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Shatterman (Angel Studios) [Hasbro Toaster VR – Cancelled]

Shatterman is one of the few games in development for the ill-fated Hasbro Toaster VR by Angel Studios (the modern Rockstar San Diego). The studio was founded in 1984 to create computer graphic videos for such projects as the legendary movie Lawnmower Man (1992).

We don’t know if Hasbro was impressed by the first person shooting segments of Lawnmower Man or if Angel Studios was chosen by coincidence, but those parts in the film could give us an idea about how Shatterman could have been conceived. At the time Angel Studios was still mostly a CG video production company. In fact, most of Shatterman’s team were recent college grads with little to no experience working on a commercial game.

However, they did have all the hardware needed to create awesome looking games thanks to Silicon Graphics workstations, one of the most powerful hardware at the time. This probably helped them join the legendary “Dream Team”, a group of studios organized by Nintendo in the mid ‘90 to create ambitious games for the “Project Reality” (the early codename for the Nintendo 64).

Shatterman could have been Angel Studios first game if the Hasbro Toaster VR would have not been canned in mid 1995. In 1996 they were finally able to release their actual first commercial game (along with Zono): Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn.

Hasbro Toaster’s graphical power was probably over-hyped at the time as in reality its games would have looked somehow like a mix between Super FX Chip powered SNES games (StarFox) and early 3D arcade games (Virtua Racing or Virtua Fighter), with texture-less polygons and vivid colors. As recalled by Allen Battino, former Angel Studios’ Senior Art Director:

“I don’t remember much about Shatterman, but what I do remember is that he was designed to have the least amount of polygons possible while having a heroic look that would be glasslike and break up in shards effectively.”

While the default play view mode was third-person (with the camera right behind the in-game character), players would view the action through their VR goggles as in some kind of direct first person view. Once hit by too many shots, the character would break into pieces in a quite impressive effect (for the time). There’s not too much information known about Shatterman’s story. The plot would follow the life of Shatterman, a futuristic film-noir-inspired detective, who would drive from location to location as he takes out the bad guys.

Why he was driving and where he was driving remains cloudy, however the driving sections should be noted. Angel Studios was responsible for pioneering open world racing games with the popular PC-exclusive Midtown Madness in 1999.

Unfortunately, Hasbro’s technology and lack of real hardware made things a bit complex to create. As noted by Paul Skibitzke, one of the programmers who worked on Shatterman:

“The VR features we supported (3D rendering, stereoscopic rendering, head tracking) were not at all difficult to develop or use in a videogame. They’d been supported on our Silicon Graphics (SGI) hardware for a couple of years at that point, and the Angel Studios game engine was built with support for them.

However, actually using those technologies was hard on the body and mind. Between low frame rates, low goggle resolution, slow head tracking, and sheer weight of the goggles, you were likely to get nauseous and/or a sore neck after 15 minutes of using the hardware. So most of the time, we would test the game from the computer monitor, without goggles.

As far as the features of Hasbro platform itself, all our work was done on SGIs.  We never actually got any Hasbro hardware! We were told that it would effectively be a game console, with orientation-sensing 3D goggles, and a controller.”

Only a single combat area and an early city driving prototype were completed before work on the project stopped.

For Angel Studios, Shatterman was an interesting proof of concept for the anticipated platform, but the lack of actual hardware to develop on made it clear that it was useless to plan a whole game for a vaporware console.

Shatterman was not the last virtual reality game that Angel Studios worked on. Their experience with VR helped them sign a contract with Disney to create the Virtual Jungle Cruise at DisneyQuest in 1998, which seems to still be available at the Disney World Resort in Orlando.

After releasing some other games for various consoles, such as the Resident Evil 2 port for the N64, the Midtown Madness series, and Smuggler’s Run, Angel Studios was bought by Take-two in 2003 and renamed Rockstar San Diego. They then moved on to work on such popular titles as Red Dead Revolver, Midnight Club and Grand Theft Auto V.

