The premiere game of Tomonobu Itagaki‘s Valhalla Game Studio, primarily made of ex-Team Ninja members Devil’s Third was released in 2015 to incredibly divisive reception. This would come as no surprised as the title was in development on and off for the good hunk of six years. Starting development as a Microsoft published Xbox 360 title only to move to a multiplatform title under the now defunct THQ, only to soon after transfer to the Korean Publisher Doobic, a partnership that promised mobile and PC releases as well, who too would end up going out of business, finally resting on the Nintendo WiiU as a Nintendo published title.
The game was first formally announced at E3 2010 by THQ,(who later that year would announce the ill fated Insane) after Itagaki met with Danny Bilson, who would stay with the game until the end. Announced as a PS3/360 title the game looked to be an action game with a deep focus on mixing gunplay with melee combat. While that much is true in the final WiiU release, one big change can be seen right away. Despite being used for the reveal trailer and title logo, the 3 characters that had been shown would end up replaced by the new protagonist Ivan. Not much is actually known of the original cast of three, but the male character focused on in the trailer bears a resemblance to a villain in the final game named Big Mouse. Another change that can be seen is the excursion of wall running in the final release.
The game would not be shown off more until another trailer the following year, this time focusing on the Japanese celebrity Hard Gay (Masaki Tsumitani) going on a tour of Valhalla’s studio. Despite being four years before the eventual release, in this video a boss (Saha Grundla) and many characters from the final game can be seen.
Another drought of information would come, this time for three years until randomly showing up at E32014, this time by Nintendo. The game had made a drastic change from the last time shown and the lead protagonist was the easiest to see. This would be the first time the game would be shown off in any real detail including a multiplayer mode, according to Itagaki a main reason for Nintendo picking the title up to begin with. The title would then release the following year, despite promises of Nintendo polish, the title would be plagued with issues relating to framerate and lower end graphics, which would give off a very last-gen feel. The contributing factor to polish issues comes from the title shifting through almost as many engines as it did publishers. Starting from proprietary to the Darksider’s Engine, ending with Unreal 3.
Despite the lukewarm reception of the WiiU title in most regions outside of Japan, Valahalla also released a multiplayer-only PC version in Asian territories and their subsidiary Soleil is developing the upcoming Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strike for current consoles. Valhalla also opened up a headquarters in Vancouver to watch over each of it’s subsidiaries.
Project Nano – also known as Blueprint – is a cancelled third person, open world cooperative shooter being developed by Epic Games. The project was going to become their new major IP following the popular Gears of War series, and was scheduled to be released for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. A few details about this obscure game were already leaked online in November 2013 thanks to VGLeaks but we’ve managed to gather some more info about this ambitious project thanks to an anonymous source.
Nano started development in 2008, around the same time Epic were also working on Gears of War 3. GoW3 was later released in September 2011 as an Xbox 360 exclusive title, but Nano was meant to be Epic’s “next gen” IP, a multi platform (PS4, Xbox One) series planned to be a successful trilogy. Epic put a lot of time and money in creating the Blueprint trilogy, a “noir adventure in the grim and desperate world of 2043”, but unfortunately the series was abandoned after a few prototype demos. The studio had to put Blueprint on hold in 2010 / 2011 while they were struggling to complete Gears of War 3, initially planned to be completed in early 2011 but then postponed several times. It seems that after GoW3 was shipped they continued to work on Nano for a while, albeit without success.
While Nano was never officially announced by Epic, they did show some parts of the game in their Samaritan Unreal Engine 3.5 tech demo revealed at the 2011 Game Developers Conference. Looking at Samaritan we can have a better idea of the style and graphic quality they were targeting for Nano, even if the playable prototype was still too early to look nearly as good as this tech demo.
In mid 2013 former Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski wrote a bit about the difficulties behind the development of Nano (and Samaritan) on his personal Tumblr, as reported by Kotaku:
“Q. What was that “Samaritan” demo that Epic produced a while back?
