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Sacred Pools [Sega Saturn, PC – Cancelled]

Sacred Pools is a cancelled interactive movie / FMV game that was in development by Code Monkeys and Segasoft in 1995 / 1996, for Sega Saturn and PC. It seems the project was shown in video form at E3 1996 along with other classic Saturn titles, such as Nights, Panzer Dragoon 2, Virtual On and many more, but in the end Sacred Pools was never released. A few details were published by various gaming magazines at the time, as in Ultra Game Players #74 (January 1997), Mean Machines Sega Magazine #45 (July 1996), PC Player #07 (July 1996), and Sega Saturn Magazine UK #10 (August 1996).

The game had a quite negative feedback from the press and that could be one of the reasons of its cancellation:

“Just when you thought the interactive movie was dead.. along comes Sacred Pools. This is another Segasoft venture, and one which they say revolutionises adventure gaming by mixing computer graphics with video footage. At present only the video footage was on show, and it’s the usual mix of Dr. Who effects and actors without dignity. And we thought they’d learned their lesson with Double Switch.”

As far as we know, Sacred Pools was meant to be one of the first adult-only titles for the Sega Saturn, in the form of “erotic thriller” with explicit (?) sex and violent scenes, but we don’t know exactly what the team wanted to shown in the game. Sacred Pools was just one of many unreleased games planned by Segasoft, such as G.I. Ant, Heat Warz, Ragged Earth and Skies.

A few more details were shared in the Assembler Games Forum by an anonymous user who seems to own a playable beta of the game:

“SEGASOFT paid over $3mil to develop the game. The company is called Codemonkeys now. Not sure if they had a different name back then. But Segasoft pretty much entirely funded the company during that period. […] My knowledge is limited. They spent a bunch of money developing this game that was supposed to be “revolutionary”. The game missed milestones and went way over budget. I have never played that far through the game but what i’ve seen is that it is basically a FMV game where you can sort of move around the world. You have choices of which direction to go and what to do, but they are limited and (obviously) on tracks.”

If you have more images or details about this lost game, let us know! We hope to be able to preserve some footage from the game in the future.

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Knights (Digital Infinity) [Dreamcast, PC – Cancelled]

Before merging with Lost Boys Games and Orange Games to became the now popular Guerrilla Games and creating the Killzone series, Digital Infinity was a rather obscure indie team based in Netherlands. In late ’90s DI were working on an interesting online multiplayer brawler / party game titled Knights, planned to be released for Dreamcast and PC, following a gameplay similar to such games as Ooga Booga, Power Stone 2 and Heavy Metal: Geomatrix.

As reported by IGN in late 1999 Dutch publisher Project 2 Interactive gained the license to publish new Dreamcast games, announcing the never released Knights and another project under the name “Big Bang”, later released as Bang! Gunship Elite in December 2000. In another interesting article by Control Online (in Dutch) we can read that in March 2000 issue of PC Zone magazine (No. 30, Dutch version) they published a good preview of Knights, revealing more details about the game’s humorous backstory:

“In the magical kingdom of Whyrule the king is too old to keep ruling the country. To find a new king they decide to organize a big tournament among knights and the winner will then rule the kingdom. You’re ready for a career change, so put on your best mail-coat out of the closet and departure towards the castle.”

Initially Knights was started as a classic 3D platform adventure similar to Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon, but soon the team had to switch plans when it became clear they would not have enough time, experience and resources to develop such kind of game. Digital Infinity were still a young team, with inexperienced developers and designers, who had to create their own 3D engine and assets without having a proper design doc to follow. After the platform game concept was tossed away they were able to create an early multiplayer demo, taking inspiration from the online capabilities of the Dreamcast and the increasing popularity of online gaming on PC.

This version of Knights was meant to be some kind of team-based multiplayer brawler with many interesting mechanics: levels were composed of different flying islands interconnected by slides, where players could move around and fight against the opposite team using different knights with different abilities, while also playing with the environment to their advantages, for example by riding a water-scooter in a small lake in one of the islands. By looking at the few screenshots we were able to gather, it seems that Knights could have been a fun multiplayer experience on the Dreamcast, with many interesting ideas.

IGN were able to see more of the game at ECTS 1999:

“Their first title, Knights (so close..) is an online deathmatch title of sorts, with an interesting twist. It is more of an interactive game of “kill the man with the ball,” and will also allow players to build their own DM levels. Project 2 plans on launching the title some time next year, and including online components a plenty.”

Unfortunately development was proceeding slowly and in the meantime Project 2 Interactive closed down for bankruptcy: even if the first couple of milestones were delivered, without Project 2 Digital Infinity regain the Knights rights and tried to find a new publisher.

