Nintendo 64 & 64DD

Zenith (Climber) [N64 – Cancelled]

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.

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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 Eades, Andrew West, Richard Ralfe, Frank Arnot, Gary Thompson, Doug Smith, Paul Reeves, David “Oz” Osborne 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.

We had a really innovative split screen effect that showed the leading player on top but as the follower caught up the split would start to rotate until it was vertical as they were side by side. The effect of an overtake was really awesome as the split would turn upside down as the bottom player became the top player. It’s hard to describe in words. I left DMA to go to work for Virgin Interactive but I think you can see the ideas of Climber in the agency towers of Crackdown. – Andrew Eades, Climber Lead Programmer

In this old photo of Richard Ralfe (Body Harvest level and game designer) taken at the DMA offices during the development of Body Harvest and Zenith, we can see on the wall what could be a group image of some of the characters from the game.

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This seems confirmed thanks to an hidden Easter egg: 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 in there by a former Zenith dev. Thanks to JaytheHam who found this texture, we can notice how the characters from the poster in the photo are quite similar to the ones on the texture:

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.

Zenith was basically a vertical obstacle course racing game – first to the top wins. [below] is the original concept image for the Zenith project. Drawn by David “Oz” Osborne – Head of Art at DMA… this is currently on the wall of his office. – Frank Arnot

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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 screenshots left from the project. If you worked on this game and still have images left from the project, please let us know!

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Oriental Blue [Nintendo 64DD – Cancelled]

oriental blue nintendo 64dd cancelled

Oriental Blue is a cancelled RPG in the Far East of Eden (Tengai Makyō) series that was in development by Hudson and Red Entertainment for Nintendo 64DD in late ‘90. The Tengai Makyo series was started in 1989 with the help of Oji Hiroi, the same author behind the Sakura Wars series, and even if it was one of the most popular RPG series in Japan in the ’90, only one chapter of Far East of Eden was officially translated in english. Oriental Blue 64DD was announced by Hudson in japanese gaming magazines (?) as one of the few RPGs planned for Nintendo’s ill-fated Disk Drive, but as the add-on was postponed many times and then discontinued soon after its release in Japan, the game was quietly canned and Hudson never shown any official images from the game. A few years later, in an interview published on the japanese Nintendo website, Kaori Shirozu (director and designer at Hudson at the time) explained that the project was resurrected and re-developed as a GBA game and finally released in 2003 as Oriental Blue: Ao no Tengai. The Nintendo 64DD version of Oriental Blue would have probably looked like the GameCube remake of Tengai Makyō II: Manjimaru (also released in 2003), with 3D low-poly environments and sprite based characters.

Oriental Blue: Ao no Tengai on GBA:

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Tengai Makyo II: Manjimaru on GameCube:

Tengai Makyo 2 Manjimaru GameCube

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Nintendo’s Harry Potter [Pitch / Cancelled – N64, GBA, GameCube]

Nintendo’s Harry Potter [Pitch / Cancelled – N64, GBA, GameCube]

In 1998, Nintendo of America’s internal team, Nintendo Software Technology developed a pitch to lock down exclusive access to the Harry Potter rights. Had it been successful, Nintendo would have secured the rights to produce all adaptations of the book series for the indefinite future in video game form; potentially preventing the eventual movie adaptations from being created altogether.

According to one former artist of the studio, a sudden order from Nintendo’s management halted work on their three titles in development at the time (Ridge Racer 64, Bionic Commando and Crystalis) when news arrived that the license was to be auctioned off. This was a blanket license covering all formats of adaptation, including not only video games, but TV and film as well.

“The license went up for sale and all these major media companies were putting together pitches.”

The studio was then split into two: the primary group focused on devising on a pitch for a third person adventure title, whilst a smaller team worked on a potential game based around quidditch. The latter division reportedly included Marvel comic book artist, Adi Granov, who was responsible for character art.

Nintendo ST aspired to develop the adaptations themselves, with versions planned to be released on Nintendo 64, Gameboy Advance and later Gamecube; as well as any of Nintendo’s future platforms further down the line. These releases would have coincided with the launch of each new book.

