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Darkborn [PC, Xbox One, PS4 – Cancelled]

Darkborn, previously known as Archenemy and Project Wight, is a canceled medieval fantasy First-Person Role-Playing Game developed by The Outsiders from 2015 to 2020, and published by Private Division, for the PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Darkborn was set in the medieval time where vikings shared the world with a forgotten species of creatures. Player embodied one of these creatures named Darkborn, whose purpose was revenge against a band of vikings marauders known as The Pale Enemy, after the latter have slaughtered its species for blood rituals. Over the course of the game, you would play multiple generations of these Darkborn as you learn the motivations for their bloodshed.

First information regarding this game were hinted in February 2015 during the announcement of the creation of The Outsiders:

Former Battlefield developers David Goldfarb and Benjamin Cousins today announced a new game studio, The Outsiders, which is working on a PC role-playing game. (…)

(…) In a separate interview, he told Eurogamer that the company’s first game will be an RPG. “I’ve loved RPGs all my life and have been shoehorning elements of them into games I’ve made over the years with lesser or more success,” he said. “I’m interested in systemic story stuff. I know Ken Levine has recently been talking about this. I have another way I want to try and do it. But I think it won’t be a game of cut scenes.”

It wasn’t until November 2016 that Project Wight was officially unveiled by its developers, showing a short gameplay video of the game:

“There are currently 12 people working at The Outsiders,” says co-founder David Goldfarb. “Our background is a pretty broad mixture of experience. Ben Cousins (co-founder) and I come from DICE, as do the other two founders.

Wight is a low fantasy RPG set in the Dark Ages, and the twist is that you play as a creature that would usually be the enemy in another game. “The player will experience life on the other side of the sword as a creature attempting to survive the extermination of its species by humanity,” says Goldfarb. “The creature starts out young and extremely vulnerable, but will eventually grow strong enough to turn the tables on its persecutors.”

One of Wight’s biggest inspirations is a book by John Gardner called Grendel. “I read it a long time ago,” says Goldfarb. “It’s Beowulf, but written from the perspective of the villain. That inversion was interesting, but it also meant something. I was always siding with the outcast.”

“There was some kind of dislocation in me it spoke to, I guess. That feeling of not understanding the world you were in, why you were there, or why things were cruel in it. And as time wore on it became clearer and clearer that there was a game there, and maybe the time had come to make it. So we did.”

Project Wight, which doesn’t even have a name yet, has a long way to go. But I’m already sold on the idea. As for what the moment-to-moment play will be like, Goldfarb stresses that team is still working hard to figure this out. “It’s too early to say, but we are definitely not making a linear experience. But how exactly that takes shape is still years away.”

Thereafter, the project became more silent. In December 2017, we learned that it would be published by Private Division, a new label from Take-Two Interactive, supposed to fund independent titles from small studios made up of industry veterans:

“We didn’t want to cede control of this thing, essentially,” says The Outsiders co-founder David Goldfarb, whose studio is publishing its first game with Private Division. “You always hope for the best, but maybe in some cases, and I know from talking to friends of mine, you lose control of the thing that you spend an enormous amount of energy and time on.” For The Outsiders, controlling its IP is essential for its other business endeavors.

After being silent throughout the entire 2018 year, the game resurfaced as Darkborn in April 2019. Gameinformer wrote a preview about it:

(…) The Darkborn may not deserve persecution, but judging by their bloodthirsty battle skills, you can see why the humans fear them. In the few fights we see in this demo, the Darkborn exact revenge on The Pale by eye-gouging, severing limbs, grisly decapitations, and even a ripping a still-beating heart from the ribcage of one unfortunate grunt. Many of these gruesome attacks are earned via Darkborn’s “death gift” system.

No matter which age your Darkborn may be, you can earn new death gifts by interacting with the dying kin you encounter in the world. In this demo, we see a few of them in action. Deep Sight operates like an investigative mode that highlights your path forward and any enemies in the vicinity. Stealth Bite gives the whelp a powerful stealth takedown. Thorn Throw gives the Darkborn a ranged attack, and the Whip Attack is an effective tool for stunning enemies before going in for the kill. (…)

However, troubles occured for the game as we learned from Gamespot in July 2019, that Private Division parted ways with The Outsiders in the end of 2018:

The game, which was re-revealed as Darkborn in April this year, is now moving ahead with a different publisher. Private Division confirmed to GameSpot that it ended its publishing arrangement with The Outsiders in 2018.

“Private Division ended our publishing agreement with The Outsiders at the end of last year,” reads a line from Private Division’s statement. “We supported the studio financially for several months after ending the deal, and we wish David Goldfarb and the rest of the talented team the very best with the game and their future endeavors.”

It is not immediately clear why Private Division and The Outsiders split up, or what financial considerations might have been in place related to the business separation. Private Division declined to share further insight on the matter, while The Outsiders CEO Anders Pettersson tells GameSpot that the Swedish studio plans to share more details “after the summer.” Also unknown is if The Outsiders will or already is seeking a new publishing arrangement, or if the studio will self-publish Darkborn.

Unfortunately, Darkborn was officially canceled in April 2020 as stated by The Outsiders on their official Twitter account:

Over the past four years we have been working on a game property we loved very much. This was once called Archenemy, became Project Wight, and finally, Darkborn.

Last April we released a gameplay trailer for Darkborn, knowing that it might be our final release. In spite of our best efforts to continue, ultimately we had to make the difficult decision to halt development on the project. Perhaps one day we will return to it: we all hope so and genuinely appreciate the support of everyone who followed us over the years.

But one door closes and another opens.

We have been working on something else.

On something new. Something awesome. Something we really love.

We look forward to being able to share it all with you.