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

Aftermath [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Aftermath is a cancelled top-down shooter / RPG hybrid that was in development in 2009 by WhiteMoon Dreams, planned to be released for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. The team behind this lost project previously worked on such popular games as Fallout, Descent, Ratchet & Clank, Medal of Honor and many others. The game was pitched as “Diablo 2 with guns”.

As we can read in the old press-release for their demo (currently unavailable):

“Well, the best and simplest way to describe this game is to say it’s “Diablo 2, with Guns!” We wanted to make a fun retro-style shooter (ala Robotron or SmashTV) with some light RPG elements (like leveling up your characters, upgrading your weapons, skill trees, etc). Unlike most retro-style shooters, we wanted to keep the art quality to next gen standards. (But we still love you Geometry Wars!)  Also, we wanted to focus on cooperative multiplayer, so you and your buddies can shoot up the place either gathered around the same console or over the ‘net.

The story behind Aftermath concerns a group of 4 Wanderers who exist in a post-apocalyptic Earth.  They are tasked to save humanity from hordes of mutants, domineering military forces, and murderous robotic entities.

So for the art style, our original inspiration believe it or not, came from Burning Man, which is the annual art festival held every year in the Nevada desert.  All the crazy, funky clothing, art, and music was a direct influence to how we wanted to present the characters and environments in Aftermath.”

Some more details about the game’s story were found in their old website:

“Our story takes place on Earth, a few generations from today. Only a few years earlier, we experienced the LastWar, which devastated the Earth and everything that lived upon it. The cause of the War is a mystery; it was impossibly brief and no one who survived knew the details.

In the years following the cataclysm that ensued, the few scattered survivors of Old Earth struggled to scratch whatever living they could out of the radiation-wracked ruins of their former world. It wasn’t easy. The oceans had dried into vast salt deserts, dotted here and there with a few fetid pools. Plants and creatures now mutated at a terrifying pace into increasingly dangerous and alien forms. In the midst of this desperate fight to survive, memories of the old world faded away.

There were a few, though, who remembered. Amid this chaos arose an order of survivors, who came to be known simply as The Wanderers. They sought to reclaim the knowledge of Old Earth and spread it to the scattered tribes, to replant seeds of knowledge that had been lost and fight for the future. They alone braved the vast wastes separating these far-flung oases of humanity, fighting for those in need, trading, and teaching. With them came a new hope for this struggling world.

Now, a new threat has arisen. It had been thought that the robots of Old Earth; those who had survived the attacks at all, had long since run out of power. Suddenly, Wanderers began to discover oases that had been slaughtered en masse, and those few who survived described armies of mechs marching out of the wastes, killing everything in their path. The Wanderers now accepted a new mission: to find the source of this new evil, and to destroy it. As a Wanderer, this is now your mission as well.”

WhiteMoon Dreams were trying to find a publisher for Aftermath and their second project titled “Warmachine”, but in the end they only found support for the latter, finally published as “WARMACHINE: Tactics”. Aftermath was quietly cancelled and lost forever. Only a short gameplay video is currently preserved below.

In 2017 the same team published Starblood Arena, for Playstation VR.

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Hasbro Toaster VR [Cancelled 1992 Virtual Reality Console]

You’re probably heard of the giant multinational toy and board game company Hasbro, but you might not have heard anything about their first and only foray into virtual reality: the Hasbro VR Toaster. Hasbro was created in 1924 by the three Hassenfeld brothers. They started out in the textile industry, but it wasn’t long before they switched to the toy industry and rose to the top. However, following the enormous success of the Atari 2600 and its cartridge based system, Hasbro sought the possibility to enter the now-booming video game market.

The acquisition of Milton Bradley (the company responsible for the VecTrex) in 1984 was an early step in that direction. Hasbro began to plan the development of a new gaming console, and two different projects were conceived: Control-Vision (a VHS console originally known as Project NEMO) and Toaster VR. “Scene of the Crime”, a prototype that later became Night Trap, was originally in development for the Control Vision. There’s a video hidden within the Sega CD version of Night Trap that shows Hasbro executives demonstrating the “NEMO”.

