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Captives (Impressions, Sierra) [PC – Cancelled]

Captives is a cancelled real-time strategy / puzzle / adventure game, with an interesting gameplay somehow similar to a mix between Lemmings, Choplifter, Lost Vikings and Blast Corps. The game was in development by Impressions Games (mostly known for such games as Caesar, Global Domination, Pharaoh) around 1996 – 1997, to be published on PC by Sierra Entertainment.

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Next Generation magazine wrote a nice preview of the game in their May 1997 issue, but even if Impressions and Sierra are still quite loved by PC gamers, today Captives is mostly forgotten by everyone. Only a few pages about the game can still be found online in some old websites and Sierra fansites.

“It could be argued that the action/puzzle genre, which took off with the publication of Lemmings in the early ’90s, has languished since the advent of real- time strategy games like Warcraft II and Command & Conquer. Now developer Impressions is trying to remedy that with Captives, a new spin on the formula. The game takes place in a far-off planetary colony, under attack by some decidedly unfriendly aliens, who have taken numerous hostages.

The player takes the role of Dak Ransome, a professional hostage rescuer, who enters the domed city in his combination rescue wagon and tank. Gameplay resembles a  combination of elements from Lemmings and the classic Apple II game Choplifter.

The main idea is to locate a group of hostages, free them using the firepower of the tank, and then use the skills of the rescued captives to open up new areas and free additional prisoners. The four types of captives are civilians, engineers, scientists, and soldiers; only a limited number of each can be found in each of the game’s 25 to 30 levels. The developers are quick to point out, however, that like in Lemmings, many levels will have multiple solutions.

The most noticeable break from the tried and true is the use of a three-quarter, isometric perspective, as opposed to the side-scrolling, 2D which has been the norm, even for such recent action/puzzle releases as Lost Vikings II. While not yet fully 3D, the perspective still manages to open up the playfield considerably, giving a sense of scale and size often missing from the more simplified graphics of a Lemmings or Humans.

Overall, the game should  combine a fast pace with humor and an easy-to-use interface. Multiplayer support is planned, and a level editor should be released sometime shortly after the game itself hits the shelves. With its high-res graphics and new approach, Captives could fill a niche the computer game industry hasn’t really seen in a while.”

It sounds like this could have became a fun and fascinating cult-classic, but unfortunately something went wrong during development: Captives was never released. By looking at the screenshots and short trailer available, it looks like the game was quite far in development: maybe one day someone could find a playable beta to share it to the world? It would be great to preserve this lost piece of PC gaming history.

Thanks to Moritz for the contribution!

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Nirvana [PC – Cancelled]

Nirvana is a cancelled open world RPG that was in development for PC by Team Nirvana around 2004. At the time it was a fascinating project inspired by beloved CRPGs such as Fallout, but it was probably too ambitious for such a small team, composed of young developers from Germany. Today Nirvana is forgotten by most people, but we can still find details about the team’s ambitious on their old website (translated from German):

In Nirvana, our earth is almost completely destroyed after the third world war. Nuclear bombs changed the world surface, orbital neutron weapons depopulated most cities. In this radioactive contaminated wasteland, various mutations developed. An artificial intelligence created from military research now controls parts of America and Europe. Descendants of the few survivors became nomad tribes, violent gangs, extremist religious communities, anarchists and merchant clans. 

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Player will have to survive in this bizarre ruined world. Their decisions will change the course of the game. Nirvana will be played in first-person view, thus Doom and Unreal fans can play it like a role-play shooter. If you do not like shooters and RPGs, you may prefer to play Nirvana as Tower-Defence City Simulation game. You can build your own post-nuclear settlement and protect it from enemies. Or maybe you want to play as a rich merchant? Players will be able to join existing clans in the game’s world or start their own gang.

Nirvana is a sandbox, non-linear open world game based on the observation of players and their ever-growing expectations with computer RPGs. In a game we seek freedom to do things we can’t do in our dull everyday life. There is no shortage of such games: they are a competition in which players increase their self-esteem, which is often withdrawn outside of the game world. Nirvana relies on a genre-spanning story and multiple styles of play. 

Since expectations for a game vary greatly from player to player, one could think it would not be possible to develop a game that could be loved by every kind of gamers. With linear gameplay, this is hardly feasible. Another problem of traditional games is limited number and type of possible ways to solve a specific task. In Nirvana at least 3 different ways to resolve a task will be available, as well as complete freedom to bypass the task if you don’t want to do it.