That new project was Metal: Hellsinger released in September 2022. The Outsiders was acquired in June 2021 by Funcom. In August 2022, David Goldfarb explained a bit what went wrong during the development of Darkborn:

Speaking to NME in a recent Boss Level profile, Goldfarb said that Darkborn – which was cancelled by The Outsiders in 2020 – suffered some major issues in the development cycle, including a big change to the game’s structure.

“It didn’t start as an open world game,” shared Goldfarb. “It became one, and that’s why we got fucked. If we had done it another way, maybe we would have been okay.”

Goldfarb added that Darkborn was cancelled due to publisher Take-Two deciding to part with The Outsiders, which “couldn’t get anyone to pay what it would have cost to continue, because of a lot of complicated legality around IP ownership and the publishing rights to the game.”

“A lot of people think we made this decision to abandon that project. That’s not true, okay. We really wanted to make that game,” added Goldfarb.

Beyond publishing issues, Goldfarb said the team “never really cracked” first-person melee combat, and described it as “probably the hardest thing in the industry.”

Images

EverQuest Next [PC, PS4 – Cancelled]

EverQuest Next is a canceled Free-To-Play sandbox fantasy Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game developed and published by Sony Online Entertainment for the PC and the Playstation 4 from 2009 to 2016. It was based on the EverQuest franchise.

First indications of the development of a new installment of EverQuest were revealed in April 2009, when Rich Waters, creative director of the franchise, wrote a dedicated chapter on the future of the series titled EverQuest Next, in the book EverQuest: The 10th Anniversary:

Recently, we got our hands on a copy of the 10th Anniversary EverQuest Book. The last chapter of this book is intriguingly titled “EverQuest Next” and was individually written by EverQuest Creative Director, Rich Waters: “So you can see there’s a lot to wrestle with as we begin laying the foundation for EverQuest ‘Next.’ As I write this, we have concept artists and game designers working hard in our studio-taking the lessons of the past, the best parts of the present and the most promising ideas for the future-to bring the world of Norrath to a new generation of players, as well as the dedicated legions of fans who made the EverQuest franchise timeless. I hope we’ll see you there.”

This new EverQuest project was officially announced in August 2010, during the SOE Fan Faire Event, as we can read on Engadget:

The third edition in the EverQuest franchise was teased by Sony Online Entertainment prez John Smedley this weekend at SOE’s annual Fan Faire event. The publisher also held an extended panel on it — tentatively titled EverQuest Next — where Smedley revealed that the game will have “less classes” and be “more like EverQuest 1” in that regard. He also said it has been “built from the ground up to be scaleable” and that it’ll be playable on anything from “a laptop” to “a powerful PC.”

The following years, the game was still shown annually with information shared here and there: in July 2011, during the SOE Fan Faire, Smedley announced the use of ForgeLight as graphics engine:

John Smedley, CEO of Sony Online Entertainment, his tech team and the team behind Planetside 2 are building a new core engine called Forge Light which will have all of the tech bells and whistles needed to bring SOE’s new MMOs into the next generation. Partnering with Nvidia to build in use of the PhysX API has allowed some amazing complexity to everything from the physics of vehicle movement in Planetside 2 to the expression of a characters face in the next EverQuest title.

“Think about this, EverQuest players, think about a physics engine that is built into every single aspect of your gameplay. We’ve partnered with Nvidia and their amazing PhysX platform. It means that we can bring you the most amazing characters and environments ever seen before in an MMO, or a single player game.”

During SOE Live in October 2012, Smedley revealed that the project had been reworked and showed new ambitions:

“I have to be honest with you. We have completely blown up the design of EverQuest Next. For the last year and a half we have been working on something we are not ready to show. Why did we blow up the design? The design was evolutionary. It was EverQuest III. It was something that was slightly better that what had come before it. It was slightly better. What we are building is something that we will be very proud to call EverQuest. It will be the largest sandbox style MMO ever designed. The same exciting content delivered in a new way. Something you’ve never seen before. The MMO world has never seen before. We didn’t want more Kill 10 Rats quests. We didn’t want more of the same. If you look at the MMOs out there, they’re delivering the same content over and over again. So are we. We need to change that. When we released EverQuest, we changed the world. We want to do that again with a different type of game.

What I will commit to is, at the next Fan Faire, not only will you get to see it but you will get to touch it. Most of the EverQuest Next devs are in this room. If you get them drunk enough they might tell you. They’re led by Dave Georgeson. Terry Michaels. Vets from EverQuest and EverQuest 2. We are remaking Norrath unlike anything you’ve ever seen, but you’ll recognize it. I’m sorry we don’t have anything to show for it, but I wanted to be honest with you and tell you a little bit about it. Keep the faith.”

Finally, the game was officially shown in August 2013 during SOE Live. For the occasion, Engadget wrote an article explaining several new features:

EverQuest Next is set in the realm of Norrath, but this is a rebooted version of those lands. Veteran players will find familiar places and names in the lore and setting, but they won’t have a monopoly on the knowledge of this world; players new to the franchise can be equally comfortable because everyone is discovering this new world at the same time.

There are two main aspects of this world that really take things to a new level in gaming, and both involve composition, just in different ways.

First, everything in EverQuest Next is made of voxels,  it means everything in the world can be destroyed! If you wanted a way to affect the world, just envision actually blowing up a bridge to keep mobs from getting to you or collapsing a tunnel so no one else happening by for a while can find the cavern and quests underneath. Although these changes aren’t totally permanent, they will be around for a while; after a time the world itself will respawn, thereby preventing players from completely destroying the world — and therefore the game — forever.

Of course, just because everything can be destroyed doesn’t mean the devs will let you! As Georgeson explained to me, if some areas weren’t restricted, Qeynos would become a parking lot in no time. Keep in mind, though, such restrictions are only on players, not mobs.

