Sony

Road Trip [Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Road Trip is a cancelled zombie-apocalypse adventure game that was in development in 2009 / 2010 by French studio Hydravision Entertainment (mostly known for the popular survival horror game Obscure) planned to be released on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Initially known as Project T, the game was meant to be a more mature and open-ended take on the “zombie survival” genre, with a gameplay mechanic similar to State of Decay (released only 4 years later) and a characters-driven storyline, with a strong, non-romantic relationship between the two main protagonists, a man and a woman, somehow similar to what Naughty Dog did many years later in The Last Of Us. Road Trip was ambitious in scope and was likely Hydravision’s last chance for success, as the studio went bankrupt in 2012.

Popular books, comics and movies such as The Walking Dead, World War Z, 28 Days Later, Life After People and I Am Legend were the main influences for Road Trip. The studio wanted to create an open ended survival-horror game focused on action, immersion, and the feeling of freedom, while keeping pressure on players as much as possible, to surprise them with huge zombie hordes.

Road Trip was meant to be different from other third person shooters in that the player was going to have to deal with a constant sense of omnipresent danger. Instead of being in a shooting gallery and just walking toward the enemies, the player would be pushed into difficult situations and forced to figure out the best way to deal with the situation. Players would have never been completely safe in Road Trip: infected could be already roaming in the areas or appear suddenly. Zombies could pop up at anytime and from anywhere like open doorways, through windows, and even from the ceiling. These monsters would never give up, and they would hunt their prey aggressively as they were able to scale most obstacles.

Luckily players could use the environment to protect themselves, taking refuge inside a building and barricading it (pushing furniture in front of an exit to block it, closing and locking doors, windows, shutters, nailing wood boards on exits, etc.), slowing the enemies down while fleeing or using various items to help kill dozens of zombies at once (shooting a gas tank, wired grenades, etc.).

In this post-apocalyptic zombie world cities have been deserted (they are too dangerous, plus diseases are spreading quickly because of all the rotting flesh). A small proportion of the population has managed to adapt and survive in suburban areas, but most died in the first few days. There’s no electricity to be found, but petrol is still usable, providing you can find it in abandoned gas stations. 

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

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.

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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 BookTomb 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: 

Project FUUB (Juice Games / THQ) [Xbox 360, PS3, Wii – Cancelled]

Project FUUB was a peripheral device being developed by THQ Digital Warrington (Formerly Juice Games) at some point between 2006 and 2010 for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii consoles. Acting like a set of four individual dice, which were to be bundled together as one purchase, the FUUB was predominantly aimed towards local group play. Each player would interact with one or more of the dice when playing one of the FUUB specific games designed for the device. The devices themselves were fitted with some physical sensors, though it’s not exactly clear what each device was actually able to monitor. We also believe that the FUUBs required a separate, external camera to track the their movement in 3d space, though this cannot be 100% confirmed.

Two games are known to have been designed for the FUUB, to varying degrees of completion. The first, titled “FUUB” was a simple, cartoonish Mario Party style game which you can see concept mockups for below. It’s not clear how far this game got into the development cycle, but it’s possible it never level the early conceptual stages due to the lack of actual gameplay or information available on it. Since it also shared a name with the device itself, it’s likely that the game was meant to come packaged alongside the FUUB device, much like Wii Sports did with the Wii.

A second game – tentatively titled “Quest for the Magic Stones” – was also being developed, which you can see footage of in the video below. A developer described the game as being aimed at “fans of the Harry Potter series” as it shared a mystical narrative theme, and was set in a magical dungeon. Several minigames were already implemented, including logic and physics puzzles, as well as a simplified take on the rhythm-based format of the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games.

Ultimately, the FUUB concept was scrapped as THQ were in the middle of realigning in their priorities, and as a result the studio’s focus was shifted away from physical releases, causing multiple projects to be scrapped. Two other projects – Split Shift Racing & Stormbirds – were also known projects that were also cancelled due to the change in direction.. The studio would go on to make Red Faction: Battlegrounds and Warhammer 40K: Killteam before being closed by THQ in 2011.

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Isle of Minno [PSP – Cancelled]

Isle of Minno was developed for the Playstation Portable in 2006 by Sumo Digital; a company founded by former Infogrames/ Gremlin Interactive employees and which released other PSP games such as Toca Race Driver, Outrun and Driver 76 (which I truly enjoyed to play when I owned a PSP myself).

There is little information on Isle of Minno, a prototype was found by an Assembler Games Forum user and the game itself looks and sounds a bit like a children’s game. I couldn’t find a reason why the game got cancelled by Sumo Digital; the game is hardly mentioned anywhere. Game also doesn’t show up on old cached webpages of Sumo Digital’s website. In May 2006 Sony and Sumo Digital made some actual pre-production Isle of Minno UMDs, none intended for resale, but you can now easily find a leaked ISO online.

Some of the actual UMD copies even ended up on ebay and were selling for around $ 100. The dumped prototype looks to be a fully playable demo, with even a multiplayer and game sharing option.

The game starts off  with a small sequence showing a boy who washes up ashore on an island after drifting in the sea with some leftovers from a ship. After a small walk on the beach he enters a cave and finds a small village hidden in a valley at the end, presumably called Leafy Cove. After a short introduction talk from an elder person you are sent on your first mission to get yourself some decent clothes. The town is fully explorable; decent sized with loads of places to go to and now and then you find  inhabitants with which you can interact and accept missions from. After completion of a mission you’re invited over to the person’s house or you can collect a small reward for your efforts. The whole gameplay mainly seems to consist of completing small mini games like collecting feathers, fruit or other stuff, mowing lawns, throwing things out threes and of some music memory games.  The complete story of the game or its missions stays however vague.

