PC / MAC

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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Raiders (Coop Tomb Raider) [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

Raiders is a cancelled project in the Tomb Raider series, that would have been developed for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC as a coop multiplayer spin-off, before Crystal Dynamics decided to instead working on Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Raiders’ concept was heavily different from The Guardian of Light, as it would have been much more similar to the original Tomb Raider games, with third person exploration, platforming and shooting combat.

The story focused on the clones of Lara Croft, known as the Doppelgangers. It’s currently unclear if players would use these Doppelgangers as their playable characters, or if they were the main enemies. In the end the game was canned in pre-production, when they just had some concept made with placeholder graphic and some gameplay ideas to pitch to the studio managers.

While the game was never announced by Eidos nor Crystal Dynamics, fans of the series found documents of the project online, preserving its existence from being forgotten.

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Showdown: Scorpion [PC – Cancelled]

Showdown: Scorpion is a cancelled FPS in development around 2005 by B-Cool Interactive, planned to be published by Akella for PC in 2007. It was set in a cyberpunk future (the music you can hear in one of the trailers is from Ghost in the Shell), where you could use guns, technology and even paranormal skills to fight your way against sci-fi soldiers and zombie-alike monsters.

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IGN played the game at E3 2007:

“Tucked away on the E3 showroom floor was Scorpion: Showdown, a first-person shooter from Akella. Set in the 2040s, this game puts you behind the sights of about 15 weapons and sets you lose on a land filled with bats, zombies, beasts and soldiers. You’ll get updates on the mission from a woman named Anna, but other than her, you’re on your own.

We got to take Scorpion through a flooded warehouse today, and as we ducked beneath scaffolding and blasted man-eating zombies, it was clear Akella was going for a jump-out -and-scare-you feel. Filled with dark corners and creepy monsters, there were plenty of opportunities to crap your pants, but you could always arm your night-vision goggles or flashlight.”

.. and also GameSpot were able to play the same demo:

“Showdown: Scorpion seems to be a fairly straight-ahead shooter. There are supposedly two methods to the madness here: Either you can proceed stealthily and attack your enemies with silenced weapons, or you can go to town with a number of modern and futuristic weapons if you wish to just blow some stuff up.

The weapons here are, at least in the section that we saw, a fairly normal group of pistols and machine guns, including a slightly advanced model of the venerable AK assault rifle family. There are going to be some wackier weapons on hand, though, such as the quote-unquote “gravity gun,” which shoots out a ball of gravity that violently repels anyone near the center of the explosion away from it. In addition, the genetic experimentation that was performed on you will let you enter a bullet-time state to slow down your enemies, a la Max Payne, or even in some cases psychically dominate your enemies and force them to fight for you.”

This was meant to be B-Cool’s first project, but it seems it was too much for a small team. In the end Showdown: Scorpion was cancelled. Some models were later reused for Scorpion: Disfigured, which was a different game despite a similar title and look. B-Cool was closed in 2009, with many more canned projects such as a “Scorpion” sequel, “Metro-3” (third game in The Stalin Subway series for Buka) and “La Guerilla 2040”.

Thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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The Unseelie [PC – Cancelled]

In 2004 Australian developer KaWow! started working on a first-person shooter called The Unseelie, that mixed horror with adventure elements. The game told a storyline about an old haunted forest and a village trapped in time. It was planned to be published by Octagon in 2005, but sadly the project was cancelled for unknown reasons.

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KaWow! were founded in 1997, helping other studios with the development of some games for PC and consoles, such as GORE: The Ultimate Soldier and other projects for television multimedia integration, LAN and Internet multiplayer first person games.

The Unseelie’s story still stand out today and is a quite haunting and mysterious one:

“In a chilly November evening, Damian Logan is driving his car on the countryside, crossing a dark Irish forest, when suddenly a child-like figure appears on the road. Trying to avoid an accident, Damian`s car gets out of control and crashing into a nearby tree.

Upon awakening he stumbles into an ancient forest, called “Tir-Na-Bràch-Marbh” – Land of the Eternal Death. Wandering lost deeper and deeper into the woodlands, he discovers stones, buried in the shape of a septagram, with a source of light shining from its center.

Walking towards it, the light is bright and dazzling, but suddenly dimming – plunging the forest in absolute blackness. Strange voices begin whispering from left and right, near and far….

As the story unfolds, we learn that Damian is trapped in a world between the living and the dead. The dark haunted forest has tangled and enclosed a 17th century Irish village, severing its contact with the rest of the world and stopping time from passing.

In order to escape and return home, the protagonist has to battle “The Unseelie” (pronounced “Un SHEE Lee”), an unblessed cursed fairy race, based on Celtic mythology.