Control Vision and Toaster VR have both a very interesting development history stretching over a long period of time, but unfortunately they both ended up canceled at the end. The market would be left without another console competitor during the 16 and 32 bit generations. The Toaster was a joint-venture project between David Sarnoff Research Centre (DSRC) in New Jersey, Quantum Works Corporation (QWC) in California, and Abrams Gentile Entertainment (AGE) in New York. It’s worth noting that AGE is the same company responsible for the creation of Mattel’s Power Glove for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which probably hinted at the future of the Toaster.

Backed by the successful partnership with Mattel, in 1992 AGE pitched the idea of a Virtual Reality console to Hasbro. They joined with with Steve E. Tice and his company QWC, whose main task within the VR project was overcoming all the problems related to the Head Mounted Display.

hasbro-toaster-vr-console-unreleased

The original codename for this new device was “Sliced Bread Project” and, of course, it encountered many technical challenges related to the Virtual Reality experience. The system was required to be light and cheap in order to sell in the market, which only made the technical difficulties even worse. Realistic and correct perspective image generation was the primary project issue, although there were also issues with the device reacting immediately to the player’s head movement.

Backed by DSRC’s knowledge and resources, a prototype was assembled and early game concepts began to develop. As a former developer of the console remembers: “By the summer of 1995, five games were demonstrated on the complete system of hardware and software, and tested by the 16-year-old son of one of the group leaders.”

With such a long and complex development, the Toaster console went under different names (such as Xscape and Rush) and the game format was changed from cartridges to CD-ROMs. The estimated hardware retail doubled with the changes, and the project was delayed again to the 1996 holiday season.

The aforementioned developer also remembered: “Hasbro had spent $45 million in three years and was due to spend another $22 million on advertising Rush. Tens of millions more would go toward further innovation and inventory. Keeping it or killing it would cost money that would displease the board of directors.”

The final decision to pull the plug on the Toaster was made by former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld himself; despite having spent millions of dollars and having overcome tremendous technical difficulties, the company decided to follow a safer way to enter in the videogame market. This safer entry came in the form of Hasbro Interactive, formed in late 1995, a new company division focusing on porting their most famous games (like Monopoly and Scrabble) to modern consoles.

According to a paper by the Tuck School of Management: “The company created a brand with a traditional board game or toy, and then translated the concept to video. They never started a game or toy development project with video in mind – they waited to see if the traditional project would succeed first.”

Thus, the ambitious Hasbro VR Project was cancelled. Hasbro Interactive continued to grow in the following years, with titles like Frogger becoming a top seller on the Playstation, and with the acquisition of companies like Microprose and Avalon Hill.

With the Hasbro Toaster canceled and only its head mount display sent to gaming studios, all games in development for the hardware were canceled. There were working ports of popular titles like Magic Carpet and Descent, plus original titles conceived exclusively for the console, such as Lancelot’s Quest (by Warren Robinett), Faceball (by Bulletproof Software), Nero Zero (by Katrix), Shatterman (by Angel Studios AKA Rockstar San Diego), Intruder (by Fasa Interactive / VWE) and Holosports Fighter.

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

Thanks to Celine for the contribution!

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BioTech: Liberator [Playstation, PC – Cancelled]

BioTech: Liberator is a cancelled first person action game in development around 1998 by australian studio Beam Software (AKA Infogrames / Atari Melbourne House and Krome Studios Melbourne), planned to be published on Playstation and PC. Previously the same studio developed and released KKND2: Krossfire for PC and Playstation.

BioTech: Liberator was quite original for its time, with players using morphing mechs / vehicles to resolve different missions in a strange gameplay mix between “Soviet Strike”, “Blast Corps” and Lemmings. Some details about the project can be found in an old press-release:

“You’re stuck in a steaming alien jungle with nothing but your own sweat for company. The enemy has a lock on your position and they’re rapidly closing in. Your shields are down to 14%, you’ve got just two guided missiles left in your BioTech Assault Tank, and if you stay put you’re dead meat. So, what are you going to do? Panic and start crying? Or do you get a little creative… ?