One day I’ll be able to give the full story on that. It’s really a doozy. If journalists nag Epic enough and they give the OK I’d be glad to give details.”
Cliff’s comment about Nano / Samaritan was later removed and another Epic spokesperson gave another comment about the demo:
“We don’t have anything new to say about the Samaritan demo. Really! It was a “doozy” of a learning experience – after all, it was Epic’s self-proclaimed love letter to hardware manufacturers. Samaritan shows what developers can do with Unreal Engine 3’s DirectX 11 feature set, and in terms of R&D, it helped us realize new ways to optimize Unreal Engine 4 for next-gen game development.”
We can assume that Blueprint was already in development hell at that point, but somehow Epic was still working on Nano in 2014, when they quietly announced a new IP at GDC, as reported by Polygon:
“After selling Gears of War to Microsoft earlier this year, Epic Games is building a new game and intellectual property to carry the studio forward. During the “Animation Bootcamp: Animation Prototyping for Games” panel at this year’s Game Developers Conference, lead animator Jay Hosfelt detailed the studio’s revamped design philosophies as it builds its new game without a publishing partner. No name or release timetable was given, though concept art and character models shown during the panel resembled the unnamed hero of Epic’s 2011 “Samaritan” technical demonstration.”
Even if later this was denied by Epic Games’ PR manager, we can confirm that the main character model used in the Samaritan tech demo was indeed a character from Nano (Owen) and even the street level shown in Samaritan was available in one of the early Blueprint prototypes. By reading Epic’s comments, it’s easy to see how they don’t really want to talk about what happened to Nano, so it’s not easy to gather details about its development and cancellation.
Even if it’s not directly related to Nano (as far as we know), it could be useful to also show what Epic were able to achieve with their Infiltrator tech demo shown at the GDC 2013:
By looking at this footage we can imagine how playing Nano could have looked like in Unreal Engine 4 if only it could have been completed. Unfortunately it seems that only a series of early prototypes were created for Nano, before it was finally cancelled or at least completely changed into a different project still to be announced.
It’s interesting to notice that these Nano prototypes have plenty of music from The Dark Knight movie that was released in 2008, as well as some from Transformers. The few songs used were “A Dark Knight – Hans Zimmer”, “I’m Not a Hero – Hans Zimmer”, “Aggressive Expansion – Hans Zimmer”, as well as “Arrival To Earth – Transformers Score”. Temporary music of course but gives you a glimpse of the type of music they were trying to achieve for the game. Another great example of them working on the project in 2010 was the Toronto G20 summit, as they used a few pictures of Toronto Police cars being destroyed as well as some of the riots that took place as temporary UI assets and inspirations.
The game was still pretty early in development at this time but they keep working on it for a few years. All gameplay levels in the Nano prototype are just grey-boxes, there are a few “art levels” such as the Samaritan demo area for example, with a more finalized graphic style, but they just didn’t go that far in at that point to apply more details to any of the levels.
The Blueprint trilogy would have revolved around a tyrant government, with the main protagonists belonging to the resistance trying to defeat them. They would partnered with an intelligent AI system which is on their eyes, cleverly named “IRIS” (Internal Retinal Information System). IRIS was the in-eye implant system that enhances the protagonists’ vision systems. It would inform them about the world, characters, data from raw in-game exposition, mission objectives and combat potential within individual fights: it was basically the game’s HUD provided via a story mechanism.
Nano was set in the near future (2043) in an open world resembling the DC and New York area, where Nanotech chips have been installed into people’s necks as form of ID and several other things. The company providing this technology to the government was called MetaCorp. They provide the government an extreme arsenal of droids that patrol the streets along with peace keepers. Examples of their technology are the barricades on some streets, giant flying droids called BullRam and Springers as well as smaller ones called TechTick. Players would join the resistance to try to take down MetaCorp and the government through various means.
