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BioTech: Liberator [Playstation, PC – Cancelled]

BioTech: Liberator is a cancelled first person action game in development around 1998 by australian studio Beam Software (AKA Infogrames / Atari Melbourne House and Krome Studios Melbourne), planned to be published on Playstation and PC. Previously the same studio developed and released KKND2: Krossfire for PC and Playstation.

BioTech: Liberator was quite original for its time, with players using morphing mechs / vehicles to resolve different missions in a strange gameplay mix between “Soviet Strike”, “Blast Corps” and Lemmings. Some details about the project can be found in an old press-release:

“You’re stuck in a steaming alien jungle with nothing but your own sweat for company. The enemy has a lock on your position and they’re rapidly closing in. Your shields are down to 14%, you’ve got just two guided missiles left in your BioTech Assault Tank, and if you stay put you’re dead meat. So, what are you going to do? Panic and start crying? Or do you get a little creative… ?

In BioTech: Liberator you take control of a single combat vehicle, but one capable of morphing into widely differing forms, providing you’re carrying the relevant Transform Pod to make the change. Each form has its own unique abilities and weapons and since you’re up against an entire planet of warmongering nasties, you’ll be needing them all if you want to get out of there in one piece.

It’s partly about blowing the enemy into gooey, bite-sized chunks, but it’s also about using the different forms of the biotech vehicle to the best effect – transformations are limited. Much as we hate to use other games as a point of reference, think Soviet StrikeTM meets Blast CorpsTM, with just a pinch of LemmingsTM. In short, a killer mix of strategic problem solving, white-knuckled action and hefty explosions!

Key Features are:

  • A wide range of unique and awesome weapons, a deadly enemy and fiendish puzzles to solve
  • Fully deformable true 3D landscape – if you don’t like the way something looks, blow it up!
  • Multiple 2 player modes. Choose from Deathmatch, Conquer and Chase variations
  • Support for force feedback devices

Some more details were found in a Russian website, featuring a few screenshots taken from an unknown magazine:

The game consists of at least 30 missions (20 standard, 5 bonus and a few secret ones), which often require not only shooting, but also finding items, saving hostages, capturing enemy bases, and much more.

BioTech: Liberator was planned to be released in 1999, but the same year the studio was sold to Infogrames. It’s possible that Infogrames decided to cancel the game to switch resources on more safe and profitable projects, as GP 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours.

If you know someone who worked on this lost game, please let us know!

Thanks to Visurox & Edward Kirk for the contribution!

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Junction Point (Looking Glass RPG) [PC – Cancelled]

Junction Point is a cancelled (initially) fantasy MMORPG / (then) sci-fi RPG that was in development by Looking Glass Studios (Austin team) in the mid ‘90s, an ambitious project conceived by Warren Spector (Wing Commander, Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Deus Ex), Steve Powers (Ultima VII, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Prey) and Allen Varney (Star Wars: Galaxies). This was their original, unfinished idea that would later led to such popular games as System Shock 2, Deus Ex and Bioshock.

Looking Glass are mostly known for their work on Ultima Underworld, System Shock and Thief: The Dark Project. Which such a high-profile portfolio of cult-classic RPGs we can only imagine what Junction Point could have been if only completed.

The game was never officially announced by Looking Glass, but we know about its existence thanks to old resumes and interviews by people who worked on it. The game was initially conceived as a fantasy MMORPG in the vein of Ultima Online, Lineage and EverQuest, but after a while the team decided to resize their ambitions and changed the project into a single-player sci-fi RPG.

