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Duke Nukem: Critical Mass [PSP – Cancelled]

Duke Nukem: Critical Mass is a run & gun shooter game, released on the Nintendo DS platform in 2011 by Apogee Software. The game was originally intended to also come out as a Playstation Portable game but was later cancelled for unknown reasons. Rumours on the game started early as the beginning of 2008 and were later in July of that year confirmed when Apogee Software announced a completely new Duke Nukem adventure: a Trilogy which would be developed for both systems in cooperation with publisher Deep Silver and which would be developed by Frontline Studios. After being rebranded to 3D Realms this would also be the revival of the Apogee brand in game development and publishing. The trilogy would consist of three separate games with Critical Mass being the first; its original release date set in the fall of 2009 and would be followed by the other chapters Duke Nukem: Chain Reaction and Duke Nukem: Proving Grounds.

Besides the storyline the games on DS and PSP would however be completely different from each other; the Nintendo DS version would be more of a side scroller while the Playstation Portable would be more of a third / first person shooter. The game would have on both platforms a multi-mode where players could easily switch between third person, first person, isometric and side scrolling views including some extra options as a sniper mode, a jetpack mode and different boss battle modes. The Critical Mass chapter would have 9 areas to complete, divided into 27 missions and the player was promised 15 different types of weapons, multiple and secret ways to achieve in-game points and on top of that both platforms would have cinematic rendered cut-scenes between levels. The huge difference between the Nintendo DS and the Playstation Portable, being two complete different machines can be seen in the two screenshots below which I took out of a promotional video released by Apogee in March 2009 made specially for the Game Developer’s Conference; the promotional video was cut in two pieces and showed screenshots of both systems. Funny thing was that the PSP version was rated Mature and the DS was only rated Teen. So two complete different games carrying the same story.

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In the first chapter of the trilogy some Earth Defense Organization had been sending out special agents on missions into the future to ensure the safety of the Earth; none of the sent agents however reported back and our hero Duke Nukem is sent into that same future to figure out what is going on. In that future Duke Nukem finds a ruined world in complete chaos and disaster, mankind is almost entirely wiped out and the remains of it are reigned and controlled by aliens. Duke then discover that things might have gone wrong because of him; the moment he left the earth for the future it was attacked by those same alien forces. In the second chapter “Chain Reaction” Duke heads back to the present time in hope of fixing things in the present and thus also in the future. In the third chapter “Proving Grounds” Duke would see things getting worse and ends up being involved in a new World War.

So the DS version was released, being it much later then planned: what happened to the PSP version of the game? In March 2009 Apogee Software confirmed that the release date of both versions was still set for September of that year. They then went a bit silent and rumors about Apogee’s mother company 3D Realms closing its doors start to spread; everybody expected that the same would also happens to Apogee Software. Apogee however denied all rumors and stated that the company under no circumstances would be affected by the 3D Realms situation and that the development of the Duke Nukem Trilogy was going according plans. 3D Realms was at the time also working on Duke Nukem Forever. In May of the same year Take-Two, who was at that moment the holder of the publishing rights for Duke Nukem, filed a law suit against 3D Realms, stating that 3D Realms failed to deliver the game. In 2010 Take-Two announced that Forever had been shifted over from 3D Realms to Gearbox and that it had sold all the rights and the intellectual property to that same company. It was later announced that Critical Mass could no longer carry the Duke Nukem license. They decided to change the game with replacing all traces of Duke Nukem like player models, logos and even voice-overs. The name of the main character was also changed and replaced by a new hero called Cam Nash. Frontline Productions even had a new name for the game, “Extraction Point: Alien Shootout” and decided that the new game now would be released on the Playstation Network. Their biggest problem now was that they faced having to deal with a complete new IP, without a well-known and thus easier selling IP like Duke Nukem.

Things then got even weirder when later in 2011: Apogee Software stated that they did not lost the license for Duke Nukem and that the release date for Duke Nukem: Critical Mass was set for June 2011, but just the DS version. A PSP version was no longer spoken off and was said to be cancelled when developer Frontline was taken off the project; the real reason behind this decision still remains a bit vague but the confusion on loosing or not loosing the original license must have been a large part of that decision. Apogee Software denied that the decision to cancel the PSP version had something to do with the loss of any rights and they even said to have submitted a complete build of the game to Sony for final approval. Unfortunately Apogee declined all comments when asked why the game never got a PSP release.