In this near future dystopian New York a pair of nanotech-enhanced dissidents would search for answers and revenge as they unravel the mystery of their missing family members only to spark a revolution against the totalitarian regime. The two main playable characters were Lyrik and Owen: early in the game both would acquire Nanotech powers, a Handforge (some kind of “3D Microprinter” which lets them use nanotechnology construction technology to recreate 3D objects when needed) and the IRIS Augmented Reality Systems. Thanks to Nanotech they would improve their strength, stamina and receive amazing abilities such as phasing through gates, fences, doors, etc. With the Nanotech, you could ground pound and survive heights anyone would die from and abilities to hookshot to higher places.
Lyrik and Owen are not initially members of the rebel faction: once they join, they must earn the trust of the group and would eventually rise up the ranks to be respected “captains” of rebel operations.
Other than what was already leaked online thanks to VGLeaks, we were able to gather a few more details about the two protagonists. Owen Mackinnon was meant to be a cool-headed antihero, smarter than most, trusts few, likes fewer. Haunted by his past, Owen sees the events in DC as an opportunity to get out of debt and forget the problems in his life. His story arc would have been one of redemption and acceptance, as he comes to understand it’s ok to rely on other people, and to be relied upon. Lyrik Syverson was instead meant to be the driven idealist. She begins her story searching for family members taken from her. Intense and focussed, her personal story becomes a political one as she fights against the system – and starts winning. In the eyes of the government and MetaCorp, Lyrik is a very dangerous individual: her goal is to make the world right at any cost, and to kick the security forces out of DC.
The two main protagonists had mostly the same abilities, except Lyrik had a staff for combat and Owen a knife / swords. Both can use guns and the same abilities shown in the Samaritan demo. The game was meant to be an open world stealth game with Nanotech powers, somehow similar to titles like Infamous, Crackdown, Prototype and a bit of Assassin’s Creed. The missions would progress pretty much like in GTA: the difference is that you would have been able to hide in the crowd like Assassin’s Creed. Just like GTA, doing “illegal” actions would increase your police level called “Threat Level”.
Combat in Nano was a mix between first person and third person shooting, plus beat-em-up with energy swords and an extremely interesting way to get around the city by hacking flying cars, using energy beams to climb walls and buildings, jumping around on poles and riding energy cables. You could also use stealth to resolve missions if you wish to take that route instead. Players would have a bunch of weapons at their disposal, such as LMGs, rockets, grenade launchers, assault rifles, pistols, swords and many more. You would be able to upgrade weapons as well as your abilities, plus learning new ones or purchase blueprints for new abilities at Shops. Just like the Gears of War series, Nano was meant to be fully playable in coop, with a possible multiplayer deathmatch mode too.
We’ll never know exactly what happened to Nano, but Epic Games’s expectations for their Blueprint trilogy were very high, targeting 5+ million sales worldwide for the first chapter with an expected release in 2015, and expecting the game to win many GOTY awards for that year. The studio also wanted to create their own version of Rockstar Social Club / Battle.net to be somehow used with Blueprint, as well as some kind of mobile app for the game to be able that lets players connect to social media. We can speculate that this part of the project turned into Epic Launcher for UE4.
While there are not official reasons why the Blueprint project was never completed, it’s possible that Cliff Bleszinski’s departure from Epic in October 2012 could have put the last nail in the coffin for the game. Former Epic Games president Mike Capps also retired from the company in December 2012, just a few months after a Chinese company acquired most of their share capital. We can speculate that this sudden change of management and leaving staffers could have been fatal for an ambitious and risky project as the Blueprint trilogy, in which Epic already invested a lot of resources.
The game had a quite negative feedback from the press and that could be one of the reasons of its cancellation:
“Just when you thought the interactive movie was dead.. along comes Sacred Pools. This is another Segasoft venture, and one which they say revolutionises adventure gaming by mixing computer graphics with video footage. At present only the video footage was on show, and it’s the usual mix of Dr. Who effects and actors without dignity. And we thought they’d learned their lesson with Double Switch.”