For example, a NPC asks you to get an item from a well-guarded building:

  • Player 1: (shooter player) they solve the task by using weapons and combat skills.
  • Player 2: (the strategist) they plan a different route to steal the item without being seen by enemies
  • Player 3: (the sim player) they persuade a NPC to take over the job for them or talk with enemy guards to bribe them.
  • Player 4: (the RPG player) they find the solution that best suits their character class chosen at the beginning of the game
  • Player 5: (the spontaneous guy) they may ignore this request to instead explore the rest of the game world, and maybe solve the quest later or not at all
  • Player 6: (the shortsighted guy) they just kill the client, take their money and then also infiltrate the building to keep the item.

The make-a-character and choose-your-class options will remind you of a role-playing game, while weapon and armor settings will be reminiscent of a classic shooter. For the dealer class you can unlock unique gameplay mechanics that will allow to turn the game into an economic and trading simulation. You can take your own apartment, where to keep all of your belongings weapons, items, similar to the fan-made “Morrowind” apartment mod. In cities you could enter and explore at least 50% of all the buildings, doors will not be locked or just part of the wall texture, something that often frustrate players in open world games such as GTA and Mafia. You can talk with each non-playable character and with some of them you can trade on the street without ever having to enter a shop.

Another source of information for the Nirvana project is an old interview posted in 2004 on Gamers With Jobs:

Q: How many people are actually working on the project?

Carsten Kny: The team currently consists of four permanent members and two external people providing additional support.

 Q: Have you developed games or mods before?

CK: Nirvana is the first project of this particular team, but all of us were involved in the production of games in some way before that.

Q: What kind of locations will the player be able to visit?

CK: Abandoned places such as cities that were hit by neutron bombs, radioactive wastelands, urban locations that are under the command by different gangs and deserts. Rural regions like farm lands were mostly spared the huge disasters. We’ll also have junkyards, ice deserts, mines, lost labs, bunkers, sewer systems populated by mutants. A forbidden zone – territory of the AI creatures, more or less peaceful trading routes. Nomad camps and destroyed industrial areas. And many interior locations like bars, warehouses or old subway tunnels.

Q: And in which part of the world is the game set to take place?

CK: We’ve already watched North America being destroyed in quite a number of movies, so we decided to go for Europe.

Q: Based on the initial information Nirvana appears to be a mix of FPS and action-RPG. How would you describe it and which of the games currently available or in development would you compare it to?

CK: There’s quite a number of things that inspired us. Picture a mix of Fallout and Morrowind. Of course, the battle system will be closer to what you know from FPS titles.

However, we’re also looking at things we liked in other games. The stealth-o-meter in Splinter Cell would be an example of that. It basically scans the texture shading in the nearby environment and displays it on a panel. The shadow panel is a brilliant idea – yet it doesn’t require an enormous amount of coding effort.

Often enough parts related to the gameplay devour less time than those related to the development of the plot line. We always have an eye open for stimuli like this and are curious about what Stalker and Restricted Area may offer .

Q: How are the different characters classes going to affect the gameplay?

CK:Well, there are no mages in the game, but if you’re looking for something similar you might want to be an explorer. A former mercenary is likely to have a hard time establishing a trading business. The trader again is better off avoiding fights – at least earlier in the game – in order to survive. Finding friends among those who have power will not be that easy if you happen to be an anarchist. Finding friends among rebels probably will.

There’s no static, traditional “good/evil” concept in the game. Each group has proper reasons for why they’re behaving the way they do. The choice of your character partially determines which factions you’re friends with or not. And you may change that throughout the game.

Q: It’s also been said that the player will be able to found new settlements which then could be managed by him/her. Could you elaborate on that idea?

CK: Well, Nirvana is a first-person game, so the strategical/economic part doesn’t work the way it’s traditionally being realized.

One will be able to start your own gang once you gained enough reputation among the NPCs. Enough reputation to convince at least five other persons. (Altogether your gang can have up to 15 members.) Upon having found people willing to join your side you’ll have to look for a nice spot to found a settlement. The required building land has to be purchased from one of the big clans. You’ll recognize these locations through signs stating that they’re up for sale. You should take your goals into account before buying land. Once you’ve acquired a building site, the sign will bear the logo of your gang.

