Nintendo

Legend of Zelda: Sheik (Retro Studios) [Wii – Cancelled Concept]

In May 2020 Shinesparkers published a series of links to the online portfolio of Sammy Hall, former Retro Studios contract artist who worked on concept art for a cancelled Zelda game based on the Sheika tribe. This unreleased, darker view on the Zelda timeline would possibly explore what happened to the last male Sheik after Ocarina of Time’s “Bad Ending” in which Link does not succeed.

These drawings were noted as being used for pre-production of Retro Studios’ Sheik Zelda project between 2005 and 2008 (the same artist also worked on Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Donkey Kong Country Returns), so we can assume it could have been planned to be released on Nintendo Wii or WiiU. As we can read on their original page:

“Old storage hard-drive diving! (2005 – 2008) More stuff from a long lost cancelled Zelda (Sheik) action/jrpg that never went beyond pre-production. Really want to return to these some day to finish a few. Zelda games have wacky weird stuff, and this game was setting out to be ten times weirder.”

“Fun pre-pre-pre-production origin story of the Master Sword. Within the bad ending of “Ocarina of Time” exploring the last male Sheik’s (after a genocidal ethnic-cleansing) journey transforming into the Master Sword. All while the Dark Gerudo are giving their 100 year birth to Gannon.”

After these images were found by fans and gaming journalists, the artist just deleted his whole ArtStation account. IGN was able to get in contact with him, asking about this Zelda project and another canned Nintendo DS Boo game:

“Speaking to IGN, ex-Retro Studios concept artist Sammy Hall explained that both games were in pre-production when cancelled, and “I doubt many at Nintendo proper saw much of any of this stuff. I was mostly put into a room like Milton from Office Space and tasked to brainstorm between other projects.”

According to Hall, the ideas for both games came from ex-Retro leads Mark Pacini, Todd Keller and Kynan Pearson, but were “cancelled the week they went to create their other studios.”

Around 2008 – 2009 many video game websites published rumors about a Retro Studios Zelda game featuring Sheik, so it seems those rumors were true but the project was already cancelled at the time.

Unfortunately today some of these fascinating Zelda artworks seem to have been lost, as other websites did not save them all. We’d like to preserve them in the gallery below, to remember the existence of this lost video game. If you saved concept art from Retro Studios’ Zelda that are missing from this page, please let us know in the comments below or by email!

Thanks to AvenPlainstrider for the contribution!

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Aquaria (Lobotomy Software) [Nintendo 64, Playstation – Cancelled]

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.”

Computer & Video Games Issue 192:

“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 by Crave Entertainment and the team was renamed to Lobotomy Studios, to work on a Caesar’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!

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Pyross (American Sammy) [NES – Cancelled]

Pyross is a cancelled action platformer based on the original Wardner / Pyros arcade game, which would have been published by American Sammy Corporation for the NES. While a 8-Bit version of Wardner was released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, it was a different game from this canned one. Pyross was shown a few times in gaming magazines previews (such as in EGM 13), its american box-art was already designed and they even had an advertisement flyer ready, but in the end the game just vanished forever:

Princess Pudding has been captured, and it’s up to the dashing prince to rescue her. But this is no mere walk in the woods! He must challenge hordes of vile creatures, avoid deadly traps, and master the weapons of fire before time runs out! Shall the beloved princess be crystalized by the forces of darkness, or will Ala Mode make things too hot for evil to handle?”

We can only hope one day a prototype of this canned NES version of Pyross could be found by someone and preserved online.

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Rhino Rumble Puzzle (Formula) [Game Boy Color – Cancelled]

Rhino Rumble Puzzle is a cancelled puzzle-platformer featuring four playable characters and more than 60 levels (+ mini-games), that was in development by Formula Games / Lost Boys Interactive around 2001 – 2002, planned to be released on the Game Boy Color. Lost Boys was the original name of Guerrilla Games, prior to their acquisition by Sony and before creating such popular titles as the Killzone series and Horizon Zero Dawn. In particular Formula was Lost Boys’ internal team dedicated to handheld games, responsible for producing titles such as Rhino Rumble, and Tiny Toon Adventures: Dizzy’s Candy Quest for GameBoy Color.