The second compositional aspect is the fact that the world of EQ Next is not restricted to its surface. I am not talking about a few scattered underground caverns, either; I am talking about a completely designed world from crust to core. Since you can start digging pretty much anywhere, you will actually find content as you go deeper and deeper and deeper still. This layered content isn’t necessarily static, either. Lower levels are procedurally generated and can be closed off by dev-induced earthquakes or crop up elsewhere.

While players will still come across typical MMO tasks to complete, the whole process will be more organic. If you see a need, you fill a need. There are no glowy icons floating overhead.

Consider this scenario: You come upon a band of orcs attacking a small settlement. You can continue on your merry way, or you can jump in and aid one side. But which one? Do you protect the humans, or do you assist the orcs? Helping the humans can open up opportunities for you to work with them in the future because they will remember your deeds and react accordingly. On the other hand, helping the orcs can be advantageous as well; it might just be that they offer you training in a class you couldn’t access otherwise.

Next up is the big world-wide public quest. Dubbed Rallying Calls, these public quests are a bit different from what you are used to. For one, they aren’t quick. These quests will develop over a few months’ time. And again, choices matter here; what players do during that time will affect what happens at the next stage. Let me illustrate: A Rallying Call to build Halas starts. First, you might make a little tent settlement. But what if gnolls start attacking? Do you go hunt the gnolls, build up a wall for protection, or pick a new spot? Every action will have consequences, even if not immediate. This whole thing will develop based on what players do. When one Rallying Call finally concludes, another will roll out. Once one is done, it won’t start up again with the next batch of players. In other words, when Halas is built, it stays permanently built.

NPCs will retain memories about your choices and will react accordingly as the game goes on. Think of the orc scenario above: The orcs may become your allies, but townsfolks and guards sure won’t be liking you very much, so chances are you will not be privy to quests they could have offered.

The mobs will also be more intelligent in EverQuest Next. The AI will be programmed with a set of likes and dislikes, so NPCs and mobs will move around and live in the world according to that set of ideas. You won’t find a static spawn in the same place indefinitely. Those orcs from earlier? They like to live along quiet roads, not near guarded cities. They also don’t like being beaten to a pulp by adventurers. So if a city starts encroaching on their habitat or adventurers keep handing their butts to them, the orcs are going to literally pick up stakes and move to a more hospitable environment.

As you can see, the world is not going to be the same over time; it’s going to evolve. If you leave the game and come back later, things aren’t going to be just how you left them. Your choices combined with the evolving world mean that you will have a personally unique experience in the game. And not only that, but because conditions and choices cannot be mimicked, even your own alts will have a unique experience!

Combat will consist of four skills and four weapon moves at a time. The weapon moves depend on what weapon you have equipped, and what skills you have at your disposal depends on what classes you have discovered and learned. That’s classes plural: You can multi-class indefinitely. And you get to mix and match the skills from the various classes to make a build you like.

There are also no levels or in this game, although your character does still progress. And in a really neat twist, all players can play together regardless of how long they have been in the game, even if one friend is a three-year veteran and the other is brand-new. Instead of mentoring or sidekicking, the older player can just choose to work on a set of skills that s/he hasn’t developed yet.

As for movement in the game — do you like Parkour? If so, then you are in luck! Avatars no longer have just three movements of walk, run, or awkward jump; now they can move along the terrain in a more natural way.

Many other details can be read here.

On the left: In 2011, EverQuest III art direction was more realistic. On the right: In 2013, EverQuest Next art direction took a more cartoony approach.

Alongside this title, Sony Online Entertainment also announced the development of Landmark, formerly EverQuest Next Landmark, a content creation tool using the same Voxel-based technology as EverQuest Next. Over time, Landmark would have had features similar to those of EverQuest Next, in particular a Player Versus Player mode:

What will be the differences between Landmark and EverQuest Next, will you tell me? Dave Georgeson replies:

“EverQuest Next focuses more on the story and the various narrative axes. Instead, Landmark emphasizes exploration, creativity and sharing. But in the end, many of the features of EverQuest Next will be present in Landmark.”

EverQuest Landmark will offer an experience worthy of a complete MMO. According to the same man, a PvP mode will be added.

After its big announcement, EverQuest Next became more discreet over the months. New details regarding some playable classes were shared during SOE Live 2014, but it was mostly Landmark that was highlighted during this time.

The year 2015 was a turning point for Sony Online Entertainment: in February, the studio was acquired from Sony by Columbus Nova and rebranded as Daybreak Game Company. Shortly after, several employees and managers were fired, in an attempt to make the company more profitable, among them was project manager David Georgeson:

Last week, Sony and investment firm Columbus Nova announced that Sony Online Entertainment had been sold. The studio has been renamed. Now it seems, staffing changes are underway that reported see significant departure of talent.

Michele Cagle, senior director of global communications at Daybreak, confirmed the staffing changes in an email to us. “As part of a strategic decision to rationalize the business, Daybreak Game Company announced today that it will eliminate positions in both its San Diego and Austin studios,” she says. “This alignment of resources better positions the newly independent studio for future growth opportunities and developments, including delivering on its legacy of making top online games and establishing a solid foundation for future multi-platform success. These reductions will not affect the operation of current games and the company will continue on its mission to partner with its player community to drive the future and push the boundaries of online gaming.”

Dave Georgeson, who has led the EverQuest franchise for over five years, has confirmed he is no longer with the company. In a response to an inquiry, he also confirms that his departure was unplanned.

In June, the team behind Landmark at Daybreak Game Company shifted its focus on the development of EverQuest Next, and the following month, John Smedley stepped down as CEO, and was replaced by Russell Shanks.

