Nintendo

Klepto [N64 – Cancelled]

Klepto is a cancelled action platformer / adventure / stealth game in development by Utopia Technologies / Sandbox Studios between 1998 and 2000, with a planned release on the Nintendo 64. The team was formed in 1993 and was composed of such talented developers and artists as Atman Binstock, Gary Corriveau, Matthew Moss, Rich Geldreich, Steve Bergenholtz and Robert Jaeger. In the early ’80s, Robert designed and programmed the classic platform game Montezuma’s Revenge (Atari). Utopia Technologies then released Montezuma’s Return in 1998, a 3D sequel to the classic predecessor, which was originally planned for N64 but released only on PC.

It seems that Utopia Technologies was one of the few studios that could use their own microcode to develop games for the N64, a privilege given by Nintendo that was shared only with Rare Ltd, Boss Games (World Driver Championship) and Factor 5 (Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, Battle for Naboo).

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Unfortunately, we never did see what Utopia Technologies could achieve on Nintendo’s console. After the N64 Montezuma’s Return was cancelled and the PC version completed instead, Atman, Gary, and Matthew started working on a brand-new project called “Klepto”. As recalled by Atman:

“Inspired by Umihara Kawase, I set about creating a 3D third person grappling hook game. The idea was that you played a cat burglar-type in a Sci-Fi world. Each mission was designed to be playable in several ways, i.e. you could sneak in and steal the target item and if you were really good, you could sneak out without being detected. However, taking the loot would likely set off alarms and you’d have to fight your way out. Or, if you preferred, you could try fighting your way in and out.

The experience was designed to be as nerve-wracking as possible: the player was allowed as much practice as they wanted in a simulator environment based on incomplete knowledge (one idea was to allow recon missions to fill in pieces of the mission simulator), but only one shot at actually performing the mission for real, with large meta-game rewards/penalties.

The core dynamics were about using a physics-based grappling hook (as opposed to the shoot-zip or stiff fake-swinging types) to move around and manipulate a physics-based environment. The stretchy rope enabled the excellent and deep player-skill rubber-banding movements from Umihara Kawase, with some additions like slip-walls where the grappling hook could freely slide in one direction.

But more than just a fun method of getting around, the grappling hook’s stretchy rope provided an indirect yet high-fidelity way to interact with objects and enemies – the player could reel in/let out rope, or move themselves to change the rope’s tension. You could shoot out and attach to the foot of guard standing on a ledge, then reel-in while moving back to yank him off the edge. Or you could gently drag a crate of something fragile (and likely explosive) to the edge of a shaft way, then gently lower it to the bottom. There were a number of tools that were added on top of the vanilla grappling hook. In order to fight the entropy of all objects ending up at the bottom of a level, you could attach rapid-inflate balloons to an item (or enemy).

The player could also shoot a spring, one end at a time, allowing you to attach any two things in sight, like an enemy to a bomb crate. And the general purpose “pipe tool” ended up being a flamethrower, which was useful for cutting springs, detonating bombs, and torturing bound-up (by springs) enemies into dropping keycards.”

The team developed a playable prototype for Klepto and they displayed it at E3 1999 where several parties expressed interest in publishing the game, including Nintendo. As recalled by Gary:

“There were a decent number of prototype levels that I built showcasing the various mechanics. The environments were simple, but we had some really nice interaction driven animations on the characters thanks to Atman’s hard work. The rope itself was also very cool. He connected a string of rigid cubes with springs and then skinned the whole thing. The player could then control the tension of the rope, by loosening and tightening the springs on demand.

We had some nice mechanics going on. You could shoot your bungee-cord grappling hook and swing around the environments, or hook onto enemies and so forth. You could attach rockets to your hook and smash enemies around the level with it.”

As the N64’s life cycle was coming to an end, no party decided to commit to Klepto and it was left without a publisher. When Utopia Technologies presented the game to Nintendo, they seemed to like it and encouraged them to consider bringing it to GameCube, but that wasn’t possible for their small team budget.

Sometime after Montezuma’s Return was published in 1998, Robert Jaeger left Utopia Technologies and the remaining team members changed their name to “Sandbox Studios”. They then released such games as Dinosaur for Dreamcast and Shrek for the original Xbox. In 2001 the company was acquired by Digital Illusions CE and renamed “Digital Illusions Canada”, but later closed in 2006 when DI was acquired by Electronic Arts.