The plot of this “sci-fi” version of the game would involve some kind of cult located inside an abandoned asteroid mining colony. On the old Steve Powers’ website we can read some details about one of the missions in the early Junction Point prototype:

Briefing: “We have been making incredible progress in understanding the genetic structure of the Hauranid under the direction of Dr. Lycombs, a microbiology genius. Lycombs has fallen under the influence of the Guardians of the True Path, a cult that worships the Hauranid as divine beings. The cult is located inside an abandoned asteroid mining colony, where the members have set up a hive of sorts, attempting to emulate their sacred leaders. The militant cult is led by Merril Rumby, and has a captive hauranid kept in suspended animation. He has the doctor working on a method for combining the genetic material from the hauranid with humans, to create a hybrid species that is ‘closer to God’.  We’ll pay for the following services…”

  • Primary goal: Return Dr. Lycombs to Corporation X for deprogramming.
  • Secondary goal 1: Return or destroy any research materials Lycombs has compiled.
  • Secondary goal 2: Eliminate Rumby

Problem 1: The passages throughout the colony are zero-g.

Possible solutions: Cult members use micro jets to “fly” through the complex.  The player can take the micro jets from a member and use them. He can use flight skills here.

Problem 2: Mine was plutonium-like substance. Radiation may damage health or certain technology.

Possible solutions: Care must be taken to avoid radiation areas. A radiation resistance nano helps.

Problem 3: Player wants to get rid of the colony in a spectacular way.

Possible solutions: Seismic charges, found in an old mining equipment storeroom,  can be used to blow open airlocks, clear rubble from passages, bust open the dome, or even break up the unstable asteroid if placed strategically in the tunnels throughout the mine. (an old portable computer with emails sent to the former mine superintendent gives clues that this is possible, computer skills make the chance of recovering this data much higher)

Problem 4: Collapsed tunnels bar the players way.

Possible solutions: Use old mining equipment to break through barriers.

Problem 5: Eliminate Rumby

Possible solutions: You find a genetic accelerator gun in the lab that will shoot out a cool ray and cause humans to become genetic human/hauranid hybrids (read: deformed) in a painful, traumatic transformation.  It is currently programmed with Rumby’s DNA, and will only work on him.

Problem 6: Cult members are making it difficult to complete objectives.

Possible solutions: Hive members have networked control chips implanted in their brains used to simulate the hive-mind. A  controller for the chips can be found in Rumby’s sanctuary, and it can be used to prompt the members of the hive to certain actions. (alert, sleep, congregate, repair…)

Problem 7: Find frozen hauranid

Possible solutions: Kill Hauranid captive by screwing with hibernation controls.

Revive Hauranid captive by screwing with hibernation controls. Conscious Hauranid calls for a rescue.

Problem 8: Secure escape vehicle.

Possible solutions: If you find the keys to the planetary skiff in the sanctuary, you can escape using the vehicle in the ore loading/unloading bay instead of signaling for pickup.

As written by Warren Spector during an AMA on Reddit:

“That was just a small, small part of what we were trying to do. I totally recall the Junction Point game (and spent many nights worrying that someone would come along and tell me I couldn’t call my next company that!). Though it evolved over time, the ultimate plan was to make an MMO unlike all the others that were out at the time. Frankly, there are a ton of ideas in the design doc we generated that STILL haven’t been tried. If I were an MMO guy, I might give those ideas a whirl, but I’m pretty much not an MMO guy.”

In late ‘90s Warren Spector left Looking Glass Studios and soon received a call from John Romero: it was the start of the new Ion Storm Austin team and the conception of Deus Ex. As told by Spector in the book “Postmortems from Game Developer“:

“Deus Ex is a game I’ve thinking about since right around the time Underworld 2 shipped. I’ve tried get a game like this started several times (As Troubleshooter at Origin, in some respect, as Junction Point for Looking Glass). Those games didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but I never stopped thinking about them and, despite the failure of those games to reach production, they laid much of the conceptual groundwork for Deus Ex.”

As Ion Storm Austin director, Spector later oversaw development of Deus Ex: Invisible War, released in December 2003, and Thief: Deadly Shadows, released in June 2004. Soon after Spector left Ion Storm and officially announced his new company: Junction Point Studios, named in honor of the cancelled RPG he was working on during his last months at Looking Glass.

Junction Point was also used as the early project name in the pitch document for System Shock 2. In 1997 former Looking Glass developers Jonathan Chey, Robert Fermier and Ken Levine founded “Irrational Games” and soon started work on System Shock 2. As we can read in an interview with Chey by GamesTM:

“When [System Shock 2] was originally being discussed it had a name attached to it,” says Chey, “which was ‘Junction Point’. Some work had been done on it by Looking Glass’s Austin Texas studio, which was being run by Warren Spector. Then I think they decided that maybe they wanted to leave and start their own studio, and went on to produce the first Deus Ex game.” Looking Glass co-opted the efforts of Irrational Games, believing the team would work on Junction Point. “I remember seeing some design documents or something like that,” says Chey, adding that though little work had been done, there were some elements to it already. “I think it involved some sort of hub – the junction point – where you went on various missions,” says Chey, “but we liked the idea of doing a System Shock sequel so we put together a pitch for that and got Looking Glass interested in it.”

After working on such games as Freedom Force and SWAT 4, in 2007 Irrational Games published their most popular project: BioShock.

Only a few screenshots and a short video from the Junction Point prototype are currently preserved. If you know someone who may have more footage or documents from this lost project, please let us know.

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Incursion (Argonaut Games) [PC – Cancelled]

Incursion is a cancelled squad-based action game that was in development by Argonaut Games in late ‘90, possibly planned to be released on PC. While many other lost games by Argonaut were widely known, a few ones such as Kanaan and Incursion remained forgotten for many years. Argonaut is mostly remembered today as the studio behind such classic games as Starglider, Star Fox and Croc, but between the late ‘90s and early ‘00s they fell into obscurity, until their closure in 2004.

Incursion started development after the cancellation of Kanaan, by the same team. As it happened with Kanaan there are not many details about the game, but only a few small, pre-rendered images. Players would have used a squad of robots, to fight against other robots and aliens squads in different missions.

From what we can see from these images it seems Incursion would have been a real-time action / strategy game, in which players would give commands to their robot-allies while playing as one of them in third or first person view. The team attempted a 3D cell-shaded graphic style for their game, that looked quite awesome for its time.

After Incursion was canned, part of the team left Argonaut to form Pompom games. We tried to get in contact with a few developers who worked on Incursion, but with no luck. Only a few images are preserved below, to preserve the existence of this lost Argonaut project.

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Dagoth Tactics (Moor Zoological Gardens) [PC, Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens was an impressive GeForce tech demo created in 1997 / 1998 by The Whole Experience (WXP), a small development team base in Seattle. In this demo you could move around a fantasy setting, inhabited by strange creatures:

“Creative Labs will ship their ‘3D Blaster Annihilator‘ with WXP’s technology demo “Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens”. This demo is using the engine of WXP’s upcoming fantasy action title ‘Experience’ and it’s the first independent application that is using GeForce’s T&L-engine. The demo is not a real game, but you can walk around and explore the beautiful scenery that soothes your mind by looking at it. I have to say that I never saw a game-demo as impressive and as beautiful at the same time, but some of you might be very disappointed about the complete lack of blood and violence.”

Another Geforce tech demo in the same Dagoth Moor settings was later released in 1999 under the title “Isle of Morg”:

“Isle of Morg is a technology demo that integrates the features found in GeForce2 GTS with typical gameplay mechanics such as physics and collision detection, as well as special effects including particle systems, dynamic water, environment mapping, per-pixel shaders, and dynamic lighting. It’s a great example of what is possible in today’s games.”

Thanks to the success of their tech demos WXP were able to work on a few commercial games for various publishers, with titles such as Lord of the Rings and Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball. The team wanted to create their own original game “Experience” since 1997, but between contract works and difficulties in finding a publisher for their own IP, they had to keep it as a side-project until many years later.  In 2002 / 2003 they also worked on “The Guardian“, a cancelled adventure game to be published by Capital Entertainment Group for the original Xbox.

