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Xevicom Unlimited [PC – Cancelled]

Xevicom Unlimited is a cancelled story-driven FPS that was in development by Xevicom around 2009 for PC. The game was a tie-in for the Xevicom Forever graphic novel by fantasy author Ray Reid, planned to be a new chapter for their narrative. The team had quite the ambitious vision for Xevicom Unlimited, with a semi-open world to freely explore while watching over citizens and eliminating enemies with high-level AI.

As we can read from the official press-release:

“Set shortly after the events of the graphic novel, Xevicom Unlimited introduces players to Xevicom City in the aftermath of the comics bloody finale. Shockwave, the serial murderer whose activities set in motion the comics events, is rotting in prison but events surrounding his capture have further destabilized the delicate balance of power in Xevicoms streets and organized (and disorganized) criminal bands have begun a bloody campaign of retribution against the city’s few remaining vigilantes. For the first time ever, players will be able to take control of the mysterious Prophet in a story that follows his battle to quell this gang warfare whilst exploring his hitherto unknown origins. Through action packed battle sequences to rooftop chases, Xevicom Unlimited will bring the comics world to life like never before.

The game play in Xevicom Unlimited will focus on narrative driven action with a wide selection of heavy weaponry, intelligent enemy AI and exploration of the eponymous city. Indeed, exploration will be a key tactic as the game will feature a semi-open world layout that will allow players to tailor their gaming experience, whilst dealing with the moral dilemmas of vigilantism. The city of Xevicom will be brought to life with a colourful cast of characters, access to the world’s own fictional newspaper as well as the ability of players to manipulate their characters moral standing among Xevicoms citizens.

The game, being developed internally at Xevicom.com, features a new story by the graphic novels author, Ray Reid who said I never expected to be able to continue the story of the Xevicom universe but this new videogame adaptation gives me a chance to pursue that dream in a completely new way.”

After just 3 screenshots released, Xevicom Unlimited was never seen again. We can speculate the team was not ready to develop their first video game with such ambitious mechanics and were not able to fulfill their dreams.

Thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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Revolver (Jade Empire 2) [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Revolver is the codename for an ambitious action RPG that was in development for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 by BioWare with the help of Big Sandwich Games. The project started around the same time as they were working on the first Mass Effect for Xbox 360 (announced in October 2005). While Mass Effect would have been their major exclusive for Microsoft’s home console (PC version of ME was released 6 months later), Revolver was meant to be their new multiplatform series and many resources were put into the project, taking about 5 years to develop.

Unfortunately, in 2009 the game was canned for a series of complex reasons and Bioware never officially announced Revolver to the public, without showing any images or releasing any info. While it’s already unfortunate that we will never be able to play an original BioWare title, the story behind Revolver becomes even more tragic when one finds out that the project was initially started as another, most-requested-by-fans game: a sequel to cult-following, martial arts RPG Jade Empire.

To understand better what happened to Jade Empire 2 and the importance of Revolver in Bioware’s market strategy, we have to dig down to remember what the studio was doing before being acquired by EA with 3 major ongoing series (Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Star Wars: The Old Republic). In the mid ’90s BioWare became a favorite team to western RPG fans thanks to cult classics such as the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series. At the end of the ‘90s they wanted to enter the console market and developed MDK2 for Interplay (published in 2000 for Dreamcast and PC), creating a quality third person action-shooter loved by fans and the critics. Unfortunately, it did not set the market on fire as they could have dreamed for.

The real console success for Bioware arrived in 2003 with the help of LucasArts, when they released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the original Xbox. Still, part of the success was because of the popular Star Wars series, not for a proprietary IP, and BioWare wanted it all. To try to create a new successful IP and to be able to win the average console owner, Bioware decided to embrace a more action oriented combat system suitable for controllers. The results was one of the best action RPGs released on the Xbox: Jade Empire, published in April 2005.

Only a few months later Microsoft released their Xbox 360 and Bioware was already working on 2 exclusive titles for the new hardware: Mass Effect and Jade Empire 2. As reported by Gamespot in November 2005, BioWare co-founder Ray Muzkya told to the press:

“BioWare definitely plans to continue the Jade Empire franchise […] The Jade team did a great job with the first game in that series; we have great teams working on all of our games here. We’ve also said in the past that we’re working on not just one, but two Xbox 360 titles. Enough said.”

We don’t know what exactly happened after that, but it’s possible that the not-as-high-as-expected sales for the original Jade Empire on the Xbox made the team rethink their Xbox-only strategy and the future of their Jade Empire IP. Bioware decided to also develop this new project for PS3, creating a new role playing experience that could have matched the titles from their golden age of Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.

While the first-person-RPG-shooter style of Mass Effect sounded like the best type of game to sell to the Xbox / Halo crowd, Jade Empire 2 was chosen as the core to develop a new action RPG series for both consoles and PC. After only a few initial concepts, the mythical chinese martial-arts setting of Jade Empire 2 was dropped in favor of a more urban, near-future sci-fi settings. With the Jade Empire IP removed from the project, Bioware labeled it with the codename “Revolver”, a title without any particular meaning if not for the same initial letter of the R: drive on their shared network in which files for the game were stored. Other rumored codenames considered for the project were Rainbow, Razor and Riverdance.