During this long period, no mention was made of EverQuest Next, and it was not until March 2016 that the game was officially canceled as we can read on The Verge:

Games studio Daybreak Game Company has canceled EverQuest Next, an upcoming free-to-play MMO that was supposed to be a successor to numerous EverQuest titles. In a statement posted on the studio’s website, Daybreak Game Company’s president, Russell Shanks, said the title just simply didn’t live up the franchise’s standards.

“As we put together the pieces, we found that it wasn’t fun,” writes Shanks. “In final review, we had to face the fact that EverQuest Next would not meet the expectations we — and all of you — have for the worlds of Norrath.”

Three months after the cancellation of the game, Landmark was officially launched from Early Access. The servers were shutdown in February 2017, less than a year after its launch. To date, the EverQuest franchise has never returned to the limelight, although EverQuest II is still supported 18 years after its release, as its last expansion was released in November 2022.

Some explanations behind concept arts were taken from Giantbomb.

Videos:

EverQuest III images:

EverQuest Next images

TimeShift/Chronos [Beta – Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2, PC]

TimeShift is a futuristic First-Person Shooter released in 2007 for the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, developed by Saber Interactive and first published by Atari, then, by Sierra Entertainment.

TimeShift‘s plot revolves around a secret program aimed at designing two time shifting suits. One is stolen by the doctor Aiden Krone, the main villain, and you, wearing the other, must go find it. Following him backward through time to 1939, player discovers a dystopian sci-fi alternative past with Krone as the supreme ruler.

Its key feature is the player’s ability to control time: slowing, stopping and rewinding it. This allows many possibilities during gunfight as well as solving specific puzzles.

The game’s development was pretty messy. It was first revealed in February 2004 under the title of Chronos, and was planned for the PC, Xbox and Playstation 2, using the in-house engine of Saber Interactive, the Saber3D Engine. As we can see on the screenshots for this version, it was using the same HUD as previous Saber’s game: Will Rock. Here is what we could read on French website Jeuxactu:

Known for having developed Will Rock, Saber Interactive is currently working on a new project called Chronos. This will be an FPS based on the same engine as Will Rock’s (which is also a homemade engine). If we don’t know anything at the moment about the scenario and the gameplay of the game, Saber Interactive has nevertheless shared some images on their official site. Planned on PC, Xbox and PS2, Chronos should probably be released later this year in the United States, as soon as a publisher is found.

The project resurfaced in October of the same year when HomelanFed announced that Atari was going to be the publisher:

A check of Atari’s official web site reveals some titles of games that have not yet been officially announced. The PC section shows a listing for Civilization IV, which is most likely the next game in the long running and popular strategy game series. Other unannounced games listed include three identified as “action” titles with the names Chronos (PC-Xbox), Enemy In Sight (PC-Xbox) and Rat Race (PC). Besides the titles and the game platforms there is no other info available on these games.

In January 2005, Atari renamed Chronos as TimeShift and shown it to Gamespot. Throughout the entire 2005 year, the project was showcased here and there at various occasions. However, in April 2006, Atari sold the game to Vivendi Universal Games, owner of the Sierra Entertainment’s brand, as we can read on Gamedeveloper:

Officials from Vivendi Universal Games have confirmed, via a pre-E3 press showing, that time-bending PC and Xbox 360 first person shooter title Timeshift will now be published by VU Games, rather than original publishers Atari. Although representatives from Atari have not commented on the change, the game was initially scheduled for a May release by the company, but no longer appears on Atari’s schedules. Vivendi officials were unable to provide further details at time of press, indicating only that the game currently does not have a scheduled release date.

The storyline alongside various characters were rewritten or removed, the only exception being the doctor Aiden Krone, formerly named Ivan. Here is what we can read about these former characters on GameGossip:

Colonel Michael Swift

Colonel Michael Swift (recently retired) has a unique combination of brains and brawn that have helped him to rapidly rise to the top ranks of the Air Force. An all-state running back in high school, Swift passed up on athletic scholarships from some of the country’s best universities to join the Air Force Academy where he majored in military strategic studies. After graduating from the Academy at age 21, Swift spent ten years as a combat and recon pilot, flying thousands of sorties. In the year 2004 during a secret mission he was shot down over hostile territory. He spent three months navigating the treacherous terrain of the enemy’s land, avoiding capture and battling the elements before successfully reaching the border of an ally. His resurfacing became the stuff of legend and the Air Force soon promoted him to the rank Colonel. He soon became a specialist in the research and development of advanced weaponry for future combat. Upon the death of his wife he retired from active duty and became a full-time father.

When a government agency initiated the testing of the Quantum Suit and the Chronomicon – a highly publicized event – they chose Swift to perform the experiment as he was the only candidate with the proper mix of DNA, brains and strength to perform he job. After initially declining the offer, the tragic death of his daughter Emma causes him to reconsider.

Professor Ivan Krone

Professor Ivan Krone was born in 1947. Krone’s father, Nicholas, was a scientist who worked in the US Patent Office in Washington DC.

In 1955 Krone’s parents were killed in an accident. With no known relatives Krone was transferred to an orphanage where he spent the rest of his youth. He became highly anti-social and isolated himself from the other children in the home. Krone escaped reality by embracing the study of science. For the next decade he devoted all of his time poring over the works of the world’s great physicists, from Newton to Einstein to Feynman to Hawking. Krone soon began to see himself as the next in line among the kings of physics.

By the age of 17 Krone was accepted into the Technology Institute where he studied for the next 10 years before receiving his doctorate in Applied Physics at the age of 27. Upon graduation he took a position in the Institute as an associate professor. He began to delve seriously into the study of time travel and time control. By the turn of the century, Krone had developed a device that he was convinced would allow for limited time control functionality. He sought out students interested in participating in an experiment to test the device. One student volunteered. The test proved disastrous – the device exploded during the experiment and the student was killed.