If there’s enough money left then you can assign other NPCs to construct a main building. It’s the only one that has multiple purposes. It offers enough space for your character and the following five NPCs: The administrator is the person you have to talk to about constructing new buildings. He’ll also send messages informing you about important incidents when you’re not ‘at home’. The hunter can get enough food and water to support up to 10 people. The medic is in charge of the ward. And, of course, will heal the player for free. If something’s broken or not working properly it can be repaired by the engineer. The guard will help defend your place against intruders with his heavy machine gun.

The more your wealth increases through shares in mines or farms or money earned by solving quests, the more you can expand.

Other buildings that can be constructed: farm, water cleaning station, stock, storage, trading house, quarters, watchtower, MG station and barbed-wire fences or walls. And maybe a bar or labs – but we’re still debating that.

Some of them aren’t ‘universal’ and cannot be built everywhere. There’s no sense in constructing a trading house when there’s no trading route nearby. And an MG station seems pretty much useless if your settlement is located at a nice, calm and peaceful spot.

Q: And all that put into one game… well, that sounds very ambitious, doesn’t it?

CK: Yeah, I guess most people will think we’re crazy, claiming that a non-linear concept requires a lot more effort than a linear one. That’s certainly true when we’re talking about something like hypertext literature, but I think it’s different when we’re talking about game development. The more content you want to offer, the better a non-linear approach works. Morrowind, for instance, wouldn’t have worked that well as linear game and that certainly also would have resulted in a longer development time.

In an extremely linear game you’d have an individual script or parts thereof for every single NPC. In a non-linear game you only need one script that takes values such as skills and variables into account. To phrase it in a more simple way: an NPC has to find out who he/she is at first. And then he/she determines his/her attitude towards the player. The difference between or similarity between variables plays a role in the generates the behavioural patterns. That way also NPCs – and not only your character – can change while you’re playing the game.

As you can read from their own words, the team dreamed of an overly ambitious open world game that would merge many different genres, something like a mix between Fallout, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Deus Ex, GTA 3 and many other role-play sims. It’s easy to see why it was not meant to be.

We don’t know what happened to the Nirvana Team after their game was cancelled. As of today, this article on Unseen64 is one of just a couple of pages online that even remember Nirvana, such as an old article on a Poland website

Thanks to Dan for the contribution! 

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Necessary Evil (Illusions Gaming) [PC – Cancelled]

Necessary Evil is a cancelled online adventure game that was in development around 1996 – 1997 by now forgotten developers Illusions Gaming Company (Blazing Dragons, Beavis and Butt-Head Do U), planned to be published by Segasoft for PC. Illusions Gaming was a video game company founded in Sausalito (California) in the early 90s,  mostly working on point & click games based on several licensed properties.

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Necessary Evil was an ambitious project for its time: it merged point & click adventure gameplay with RPG mechanics and an online multiplayer mode for up to 2 players. One player would take the role of a vampire, while the other would be the hunter who tries to kill them. To defeat your rival you had to manipulate and talk to NPCs to put them against the other player, changing the course of the story and the in-game factions.  

Unfortunately there’s not much more information about this lost game and the only proof of its existence is some footage shown on Electric Playground TV show (Season 1, episode 8, November 1997). If you know someone who worked on Necessary Evil and may know more about it, please let us know!

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Angel quest (Virtual Studio) [PS1, PC – Cancelled]

Angel Quest is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by french company Virtual Studio (Ar’Kritz the Intruder, S.T.O.R.M.) around 1996 / 1997, to be published by GT Interactive (Driver, Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, Critical Depth) for Playstation and PC. You could freely explore a huge (for its time) 3D world by flying around with its winged protagonist, somehow similar to a 3D Kid Icarus. You would fight against enemies in real time, helping NPCs and resolving quests as in a classic Action RPG.

As far as we know GT Interactive never officially announced this project, but thanks to Stéphane de Luca who shared some images and details on his website, we can preserve the memory of this lost game: 

“This project was the first to use optical motion capture for real time animation: we pioneered this advanced technology. The heroes was an Angel living in a very large world: he could make use of his ability to fly to speed up its move towards the next location to visit. Numerous characters were also there to help him find his way, giving him potential clues through interactive dialogs. 

Angel Quest was running on PlayStation on which I programmed the engine and the game in C and assembler. All the characters were in 3D and animated through motion capture: I developed a compression tool that reduced the data stream (curve) that was moving each node of the skeleton. The word was really huge: I had to stream all blocks silently from the CD-ROM drive as the heroes was moving: it was a big challenge due to bandwidth limitation.”

In the end Angel Quest was canned for unknown reasons. Virtual Studio later worked on other cancelled action games for PS1, such as Commando and Valerian.