By defeating all seven demon lords, Damien would obtain certain ritualistic objects which allowed him to escape the clutches of Lord Finvarra, the King of the Dead, by opening a portal to his reality and returning home.”

To help during your quest you would be able to use an arsenal of roughly 30 different weapons, plus the possibility of crafting your own weapons from materials found in the game. By battling foes like Banshees, Goblins, Demons, Elementals and Ghosts, new experience points were collected to unlock skills and upgrade weapons.

The Unseelie is a great game to work with because of the way it uniquely combines Celtic mythos with popular first-person gameplay,” said Lloyd Melnick, Co-Founder of publisher Octagon.

Over the course of your journey, protagonist Damien would have gained access to a wide range of powers and attacks related to Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Wood, Metal and Spirit. Some monsters were resistant against physical attacks and could only be beaten with certain magic.

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The adventure-aspect of the game focused on players using elemental powers to solve many puzzles on the way through the 7 levels of the three-dimensional environment, generated by their homemade AMP II engine, which offered real-time lighting, matrix shading, high-resolution textures and bump mapping.

We used all of the visually stunning rendering techniques of our engine and combined them with the sinister forest setting of Celtic legend and some engaging game play design to make something that makes you want to play, but keeps you looking over your shoulder,explained Steve Woodgate, who was KaWoW! CEO until 2016 and is currently managing director of Coronum Pty Ltd.

It is unclear what happened to the studio. Since Mr. Woodgate left KaWoW! in 2016 we can assume they were active at least until that date, even though no other game seems to have been released since the cancellation of The Unseelie.

The company’s old website (www.kawow.com) is unreachable, and what remains today are only screenshots, a few articles splattered across the web and a couple of videos showing in-game footage. This was probably from the beginning of the game, when Damien escapes his crashed vehicle and discovers a stone-circle with a beam of light in the middle, showing: “Some fairy tales were never meant to be told…“.

Article by Niko, thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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Grafan (Emogence) [PC – Cancelled]

Grafan is a cancelled RPG supposed to be the first big project of 2003 freshly founded company EMOGENCE (Emotion-intelligence), consisting of ex Microsoft staff Herb Marselas and Chas (Charles) Boyd. Both coming from a technical background, Marselas started working for Microprose in the 90ies and made his name for blockbusters like “Age Of Mythology”, “Halo 2” and many more. Boyd on the other hand originally came from the Aeronautics Industry and later worked with different Hardware and video game companies as a mentor to help improve engine-performance.

What started out as a hobby, later became a concrete business idea:

“We were talking about the kinds of graphics and gameplay we`d like to see in games and whether we could start a studio that provides a gameplay experience that stood out from the crowd.“

Their ambitious plan was to create a PC first person action role playing game “…that delivers great gameplay and graphically surpasses any interactive entertainment experience to date“, optimistically setting a deadline to the end of the same year (2004).

Apparently the key of saving so much time was to automate the generation of content – including world building and scripting, which would be done manually by any other developer.  They though graphics would evolve so quickly, they felt like they didn’t want to lose time and deliver a game that was technically high-end and brand new as soon as possible. Unfortunately we know the game was never released and only a few interviews and a handful of screenshots remain today.

There was never any talk about why or when the game was cancelled or what happened to the studio. We can only reconstruct the game`s planned content, by closely reading statements and interviews done by IGN in 2004:

“Grafan gives the player a huge amount of character customization through class selection, skill point spending, and by equipping many of the thousands of items found in the world. There is a single player campaign as well as a random dungeon quest mode. The underlying engine is a highly sophisticated 3D random dungeon generator that utilizes a lot of advanced graphics technology, including real-time high dynamic range lighting, multiple real-time shadows, normal maps, glare, and pixel shading.“

Talking about graphics EMOGENCE were obviously visual enthusiasts, who developed an engine that was able to create “…environments on the fly and showcased high-resolution texturing“. Nvidia stated:

“The Grafan game engine’s use of high dynamic-range lighting, multiple real-time shadows, and multipass rendering techniques requires a high-performance graphics card. We’re currently working with the GeForce 6800 Ultra GPU and using pixel shader 3.0; all we can say is ‘wow’.”

It is also worth mentioning that they planned to showcase the game at the E3 2004, but by checking the list of exhibitors retrospectively, EMOGENCE never shown up.

To date Herb Marselas is working at AMD, a popular computer processor company. Chas Boyd was last seen on Max Payne and Alan Wake credits,  but after that we kinda lost track of him. By browsing different gaming-databases we can assume that he may have not been active in the gaming scene since.

Article by Niko, thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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