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Citadel of the Black Sun [PC – Cancelled]

Citadel of the Black Sun is a cancelled RPG that was in development in 1988 / 1989 for DOS PC by Golden Goblins, a team under Rainbow Arts, a less known developer and publisher founded in 1984 in Gütersloh, Germany. At the time Golden Goblins already worked on Grand Monster Slam, some kind of fantasy themed pong game released for Amiga, Commodore 64, Atari ST and PC.

They were asked to create a new role playing game for US based SSI (Strategic Simulations Inc), a company popular at the time for their wargames and titles based on the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. Rainbow Arts was the major publisher of SSI games in Germany and the two companies grew a great relationship that led them to work together on this new fantasy project: Citadel of the Black Sun.

In late ‘80 computer RPGs were still in their early days, with some of the most popular ones being The Faery Tale Adventure (1987), Ultima V (1988), Drakkhen (1989) and Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989): the techs used to create such games left a lot to the player’s imagination, using overhead 2D sprites or some kind of clunky first person visuals. With most PCs at the time not having dedicated video cards to create more advanced graphic, it was not possible for developers to offer a vast, 3D open world to explore like today with titles such as SKYRIM, Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3.

The worlds of late ‘80 and early ‘90 Computer RPGs were made of 16 color palettes and visual tricks to give some kind of illusion of being in an immersive environment. These are the foundations from which Golden Goblins started to create their own role playing game. The team was composed of just a few developers and designers: Jurgen Dolassek (dungeon implementation), Andreas Gortz (dungeon implementation, game design, graphics), Frank Lenzer (dungeon implementation), Hartwig Nieder-Gassel (concept, game design, graphics), Heiko Schroder (programming) and Teut Widemann (concept and producer).

Previously, most SSI RPGs used turn-based group combat so Golden Goblins followed the same kind of mechanics with manual or auto-combat, EXP and a LV-UP system, but moving forward with graphics, characters customization, world interaction and controls. They implemented a “Barbie Doll System” that was shown in-game on the characters’ portraits. This displayed the different armor and weapons equipped (at that time most games just had static sprites).

The game was drawn in a full-screen isometric scrolling graphic to give the illusion of depth and multi-dimensional movements. The extensive world map could be freely explored as in modern open world RPGs and you could go anywhere you please with no barriers or story-driven limits to find new cities and hidden places to enter in. The engine changed to a different screen only when entering in towns, dungeons and combat. While these images could look simple for today’s standards, it would have been one of the best looking DOS games at the time.

Many were the interesting and innovative features planned by Teut Widemann for Citadel of the Black Sun, such as a true “Line of Sight” and window / door functions on buildings. You were able to enter all houses and to look inside if you had line of sight, by opening a door or peeking through a window. It was also possible to jump out of a window from the second floor of a building if you wanted to. Players could check wardrobes and chests to find new armor and weapons, talk to NPCs, trade items and interact with animals.

The epic storyline would follow the traditional fantasy setting, with warriors, elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs, dragons, castles and dark dungeons. On the right side of the screen there was a menu bar with all the available actions and the game was fully playable with a mouse which is something exceptional when most games at the time were keyboard control only.

When Golden Goblins and Rainbow Arts showed Citadel of the Black Sun to SSI they were blown away and immediately wanted to put it under the AD&D license, planning to use its new isometric engine for all their future RPGs. For a small, obscure German team it would have been a life-changing experience and the history of computer RPGs could have been much different, if only Citadel of the Black Sun would have not been cancelled. What happened?

Widemann shared some of his memories in a post on his blog:

“First one employee of our daughter companies we acquired called Time Warp moved into our offices as we closed down their offices. That guy wanted my job, always working to criticize mine. He said openly he wanted my job, he can do it better, and he hated RPG’s. He didn’t believe in them.

Second I fell in love with the girlfriend of my best friend Bernard. Remember? He was one of the three of us managing Rainbow Arts. She and I came together and she split from Bernard, not good when you think the three of us had to work together on a daily basis.