Some details on Rhino Rumble Puzzle can still be found in an old preview by IGN:

“It’s a standard side-scroller, but the added challenge of protecting the water barrel changes the dynamics dramatically. And if that’s not enough puzzle madness for you, you can build your own stages in the game — a rarity in puzzle games and an unheard-of concept in side-scrolling games. Let your imagination run wild, then trade data with your friends via the Infrared link and challenge them to beat your tricky track.”

We can read the original game’s description on the archived Lost Boys website:

“The time has come again. Rhino has already eaten too many peppers! This time however, all the animals had foreseen this, putting all the available water in barrels and hiding on high ledges in labyrinth-like caves. Put yourself in the shoes of one of Rhino’s four best friends, and try to quench Rhino’s thirst by getting him the barrels of water. Using your own cleverness and objects scattered throughout the levels, your task is to jump and drill your way through the caverns. Dodge enemies, solve puzzles, and do it all within a time limit, without dropping the barrels! The animals will understand your actions, but they’d rather Rhino finally learn a lesson from his greed, so they’ll try to stop you. Crush, crush, drill and chop your way through over 60 challenging puzzle levels and earn a place in the hall of fame”

Rhino Rumble Puzzle was also mentioned in a 2011 interview by Gamasutra with Mathijs de Jonge (Game Director at Lost Boys / Guerrilla Games):

“I have very fond memories of a Game Boy Color game we made during the Lost Boys Games days, which we sadly couldn’t find a publisher for. Even though it was a Game Boy Color game, we had the same ambitions we had with Killzone 3, in a way. […] It’s a puzzle platform game but it has a level editor built in, and all the 80 or so levels in the game we made with the in-game level editor. If you remember it, the Game Boy Color had an infrared port, so you could submit the levels/puzzles you made to your friends that way.

That was already a big and ambitious project, and that was such a long time ago, and it’s really sad we couldn’t find a publisher for it — because back in those days publishers wanted licensed characters, and asked us to change the nice characters we created to well-known cartoon figures. We didn’t want to compromise our game, and sadly, that ensured that nobody wanted to publish it.”

At the time Lost Boys were also working on another cancelled Game Boy Color game titled “Knights”, originally conceived as a canned Dreamcast multiplayer brawler and later reworked as a Playstation 2 action platformer (also unreleased), before the team was sold to Media Republic and renamed Guerrilla Games.

Thanks to Squiddy Goat for the contribution!

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Flesh & Wire (Running With Scissors) [Cancelled – PS2, Dreamcast, GameCube]

Flesh & Wire is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Running With Scissors (of Postal fame), announced in 1999 and planned to be published by Ripcord Games for Playstation 2, Dreamcast and GameCube. It would have been and over-the-top shooter where you could control an alien blob to explore the world and resolve environmental puzzles. As we can read on IGN:

“The game follows Angus, a sleazy, slimy cop who wakes up one morning with an alien amoebae-like creature noshing on his legs, and his city has been engulfed by a bio-ship by the name of the Nulloid. Rather than worry about what the heck the thing’s doing to his lower half, he comes to the realization that he can control the gelatinous blob, and uses this newfound power to move around and utilize special abilities, sloshing around the levels. He’ll also utilize massive amounts of firepower, so expect over-the-top violence […]”

In 2016 Running With Scissors CEO Vince Desi talked about Flesh and Wire in an interview posted on their official website:

Robin TGG: I had almost forgotten that you once worked on a title called “Flesh and Wire”. What was that game all about? And why was it canceled?

