Nintendo 64 & 64DD

Thieves World (Bits Studios) [N64 – Cancelled]

You might remember a game called Rogue Ops that was released on Xbox, Gamecube and Playstation 2 way back in 2003. Well, this game wasn’t always called that way. When the developper Bits Studios started the project during the Nintendo 64 era, this was called Thieves World. We are lucky enough to have a gameplay video of how the game would have looked like, right down here:

As written in the video description:

“Thieves World was a n64 game developed by bits studios in 1999. When the n64 life cycle ended development was moved to the ps2. This is a prototype of the game running on the ps2. It’s basically a mix of the n64 assets with a new main character, added “nextGen” special FX and such… the game will keep transform and later be released under the title Rogue Ops. This video was recently unearthed by a ex bits employee. The n64 rom or early ps2, gamecube or xbox build are still lost to this day.”

As the video suggests when it starts, Thieves World was a working title so it is possible that it would have had a different name had it been released on the Nintendo 64 back then. During the video, we see the female main character infiltrating what seems to be a well guarded bank. There are guards with guns, she shoots darts from afar to put them to sleep and she can also ambush them in close quarters. Thieves World had a more stealth approach to its design than Rogue Ops and this is confirmed by one of the programmers who worked at the company Bits Studios at the time.

Please read below part of a very interesting interview we had with Mr. Frederic Villain about what it was like to work for this company and the projects Bits Studios had at the time like RiQa, Muzzle Velocity (Die Hard Vendetta) and Thieves World. The full interview was published in our Unseen64 bookVideo Games You Will Never Play”.

Unseen64: What happened to RiQa and Thieves World? There is a lot of confusion about these two unreleased N64 games and we’d like to finally find out the truth. We know that they were two different projects but it seems that the released Rogue Ops took some elements from both. Is this true? Why were they cancelled and how much was done on the Nintendo 64?

Fred: “When I joined Bits Studios with other ex-employees/friends from Haiku Studios, the main focus of the studio was RiQa for N64. A very ambitious third person game with a main female character called RiQa. As far as I can remember the team had already been working on the game for a couple years. I was assigned to the project and worked on various gameplay and VFX tasks as well as the support of the infamous 64DD as the content of the game was supposed to be huge. The project had a lot of difficulties on the tech side and the team was fighting between the ambitions and the hardware/software limitations.

At the same time Nathanael Presson which I knew from Haiku, was working on creating a new multiplatform engine for the company. I was working on and off with him to add support for the N64 to the engine. After 6 months at Bits we presented the tech to Foo Katan (the boss of the studio) and he was sold. While the RiQa engine iteration cycle was very slow (level made in Max and long building times to get it on console), we had an Editor/Engine that allowed LDs to create levels in the Editor (using Booleans and Portals inspired from the original Unreal Editor) and allowed them to play directly on the console by a press of a button. This was the beginning of the “Thieves World” project, another third person game with a female lead (at the time Tomb Raider was an inspiration for everybody and female leads were very popular!).

Thieves World, in turn, had a lot of ups and downs. After a few more months the RiQa project was cancelled and the focus of the studio became “Thieves World”. We continued working on the engine and the gameplay of the game for several years. At some point another team in the Studio started developing Muzzle Velocity, which later on became Die Hard: Vendetta, using the same Editor/Engine and we contributed to support this team. We had some problems on the creative side on TW and we spent a lot of time iterating on the design. As the N64 life cycle reached its end the decision was made to move on to next gen and we had to upgrade the engine significantly to push the tech to benefit from next gen consoles hardware.

A lot of people left the team in the years after this reboot and at some point I was the only original member of the team left. The game was almost canned but we signed a deal with Kemco and the game was ultimately rebooted to become “Rogue Ops”. The original TW project was supposed to be a stealth, no weapon game, which created a lot of issues on gameplay side. Kemco decided to introduce more shooting and we finally got a game. TW was not inspired by other titles at the time like MGS or Splinter Cell, it was actually imagined before or at the same time as those games. But the development cycle was so long that at release time those games had long been released.”

Unseen64: Jas Austin (another former Bits Studios developer) told us that Thieves World almost became a Rare game: is true that they wanted to move development from Bits  Studios to Rare? We wonder if Thieves World could have became a Perfect Dark spin- off. After Rare and Nintendo published the original Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64,  they also wanted to release a quick sequel called “Velvet Dark” that would have been a third person action / stealth game.. maybe the two projects are related.

Fred: “Yes as far as I can remember Jason is right! While the TW game had design difficulties, Bits Studios was audited by Rare. A presentation of the game and the tech was done to Rare after several months of audit and while the tech was recognized on N64, Rare did not decide to acquire the game or the studio. They were already working on Perfect Dark at the time and some concepts in both games are similar, but this is as far as it goes regarding the history between those two games.”

As mentioned in the written interview, the reason why Thieves World didn’t happen is because the N64 had reached the end of its lifecycle and a decision was made by Bits Studios to move this project to the next generation. This meant rebuilding the game and transfer as much as possible to their new project. Thieves World was in production for a few years after RiQa was cancelled, so we can assume it got quite far in development. They did, however, experience creative hardships and spent a lot of time on the design side of the project.

During that transition, sadly most people left Bits Studios. Mr. Villain was the only member of the project who stayed until the end and saw this Thieves World come alive as Rogue Ops when finally released on the new generation of consoles in 2003.

“But I am still proud to that day, it got finally released as Rogue Ops, even if it was not a massive commercial success”

The company Bits Studios has worked on quite a good list of games before it went under in 2008. As mentioned on Wikipedia, unfortunately the parent company ‘Playwize’ sold off all assets and technologies Bits Studio had due to overall poor sales.

Article by Alex (Brub)

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On a last note, see below a Rogue Ops retro video commercial for comparison purposes. One wonders how different Thieves World would have been compared to Rogue Ops, but at least something came out of this cancellation.

 

Bonk 64 (Ultra Genjin) [N64 – Cancelled]

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.

bonk 64 Ultra Genjin Nintendo64 cancelled

bonk 64 Ultra Genjin Nintendo64 cancelled

After some years Hudson and A.I took the early work they had done on Bonk 64 to develop Bomberman Hero which was finally released in 1998 on the N64. As we can read in an interview by GDRI with Shouichi Yoshikawa:

GDRI: What happened with Ultra Genjin [N64]?

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. 

BioSwarm (BattleSport 2) [Playstation, Nintendo 64 – Cancelled]

BioSwarm (initially conceived as “BattleSport II” and later also known as N.R.G. and Groundwave) is a cancelled sci-fi vehicle combat game that was in development in 1997 / 1998 by Cyclone Studios, planned to be released on Playstation and possibly on Nintendo 64 (as noted by IGN in 1998).

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-2-cyclone-studios

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.”

In May 1997 IGN also reported:

“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!

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Project Cairo (Craveyard) [Nintendo 64DD – Cancelled]

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.

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Metal Slader Glory 2 [Nintendo 64DD – Cancelled]

The original Metal Slader Glory is a sci-fi visual novel / graphic adventure developed by HAL Laboratory and published in 1991 for the Nintendo Famicom. The game’s plot is similar to many popular mech-anime series, with a group of young boys and girls fighting against their enemies using cool robots.

As we can read on Wikipedia the game soon became a cult-classic and a sought-after collector’s item in the secondhand market due to its quality and its rarity. This may be the reason why Nintendo and HAL initially decided to create a new Metal Slader Glory for their Nintendo 64 DD Add-on.

metal slader glory 2 Nintendo 64 DD Cancelled

As revealed by Metal Slader Glory scenario director & character-designer Yoshimiru (よしみる) in a doujin booklet he published a few years ago and later in a series of tweets, it seems Metal Slader Glory 64 would have been a sequel / prequel, as the main character was planned to be Kisaragi Yayoi, a girl who (as far as we know) is just a secondary NPC in the original Famicom game (plus he also revealed they planned a new character named Uzuki). The team also wanted to use many of the 64DD features, such as its internal clock and rewritable disks.

Unfortunately after a while Metal Slader Glory 2 was cancelled – maybe because Nintendo kept delaying their 64DD – and instead the team developed a simple remake of the first game for the Super Famicom under the title “Metal Slader Glory: Director’s Cut”, later released in 2000 as the last official game ever published for SNES in Japan.

We can only imagine how many more obscure lost cancelled games for N64 are still hidden out there to be discovered one day.

Thanks to VGDensetsu for the contribution!

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