Story short: I left the company due to private reasons (due to my girlfriend, later my wife, we married in 1992, but she died of cancer in 2010) and that one guy took over all my projects. Within three months he split the development team, made sure SSI hated mine and the team’s guts and the project was cancelled. Remember, he hated RPG’s! The game was 70% finished.”

This was the end of an ambitious RPG by a now forgotten German team. It seems Todd Porter, their first producer at SSI during early development (before Nicholas Beliaeff took over), was such a fan of Golden Goblins’ game that when he left SSI for Origin he put many ideas and concepts from Citadel of the Black Sun into their game Knights of Legends. The remaining people at Golden Goblins then worked on “MUDS – Mean Ugly Dirty Sport” (1990, Amiga and DOS), but Rainbow Arts was later bought by Funsoft and then by THQ in 1999.

Thanks to Teut Widemann for his contribution! This article was originally published in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play”.

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Zero-G Marines [PC – Cancelled]

Zero-G Marines is a cancelled first person strategy shooter that was in developed by Strategy First in 2000, planned to be published for PC. The game was set in a orbital space station and it featured “zero-gravity combat”, as you could freely move around 360° through the environment. As we can read on an old IGN preview:

“The game action centers on several “domes” or “clusters” — orbital stations designed and operated by TerraCorp. These clusters are located around Mars and the moons of Jupiter and serve as bases for “research or mining.” Somehow or other, the genetic research being carried out on these stations goes horribly off track and a virus breaks out on the various clusters. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a group of religious zealots carry out an assault on the clusters and now hold them hostage. Who’s going to take them back? That’s right — you.”

“The suit gives you full freedom of movement in all three dimensions. To preserve the sense of up and down, you won’t be able to use the mouse look to pass through the points directly above and below you. Basically you can’t flip end over end. In this powered body suit, you can hold 8 weapons. “

“There are a few other vehicles in the game as well. You can hop into the driver’s seat of the Outrider, a “fast, one man space vehicle.” The Zealots have converted them into flying weapons platforms. You can fly these both inside and outside of the clusters. The larger and slower shuttles act as troop transports. Your own transport, parked just outside of the cluster, will act as a weapons store and home base during the game. “

“Smart players will shepherd their resources and endeavor to fight from an advantageous position. On the most basic level, each “dome is associated with one of three resources” — research, industry and prisoners. Research domes give you advanced weaponry and industry domes give you extra weaponry. “

“The prisoner resource intrigues me the most. On certain of the security domes are station personnel that have not yet been infected with the virus. If you can free them, you can add them to your squad pool. They’re not the best fighters out there, but they’re the only option you have to increase your manpower. Oh, right…I should have mentioned that you’re not doing any of this alone. You can choose to take up to six squad members along on each of the missions. “

“The planning of the mission structure is still in early stages as well. The current idea is to have about 15 separate missions that can be played in an open format. You can switch the order of the missions a tad to suit your needs. For instance, if you’re up against a tough assault mission, you might want to plan a raid on a security dome first to obtain more manpower. Then you’ll have more forces with which to carry out the assault. The team is also looking to include a 16-player multiplayer component similar in character to Tribes. Oh, and there’ll be co-op mission play too.”

The game was officially put on-hold in 2002, as we can read on Gamespot:

“Strategy First has suspended the development of Zero-G Marines, its 3D space shooter, due to some changes in its development studios. The company is moving parts of its Ottawa studio – where the game was in development – to Montreal. The product development department, headed by former Westwood COO Chuck Kroegel, has put the game on hold temporarily as a result of the move. “

In the end the project just vanished and was never completed. As they worked at least a couple of years on the game we can still hope someone saved files or playable demo to be preserved in the future.

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Sofa Kingdom (Angel Studios) [PC – Cancelled]

Sofa Kingdom is a cancelled arcade racing game that was in development by Angel Studios (the modern Rockstar San Diego) around 1998, planned to be published by Microsoft for PC.