Vince RWS: Yeah that was after POSTAL got cancelled, we actually had 2 other original games in development, but financial reality simply didn’t allow us to continue. It was a sci-fi based game that had a blob as the main character, I really liked it, who knows maybe someday we’ll take another look at it.

The game was somehow similar in concept to a more violent “A Boy and His Blob”, as you could transform the blob into different forms, such as a ladder to reach high places, a bungee to get down and a shield to protect the protagonist from bullets. Some more details on its development can be read on the March 1999 issue of Game Developer magazine:

“According to Randy Briley, the soft-spoken art lead for the project, the development process for FLESH & WIRE (FW) has always been a little bit different. For starters, the publisher (Ripcord Games) has been very hands-off, letting the development team drive the development. This uncharacteristic display of trust has as much to do with RWS’s track record of getting products out the door on time as it does with Ripcord Games’ relative newness to the gaming scene. And although the style of game play has some basis in currently released titles (the game is some-thing of a cross between RESIDENT EVIL and THE THUNDERCATS), the look of the game is anything but conventional. From character design and animation to background generation, the unorthodox look derives from equally unorthodox production methods.

When RWS finally settled on the game spec, they realized that from a resource production standpoint, they had bitten off more than they could chew. In addition to the standard budget of special effects, GUI art, and several minutes of cut scenes, the spec called for over 200 static screens of game play with in betweens, and a set of enemy and player characters’ 300+unique animation sequences. With a production cycle of just under 18 months, no budget for outsourcing, and an extremely small art team, the task seemed pretty daunting. It was time to improvise.”

[…] rotoscoping could be done largely in-house with little or no overhead, the production time compared to hand animation was much faster, and although it required the talents of a skilled animator to implement, it provided a cheap, efficient method to complete the animations on schedule. The team went down to a local gymnasium and interviewed several martial arts students. Then, working closely with the art lead (a martial arts expert himself), the actors were mocked up to look like the characters in the game. Several sets of motion shots were taken, using two synchronized digital cameras set 90 degrees apart (front and side). After digitizing these images and importing them into Softimage, the result was a sequence of images. The Animator then animated the characters by hand, using the images as a guide. […]

Compared to the mammoth task of generating over 200 hundred in-game background scenes, the character animation problem looked simple. With only a handful of 3D artists on staff, the team had to make some tough decisions. As the project evolved through its initial stages, it became clear that the art direction was evolving towards the techno-grunge look typified by such industry standards as The Crow and City of Lost Children. The level of detail the team wanted would require hours of tedious texture and modeling work using classical CG methods. Given the size of the team and the allotted time, this simply would not be possible. Rather than cut the design or ask for more time, the team resolved to find a solution that would allow them to maintain the scope of the project while holding true to the artistic vision. They Took a gamble, and decided to build the entire game using miniatures.

“Near the end of the planning phase of the project, RWS presented the publisher with a proof of concept for the process. For the first test, the team put together a town from a model railroad set and digitized it into the POSTAL engine. In short, the result was a huge success.

Put simply, the sets for the game were built with “anything we could get our hands on,” says RandyBriley. Basically, the team would just bring stuff in: PVC piping, copper tubing, old VCR’s, and so on, and the pieces were glued together and painted using a hot glue gun and standard modeling paints. Most of the back-drops for the game were created using Styrofoam panels, which proved easy to get hold of and standardize.  “Once we got an assembly line going with a certain panel (background piece), we could crank each one out in a matter of a few hours.”

By far however, the biggest advantage of the process is the lack of any requirement for CG expertise on the part of the artists. Consider that with a single trained 3D artist to guide the process, the bulk of the artists can be classically trained with little or no industry expertise. This means that production costs go down for any given piece of work or, you get a lot more resources for a lot less money.”

As said by Vince, in the end they were not able to keep up development for 3 different projects at the same time, so Flesh & Wire had to be canned. We hope someday to be able to see some more images from this strange and original video game.

Thanks to Josef for the contribution!

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