpoints together: FPS, third person isometric puzzle-platformer and open world exploration on vehicles.
Redemption was designed by Jon Ritman, founder of Cranberry Source and mostly known for his work on cult-classic 1980s computer games such as Head over Heels, plus Monster Max for Rare on the original Game Boy. Unfortunately the team never shown any screenshots from their unreleased N64 adventure, but few details are scattered around the web and in old magazines. On the Playstation Museum website we can read:
“Cranberry Source had a multi-product deal (three, in fact) with Philips Media Interactive. QAD was to be the first game released, Super Match Soccer (or Match Day 3 as it was known then) the second, and the third game had a provisional title of “Redemption”. QAD and SMS were developed at the London office, and Redemption was to be developed by staff at the Cranberry North office. Ultimately, Redemption never really got much further than the drawing board, but the initial designs focused around the kind of puzzle elements found in Jon Ritman’s previous games such as Head over Heels and Monster Max.”
In PC Zone magazine (Issue 41, August 1996) they published an interview with Cranberry Source, along with few details about Redemption:
“PZ: What about Redemption?
JR: That’s our epic.. John then goes on to explain the basic concept behind Redemption. In summary, it’ll be a very large action-cum-puzzle-cum-exploration game, using several different viewpoints. Parts of it are Doom-like, parts of it hark back to the classic isometric platform/puzzle games of yore (such as Head Over Heels, another of John’s past glories), and parts of it take place outdoors. In vehicles. It’s quite ambitious, in other words.
JC: To rationalise how we’ve got all this different stuff in one game, we’ve come up with quite a weird scenario which involves a mad, serial killer surgeon who’s grafting bits onto you. All this stuff takes place in your own head, and each level is a different operation. It’s, er, a bit odd really.
“What are Cranberry Source working on at the minute? Which machines are you concentrating on?
Three games each on PC, Playstation & Saturn –
Q.A.D. – A fly over a stunning landscape rescuing hostages game (2player)
The Net – A multiplayer soccer game
Redemption – An epic game, this would take me too long to describe!
[…] For HoH fans I suggest a look at Redemption (it won’t be released until the end of next year).”
It’s not clear if the game was originally conceived as a PC or Nintendo 64 project, but in N64 Magazine (Issue 12, February 1998) they mentioned Cranberry Source were developing it for Nintendo’s console:
“Our wrinklier readers will undoubtedly remember Head Over Heels, a 3D puzzly platform adventure that was one of the Spectrum’s best games back in the 1980s. Well bless our souls if it’s not about to rise again. Jon Ritman, the chap behind the Speccy original, set up a development company called Cranberry Source who, after a bit of PC-based action, have decided to turn their hands to the N64. And their first Nintendo game will be a 3D puzzly platformer adventure that incorporates the best elements of – yes – Head over Heels. Superb!”
A couple of months later, in April 1998 Jon Ritman and other developers of Cranberry Source were hired by Argonaut Games, possibly because the studio were really impressed by their work with Redemption for the N64. As we can read on IGN:
“The co-founder of Cranberry Source, Jon Ritman, and several other members have left the company to join the British independent developer Argonaut, best known for the original Star Fox and the Super FX chip.
According to IGN’s morning news service, GameAddict, Ritman and his team will be working on an action adventure due to release late next year. Prior to the switch, Ritman was working on an N64 semi-sequel to the classic Head Over Heels. It is not yet known how Cranberry Source will cope with the loss and what will happen to its projects in progress.
Argonaut’s Jez San commented on Ritman’s move: “Many of us at Argonaut have been long standing fans of Ritman’s work, especially of Batman, Match Day, and Head-Over-Heels. I feel he will develop some of his finest work at Argonaut and could help some of our existing games further refine their gameplay.” Although Argonaut has only announced one title so far (Buck Bumble), industry insiders have told IGN64.com that Argonaut is heavily investing in N64 development with numerous titles on the way.”