This is another forgotten project that was never officially announced and only a series of concept art remain today to remember its existence. By looking at these, we can speculate it was going to be a city-based racing game, a concept that could have later been somehow reused into their cult-title Midtown Madness.

In Sofa Kingdom players would choose between a series of cartoon characters to race around the city on flying over-boards, using some kind of “grappling hook” to skidding by grabbing road signs, or as a whip-alike weapon. From concept art we can also notice how each of them carried around a pizza-bomb.. maybe they had to deliver it before time was over? We don’t have any idea, but for sure it looked like an original and fun concept.

In the end the game was canned and the team worked with Microsoft to release Midtown Madness in 1999. Angel Studios was then 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.

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Forgotten Castle: The Awakening [PC – Cancelled]

Forgotten Castle is a cancelled action RPG in development by Twin Dolphin Games around 1992 – 1993, to be published on PC by Electronic Arts. The project was quite ambitious for its time: a fully 3D explorable fantasy world in early ‘90s was something amazing to see in screenshots (The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall was released 3 years later) and the game was previewed with high hype by many magazines. CDs were not much used for PC games and this would have been released on 9 disks, quite a massive size for ’90s games.

As we can red in Forgotten Castle’s preview from Edge (issue 1, 1993):

“Twin Dolphin’s Forgotten Castle could take the RPG action adventure into a new realm. Forgotten Castle is a PC showcase of spectacular quality. The Ferrari of fantasy roleplaying games. If you can imagine this detailed cityscape scaling and rotating smoothly around you, you’re about one tenth of the way to grasping the graphic flair on display. Twin Dolphin are working wonders on the PC.

There’s a huge playing area to discover with an enormous range of environments. Check out the falling water that flows into the gutter. It’s lovely. The dungeons are equally well presented with detailed graphics and unrivaled angles of perspective. Skeletons wait for you in there, too. Walk through the village and then turn and look in one of the windows for a realistic 3D interior. There’s complete freedom of movement, unlike The 7th Guest. And the scaling graphics leave you breathless.

There is a wealth of different environments including streets, caverns, crypts, and creepy dungeons. Everything takes place in real time, too, and there’s an ‘invisible’ interface to help out, without bogging down the screen in icons. You click on the mouse and something dies, basically.  Okay, there’s lots more to it than that but the feel of the whole thing is action-orientated. It’s designed to appeal to a wide range of players, and as such, might not meet the grey matter-testing requirements of diehard Dungeon Master and Ultima Underworld fans.

So what’s it all about then? The story unfolds like this. You’re a prince on an epic quest searching for your father, the last true king of the land of Alonia. Evil rules where justice once prevailed etc, etc, and you have to travel to the city of Hedburg to defeat the monsters and ‘foul Ruzakian hordes’ that have taken over the town.”

As you can imagine, Forgotten Castle was way too ambitious for a small team like Twin Dolphin. Clay Graham who worked on the project wrote on his blog:

“Twin Dolphin Games was creating a Virtual Reality game on the PC for EA Games. There was only one Oracle Tower down the street, and as a startup things were very different than the large glass covered offices of SOM. We were scrappy, and as the company’s “Virtual Architect” I was responsible for building all the spaces and experiences for their 3D Dungeon Adventure. “Forgotten Castle” was very innovative visually, but the company made a bad choice in their game engine and it failed completely.”

More details about Twin Dolphin’s failure to complete the game and their difficulties with the 3D engine were published on issue 164 of Compute! Magazine:

“The news hasn’t been good for what looked like a promising entry in the Ultima Underworld school of free-scrolling RPGs. Twin Dolphin Games’ Forgotten Castles, which looked dazzling at its unveiling at last summer’s CES, has run into the computer-game equivalent of the tuna net. The EA affiliate was to have delivered the game last November, but delays in finishing the 3-D engine and interface ultimately led to the withdrawal of the company’s main investor in late October. Matters were further complicated by the departure of the game’s chief engineer in early December, according to president Steve Ruszak. Twin Dolphin Games itself probably won’t last beyond the summer, but there are other fish in the sea, and Ruszak reckons Forgotten Castles – which is 60 to 70 percent complete – may yet surface. Both it and the 3D engine are for sale as a package, and he’s optimistic the company will find a buyer.”