Even if Revolver was never officially announced by BioWare, in the last few years the internal codename was revealed through many different resumes, articles, interviews, reference footage and demo reels, allowing the world to find out about this lost title. While Revolver was already in development and Jade Empire 2 canned, in 2007 Eurogamer asked BioWare co-founders if they had plans to create a sequel to Jade Empire:

“It’s an IP, it’s a setting that we were really passionate about, and we still are. Both Greg and I were big believers in the IP… We’re just looking for the right way to deploy it.”

The studio really wanted to create the greatest western action RPG ever conceived and they started brainstorming ambitious features that could evolve the genre into a new standard. It seems that they exaggerated those ideas as while Revolver was still in its early stage, many of those features were already being cut. As wrote by an anonymous developer who worked on the game:

“While still working on Mass Effect, I’m included in some of the Revolver meetings. Revolver is at that interesting point where things start getting cut. This is good. The project had a whole lot of things up in the air, a ton of features that were each individually doable but way beyond the scope of the project when taken together (unless we had more funding than any other project and weren’t planning to ship until 2012).”

Even with many of its features removed, the game was still too big for BioWare. To fulfill their vision for Revolver they soon hired Big Sandwich Games to help with the development: a team funded by ex-Rockstar Vancouver employees. This could not have been just a coincidence as Revolver was meant to blend sandbox open-world urban games like GTA and classic action RPGs, using “super powers” (such as the ability to jump from one skyscraper to another) to move around the city, as in Crackdown, Prototype or Infamous.

Players would have explored the game’s world using exaggerated parkour movements, jumps and climbing as seen in the Assassin’s Creed series, while fighting enemies with the over-the-top, responsive combat style of Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden. All of this while keeping the same story-focused narrative of classic BioWare titles, but in non-linear branching paths. Writers and developers soon found out that merging a free roaming open world game with a complex narrative was not without problems:

“So we’re trying to figure out how flight messes up plots – which plots can be broken by you being able to fly into an area that you’d ordinarily have to walk through (and thus run into encounters that advance the plot). […] In Jade Empire, there were encounters that you could skip, definitely, but there was no way you were gonna skip an entire dungeon – the dungeons were just too expensive and too few in number. […] Right now, we’re focusing on making dungeons (where here, “dungeon” means “an enclosed area with a bunch of combat in it”) that give the players multiple reasons to go inside – so the player doesn’t have to make the choice between getting content or missing content for roleplaying reasons.”

Revolver wanted to allow players to enjoy a story focused RPG in a sandbox world by giving them multiple ways to receive important quests from different people. If we would miss (or kill?) a character with a key-quest, the game system would offer the same or a slightly different quest from another NPC, giving more freedom on how to freely explore the world while still following the main storyline that writers wanted to tell. A similar conversation system to the one used in Mass Effect was also planned, with dialogue to resolve as some sort of “puzzle” and different answers for different “morality alignments”.

A lot of time was spent on creating concepts and prototypes to better understand what the team would have been able to do. At some phase of development the team also experimented with a cell shading engine, similar to what happened to Borderlands. Before it was canceled in 2009 it seems Revolver was close to the end of pre-production, meaning that the core gameplay, story and features were set.

“We have a demo that looks better than many finished games and gives a pretty good look at the directions we intend to go on look and feel.”

What happened to Revolver? While the game was never officially announced or canceled, there are a series of possible reasons for its demise. Mass Effect became a HUGE commercial and critical triumph and every doubt about being able to be profitable with a new IP were wiped out: now BioWare had its own Star Wars series. They did not need to experiment with another new IP as Mass Effect was already more popular than what they could have dreamed. Mass Effect 2 was later released on Playstation 3 too and it soon became a consolidated multiplatform franchise.

If that was not enough, in October 2008 the studio announced another big project that in the following years would have taken a lot of their resources: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a MMORPG set in the Star Wars universe. To keep up with SW:ToR’s development, BioWare had to open a new studio in Edmonton and they even asked for help from Big Sandwich Games. As they already had a strong collaboration with BSG, the team could have moved from Revolver to The Old Republic.

We also have to remember that in October 2007 BioWare was bought out by Electronic Arts and they had the final word on which games had to be completed or not. When the financial crisis of 2007 – 2009 hit USA and Europe, lots of gaming studios closed down and many projects were canned. It was not a time for experimental, overly-ambitious games and EA decided to cut funds for Revolver and for another original BioWare project for next gen consoles, titled “Agent”.

It made more sense from a marketing standpoint to focus on proven franchises rather than on expensive, still unfinished projects that could have failed. After about 7 years of difficult development in late 2009, BioWare were also finishing their work on Dragon Age: Origins, finally released in November of that year. The game became another huge success for the studio, with more than 3.2 million copies sold in just a few months. Unfortunately, Revolver did not have the same chance to prove its original open world gameplay and ambitious features. People that were working on the project were moved to more profitable games at BioWare, such as the money-making sequels for Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

This article was originally published in 2016 in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play

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Ion Runner [Cancelled – GameCube, PS2, Xbox, PC]

Ion Runner is a cancelled racing / on-rail shooter game that was in development around 20022003 by Attention to Detail, the team mostly known for such titles as Rollcage, Lego Racers 2 and Drome Racers. The project was planned to be released for GameCube, Playstation 2, Xbox and PC, but unfortunately the team did not find a publisher interested in supporting it.