An investigation followed the tragedy and Krone was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide. He was sentenced to an unusually harsh prison sentence. For the next decade-and-a-half Krone’s obsession with time control grew even stronger. He feverishly devoted himself to its study during his long tenure in prison. Upon his release he had a host of ideas ripe for testing, but he couldn’t find a way to get them funded. He was rejected and shunned by the academic community and mocked for his obsession with the study of time. Krone was left to find a way to fund his studies on his own.

For the next decade Krone worked zealously. He spent days working as a janitor in a local college and nights secretly working in the school’s labs. By the turn of the century Krone had made a startling breakthrough. While he had not yet discovered a way to travel in time, he created a device that allowed for limited control of time. Word leaked to the public of this invention and the government quickly assumed control of the device in the name of the national interest. Krone was devastated. He had worked his entire life to come to this moment and now the government had usurped control over his project. The government promised him compensation and guaranteed him the right to continue to develop the project. He reluctantly agreed, all the while resentful of the government for scorning him and then assuming control over his life’s work. It was in this environment that Swift was chosen to test the Quantum Suit in November of 2007.

Jasmine Lin

Jasmine Lin is Ivan Krone’s assistant on Project TimeShift. She has a passion for what she does, and it has taken complete priority in her life – above family, a vacation, or a relationship. She is especially optimistic about Krone’s project…but she has a chip on her shoulder due to having been passed over multiple times within her career progression because of both the male-dominated nature of the military and the innate bureaucracy of the government itself. Additionally, she has been given the awkward and stressful task of gaining the commitment of the notoriously obstinate Colonel Swift, who is ironically the ONLY man found within the military (past or present) to be able to take part in the project due to his unique DNA.

General Bruce Mitchell

General Mitchell is Project TimeShift’s military overseer. While Professor Krone is the director—and the brains—behind the project, Mitchell unquestionably holds the purse strings. It is Mitchell who suggests Swift’s involvement in the Project, as his ex-superior. Enormously competent and meticulous to a fault, Mitchell cares only for the men under his command and his duty to his country.

Emma Swift

Emma is Swift’s 5 year-old daughter. She is the only family he has, and is the reason he initially turned down the chance to be involved in Project TimeShift in the first place. Her death in an accident that destroyed her school bus haunts Swift even as he agrees to take part in the Project.

Some famous actors were initially going to voice characters in the game. Revealed in July 2006 by Gamespot, Dennis Quaid was the voice of Michael Swift and Michael Ironside voiced Dr. Ivan Krone:

Today, Vivendi Games announced that Michael Ironside has joined the voice cast of TimeShift, the sci-fi shooter the publisher recently acquired from Atari. Ironside will play Doctor Krone, one of the scientists developing the time-travel technology at the center of the game’s storyline.

Joining Ironside is one of Hollywood’s more recognizable leading men. Dennis Quaid, whose 20-year career has spanned the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s, is also joining TimeShift’s cast. It will be his first game project and will see the aging heartthrob play Colonel Michael Swift (Ret.), a former test pilot who becomes the world’s first “chrononaut,” or time traveler.

Rounding out the cast is character actor Nick Chinlund, who will play General Mitchell, director of the game’s time-travel project. Though not a marquee name, Chinlund has appeared in many movies familiar to gamers, including Chronicles of Riddick and Training Day. Chinlund has had guest spots in several high-profile TV series, including The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives.

In the final game, none of the work done by these actors were retained, as characters Michael Swift and Bruce Mitchell were both entirely removed, and character Ivan Krone rewritten. Storyline was also a bit modified, but remains the same in general:

The storyline basically was as follows: Michael Swift, the protagonist, volunteers for a time-travel experiment, under the direction of scientist Dr. Ivan Krone. Swift travels back to 1911 and tampers with the past in some way. Upon returning to the present day, the entire world has changed and Krone is now an evil dictator ruling over a 1984-but-cartoony-esque United States.

Following the acquisition by Vivendi Games, TimeShift was pushed back for the end of 2007 and decision to make a complete overhaul of the project was taken. In April 2007, director of product development Kyle Peschel, explained everything that happened on Shacknews:

“So Sierra pulled me in the office last year–with seven bugs left to fix on TimeShift–and said, ‘If we gave you a year, what would you do with that?’

I said, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? I’ve got seven bugs, let’s put the fucking thing out tomorrow. I’m sick and tired of fucking crunching. I can’t handle hundred hour weeks for another year.’ And Martin Tremblay, who had recently arrived, said, ‘No, Kyle, I really believe we can do something greater than what we’re doing now. What would you do?’

“Well I said, ‘I’d scrap the physics system, get rid of this Meqon and put in Havok. I’d kill off the first four levels of the game, because we made the classic video game mistake of doing the beginning first and the end last, and the end is great and the beginning is weak. All these Full Motion Videos we paid for, I want to get rid of them. I want to get rid of the story, I want to get rid of the style guide, I want to get rid of the weapons, I want to get rid of the menus, I want to get rid of the HUD, I want to get rid of the suit. I want to get rid of the main character; people aren’t identifying with him.’ I just went down this list. I was kind of going after that list so aggressively that I was kind of hoping people would say to just release the game tomorrow, and then I could be done with it. But he goes, ‘Okay. Let’s do that.’

TimeShift has switched publishers (from Atari to Vivendi subsidiary Sierra), switched platforms (from Xbox and PC to Xbox 360, PC, and PS3), switched visual styles (from steampunk to gritty oppressive future), and switched innumerable control- and design-related decisions, but it has not switched its producer. Peschel described to me how he started on the project back at Atari, and how he managed to stick with it when it was dropped as a result of that publisher’s well-publicized tumultuous financial situation.