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Drachen Zor [PC – Cancelled]

Drachen Zor is a cancelled multiplayer arena fighting game that was in development for PC around 1997 / 1998 by 8th Wonder Games, using voxel technology to show off impressive graphics for its time: 

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“8th Wonder Games today announced the development of the V-Engine, the technology used in fantasy fighting game Drachen Zor. Drachen Zor, set for publication by Southpeak Interactive this October, is the first in a series of action games from 8th Wonder that it hopes will be based on the new technology.

The engine is a combination of proprietary in-house technologies with an open architecture for integration with other technologies. It contains multiplayer networking, high resolution 3-D character definition that doesn’t use polygons, and a voxel-based engine for landscapes. 8th Wonder says that this means more fluid and realistic worlds plus AI that adapts to players’ styles.”

As we can read in an old interview with Bob Chase (former SouthPeak Interactive’s Media Relations Specialist):

“BC: Drachen Zor is a fantasy action CD-ROM game developed by 8th Wonder Games set in the mystical world of Drakkor. Players can choose to be one of eight different characters in an epic-style tournament for control of the Dragon Gate. Drachen Zor’s proprietary V-Engine supports multi-player gaming via the Internet, LAN and modem. We expect Drachen Zor to be available October 1997.”

In our book “Video Games You Will Never Play“ (2016) we published an interview with Gabe Cinquepalmi, who worked at 8th Wonder Games on Drachen Zor. He shared some memories about their cancelled project:

“Gabe: My best memories of making of Drachen Zor were about the people. I made a lot of friends back then that I still keep in touch with today. We were all new to making PC games, and had to go through a lot of trial and error. A multiplayer voxel fighter was probably a little too ambitious for a company comprised mostly of an ex-medical CD-ROM crew and some kids fresh out of school, but we were too inexperienced to know that we were too inexperienced… and we had an irrational confidence and exuberance that would help us negate most of that. We worked on the game for two blissful years, fueled by Mountain Dew and Watchamacallits. I remember animating in 3D Studio R4 using forward kinematics, having to use dry erase markers on my monitor to keep registration points for feet. I remember the pizza guy across the street would call us “computer brains” when we came over to get a slice. I remember that we had an SGI Onyx computer for Softimage, that only one guy could use. It was the size of a small refrigerator and cost as much as a house. During production, 3D PC cards came out for a few hundred bucks that pushed polys faster, making everyone who owned one of those overpriced, oversized hulking cubes feel rather silly. I also remember getting carpal tunnel from playing too much Quake after work, and had to switch to a Wacom tablet exclusively for a few years. Random memories. Good times.

I don’t remember how we got into voxels, but we were sure that it was the silver bullet that was going to set us apart. We were going to be the first game to market with that tech. Our organic characters were leaps and bounds better looking than the industry standard box men running around. I think a Star Trek licensed game ended up coming out eventually, and then it petered out for a few years until it resurfaced as a hip new indie look.

Southpeak was a great ally at first. They treated us and the game well, and weren’t shy about digging into their bottomless coffers. We showed at E3 in Atlanta at a giant kiosk filled with actors dressed as our main characters, and then rented out Planet Hollywood for a fancy party afterwards.They got respected comic artist, Bill Sienkiewicz, to do our box cover and poster. We were riding high! Shortly after that, Southpeak suddenly pulled the plug [cue Price is Right fail sound].

At the time, Southpeak told us that they were going to move into a more kid-friendly direction, and went after licenses like Looney Tunes. Our violent fantasy fighter (with blood splats) did not fit into their plans any more, and voxels were dead now that the 3DFx card was selling like hotcakes. Our company was left in the lurch. We tried to “pivot”, as the kids say, to move the company into a different direction, but we didn’t have the notice or capital to make it. 8th Wonder was scattered to the wind. A few years later, after having worked on some great games, I can look back and see that they probably cancelled it because it just wasn’t the best game. It wasn’t our time.”

In the end Southpeak Interactive officially announced Drachen Zor’s cancellation in September 1998. As we can read on IGN:

“Southpeak Interactive has canned fantasy fighting game Drachen Zor, the company said today. “[It] just didn’t meet the high standards that we’ve established for ourselves and for our products,” said Southpeak president Armistead Sapp. He did note that Southpeak might still make a game set in the fantasy world.

“We still believe the unique characters, environments and story line at the heart of Drachen Zor create a solid foundation for a thrilling fighting game,” Sapp said.”

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