Some details about this lost game was shared online by former developers, who started working on Ion Runner after the cancellation of Lego Racer 4:

“A more ambitious project, Lego Racers 4, was canned after substantial development effort. This was technically interesting as the design called for streaming of the entire game world from DVD, allowing much larger and more intricate play area than earlier Lego games, or most console titles at the time. The team involved went on to work on Ion Runner […]

Two complete levels of Ion Runner were programmed and demonstrated to many publishers, but there was no time to sign a deal before venture capitalists 3I pulled the plug on the company in August 2003.

Since then the demos have been seen by many in the industry who were surprised that the project was never finished – but the price, calculated to refloat the group as well as to cover the development costs, meant any deal on this new IP was hard to arrange.”

It seems the game initially started as a classic 3D racing – on rail shooter, in which players would drive their overbike through different levels while shooting down enemies. After a while the team toyed with a more open adventure-alike gameplay, possibly with HUB world to explore, NPCs to talk to and other action-adventure mechanics. As far as we know, not much was done on this version before the cancellation.

In the end with no more funds to keep the studio alive, Attention to Detail had to close down for liquidation:

“UK developer ATD (Attention to Detail) went into liquidation last Thursday, it has been revealed. While most of the country’s attention was directed at the ECTS trade show approximately 50 staff was laid off after a failure to sign the developer’s Ion Runner title.”

If you know someone who worked on the game and may have saved footage or more screenshots, please let us know!

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Yamabushi (True Dimensions) [PC – Cancelled]

Yamabushi is a prototype for a PC stealth-game cancelled around 2001. The project was in development by True Dimensions, a portuguese team formed by Diogo Teixeira, Márcio Martins, Marco Vale, Mário Luzeiro, Tiago Sousa and Vítor Marques. Yamabushi was conceived from an original idea by Marco: their goal was to develop a game about ninjas set in feudal Japan with an accurate depiction of the era, a credible story while keeping gameplay interesting for fans of the genre.

Development started around 1999 with a small tech-demo, to demonstrate their skills. This demo was internally known as “Blood & Honour”, a name that was later changed to not be associated with the homonym political group. Setting their focus on realism True Dimensions collaborated with Gonçalo Rosa, instructor of the Bujinkan Tsuru Dojo in Carcavelos. The team asked Gonçalo to review their script, to be sure their story wouldn’t have any inaccurate information. In Yamabushi players would follow a hypothetical scenario deeply rooted in Japan’s history: it was very important to create this sense of realism, to let you believe that this story could have truly happened.

Inspired by games like Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid, the team went after the idea of making a stealth game. The plot unfolded around two ninjas: Kazuya and Kimiko. The first was conceived by Marco and the latter by Vítor, reusing a design from another earlier project. Yamabushi was set around the 13th century: Kazuya and Kimiko are two children from the Yamabushi family, a group despised by most people because part of them lived as thieves, ronins and killers, under the name “Yamabushi Raiders”. They grew up as normal children, even if their community was estranged by society. Unfortunately their family was attacked by samurais, as they were regarded as a threat for the safety of the locals. In that attack their parents and most of their family were killed.

Kazuya and Kimiko managed to escape and wander together through the woods for several days, until they found a small village. Seemingly deserted, the village actually belonged to a ninja clan. They welcomed the kids and trained them to become ninjas, helping them fulfilling their destiny to avenge their family.

In the end True Dimensions were not able to develop a full game out of their Yamabushi prototype, but screenshots they shared online piqued the interest of other developers and gamers, managing in a way to start-off the actual Portuguese developers community.

True Dimensions worked on other tech-demos in the early ‘00s, like TrasD (2001), Homo-Machus in Space (2002) and Illuminatu (2002). These demos served as their portfolio pieces and were determinant in making them choose the area of videogame development as their future.

I’d like to send special thanks to Marco Vale for his time and help in writing this article, to remember their lost project.

Article by Jump/Error, original version in Portuguese!

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Vietnam: The Tet Offensive [PS2, PC – Cancelled]

Vietnam: The Tet Offensive is a cancelled FPS that was in development around 2004 by Atomic Planet Entertainment, planned to be published by Oxygen Interactive on PlayStation 2 and PC. As you can assume by its title, players would take the role of an American soldier during the Vietnam war, throughout the historical Tet Offensive to be precise.

Not much else is known about the game, apart from the original press-release and old news from IGN:

“Due in September, Vietnam: The Tet Offensive will feature a range of action-packed missions and an innovative damage system, packed with accurate historical details.”

While some websites have listed this game as published in Europe, as far as we know it was never really released in there. While another Oxygen / Atomic Planet FPS collaboration titled “SAS: Against All Odds” was later released as “SAS Anti-Terror Force”, Vietnam: The Tet Offensive just vanished without traces.

Thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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