TimeShift was picked up almost four years ago almost as a value title,” he explained. “When it was originally picked up by Atari, I had just come off of some other first person shooters. It was kind of opportunistic–let’s take a chance on these guys in Russia. So I sat down and started looking at the game said, ‘You know, I think we could really do something with this,’ provided we really built the mechanics and made it not gimmicky, focused on an interesting art style like steampunk–set it apart from the myriad of things. So we started rolling with it, and got about done with the Xbox [version], and I sat down with [then Atari CEO] Bruno Bonnell and all the execs at Atari, and they said, ‘So, Kyle, can you make this game for 360?’ I’m like, ‘What, am I a fucking genie now?’ They say, ‘No, seriously, it’s for 360 now.’

“I say, ‘Okay, I’m sure we can get that out.'”

That was to be the first time the game would undergo large-scale redevelopment. Soon, however, Atari’s funding started to dwindle in the face of falling revenues, and in January 2006 the team was pressured to get a demo released quickly. Internet response illuminated some of the game’s major issues, some of which were a result of the game being quickly ported up to target then-current hardware, and some of which went as deep as the game’s perhaps poorly planned visual style.

“When you get something in that many hands, you listen to the feedback. I’m making games for guys like me, not for corporate America. I mean, I work for corporate America–I don’t want to sell it like I’m the fuckin’ hero of gamers everywhere–but I’m cognizant of what people are saying. I was on Shack reading the comments and, reading between the lines, people were saying basically, ‘I really like some of what they’re doing, but this steampunk shit is ass. Look at this fucking knuckleduster thing, what the fuck is that? It’s all confused.'”

Soon after, Atari announced that it would be shedding much of its development to help reduce expenditures. TimeShift was put up on the auction block, and Peschel quit his job to go work for Vivendi’s Sierra Entertainment label. “Within a day,” he recalls, he was approached by management with the possibility of Vivendi acquiring TimeShift from Atari and reassigning him to the project. At the time, Peschel was working under industry veteran Drew Markham, who founded Gray Matter Studios, designed Xatrix’s Kingpin: Life of Crime, and produced Gray Matter’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Markham saw, as Peschel had when the game was first signed by Atari, that TimeShift had more potential than it was demonstrating, so Peschel went back and started rethinking major aspects of the game.

“I changed the storyline up at the last minute, and that’s when we brought in [voice actors] Dennis Quaid and Michael Ironside and all those guys,” he recounted. “A funny thing happens when you rewrite the story: you pay attention to everything. I was thinking, ‘Fuck, X isn’t working, Y isn’t working, I wish I could do this.'”

That was when, at seven bugs away from completion, Peschel was called into Sierra’s offices and was told that he had another year. The original steampunk theme was dropped and replaced by a grittier, darker, more desolate future. The main character was redesigned from a muscle-bound action hero to a more faceless protagonist in a full body suit, into which Peschel hopes players will project themselves.

It must be stated that TimeShift’s visuals have come a long, long way since the game was shown in demo form last year. Since that point, it went through an overhaul to bring it up to speed for Xbox 360, but Peschel noted that even then the game had a great deal of legacy geometry and textures, and did not feel up to par with modern shooters. It was not until development was revamped again and the entire visual style scrapped that the game began to look truly new.

After its release, TimeShift has received mixed to positive reviews by the press. In December 2017, VentureBeat revealed during an interview of Matthew Karch, Saber’s CEO, that a spiritual sequel called Timebender was in development:

As Saber continues to work on Quake Champions, it’s also working on other projects, most notably a follow up to its 2007 time-manipulation shooter: TimeShift. Saber hasn’t officially announced it yet, but it’s in development. It’s something of a passion project for the studio. (…) Of course, it can’t be called TimeShift 2, since Activision still owns the rights, so instead it’s a spiritual successor. It will be a new story with a new name, but the most important elements, like the time manipulation, will be returning. (…) As for the new name, nothing is set in stone, but Karch has already registered ‘Timebender’.

According to some information made available from the e-book Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology: 14th International Conference, Timebender was going to be multiplayer only. However, according to this site, it seems that the project could have been dropped as the use of the Timebender trademark entered in the status “abandonned” in November 2018.

As noted by Liqmatrix the Atari PC seven level single player beta is available at this link: https://archive.org/details/TimeShiftAtariDemosDJXavieRO

Thanks to John Paul, Liqmatrix and Gerror for the contribution!

Chronos images:

TimeShift Atari’s version Images:

Gameplay videos from the 2006 demo:

Michael Ironside’s interview:

Nick Chinlund’s interview:

 

Failsafe (Game Over LLC) [PC, PS4, Xbox One – Cancelled]

Failsafe is a canceled parkour adventure game developed from 2014 to 2016 by Game Over LLC, planned to be released on PC first, then could also have been released on Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Failsafe followed Isra and XJ, her robot companion, as she accompanied her uncle on a journey outside of their village set on a wasteland of a planet.

The game was first mentionned in December 2014 on the official Twitter account of its developer as Project Johannesburg, before an early build was shown at the Penny Arcade Expo East in March 2015. Two months later, Polygon interviewed Daniel Lisi, managing director of Game Over LLC:

Failsafe is a first-person adventure puzzle game starring a young girl named Isra (voiced by Ashly Burch) and her robot companion (voiced by Dante Basco). The game, which poet Beau Sia and former Gearbox writer Anthony Burch are penning together, takes place in the distant future, where Isra is charged with completing a sacred ritual. Much of the game’s narrative will be driven by the development between Basco and Burch’s characters, Lisi said.