As far as we know, Sacred Pools was meant to be one of the first adult-only titles for the Sega Saturn, in the form of “erotic thriller” with explicit (?) sex and violent scenes, but we don’t know exactly what the team wanted to shown in the game. Sacred Pools was just one of many unreleased games planned by Segasoft, such as G.I. Ant, Heat Warz, Ragged Earth and Skies.
A few more details were shared in the Assembler Games Forum by an anonymous user who seems to own a playable beta of the game:
“SEGASOFT paid over $3mil to develop the game. The company is called Codemonkeys now. Not sure if they had a different name back then. But Segasoft pretty much entirely funded the company during that period. […] My knowledge is limited. They spent a bunch of money developing this game that was supposed to be “revolutionary”. The game missed milestones and went way over budget. I have never played that far through the game but what i’ve seen is that it is basically a FMV game where you can sort of move around the world. You have choices of which direction to go and what to do, but they are limited and (obviously) on tracks.”
If you have more images or details about this lost game, let us know! We hope to be able to preserve some footage from the game in the future.
As reported by IGN in late 1999 Dutch publisher Project 2 Interactive gained the license to publish new Dreamcast games, announcing the never released Knights and another project under the name “Big Bang”, later released as Bang! Gunship Elite in December 2000. In another interesting article by Control Online (in Dutch) we can read that in March 2000 issue of PC Zone magazine (No. 30, Dutch version) they published a good preview of Knights, revealing more details about the game’s humorous backstory:
“In the magical kingdom of Whyrule the king is too old to keep ruling the country. To find a new king they decide to organize a big tournament among knights and the winner will then rule the kingdom. You’re ready for a career change, so put on your best mail-coat out of the closet and departure towards the castle.”
Initially Knights was started as a classic 3D platform adventure similar to Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon, but soon the team had to switch plans when it became clear they would not have enough time, experience and resources to develop such kind of game. Digital Infinity were still a young team, with inexperienced developers and designers, who had to create their own 3D engine and assets without having a proper design doc to follow. After the platform game concept was tossed away they were able to create an early multiplayer demo, taking inspiration from the online capabilities of the Dreamcast and the increasing popularity of online gaming on PC.
This version of Knights was meant to be some kind of team-based multiplayer brawler with many interesting mechanics: levels were composed of different flying islands interconnected by slides, where players could move around and fight against the opposite team using different knights with different abilities, while also playing with the environment to their advantages, for example by riding a water-scooter in a small lake in one of the islands. By looking at the few screenshots we were able to gather, it seems that Knights could have been a fun multiplayer experience on the Dreamcast, with many interesting ideas.
IGN were able to see more of the game at ECTS 1999:
“Their first title, Knights (so close..) is an online deathmatch title of sorts, with an interesting twist. It is more of an interactive game of “kill the man with the ball,” and will also allow players to build their own DM levels. Project 2 plans on launching the title some time next year, and including online components a plenty.”
Unfortunately development was proceeding slowly and in the meantime Project 2 Interactiveclosed down for bankruptcy: even if the first couple of milestones were delivered, without Project 2 Digital Infinity regain the Knights rights and tried to find a new publisher.
With some luck they were able to gather Swing! Entertainment’s interest, a new publisher that doubled the studio budget and wanted to release Knights on more platforms, such as the Playstation 2. Meanwhile Digital Infinity also became part of Lost Boys Games, the studio grown with more developers, designers and artists. After the Dreamcast failed to sell enough units and with Sega discontinuing the console on March 2001, the team decided to finally cancel the Dreamcast version of Knights, focusing on the PS2 version and reworking the game again to make it the 3D platform-adventure they initially wanted to do. In the end the Playstation 2 version of Knights was also canned when Lost Boys Games were sold to Media Republic and renamed Guerrilla Games, starting to work on their Killzone series for Sony and Shellshock: Nam ’67 for PS2, Xbox, and PC. A Game Boy Color version of Knights was also under development by Formula Games / Lost Boys, but as it happened for the 3D version the game was never released.