In 2007 they developed a pitch demo for a new strategy game based on their Dagoth Moor settings. This game was titled “Dagoth Tactics”, planned to be released on PC and Xbox 360. There are no other details available about Dagoth Tactics: by looking a the few images available we can assume it would have been a classic strategy game with Hex-Grid movements.

In the end Dagoth Tactics was never completed and it was cancelled in favor of a FPS set in the same fantasy settings. Initially titled “Exod Intervention” WXP’s original first person shooter was then released in 2011 as Xotic on Steam and Xbox 360. Unfortunately it seems the game did not sell enough to keep the team alive, and WXP was soon disbanded. We probably will never get another game set in the Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens.

  

Beneath (Presto Studios) [Playstation, PC – Cancelled]

Beneath is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Presto Studios in mid / late ‘90s, to be published by Activision for the original Playstation and PC. The game was quite hyped at the time: it was presented as a “Tomb Raider” killer, with such lines as “Deeper than any Tomb” and “More dangerous than any woman“. As we can read on The Journeyman Project website:

“Follow the exploits of Jack Wells as he searches for his missing father, a renowned archaeologist, down a mysterious network of tunnels deep into the earth. The game features a cutting-edge 3D engine with support for hardware acceleration and levels full of amazing uncharted civilizations to explore, climb and swing your way through.”

Presto Studios wanted to add more than Tomb Raider in their inspirations, and such names as H.G. Wells or Jules Verne were dropped in old press releases, such as in this one by CNN:

“Is the world ready for a revisionist H.G. Wells or Jules Verne adventure game? Presto Studios and Activision think so. In Beneath, Presto (of Journeyman Project fame) is convinced that Tomb Raider opened a door for third-person adventures, but the earlier game relied upon its good looks and lacked easy input control and depth of storytelling.

So Presto set off to build a game around Jack, a turn-of-the-century (19th/20th) adventurer out to track down his missing father whose expedition to the pole has gone terribly wrong. In the best Wells/Verne tradition, Jack discovers an underground world with an entirely unique social and eco-system. Three societies inhabit the underground – a Troglodyte world, a Morlock world, and an Insectoid world. Strangely, all three are biologically and socially connected, the questions to be uncovered are how are they connected and what are they up do?

Whether beefcake Jack will draw women to beneath the same way Tomb Raider’s Lara captivated men is unknown, but Presto definitely has a grand vision for an adventure game in Beneath. Unfortunately, despite obvious enthusiasm behind their product, the first couple of times Beneath was brought in for demonstration to PC Games, there wasn’t a whole lot in evidence to get excited about. These early alphas were all software rendered, there weren’t any adversaries or creatures and nothing to explore but dingy mineshafts. What’s more, the producers seem somewhat disdainful of the need for 3D acceleration in third-person games.

This week Activision trotted Beneath through the office again and we’re happy to report there’s a lot more there to talk about. First, Glide support was finally added a couple of weeks ago. Direct3D will come later, as well high-resolution versions of Jack, but the difference 3D acceleration brings to the game is enormous. Activision won’t release updated screens, so we were forced to run the accompanying E3 SVGA screens, but we’re happy to report that Presto’s texture work is often stunning in 3D.

[…] Now for the targets. Presto still hasn’t put many adversaries into the game, but at least we got to play with some early giant spiders and earwigs. They’re still pretty stupid, and we’d still like to see how the Morlocks and Insectoids are coming along, but this is still progress.”

Thanks to some previews published in gaming magazines at the time we know that Beneath would have been set in 12 different levels spread over 3 lost civilizations. The more players would descent deeper beneath the earth’s surface, the more technologically advanced the lost civilization would became.

In the end Presto Studios were not able to keep up with creating their ambitious 3D adventure, being more used to developing pre-rendered point and click adventures, such as their The Journeyman Project series and Myst III: Exile. A full 3D action adventure game was not an easy task to create and competition was high, with many Tomb Raider clones releasing on Playstation.

Beneath was cancelled and in 2002 the studio was closed down, after the release of their Xbox title Whacked.

Thanks to Mark and Ross Sillifant for the contribution!

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