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Split Shift Racing [PS3, Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Split Shift Racing is a cancelled arcade racer that was being developed by Juice Games (AKA THQ Digital Studios UK) for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Set in a distant sci-fi future, the game was due to take place in a chaotic “open world” environment that spanned both urban and rural terrain, and featured a transforming mechanic that allowed players to alter their car on the fly.

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Juice games had just finished work on Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights when they began working on the concept for three new games at the start of 2009. Alongside Split Shift Racing, the staff of 80 at the THQ-owned subsidiary were also working on the cancelled flight-sim Stormbirds, and a third as yet undiscovered game and peripheral project titled “FUUB”. Before this, the studio enjoyed two successful game launches with the original Juiced, as well as a PSP spin-off called Juiced: Eliminator, and the team would go on to release Red Faction: Battlegrounds and Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team under the new moniker of THQ Digital Warrington.

Details on Split Shift Racing are lacking, thanks in part to an existing NDA still covering the project. However, we can piece together some of the puzzle from talking a number of sources and various bits of portfolio work by artists that worked on the concept. One source described the project as a “futuristic open world racing title”, which is backed up by some of the concept work on display below, each one showing off designs like semi-holographic digital signboards and geometric sci-fi car models.

It’s not clear just how open the world was going to be in the final product, but an early UI concept design showing a map overview by another artist from the project suggests that instead of having one massive, sprawling world to explore, players would instead have the choice of going to one of several “zones”, each with their own theme. In this instance, we can see the Earthquake Zone, which seems to sport a large portion of off-road terrain, along with a small city pocket in the corner. This is supported by another concept image, this time for the main menu, which features a “Zone” option for players to select.

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Perhaps the most interesting feature was the ability to alter or transform your vehicle to suit the situation. Thanks to a couple of other concept pieces, we can see that the controls have four different functions mapped to the face buttons. These include Speed, Hammer, Climber, and Agile configurations. It’s not clear how each mode affected your vehicle’s performance, but it’s probably safe to assume that Speed was for racing, Hammer for taking down other drivers or breaking through debris, Climber for scaling rough terrain, and Agile for control during aerial jumps. Players could unlock new versions of vehicles from one of the four different styles by playing, and whilst there was an XP progression system in place to allow players to advance, it’s not clear whether unlocks were tied to this system or whether they had to be earned by winning races and events.

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Network features were also set to appear heavily in the game, with a strong focus on asynchronous multiplayer pitting people against each other in a variety of leaderboard challenges and events across each zone. This would have been coupled with an “Activity” page that tracked the player and their friend’s accomplishments, race times, and high scores in the form of a daily feed that others could leave comments on.

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Despite most of the information surrounding Split Shift Racing being under NDA, there are still a few images of in-game footage that show off what we might have seen if the game ever made it to its final release. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether the game itself ever made it to a playable state.

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Development on Split Shift Racing began some time in 2009 under the management of producer Tim Preece, and would go on into the early stages of development until it was cancelled some time during 2010. This saw the development team moved onto other projects, with the majority starting work on Full Impact, a classic American car destruction derby game that would also go on to be cancelled. This string of failed projects can attributed largely by the shifting focus of the company, and THQ’s own goals during the time after purchasing Juice Games in 2007.

With the studio itself undergoing a transition away from boxed retail products and moving solely into digital goods, Juice Games was also undergoing its transformation into THQ Digital Warrington. Unfortunately, as the market continued to shift, THQ decided that instead of using the studio to develop new IP, they would utilize the Warrington-based team to develop secondary games based on THQ’s pre-existing IP, which gave rise to the digital-only Red Faction and Warhammer games in 2011.

Shortly after releasing the first of their two digital games, THQ Digital Warrington was then closed down by THQ in June 2011 due to “lacklustre sales of Red Faction: Battlegrounds”. Talking to Eurogamer, an inside source who worked at the studio claimed that THQ had cancelled several projects over the years, and that they “struggled to find an idea THQ were happy with”.

[EDIT]: Shortly after posting this piece, we received some information that confirmed our report. We also received some extra background information on the project, and some minor clarifications which are posted below:

  • The screenshots containing “real cars” were in fact for a separate project, simply titled “Concept”. This was going to be a “realistic racer” that was set to follow after the release of Juiced 2. Only one track was ever made for this concept however, and the game was never developed further.

  • Split Shift was originally going to be called “Arc”, but the studio had to change the name as there were rumours that the PlayStation Move controllers were going to take that name. The studio didn’t want to risk a dispute, so instead opted to change the name proactively.

  • There were several race events already in the works, ranging from traditional time attack and head to head races, to more original concepts. One such event, called XP scramble was described as a race that “had you running around finding XP orbs that launched randomly from a set point”.

  • As suspected, the cars did have the ability to transform. The four different modes players could transform between were a default car, a racer, a quad bike, and a motorbike. One source described the process as such: “Each offered a different way to race and was up to the player when you wanted to switch.”

  • The first area, pictured in the images above, was a mountainous region that was fully playable and near completion when the game eventually got cancelled. A second area described as “An apocalyptic sinkhole” had just entered the early stages of development but never managed to get much further than a rough concept. One source describes how the whole team was taken to watch the disaster movie “2012” to help give them some inspiration for the sinkhole map.

  • The size of the mountain region was approximately the same size to that of the city area in Burnout paradise
 
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