It’s not clear if Argonaut also acquired the rights to develop Redemption, but in the end the project was never completed.
We hope one day to preserve more details or even images for this fascinating and unrealized project.
Becoming a legendary lost game after unconfirmed rumors of screenshots appearing in gaming magazines, Die Hard 64 was one of three Nintendo 64 projects in development by Bits Studios, along with RiQa and Thieves World. Unfortunately, none of them ever saw the light of day on the 64-bit console. Founded in the early ‘90s, Bits Studios released a series of Game Boy and Super Nintendo games, developing a good relationship with Nintendo along the way that lead to a couple of collaboration projects (R-Type DX and Warlocked, published by Nintendo on the Game Boy Color). This relationship with Nintendo blossomed a trilogy of exclusive games conceived for the Nintendo 64.
Of this trilogy, only RiQa was a prominent title at E3 1999, as Die Hard 64 and Thieves World were never officially announced. One of the first mentions of a Die Hard tie-in for Nintendo 64 was published in June 1999 by IGN when they wrote about its publisher:
“[…] Fox Interactive is working on Die Hard 64. In unleashing your cash-making movie machine into the world of videogames, you can’t make the mistake of skipping a console like the N64 and it seems that the folks behind the movie have realized this fact. While the rumor is still brewing, several sources, both stateside and overseas are reporting that a Die Hard project is in the works at Fox Interactive and that the game is scheduled for an early 2000 release.”
“Interested to know what had become of Die Hard 64, we contacted Fox Interactive today and a company representative briefly theorized about the title with us. “The game is just a rumor,” said the Fox spokesperson, “and to be honest with you, I don’t see it coming to fruition.” While this is not a solid confirmation of the game’s termination one way or the other, it definitely doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The fact of the matter is that Fox Interactive’s first foray into Nintendo 64 development, namely Fox Sports College Hoops ’99, backed by an impressive amount of money, turned to disaster when the game failed to sell. And with the industry’s insistence that the 64-bit console is a “dying system,” it isn’t a stretch to conclude that the publisher simply canned the game after determining that the risks involved were not worth any possible profits to be made.”
IGN’s assumption about the fate of the game were quite spot-on and in May 2001 Fox Interactive officially announced “Die Hard: Next Generation”, planned for Nintendo GameCube and developed by Bits Studios. The title was then released as “Die Hard: Vendetta” in 2002 for GameCube, PS2 and Xbox.
The mystery remains (at least until a few years ago): Was Die Hard 64 really in development for Nintendo 64? Was any FPS ever made by Bits Studios on the cartridge-based hardware? While even some former Bits Studios developers did not know about the project (as seen in our interview with Frederic Villain in our book), in 2016 we were able to get in contact with a few people that worked directly on the game, to find out the truth.
We should start this investigation with another IGN article posted in May 2002, where they were able to interview Bits Studios’ CEO Foo Katan and Die Hard: Vendetta producer Mario Aguera, revealing some more details:
“In the past couple of years we have kept a relatively low profile as we have been developing new and existing technologies to make use of the hardware available at our disposal today. Die Hard: Vendetta will justify our hard work in that time. […] we’ve always had a close relationship with Nintendo here at Bits and they first approached us about Project Dolphin in the autumn of 1999. At that point it was purely the hardware specs and they had some demonstrations running through software emulation. We originally started designing the game when the N64 was out, but in Spring 2000 we decided to start our design again for the GameCube. For the first year we were just working with the emulator, hoping that Nintendo would deliver on their promises. Needless to say they did.”
The early Nintendo 64 design for the game started out as an original IP titled “Muzzle Velocity”, a first person shooter in which players would take the role of Jack, a member of a SWAT team during a mission in Los Angeles. In Muzzle Velocity original storyline, the crime wave in LA is out of control and the LAPD cannot stop it on its own. Jack was been sent by Bert, his SWAT leader, to supply the LAPD with backup and neutralize the situation. During the first mission of the game, a bomb detonated in a Hi-Fi store downtown. The owner was refusing to up his “fire insurance” to the gangsters, who in return wrecked his shop. The gangsters have then gone on a looting spree in the surrounding shops. The main mission objectives would have been to clear the area of gangster and minimize innocent casualties.