As far as we know, no other publisher ever bought the IP or 3D engine from Twin Dolphin and the studio soon closed down for lack of money. Forgotten Castle was lost forever and as its name hinted, it was indeed forgot by everyone.

We can only hope former Twin Dolphin developers preserved files of their lost games, to share online in future. If you know someone who worked on this cancelled project, please let us know!

Thanks to pcloadletter for the contribution!

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Dark Matter (Nanotainment) [PC – Cancelled]

Dark Matter is a cancelled space combat simulator that was in development for PC by a forgotten team known as “Nanotainment” around the late ‘90s. It seems the game was shown in playable form at E3 1999 & 2000, but only a few websites wrote about it at the time.

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From the old Nanotainment website we can read some more details about the ambitious concept they planned for their project:

“Dark Matter offers a new paradigm in space combat sims. Whereas before one was restricted to a single ship and battles of limited size, Dark Matter offers you the chance to pilot any of the hundreds of ships in a battle at any time. Couple this with fast paced arcade action, 8 different species with different ship types and abilities, dynamic environments, and dramatic scale, and you get the amazing game play of Dark Matter. You can play the game any way you want, from pure arcade simulation to detailed tactical control, it’s up to you. Dark Matter, a new game for the next age.”

  • Large Scale Combat: Hundreds of ships fighting all at once.
  • Massive Scale: From 10m long fighters to 4km long capital ships.
  • Fight as one of 8 species, each with different abilities and characteristics.
  • Fast paced, frenzied engagements.
  • Access to all ships on your side: Fight as a lowly fighter, patrolling corvette or titanic capital ship.
  • Give ship-level commands and species-wide orders.
  • Over 40 spacecraft you can pilot.
  • Campaign and a single battle mode.
  • Play the way you want: Play as an action game or a strategy game.
  • Arcade or simulation flight models.
  • Intense Environments: Fight in an asteroid field, minefield, or nebula. Or near a black hole.
  • Dynamic Environment: Watch asteroids split into smaller asteroids.
  • Alien Artifacts: Find ancient alien artifacts that may turn the tide of the battle.
  • Genetic AI: Learning opponents that develop unique strategies.
  • Tradable AI: Trade your specific AI with your friends.”

Thanks to the web archive we can also read an old interview with Nanotainment published by Glide Underground:

1.) Thanks for taking time out to answer these questions, first off what is the coolest feature that is planned in the full release?

Bob: The coolest feature of the game is its perspective: you are a species instead of a single pilot. This feature gives you access to all the ships in your fleet which gives you quick access to the action (by switching to a ship on the front line) and access to the overall strategy (by switching to a capital ship). It also extends play. You’re not done until your whole fleet is toast.

Chad: I think that probably the most unique feature is the ability to switch to any ship on your side of the battle. You will never have to wait to come back in to the battle, another ship will always be at your finger tips.

2.) How do you see this game competing against other games like Descent Freespace 2 which is also very similar and going to be released around the same time?

Chad: I don’t really see us in the same arena with Freespace 2. Yes we are both space sims, but our game has a definite arcade bent to it. We are intentionally keeping the mechanics of the game simple and instead of having a complex story line (as most space games have) which forces you into a single character, we are concentrating on variety of both the ships you can pilot, their abilities, space born hazards and other interesting effects. In Dark Matter, you will have access to any ship on your side, further separating us from the “adventure” game genre. Our game plays out at a much quicker, more furious pace than the average space sim.

3.) What type of single player features will be very prominent in the single player game?

Bob: Our learning AI will be at the forefront of the single-player game. As you get better at Dark Matter, the AI will grow to match you. Since our learning AI is based on genetic algorithms, each AI data set will be unique to the game play that created it. As an added feature, players will be able to trade their AI data so that their friends can see the different techniques and strategies that have evolved.

Chad: The game is functionally the same single or multi player. You have access to the same controls and game types (flag arena, xenocide, etc.), but we are also including a campaign mission set. Most of these missions are structured to teach you the basics of playing that species. Basic strategies and tactics which you can then take on to a multi player game. You can probably expect a lot of low key humor sprucing up the campaign missions.

4.) Will the game feature a very good story line as the single player game progresses on?

Story is really very slim in the game. Each campaign will have a simple story based around an overall theme, but as far as first person character or melodrama is concerned we decided against it. We wanted to do something a little different, thus went with breadth over depth.

5.) How will the multi-player game be interfaced, like how many players supported, what method of connecting players together?

We support all connection types that DirectPlay, which is to say everything. We are looking at getting a gamespy or mplayer interface for games on the internet, so you can probably expect one or the other in the final release. The games are easy to set up, but still gives the players a lot of options. From game types to species and loadout selections. We currently support 32 player in a peer to peer network scheme, but if interest is high enough we could go to a client/server system which would support many more players.

7.) What species is the best and why?

Bob: We are striving to make all the species different yet equal with the appropriate strategy. Some species will have advantages over others but on the whole no species will be the best. Kind of like Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Chad: We have tried to balance the species as best as possible. I will give you a little brief on their specific attributes:

Namoon: Pissed off space monkeys. They are the basic species in the game. Most of their technology centers around missile and anti-missile weaponry.

Graawol: The most primitive race in the game. These guys may not have the finesse of other species, but they more than make up for it in brute force. The have gattling style guns and a mean-ass ramming attack as well as marines which they can use to infiltrate and neutralize enemy corvettes and capital ships.

Ood: The Ood are a race of neurotic, paranoid aliens. They have electronic-counter-measures and a powerful force blast, but being the neurotic race that they are, they have equipped each of their fighters with a kamikaze device. This device will turn the fighter into a rocketing comet. Very devastating to enemy capital ships.

Rekenti: The rekenti are a race of silicon and crystalline based beings. Most of their technology centers around their lightning gun and tractor beam. They are also the race with the Ship Killer.

Machina: What would a space game be without a machine race. The Machina technology centers around, EMP and electronic control weaponry. They are also immune to psychic attacks, because of their machine nature.

Bloom: The Bloom are a strange race from a gas giant. All of their ships are organic based, and all of their weapons are organically created. They have a corrosive liquid projectile which does huge damage to metallic hulls.

Vander: The vander are a race of space gypsies. All of their technology is pirated from other races. Their technology is the most varied, from plasma torpedoes to reflective shields.

Shodikan: The shodikan are the most mysterious race in the game. Their technology is based around cloaking and psychic technology.

9.) Will single player games be mission objective based or will they just be fire at them and destroy all type missions?

We do not have standard space game objectives. Our games are more like first-person shooters in their implementation. Currently we have three game types:

  • Genocide: Kill all the enemy.
  • Flag Arena: Capture and hold all the flags in the arena for a certain time duration to win.
  • Territories: Capture and hold 75% of stationary buoys for a certain time duration to win.”

By looking at how the Dark Matter fact-sheets changed year after year on Nanotainment’s website, we can see the scope of their game was cut, removing 2 playable species and the size of spaceships from 4 km to 2 km. At some point in late 2000, the company vanished with no traces, with Dark Matter cancelled and lost forever.

We don’t know how much of the game was done before the cancellation, but it was at least playable to be featured at E3, so we can hope one day a demo could be found and shared online. It’s interesting to notice that Nanotainment also worked on another forgotten project titled “Fly Hunter”, that seems to have been published in 1998 and you can download a playable version on Archive.org

Thanks to Sean Paul for the contribution!

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