With some luck they were able to gather Swing! Entertainment’s interest, a new publisher that doubled the studio budget and wanted to release Knights on more platforms, such as the Playstation 2. Meanwhile Digital Infinity also became part of Lost Boys Games, the studio grown with more developers, designers and artists. After the Dreamcast failed to sell enough units and with Sega discontinuing the console on March 2001, the team decided to finally cancel the Dreamcast version of Knights, focusing on the PS2 version and reworking the game again to make it the 3D platform-adventure they initially wanted to do. In the end the Playstation 2 version of Knights was also canned when Lost Boys Games were sold to Media Republic and renamed Guerrilla Games, starting to work on their Killzone series for Sony and Shellshock: Nam ’67 for PS2, Xbox, and PC. A Game Boy Color version of Knights was also under development by Formula Games / Lost Boys, but as it happened for the 3D version the game was never released.

We tried to get in contact with former former Digital Infinity / Lost Boys developers, in an attempt to unearth more on Knights, but unfortunately, they were not available for comment. If you know someone that worked on Knights, please let us know!

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Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

A reboot of Tomb Raider was developed by Crystal Dynamics and released in 2013 to welcoming applaud and incredible reviews. However, it seems that the development process took a rather sharp turn. This new Tomb Raider project was started in early 2009 and was originally meant to be a much more different game than the final one.  Dubbed Tomb Raider: Ascension (not to be confused with the 2007 fan-made movie), its conception was a world away from what gamers got in the end. Taking inspiration from such titles as Resident Evil, ICO and Shadows of the Colossus, Lara’s reboot début was to be filled with giant supernatural enemies, a child companion that followed Lara, horse combat and explorations in a lavish open-world environment.

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Concept art was already released immediately after the initial game announcement which holds lots of things not included in Tomb Raider’s final draft, and the concept lead many people to believe Tomb Raider was going to become something of a horror-genre game. Before the final Tomb Raider 2013 was released, EIDOS published  a promotional Digital BookTomb Raider – The Final Hours” containing images and a video with the lost Ascension prototype:

“The Tomb Raider name never appeared on Guardian of Light and there was a reason – Crystal was saving that for the next project, what was internally known as Tomb Raider 9, or Tomb Raider: Ascension. Obvious biblical references aside, the team led by creative director Tim Longo was asked to come up with a radically different approach to a Lara Croft adventure. And that’s exactly what they did.

In early design meetings the team started thinking about other games that could inspire a new approach. The emotionally rich role-playing game Ico, the survival horror of Resident Evil, and the towering mythical creatures of Shadows of the Colossus all served as early inspiration. In Longo’s first pass at the design Lara Croft teamed up with a 6-year-old girl named Izumi […] as they adventured through a mysterious island inhabited by ghosts and monsters. Izumi would crawl into small places to help the player, thus creating asymmetric gameplay.

Eventually the player would dicover Izumi’s magical ability to manipulate water and interact with the island. After a few months of work the concept was deemed too ethereal and difficult to understand for Tomb Raider. Izumi was excised and at first replaced by a monkey that would accompany Croft on her adventures. When that didn’t work out the kids and animals were replaced by a more menacing presence on the island: colossal monsters.

In this second full pass at the concept design Lara would ride on horseback and battle against these monsters as they hurled trees at her in sequences reminiscent of a God of War game. Further refinement of the colossal monster concept shifted the art direction into the real of horror, with large zombie-like creatures that would roam a fog-soaked island.

What was intended as a confidential focus test from the Nielsen Group soon became public when one of the participants leaked images and details onto the internet during the summer of 2009. A “Rumored Leaked Photos of Tomb Raider Reboot” thread of the Tomb Raider forums quickly amassed some 3,687 posts from fans who expressed shock over a game that was more Resident Evil or Silent Hill than Tomb Raider. Others worried that setting a game entirely on an island abandoned the Indiana Jones-like globetrotting that was a hallmark of the series. […] Ultimately the horror direction was a shocking twist and focus tests confirmed that the team was “moving in the direction of making the greatest art house game that no one would ever play” […]

In the final game plot there are still some nods to the Ascension name, as we can read in Wikipedia:

Escaping the ancient monastery where she is taken by the Oni, Lara hears from Sam that Mathias is going to put her through the “Ascension“, a “fire ritual” to find the next Sun Queen that will burn her to death if it is unsuccessful. […] Lara realizes that the Ascension is not a ceremony to crown a new queen, but rather a ritual that transfers the original Sun Queen’s soul into a new body; the Sun Queen had learned to become effectively immortal by transferring her soul into a young girl’s body each time she grew old.

