PC / MAC

Alex Carver: Futurebrighter [PC – Cancelled]

Alex Carver: Futurebrighter is a cancelled FPS that was in development by Heaven X, a small and obscure development team from Poland. The game was announced in 2004, sharing some details and screenshots.

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As wrote by IGN:

“AC:F is a first-person shooter that follows Alex Carver, a convict on his way to a distant planet that houses a prison for the galaxy’s least desired criminals and murderers.

Along the way the prison transporter carrying our hero is attacked by an unknown adversary. The ship goes down and Alex is given a chance to escape. One small problem. The planet the ship lands on is run by a tyrannical dictator who has been working on secret genetic experiments.

Equipped with pistols, sniper rifles, plasma rifles, and a cynical outlook on life (funny what prison does to you), Alex must do everything in his power to stay alive.”

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On the old Heven X website we can read:

“An independent developer group Heaven X deals with creating computer games and multimedia programs. We’re those players who have begun working on our own titles since 2001. Our team has gained much experience when working for Techland, Leryx Longsoft and L.K. Avalaon, while preparing games like Chrome, Xpand Rally, Small Army, Indiana Jack, Pet Racer, Pet Soccer, Golem, or Kokomando.

Earlier, we were working for various producers. Now, however, we’ve joined our forces and experience under the name Heaven X in order to create our own virtual worlds, which, hopefully, will attract many players. We are working on authorial projects, as well as on titles that we develop for Polish publisher companies.

We were “brought up” playing the greatest games that serve as a point of departure for our projects. Unreal, Half-Life, Deus Ex, Soldier of Fortune, Serious Sam and even Rayman are just a few names of the worldwide hits that are a great source of inspiration for us. Our goal is to create games that would simultaneously provide the players with great feel, engrossing and entertaining gameplay experience, and satisfaction (not only for the players but also for us).

We have our authorial 3D engine Magnum Engine at disposal. The engine is capable of creating environments inside the buildings (indoor) as well as in open spaces (outdoor). Magnum Engine uses the newest graphics technologies and special effects, therefore, it keeps up both in quality and beauty with other Western and Polish productions:

  • Vast and open spaces and indoor environment
  • Expanded animation system that features bone system / skeleton
  • Vehicle handling system together with the driving model and physics
  • Physics allowing for an interaction with the game’s environment
  • 50.000 to 100.000 polygons per frame
  • Particle system
  • Dynamic interplay of light and shadow
  • Varied weather effects (rain, snow)”

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More info was published by Polish websites at the time, but it looks like the project never got far into production. We can assume they never found a publisher interested in backing up their game, so Alex Carver: Futurebighter had to be cancelled.

Thanks to Dan for the contribution! 

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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