During the brief interview with Polygon, Lisi and creative director Seiji Tanaka — who previously worked on thatgamecompany‘s Journey — said that the game is intended to be simple, but also emotionally complex. Although Anthony Burch’s work has primarily been more comedy focused, as in Borderlands 2, Lisi said Failsafe will explore something more serious in terms of its tone. Isra and the Bot find themselves trapped within an ancient underground facility. Although the two are natural enemies, they must learn to overcome their differences and work together.

“As they travel through this treacherous environment together, they realize that the roles they’ve been given are not really how they want to be toward each other,” Lisi said.

Tanaka said that much of Failsafe’s gameplay will revolve around mastering and combining the capabilities of the girl and her robot. He compares it to games like Ico and The Talos Principle, with a bit of Portal and Mirror’s Edge mixed in.

“It’s really about understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each character,” Tanaka said. “Isra is a very capable acrobat. She can run really fast, jump really high and climb onto ledges very quickly, but she just doesn’t have the understanding of the environment she’s in, where the robot is very capable as an interfacing to the world around him.

“But it’s kind impeded by a lot of physical obstacles that he just can’t get across because of his physicality. It’s about understanding how these two can interact to enable each as a unit.”

Failsafe is currently being developed for PC platforms and “possibly PlayStation 4,” Lisi said. The studio expects to release it in summer 2016.

In November 2015, the project was launched on Kickstarter. Here was what we could read: 

They Hunger: Lost Souls [PC – Cancelled]

They Hunger: Lost Souls is a canceled horror First-Person Shooter developed by Black Widow Games, exclusively for PC, from 2004 to 2008. It is a successor of They Hunger, a mod based on Half-Life.

They Hunger: Lost Souls was officially revealed in October 2005 by its developer:

Black Widow Games announced today the development of They Hunger: Lost Souls, its first commercial PC game powered by the award-winning Half-Life 2 Source engine from Valve Software. Based upon the highly popular They Hunger mod series, the upcoming title features a completely new horror-survival adventure. In North-Eastern Europe during the early 1960’s, strange anomalies culminate with dead corpses rising from their graves. As a tourist recovering from a tragic accident, you seek shelter in an ancient monastery overrun by bloodthirsty zombies, and become involved in an escalading cascade of calamities.

“They Hunger: Lost Souls is a first-person action game planned to take full advantage of the superior graphics, physics and new gameplay possibilities provided by the new Source technology,” said designer Neil Manke. “Without the previous technical restrictions of the now seven years old Half-Life 1 engine, we have been able to produce a brand new game far more exciting and creative than any simple sequel or remake could ever be. Fans of the original series should still recognize the basic gameplay style, although this is an independent story with no previous knowledge required.”

The new game is currently 75% complete after being secretly produced for almost a year, and a release date will be announced shortly. Regarding the adoption of a commercial model for this production, Neil explained “Next generation game engines are so complex and detailed that we would never be able to invest so much time and resources for such an ambitious project any other way. Right now we are still working out the pricing and distribution options, but our goal is a low cost alternative so it can be available for just a fraction of other commercial games.”

In the same month, Neil Manke, alongside Einar Saukas, were interviewed by Gamecloud:

Gamecloud – Why did you wish to use the Source engine from Half-Life 2 as the basis for your first game?

Neil Manke – Source is the only brush-based modern 3D game engine. In practice, it means a level designer can create interesting environments using mostly brushes, and later add special models to improve specific details. Working with brushes gives me much more flexibility and opportunity to improvise with my creativity. In comparison, most other state-of-the-art engines depend upon the rather slow and involved process of developing very specific models for every stage of architecture.

Gamecloud – What can you tell us about the back story for They Hunger: Lost Souls and how it relates to the previous They Hunger games?

Neil Manke – In the story, you are a tourist visiting North-Eastern Europe during the early 1960’s. After a dramatic, blood-curdling accident, you find yourself wandering alone in the wilderness and seek shelter in an ancient monastery. However, you soon realize things in this place of “sanctuary” are not what they should be. You then become involved in a desperate series of bone-chilling struggles to preserve your own life, and escape from this nightmarish experience.

Gamecloud – Where will the new game take place and what will the levels be like?

Neil Manke – Some of those locations have already been partially revealed in our first promotional images. Settings include: a huge ancient monastery complex comprised of many varied buildings, some clinging precariously to seaside cliffs, a zombie-infested salvage operation, an isolated farming settlement, wilderness areas with meandering river beds, lakes and waterfalls, fog shrouded swamps, and others. And there is still more to come.

Gamecloud – What new weapons can we expect to see in They Hunger: Lost Souls?

Einar Saukas – The weapons are similar to those in classic They Hunger, in the sense that they are a selection of era-relevant weapons, explosives and incendiaries. With the addition of a unique and innovative new weapon, the likes of which I can’t reveal to you, otherwise we will have to eliminate you and end this interview!

Gamecloud – What other new gameplay features will They Hunger: Lost Souls have?

Einar Saukas – There are many new gameplay features but obviously we can’t reveal much about them. For now I can only give you one example: One of the favorite features from the classic series was driving an old steam locomotive and flattening zombies with it. However, smarter zombies refuse to be such sitting ducks, so instead we decided to take advantage of realistic vehicle physics (provided by the Source engine) and give you a powerful tractor, that you can drive freely to chase the zombies down before running over them.

Gamecloud – Will this new game be episodic in nature like the previous They Hunger games?

Neil Manke – It is actually a fully independent game. However, we do have it planned as being the first game in a series. We already have a basic story outline for the sequels depending upon the reception of the first. Each game in the series is a complete story within itself, and each with an exciting and satisfying ending.

The game went into alpha in April 2006:

They Hunger: Lost Souls has now entered alpha stage. All level development is finished and refined. We are now focusing on final resources and content, which basically means integrating scripting, dialogues, additional models and animations.