Muzzle Velocity’s gameplay and controls would have been similar to other classic N64 FPS games, such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. Players’ mission objectives in this first level were given by Bert and once in control, they would have been free to move Jack around downtown LA. There would be a few LAPD cops and civilians running around the levels, either running from the fight, defeating bad guys or simply dodging bullets. The buildings in the area would have been mostly shut up, but some would have their shutters half way down, allowing Jack to enter them by crouching into the window; the environment was meant to be interactive and it could have been damaged by players during shootouts. While Jack would start the first mission with a 9mm pistol and SWAT armor, any weapon used by the gangsters could be picked up, such as shotguns and baseball bats.
Muzzle Velocity did not last long once Bits Studios partnered with Fox Interactive to collaborate on a new project. It’s possible that the deal was overseen by Gary Sheinwald, former Bits Studios Development Manager who left to work at Fox as Senior Producer from 1995 to 2001. Because of the partnership with Fox, Muzzle Velocity had to be tied with a movie and initially Speed 2 was proposed.
Dubbed Speed 2: Cruise Control, the game would have been primarily set on a boat, though a bus level was also conceived as a nod to the original film. The game was then planned to release in January 1999 for Nintendo 64 and PC. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you view it) the movie was a huge failure when it released and both companies decided to switch the project once more to another, more successful IP: Die Hard. As an interesting note, the original script for Speed 2 was meant to be Die Hard 3 (“Die Hard with a Vengeance”, codenamed “Troubleshooter”) in a strange case of film development foreshadowing the game development process.
Still being developed as a Nintendo 64 game and using the new TWED engine created by Nathanael Presson and Frederic Villain, a lot of effort was put into creating Die Hard 64. The initial plan was overly ambitious, with 30 or 40 missions planned, but once Steven Goodwin took over as the new lead programmer and explained to the producers how many years they would need to achieve such a huge game, the number was heavily cut down. Only a handful of levels were developed on the Nintendo 64 before the switch to the GameCube, but they still had a good prototype with the minimal gameplay available. This Die Hard 64 prototype was leaked online in August 2017 on the Assembler Games Forum.
Being a N64 game, a 4 player deathmatch mode was also devised, to keep in line with Rare’s multiplayer masterpieces. While years passed, in early 2000 Bits Studios found itself in some issues when RiQa was cancelled and the N64’s life cycle reached its end. Neither Die Hard 64 nor Thieves World were finished yet and it was unlikely that many people would buy a N64 game once they were, as the new generation of consoles were almost out. The studio decided to move their last N64 games to GameCube and significantly upgrade the TWED engine so they could push the tech into the next gen hardware.
Danny Carr took over design duties for the GameCube version and had a new vision for a cinematic game that felt and played like a film, probably preceding the new generation of linear shooters that became popular many years later. Development of the game still took a while to be completed: Carr left the studio in late 2001 and Mario Aguera took the lead. Aguera wanted to add many interesting elements he saw in other (at the time) successful games and movies into the design, a proposal that would lengthen development time even more. For example, the sneak/action modes were inspired by Thief, while the “bullet time” mechanic was taken from The Matrix.
In the end Die Hard took so much time to be released that it looked like Bits Studios copied the “bullet time” mechanic from Max Payne, albeit it was implemented in early prototypes before the release of Remedy’s game. When finally published in 2002, Die Hard: Vendetta was much different from what the team originally conceived in late ‘90s and it only received average reviews.
As it always happens in these cases, we can only dream of an alternate reality where Die Hard 64 was successfully completed and became another masterpiece for our beloved Nintendo 64.