Below is listed the most significant changes to Tomb Raider in list form: 

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 3 [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PC]

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 3 is the cancelled third chapter in the popular RPG series developed by BioWare and published by LucasArts. The project was started by LucasArts in 2003 / 2004 when they canned another Star Wars MMO for console named “Proteus” and planned to reuse the same team and part of the already created designs to develop a new KotOR game. Unfortunately KotOR 3 followed the same fate and they later decided to cancel the project because of LucasArts’ financial problems, when the management did not want to invest money and time in such an expensive game.

A few KotOR 3 concept arts created during the design phase were leaked online and we can see new robots (Q-10), spaceships (Dashaad Fighter, Sith Troop Transport, Coruscant Vehicle) and characters. Some more details on KotOR 3 were published in 2008 in the bookRogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts”, in which they revealed that one of the new characters was a woman named “Naresha”.

“Upon the cancellation of the Proteus project, team and elements of the designs were applied to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 3, which, according to designer John Stallford, “got quite a bit of traction… we wrote a story, designed most of the environments/worlds, and many of the quests, characters, and items.” However, this new game direction fell victim to LucasArts hitting possibly the most difficult period in the company’s history.”

We can only hope that one day someone could share more artworks and info from the early development of KotOR 3.

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Djinn (Castaway Entertainment) [PC, Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Djinn (Castaway Entertainment) [PC, Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Djinn is a cancelled action RPG planned initially for PC and later also for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The project was in development by Castaway Entertainment, a talented team founded in 2003 by former developers who left Blizzard North, some of which were previously working on the cancelled version of Diablo 3. Djinn was quite hyped at the time because of its connection with the Diablo series and many RPG fans were eager to see more from the game, promising hundreds of hours of adventure, exploration and rare loot. Unfortunately before its cancellation not much was ever revealed about Djinn, its gameplay mechanics or plot, but thanks to the finding of its pitch document we can now learn more about this ambitious project.

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Castaway wanted to create an innovative role playing game with a story told in real time, while players were actively exploring its world and listening to the protagonist’s comrates. This team of characters following the protagonist could have been similar to the “pawn” system used many years later in Dragon’s Dogma, but with heavy interconnections with the main storyline:

“The idea of a next-generation, greatly upgraded Diablo II on console forms the basis of the concept and marketing strategy for our newest game, Djinn. Djinn is a real-time 3D action roleplaying game of heroic risks in an island world of ancient mythical beings and forbidden magic. With non-stop pacing unfettered by text dialog choices, and featuring larger than life ruins, temples, and legendary creatures, Djinn reveals a real time story told not by signpost NPCs but by your very traveling companions”

“Our unique twist on companions is the Crew concept. The crew members are intriguing, multi-purpose characters who are also lesser heroes in their own right, much like the Argonauts (the Greek heroes who made up the crew of Jason’s ship Argo). They can be added or removed at any time to the questing party, and each one has unique powers that the player will enjoy experimenting with. In combination, crew members may reveal additional abilities.”

Djinn’s gameplay would have been inspired by many more games other than the popular Diablo 2, adding physics-based combat and environment interaction, plus a series of “cards” that could change the game’s world and how players could interact and fight in this world. We could imagine it as an ambitious mix between Psi-Ops, Phantom Dust, Baten Kaitos and Hand of Fate:

“Djinn combines Diablo II quality, item collection, tactical equipment and skill choices, and dynamic, user-friendly combat; Phantom Dust playfield interaction and destruction; Psi-Ops physics-based combat; Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal’s varied attacks and situational awareness; and Magic: The Gathering’s highly addictive collectible and customizable booster packs.”

“We will be showing off our combat moves, interactive environments and highly vertical levels using advanced physics. Players will be able to do many things with our physics engine, including: Push victims off ledges or slam them into spikes; Drop objects onto targets far below; Knock over pillars and break platforms, in order to damage opponents; Knock back enemies who fall down with rag doll physics; Create “domino” effects where one object knocks into another.”

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“Djinn is designed to be a modular system that allows the player to make significant changes to their own game play experience. A player may alter their character’s skills, reconfigure their quests, select their companions, and even make changes to the world itself. These modifiers are contained in virtual “cards” that the player may collect, trade, buy, or sell with other players. “Cards” are currently being used as a metaphor for a system of tokens that can be applied within the game. The final game pieces will most likely take the form of artifacts or scrolls, not tarot or playing cards. Regardless of how the player wishes to manage their cards, everyone begins with a basic set (a virtual deck) that contains five types of cards: Skill Cards, Hero Cards, Quest Cards, World Cards, and Crew Cards. By playing combinations of these five types, the player is able to explore different locales over and over with very different experiences.”

 

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