In BioTech: Liberator you take control of a single combat vehicle, but one capable of morphing into widely differing forms, providing you’re carrying the relevant Transform Pod to make the change. Each form has its own unique abilities and weapons and since you’re up against an entire planet of warmongering nasties, you’ll be needing them all if you want to get out of there in one piece.

It’s partly about blowing the enemy into gooey, bite-sized chunks, but it’s also about using the different forms of the biotech vehicle to the best effect – transformations are limited. Much as we hate to use other games as a point of reference, think Soviet StrikeTM meets Blast CorpsTM, with just a pinch of LemmingsTM. In short, a killer mix of strategic problem solving, white-knuckled action and hefty explosions!

Key Features are:

  • A wide range of unique and awesome weapons, a deadly enemy and fiendish puzzles to solve
  • Fully deformable true 3D landscape – if you don’t like the way something looks, blow it up!
  • Multiple 2 player modes. Choose from Deathmatch, Conquer and Chase variations
  • Support for force feedback devices

Some more details were found in a Russian website, featuring a few screenshots taken from an unknown magazine:

The game consists of at least 30 missions (20 standard, 5 bonus and a few secret ones), which often require not only shooting, but also finding items, saving hostages, capturing enemy bases, and much more.

BioTech: Liberator was planned to be released in 1999, but the same year the studio was sold to Infogrames. It’s possible that Infogrames decided to cancel the game to switch resources on more safe and profitable projects, as GP 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours.

If you know someone who worked on this lost game, please let us know!

Thanks to Visurox & Edward Kirk for the contribution!

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Junction Point (Looking Glass RPG) [PC – Cancelled]

Junction Point is a cancelled (initially) fantasy MMORPG / (then) sci-fi RPG that was in development by Looking Glass Studios (Austin team) in the mid ‘90s, an ambitious project conceived by Warren Spector (Wing Commander, Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Deus Ex), Steve Powers (Ultima VII, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Prey) and Allen Varney (Star Wars: Galaxies). This was their original, unfinished idea that would later led to such popular games as System Shock 2, Deus Ex and Bioshock.

Looking Glass are mostly known for their work on Ultima Underworld, System Shock and Thief: The Dark Project. Which such a high-profile portfolio of cult-classic RPGs we can only imagine what Junction Point could have been if only completed.

The game was never officially announced by Looking Glass, but we know about its existence thanks to old resumes and interviews by people who worked on it. The game was initially conceived as a fantasy MMORPG in the vein of Ultima Online, Lineage and EverQuest, but after a while the team decided to resize their ambitions and changed the project into a single-player sci-fi RPG.

The plot of this “sci-fi” version of the game would involve some kind of cult located inside an abandoned asteroid mining colony. On the old Steve Powers’ website we can read some details about one of the missions in the early Junction Point prototype:

Briefing: “We have been making incredible progress in understanding the genetic structure of the Hauranid under the direction of Dr. Lycombs, a microbiology genius. Lycombs has fallen under the influence of the Guardians of the True Path, a cult that worships the Hauranid as divine beings. The cult is located inside an abandoned asteroid mining colony, where the members have set up a hive of sorts, attempting to emulate their sacred leaders. The militant cult is led by Merril Rumby, and has a captive hauranid kept in suspended animation. He has the doctor working on a method for combining the genetic material from the hauranid with humans, to create a hybrid species that is ‘closer to God’.  We’ll pay for the following services…”

  • Primary goal: Return Dr. Lycombs to Corporation X for deprogramming.
  • Secondary goal 1: Return or destroy any research materials Lycombs has compiled.
  • Secondary goal 2: Eliminate Rumby

Problem 1: The passages throughout the colony are zero-g.

Possible solutions: Cult members use micro jets to “fly” through the complex.  The player can take the micro jets from a member and use them. He can use flight skills here.

Problem 2: Mine was plutonium-like substance. Radiation may damage health or certain technology.

Possible solutions: Care must be taken to avoid radiation areas. A radiation resistance nano helps.

Problem 3: Player wants to get rid of the colony in a spectacular way.

