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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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Hasbro Toaster VR [Cancelled 1992 Virtual Reality Console]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Celine for the contribution!

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