We managed to contact a few people who worked at Utopia Technologies / Sandbox Studios, but sadly it seems that only some early Klepto concept arts were preserved by the studio. We still hope that one day someone could find some screenshots, videos, or even a playable prototype from the game that could be saved and added to the unseen history of video games. Although it’s unlikely, it’s never impossible.

Thanks to Rich, Gary and Maik for their contributions!

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Attack of the Killer Rabbids from Outer Space [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U]

Attack of the Killer Rabbids from outer Space, later retitled Killer Freaks from outer Space, was a first person shooter developed by Ubisoft Montpellier that would eventually become ZombiU for the Wii U.

Originally planned as an untitled horror shooter for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2010, the game was already intended to be a part of the Rayman spinoff series Raving Rabbids wherein earth was attacked by a much more frightening “cousin” of the Rabbids. Early concept art depicts them as being very similar looking to the Rabbids but with sharp teeth and, in some instances, missing their eyeballs. Also revealed in concept art were designs for different types of enemies such as a basic trooper, a shield trooper, a giant Rabbid, UFOs, and a variety of other alien vehicles.  Multiple soldiers can be seen fighting the Rabbids in some of the art, suggesting that would the player would not only be taking the role of one of these soldiers, but there would be co-op multiplayer as well.

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This more “mature” tone and the level of violence in the game began to cause concern among the game’s developers as they felt it was begin to stray too far from the child friendly franchise.  “We thought about making them cousins to the Raving Rabbids,” designer Jean-Karl Tupic-Bron stated in in an interview with Polygon, “but quickly decided to split [it off]- This is not what Raving Rabbids is all about.

In response to the issue they changed the invaders from “Killer Rabbids” to “Killer Freaks” and officially revealed the game under that title at E3 2011 as a launch game for the Wii U.  While the Freaks remained very similar to the Rabbids in size and stature they were given a much more reptilian appearance to differentiate them from their earlier counterparts. Set in a post-apocalyptic London, the game pitted 1-4 players against hordes of the Freaks with an arcade run n gun style of gameplay complete with a point system. An early trailer and gameplay video revealed a variety of weapons that could be used against the Freaks ranging from handguns and shotguns to a buzzsaw launcher and electricity gun.

Despite the early footage getting a positive response the team still wasn’t satisfied with what the game was turning out to be.  The driving force behind this was their desire to create an experience tailor suited for the Wii U, something that the fast paced shooter that they had made didn’t deliver on. Another reason was that the Freaks, despite being well liked by the team, were too small and forced players to look towards the ground for a majority of the game.  It is because of these pacing and gameplay issues that the team decided zombies were the next logical step.

Many of the aspects were completely overhauled in the transition to ZombiU, with Tupic-Bron citing the one vs many book and film I am Legend as a major inspiration towards the change.  First and foremost the pace of the game was significantly slowed down, hence the change to zombies as they are generally depicted as being slow and stumbling.  They introduced a focus on preparation, patience, and inventory management as opposed to the frantic gameplay in the previous installment.

This allowed them to utilize the Wii U pad more effectively, as it was now used for vital gameplay features such as displaying the map and organizing the player’s inventory.  They also abandoned the more comical aspects of the game in favor of a darker and more serious toneCo-op was also removed and instead was replaced by a unique “one death” in which every survivor the player controlled only had one life, and the next survivor the player controlled would have to make their way to the now zombified previous survivor and kill them for their supplies.  One of the only aspects that remained relatively unchanged was the vs multiplayer in which one player would control an army of aliens/zombies with the game pad, while the other would try and survive as long as possible with a Wii-mote and nunchuck.

ZombiiU was released on November 18th, 2012 and ports for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC were released on August 18th, 2015.  News of a sequel in development began to spread when creative director Jean-Phillipe Caro mentioned working on a prototype, but It has since been 100% denied by the Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot as the game was not financially successful for the company.  It has been more recently revealed that this proposed game would have re-instated co-op gameplay like in the previous installments.  Ubisoft Montpellier continues to work on big franchise games such as the next Ghost Recon and the sequel to their cult hit Beyond Good and Evil.

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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.

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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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