“All together it was only a week of insanely furious scribbling things to the digital artists to create animations for mock game demos”

The license holder, JK Rowling, agreed to view Nintendo’s presentation, but this was not without some trepidation among the members of Software Technology. Our source alleges that there was a disagreement at one point over which art style would be most appropriate for the franchise. Towards the start, there was a push for character designs inspired by those of the first book’s cover art by Thomas Taylor. However, it wasn’t long before the studio’s higher-ups took against this idea and forced it in a different direction:

“…it went against all my instincts based on what I had read quotes from JK about keeping it strictly British, and I had to revamp my initial designs and go more manga/Japanese – I had a big fight about that, but my boss insisted”

We have unfortunately been unable to post images of these characters, since Nintendo would not allow its artists to share any of them publicly.

According to our source, the crew developing the quidditch game proposal had wanted to follow a similar route with regards to character design:

“[Name redacted] did get to do a more realistic take – I remember his Hermione being really nicely realized, but I doubt he saved anything from those days.”

Ultimately, Nintendo’s bid was declined by JK Rowling. Our source revealed that the writer turned it down in favor of several other proposals by media giants with greater resources, such as Disney and Universal. Whereas Nintendo was only able to offer forays into the realm of video games, these larger companies had the ability to spread out into TV and film; as well as gaming.

Rowling, in the end, sold the rights to Warner Bros. for a reported £1m. WB would later contract Electronic Arts to create video game adaptations of their film series based off the books. The first, Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone was released in 2001.

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Doom Absolution [N64 – Cancelled]

Doom Absolution (AKA Doom 64 2) is the cancelled sequel to Doom 64, that was planned by Midway San Diego & ID Software to be a multiplayer-focused game developed for 2 players deathmatch mode (as the first game’s multiplayer mode was removed) , somehow like what happened with Turok Rage Wars, the multiplayer-only Turok that Acclaim released on Nintendo 64  to follow the GoldenEye deathmatch craze. As we can read from an interview with Aaron Seeler (lead programmer for Doom 64):

At that time, as dm purists, most everybody involved thought it silly to play dm split screen, where you could see everybody else. So, we chose not to do it. 007 beat the crap out of Doom 64. Quite a regret.

Doom Absolution was officially canned in July 1997, when the project was still in early development (Doom 64 was released in March/April 1997) and sadly there are no images to be preserved. It seems that the game was cancelled because the Doom engine looked dated at the time and they decided to work on Quake 64 port instead, a “newer” fully 3D FPS that could have had sell more copies within the market.

Is interesting to notice that originally Doom 64 was started as a project called “The Absolution” but the title was later changed for brand recognition. Still “The Absolution” was reused as the name of the last level of the game.

We tried to get in contact with some people from Midway San Diego that worked on the original Doom 64 and its sequel but with no luck, if you know someone that could have more info about this cancelled Doom game, please let us know!

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Conscripts [N64 – Cancelled]

Conscripts is a cancelled game that was in development by Software Creations for the Nintendo 64. There are not much info on the project and no images are left, as it was canned in early development, but we know that it was going to be an action / strategy game in which we had to guide to safety some soldiers, with helicopters and tanks, through various battlefield.

The idea was to have many little soldier characters on the screens (swarms of them) in a huge world, but they never got as far as creating the main 3D landscape. The gameplay could have been like a 3D Lemmings, but with a war theme. The Conscripts 64 team was composed by Marc Dawson (director), Weston Samuels (concept arts), Allan Findlay (3D engine) and Francis O’Brien (3D Artist).

Conscripts by Software Creations for N64

The game was cancelled along with many others Software Creations projects for the N64, as Space JellyForever Dragonz, Dead Ahead, Blade & Barrel and Creator, as they moved their resources onto other projects that were paid for by publishers. Even with various teams full of talented developers, probably Software Creations at that time had too many original prototypes in development and they had to cut some of them to switch resources to those project that had more chances to be profitable.

In the end, the only games developed by Software Creations that were released on the Nintendo 64 were Carmageddon, FIFA 99, Hexen, World Cup 98 and a couple of Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey: all their more interesting and original games (like Conscripts 64) were never released.

Thanks to Francis and Allan for their help in preserving some info about this lost game!