However, in the following months, updates by Black Widow Games were pretty scarces. In October 2006, Saukas shared a little update about the development and told that various game models and animations were redesigned:

The game is now very close to release. From our previous screenshots, you can see the biggest issue we had was the lack of proper zombies. We were using “placeholder” models as temporary replacements for zombies during most of the development process, so we could continue working on other areas while we didn’t have enough people to model and animate new zombies. But in the last few months we were able to focus on the game pending issues, especially additional models and animations.

Our work is concentrated now on game improvements overall. There isn’t much left to do, but the game still needs lots of small details and tweaks that are very time consuming. We understand our fans are anxious to play it, but after about 2 years of development, it doesn’t make sense to rush its release now and sacrifice quality, when the game is so close to be finished. We still don’t have an official release date, but we can say it will be “very soon”.

In April 2007, an interview from Planet Half-Life clarified things a bit more:

Planet Half-Life: Ok, then … so what’s really going on?

Black Widow Games: Although we have never announced an official release date for They Hunger: Lost Souls (TH:LS), the truth is that our internal schedule had originally planned its release for end of 2006, but then we decided to delay it to implement further improvements.

It’s important to understand there’s a key difference between the original They Hunger, produced as a mod, and this new commercial game. A successful mod needs to be imaginative, very entertaining and have a good quality overall, but nobody expects a free mod to be flawless. In comparison, when someone buys a commercial game, the expectations are much higher. Players demand it to be polished in nearly every detail, and game developers have an obligation to provide this since they are getting paid to do so.

Planet Half-Life: The gaming landscape has changed, as it usually does, quite considerably in the time since we last spoke. Being big fans ourselves of zombie-themed games, our ears naturally pricked up when late last year Turtle Rock Studios announced the development of their new game, Left 4 Dead. Do you feel that you will be in direct competition with them, and what do you feel will set your game apart from theirs?

Black Widow Games: We are actually glad to have Left 4 Dead arriving around the same time as Lost Souls, because these two major titles based on the same zombie survival theme will probably attract much more attention together than each individual release.

As a matter of fact, the zombie genre is about all these titles have in common. L4D is a fast paced, adrenaline driven, pure action game focused on cooperation, where players have to always stick together to protect each other. If a player runs low on ammo, gets lost from his friends and surrounded by zombies, it’s game over for him… but that’s when Lost Souls begins.

Just like the original They Hunger series, Lost Souls is a horror game, where the player is expected to feel lonely, defenseless, and completely surrounded by zombies. Of course there’s also plenty of zombie killing as the player gradually finds out how to defend himself, but this is just part of the gameplay along with exploration, puzzle solving and story telling.

With L4D and Lost Souls based on opposite premises, there’s no possible comparison between these titles.

Planet Half-Life: Do you expect Lost Souls series to have more than three installments, or will this be a trilogy?

Black Widow Games: Lost Souls is the first chronicle and it’s composed of two episodes. The initial episode works as a “prelude” to the entire series, introducing all the story elements, a wide range of weapons, some of the key characters and all kinds of zombies. It has the player looking for shelter at an ancient monastery, where he can gradually learn basic zombie survival principles and the subtle art of killing the dead, all the while discovering some of the mystery about their origins. The following episode will introduce less conventional weapons and focus on exploring the surrounding areas, as well as revisiting the monastery.

The prelude episode will be released this year, and the next one just a few months later. In fact, we have already produced most of the second episode, but since there was too much content to be beta-tested and improved, we decided to focus our efforts to finish the initial episode earlier and release it in advance, instead of holding the game release until the entire chronicle was ready.

After that, unfortunately, everything went silent for Black Widow Games and They Hunger: Lost Souls. The game was mentionned on two issues from PC Gamer, the first one in August 2007, and the second one, a two pages preview, in March 2008. This was the latest news regarding the game before totally vanishing for an entire decade.

The rest of the story is a little weirder. In January 2015, a thread dedicated to the game on the Mapcore forum revealed some messages from one of the ex-developers, Teddy Bergsman Lind, on the project:

I was part of the team for a few years up until 2007/2008. At that time the game was about 60% finished, with 5-6 segments more or less done (the levels were huge). It should be stated Neil truly did a great job on the levels. I should still have the game anno 2008 on an old computer in a storage somewhere.

Everyone on the team, Neil and Einar included, pitched in in their spare time, and given the AAA scope of the project it was likely tricky business to sustain. Einar used to dream about starting up an actual dev studio to produce the game, and should there have been financial means I think it would have happened. Had Kickstarter been a thing back then, who knows. Our conversations eventually faded sometime in 2009; at that time to my knowledge the project was still alive, but I doubt it still is, at least as a commercial product.

I spoke with Einar for a while last night; he and Neil lost contact with each other years ago and have not been able to get back in touch since. There were some speculation Neil has been in bad health for a while. However, a few months ago Neil tried contacting Einar again. They weren’t able to get back in touch afterwards, so that’s the latest info there is. As far as project status goes though, it’s not cancelled. I think both of them are keen on getting back on track even after all these years.

In May 2019, builds coming from alpha and beta versions were leaked on ModDB.

To date, nothing has ever really been revealed about what happened during the development of They Hunger: Lost Souls. Through the various developer interviews, we can understand that Black Widow Games wanted to be perfect in the design of its first commercial game. Were the rumors that circulated about Neil Manke’s health true? Out of respect for Neil, Einar, and the rest of the Black Widow Games team, it’s perhaps best not wanting to know about it, and be grateful to have gotten, years later, the playable builds of They Hunger: Lost Souls, in order to appreciate their work.

Videos:

Full playthrough of the 2006 alpha:

Full Playthrough of the 2008 alpha:

Images before the redesign:

Images after the redesign