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Black Death (Darkworks) [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Black Death is a cancelled FPS / Survival Horror game somehow similar to Condemned and Dead Island, in development by Darkworks around 2011. Darkworks was an independent French studio not widely known by the average gamer, but they released a couple of fan favorite games as Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (Playstation, Dreamcast and PC) and Cold Fear (PS2, PC and Xbox). Black Death was announced in June 2011, as the team tried to get attention from publishers to find money and resources to fully develop their idea. This was the last project they tried to pitch before closing down after a series of unfortunate failed projects, such as their Onechanbara reboot, State of Crisis and The Deep.

After Ubisoft took away I Am Alive from Darkworks in 2008 to complete it under Ubisoft Shanghai, the team worked on many different prototypes. We can assume at the time the team tough that shooters were the most marketable genre to be greenlighted by publishers, so they conceived a few ones (such as Black Death) with interesting / original features.

Some more details about Black Death were published in the (now removed) official website:

What is Black Death? Black Death is a new survival horror from Darkworks. Black Death is the personification of the fear generated by the recent pandemics and the mistrust which has been associated to their supposed origins (natural apocalypse, scientific, industrial, or military ones… or else… ).  Our goal with Black Death is to go one step further by focusing the game on three essential elements: speed, fluidity and freedom of action, to offer the player a sensation of freedom and the possibility to create his own arsenal.

Pitch: Today, The  American North East coast, a city is suddenly hit by a massive cloud of smoke. Mysterious swirls of this black smoke appear and infect everybody. This new disease is spreading all over the city making it a place full of sick people sunk into a comatose state. As they mutate into strange creatures with various powers and group behaviours, they start to become violent and invade the whole city. The player is a survivor who will try to stay alive and wipe out this scourge from the city.

Gameplay Experience: THE FOG PLAYS WITH YOU, PLAY WITH THE FOG
Survive in the fog
Be Creative: Create your own chemical weapons and test them on your enemies
Cure or kill infected you meet and choose your fighting strategy
Spectacular: Have fun discovering a unique bestiary, and experiment with multiple weapons and devices
Fight: Fast action, it’s difficult to kill, you must finish on contact
Control the fog
Discover the black death evolution

A playable demo / prototype for Black Death was also released in July 2011, but it failed to gain much interest from gamers and publishers. With no more money to keep working on their projects, in October 2011 the studio was placed into Compulsory liquidation and was closed. In about 15 years of activity, Darkworks were able to successfully complete and release only 2 games, while all their other projects were either cancelled or moved to different developers. There are already a good number of interesting lost Darkworks games in the Unseen64 archive, but many more still remain unseen and even if we tried multiple times to get in contact with people that worked at the studio, it seems almost impossible to know more about what happened to them or to their cancelled games.

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Star Trek: Voyager (Looking Glass) [PC – Cancelled]

Star Trek: Voyager is a cancelled PC point and click adventure game that was in development by Looking Glass Studios, directed by Ken Levine and was to be published by Viacom New Media. It was in development between 1995 and 1997. It was to be based on the then currently airing Star Trek: Voyager television series, the fourth iteration in the overall Star Trek television franchise. The game was to follow the bridge crew of the USS Voyager as they attempted to rescue members captured by the Kazon, a villain race featured within the series.

Not much more is known about the plot or the overall game itself, as the game was not revealed to the wider public in any significant fashion, outside a brief showing at E3 1996, and was quietly cancelled before any significant information was revealed on the plot or gameplay. It is known the game would be split between “episodes” mimicking the format of the actual TV series. One of the producers of the game, Alan Dickens said,

“We want to make it a lot like you’re watching the TV and yelling at the characters. You’re giving them, as a team, guidance and direction on where they should go and how they should address the various problems that come before them”.

Star Trek: Voyager would have featured interactions with the environment involving typical Star Trek staples such as tricorders, allowing you to scan and take items in a typical point and click adventure fashion. The game was also to feature 3D laser scans of the actors heads, to make the game mimic and feel like the television series as much as possible. Other than that, information on the game is practically non existent, so the game remains a mystery. Screenshots from the game were leaked online a few years ago.

The game was to the first game released in a multi-title agreement between Viacom and Looking Glass, even resulting in Viacom buying a minority stake in Looking Glass. The deal fell through after Viacom decided to exit the video game industry in 1997, leading to the cancellation of the game. This abrupt cancellation led Ken Levine and others to form Irrational Games, out of frustration with Looking Glasse’s handling of the cancellation. According to Ken Levine, the technical limitations in allowing characters to express emotion especially frustrated him, and this impacted his future writing of games such as Bioshock: Infinite, making this cancelled Star Trek game a pretty influential cancelled game.

Article by Let’s Have A Discussion

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Energy (Zeus Software) [PC – Cancelled]

Energy is a cancelled open world adventure game in development by spanish studios Zeus Software between 1995 and 1997, with funds and help from Dinamic Multimedia. While the Tomb Raider craze started in 1996 when the first game was released, Energy’s main female protagonist was already conceived before it and the project was intended to be much more ambitious than Core Design’s popular action adventure.

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While today not many people remember the existence of this lost project, at the time Zeus’s game was announced with high expectations on a few spanish gaming magazines such as Micromania. Zeus Software was known in the spanish market for their 2D PC / Arcade games, titles such as Biomechanical Toy (1995), Risky Woods (1992) and Bestial Warrior (1898). Energy would have been their first 3D project and if only completed if could also have been their first international success.

The team planned a huge open world spread out into many different areas, in which players could freely move around using different vehicles, such as boats, motorcycles and even horses. Players would have been able to talk with dozens of NPCs, to learn more about the game’s story and probably to help them in different ways. Imagine Energy’s gameplay as some kind of Tomb Raider mixed with a smaller-scale The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Enemies’ AI would also been especially advanced for its time, Zeus really wanted this to be a high-profile game, to show their talent to the world.

The game had a dark-fantasy setting, with an obscure enemy menacing to destroy the whole world. Yoell, an evil monster from another dimension, invaded the game’s world with its demonic powers, transforming humans into monsters slaves. The last hope for humanity is Yiria, a rebel who escaped from Yoell’s attack and now plan to vindicate her friends. She’ll have to find a magical portal, which could connect to different worlds and be the key to defeat Yoell.

Unfortunately after more than 2 years of development, Dinamic Multimedia fell into economic problems and they had to cut funding. With no more money to keep working on Energy, Zeus had to cancel the project and close down the whole studio. If you know spanish, you can learn more in the scans preserved in the gallery below.

  

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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