We tried to get in contact with former former Digital Infinity / Lost Boys developers, in an attempt to unearth more on Knights, but unfortunately, they were not available for comment. If you know someone that worked on Knights, please let us know!
A reboot of Tomb Raider was developed by Crystal Dynamics and released in 2013 to welcoming applaud and incredible reviews. However, it seems that the development process took a rather sharp turn. This new Tomb Raider project was started in early 2009 and was originally meant to be a much more different game than the final one. Dubbed Tomb Raider: Ascension(not to be confused with the 2007 fan-made movie), its conception was a world away from what gamers got in the end. Taking inspiration from such titles as Resident Evil, ICO and Shadows of the Colossus, Lara’s reboot début was to be filled with giant supernatural enemies, a child companion that followed Lara, horse combat and explorations in a lavish open-world environment.
Concept art was already released immediately after the initial game announcement which holds lots of things not included in Tomb Raider’s final draft, and the concept lead many people to believe Tomb Raider was going to become something of a horror-genre game. Before the final Tomb Raider 2013 was released, EIDOS published a promotional Digital Book “Tomb Raider – The Final Hours” containing images and a video with the lost Ascension prototype:
“The Tomb Raider name never appeared on Guardian of Light and there was a reason – Crystal was saving that for the next project, what was internally known as Tomb Raider 9, or Tomb Raider: Ascension. Obvious biblical references aside, the team led by creative director Tim Longo was asked to come up with a radically different approach to a Lara Croft adventure. And that’s exactly what they did.
In early design meetings the team started thinking about other games that could inspire a new approach. The emotionally rich role-playing game Ico, the survival horror of Resident Evil, and the towering mythical creatures of Shadows of the Colossus all served as early inspiration. In Longo’s first pass at the design Lara Croft teamed up with a 6-year-old girl named Izumi […] as they adventured through a mysterious island inhabited by ghosts and monsters. Izumi would crawl into small places to help the player, thus creating asymmetric gameplay.
Eventually the player would dicover Izumi’s magical ability to manipulate water and interact with the island. After a few months of work the concept was deemed too ethereal and difficult to understand for Tomb Raider. Izumi was excised and at first replaced by a monkey that would accompany Croft on her adventures. When that didn’t work out the kids and animals were replaced by a more menacing presence on the island: colossal monsters.
In this second full pass at the concept design Lara would ride on horseback and battle against these monsters as they hurled trees at her in sequences reminiscent of a God of War game. Further refinement of the colossal monster concept shifted the art direction into the real of horror, with large zombie-like creatures that would roam a fog-soaked island.
What was intended as a confidential focus test from the Nielsen Group soon became public when one of the participants leaked images and details onto the internet during the summer of 2009. A “Rumored Leaked Photos of Tomb Raider Reboot” thread of the Tomb Raider forums quickly amassed some 3,687 posts from fans who expressed shock over a game that was more Resident Evil or Silent Hill than Tomb Raider. Others worried that setting a game entirely on an island abandoned the Indiana Jones-like globetrotting that was a hallmark of the series. […] Ultimately the horror direction was a shocking twist and focus tests confirmed that the team was “moving in the direction of making the greatest art house game that no one would ever play” […]
In the final game plot there are still some nods to the Ascension name, as we can read in Wikipedia:
Escaping the ancient monastery where she is taken by the Oni, Lara hears from Sam that Mathias is going to put her through the “Ascension“, a “fire ritual” to find the next Sun Queen that will burn her to death if it is unsuccessful. […] Lara realizes that the Ascension is not a ceremony to crown a new queen, but rather a ritual that transfers the original Sun Queen’s soul into a new body; the Sun Queen had learned to become effectively immortal by transferring her soul into a young girl’s body each time she grew old.
Below is listed the most significant changes to Tomb Raider in list form: