Nintendo 64 & 64DD

Die Hard 64 [N64 – Cancelled]

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.

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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.”

Nothing more was said about the project until March 2000 when IGN contacted the publisher again to ask about the game:

“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.

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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-die-hard64-early-concept

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.

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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.

Original Die Hard 64 article published in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play” in 2016, thanks to Amhed for proofreading.

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Joust X [Nintendo 64 – Cancelled]

The original Joust is a 1982 arcade game developed by Williams Electronics, that became quite popular at the time. As we can read on Wikipedia, “The player uses a button and joystick to control a knight riding a flying ostrich. The objective is to progress through levels by defeating groups of enemy knights riding buzzards”.

The game boosted a fun 2-players coop mode, that probably contributed to its popularity in arcades, where friends could play together to survive against dozens of enemies.

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Midway tried many times to resurrect their Joust franchise in 3D, but with no luck. Dactyl Joust for the Atari Jaguar and Joust 3D for Xbox & PS2 were soon cancelled and forgotten. Adding to this list of canned Joust reboot, there’s the lost Nintendo 64 version, titled Joust X or Joust 64.

The game was officially announced by Midway / Atari Games and was featured in many N64 release lists in gaming magazines and online, as this one by IGN from 1998. In the end the game quietly vanished, and Midway never released any official screenshots of the project.

We can assume Joust X would have been a fully 3D game, set in arenas where to fight against hordes of enemies, riding your 3D ostrich and possibly playing it in coop with one or more friends. Imagine it as a mix between 007 GoldenEye and the Battle Mode from Mario Kart 64. The Nintendo 64 was a great multiplayer console thanks to its 4 controllers ports and many great multiplayer titles. Joust 64 could have been another fun game to play with friends, but unfortunately it never seen the light of day.

In the end Midway did release other remakes / reboots of their old catalogue on the N64, such as Gauntlet Legends and Paperboy 64. If you know someone who worked on Joust 64, please let us know!

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Scan from 64 Magazine, issue 5

Dear Blue (Konami RPG) [N64 – Cancelled]

Dear Blue (親愛なる青 ?) is the name of a new Konami RPG for Nintendo 64 that seems to have been quietly announced in 1998 on the March issue of Nintendo Power Magazine (Volume 106) and later seen in many list of “in development” N64 projects (such as this on by IGN). In Nintendo Power’s “Pak Watch” section we can read:

“Konami told Pak Watch to expect a new NBA title, a hockey title, an RPG tentatively called Dear Blue, a new fighting game and a game that has something to do with graffiti.”

We may assume:

The only RPG developed by Konami for Nintendo 64 was then Hybrid Heaven, published in 1999, but it was a title already know since at least 1997, so Dear Blue must have been a different project.

The game was never mentioned again by magazines or websites, so we can speculate 3 possible reasons: the game was canned, the title and genre was a mistranslation of something else that was released (Goemon’s Great Adventure?), the game was canned for N64 and then released for another console (maybe Lost in Blue for Nintendo DS?).

It’ also interesting to notice that there’s a song titled “Dear Blue” in Konami’s Kukeiha Club Pro-Fusion Salamander OST released in 1996. If you’d like to dream, we could say Dear Blue was a planned Salamander RPG for Nintendo 64. But actually that’s highly improbable and we’ll never know the truth.

If you have more details about this lost N64 RPG, please let us know!

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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.

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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.