Possible solutions: Seismic charges, found in an old mining equipment storeroom,  can be used to blow open airlocks, clear rubble from passages, bust open the dome, or even break up the unstable asteroid if placed strategically in the tunnels throughout the mine. (an old portable computer with emails sent to the former mine superintendent gives clues that this is possible, computer skills make the chance of recovering this data much higher)

Problem 4: Collapsed tunnels bar the players way.

Possible solutions: Use old mining equipment to break through barriers.

Problem 5: Eliminate Rumby

Possible solutions: You find a genetic accelerator gun in the lab that will shoot out a cool ray and cause humans to become genetic human/hauranid hybrids (read: deformed) in a painful, traumatic transformation.  It is currently programmed with Rumby’s DNA, and will only work on him.

Problem 6: Cult members are making it difficult to complete objectives.

Possible solutions: Hive members have networked control chips implanted in their brains used to simulate the hive-mind. A  controller for the chips can be found in Rumby’s sanctuary, and it can be used to prompt the members of the hive to certain actions. (alert, sleep, congregate, repair…)

Problem 7: Find frozen hauranid

Possible solutions: Kill Hauranid captive by screwing with hibernation controls.

Revive Hauranid captive by screwing with hibernation controls. Conscious Hauranid calls for a rescue.

Problem 8: Secure escape vehicle.

Possible solutions: If you find the keys to the planetary skiff in the sanctuary, you can escape using the vehicle in the ore loading/unloading bay instead of signaling for pickup.

As written by Warren Spector during an AMA on Reddit:

“That was just a small, small part of what we were trying to do. I totally recall the Junction Point game (and spent many nights worrying that someone would come along and tell me I couldn’t call my next company that!). Though it evolved over time, the ultimate plan was to make an MMO unlike all the others that were out at the time. Frankly, there are a ton of ideas in the design doc we generated that STILL haven’t been tried. If I were an MMO guy, I might give those ideas a whirl, but I’m pretty much not an MMO guy.”

In late ‘90s Warren Spector left Looking Glass Studios and soon received a call from John Romero: it was the start of the new Ion Storm Austin team and the conception of Deus Ex. As told by Spector in the book “Postmortems from Game Developer“:

“Deus Ex is a game I’ve thinking about since right around the time Underworld 2 shipped. I’ve tried get a game like this started several times (As Troubleshooter at Origin, in some respect, as Junction Point for Looking Glass). Those games didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but I never stopped thinking about them and, despite the failure of those games to reach production, they laid much of the conceptual groundwork for Deus Ex.”

As Ion Storm Austin director, Spector later oversaw development of Deus Ex: Invisible War, released in December 2003, and Thief: Deadly Shadows, released in June 2004. Soon after Spector left Ion Storm and officially announced his new company: Junction Point Studios, named in honor of the cancelled RPG he was working on during his last months at Looking Glass.

Junction Point was also used as the early project name in the pitch document for System Shock 2. In 1997 former Looking Glass developers Jonathan Chey, Robert Fermier and Ken Levine founded “Irrational Games” and soon started work on System Shock 2. As we can read in an interview with Chey by GamesTM:

“When [System Shock 2] was originally being discussed it had a name attached to it,” says Chey, “which was ‘Junction Point’. Some work had been done on it by Looking Glass’s Austin Texas studio, which was being run by Warren Spector. Then I think they decided that maybe they wanted to leave and start their own studio, and went on to produce the first Deus Ex game.” Looking Glass co-opted the efforts of Irrational Games, believing the team would work on Junction Point. “I remember seeing some design documents or something like that,” says Chey, adding that though little work had been done, there were some elements to it already. “I think it involved some sort of hub – the junction point – where you went on various missions,” says Chey, “but we liked the idea of doing a System Shock sequel so we put together a pitch for that and got Looking Glass interested in it.”

After working on such games as Freedom Force and SWAT 4, in 2007 Irrational Games published their most popular project: BioShock.

Only a few screenshots and a short video from the Junction Point prototype are currently preserved. If you know someone who may have more footage or documents from this lost project, please let us know.

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