The Nintendo DS version came out as scheduled in 2011.  It was labeled as the worst handheld game ever and received some very hard and killing critics when reviewed. End of story? No not at all. There is a complete version of the PSP version of Duke Nukem: Critical Mass. Leaked? Nope. Later release? Nope. Port of the game? Also nope.

The Library of Congress in the United States is probably the biggest library in the world. It archives besides just books also things as magazines, comics and yes, also video games. Through the copyright registration process the library receives roughly 400 games in a year. About 99,99% these games are physically released and published computer games. In 2014 a technician of the library was performing an inventory of acquired video games and he stumbled upon a DVD-R labeled Duke Nukem: Critical Mass (PSP).

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Most of the time however these DVD’s contain footage of gameplay of a game. The technician was however triggered by a line of text in the copyright database record: Authorship: entire Video Game, computer code, artwork, music. He put the DVD in his computer and discovered a file directory with the source code of a complete PSP game; a game of which he later found out to be an unreleased Playstation Portable Game. All the contents of the found disc are however copyrighted material and the disc will be stored in the digital archive of the library. Unfortunately it seems that its content cannot be shared. According to Apogee the disc is an early alpha version of the game and it was submitted to the library as required for the copyright process. Duke Nukem: Critical Mass will probably remain another cancelled PSP game that will never be released.

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Attack of the Killer Rabbids from Outer Space [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U]

Attack of the Killer Rabbids from outer Space, later retitled Killer Freaks from outer Space, was a first person shooter developed by Ubisoft Montpellier that would eventually become ZombiU for the Wii U.

Originally planned as an untitled horror shooter for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2010, the game was already intended to be a part of the Rayman spinoff series Raving Rabbids wherein earth was attacked by a much more frightening “cousin” of the Rabbids. Early concept art depicts them as being very similar looking to the Rabbids but with sharp teeth and, in some instances, missing their eyeballs. Also revealed in concept art were designs for different types of enemies such as a basic trooper, a shield trooper, a giant Rabbid, UFOs, and a variety of other alien vehicles.  Multiple soldiers can be seen fighting the Rabbids in some of the art, suggesting that would the player would not only be taking the role of one of these soldiers, but there would be co-op multiplayer as well.

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This more “mature” tone and the level of violence in the game began to cause concern among the game’s developers as they felt it was begin to stray too far from the child friendly franchise.  “We thought about making them cousins to the Raving Rabbids,” designer Jean-Karl Tupic-Bron stated in in an interview with Polygon, “but quickly decided to split [it off]- This is not what Raving Rabbids is all about.

In response to the issue they changed the invaders from “Killer Rabbids” to “Killer Freaks” and officially revealed the game under that title at E3 2011 as a launch game for the Wii U.  While the Freaks remained very similar to the Rabbids in size and stature they were given a much more reptilian appearance to differentiate them from their earlier counterparts. Set in a post-apocalyptic London, the game pitted 1-4 players against hordes of the Freaks with an arcade run n gun style of gameplay complete with a point system. An early trailer and gameplay video revealed a variety of weapons that could be used against the Freaks ranging from handguns and shotguns to a buzzsaw launcher and electricity gun.

Despite the early footage getting a positive response the team still wasn’t satisfied with what the game was turning out to be.  The driving force behind this was their desire to create an experience tailor suited for the Wii U, something that the fast paced shooter that they had made didn’t deliver on. Another reason was that the Freaks, despite being well liked by the team, were too small and forced players to look towards the ground for a majority of the game.  It is because of these pacing and gameplay issues that the team decided zombies were the next logical step.

Many of the aspects were completely overhauled in the transition to ZombiU, with Tupic-Bron citing the one vs many book and film I am Legend as a major inspiration towards the change.  First and foremost the pace of the game was significantly slowed down, hence the change to zombies as they are generally depicted as being slow and stumbling.  They introduced a focus on preparation, patience, and inventory management as opposed to the frantic gameplay in the previous installment.

This allowed them to utilize the Wii U pad more effectively, as it was now used for vital gameplay features such as displaying the map and organizing the player’s inventory.  They also abandoned the more comical aspects of the game in favor of a darker and more serious toneCo-op was also removed and instead was replaced by a unique “one death” in which every survivor the player controlled only had one life, and the next survivor the player controlled would have to make their way to the now zombified previous survivor and kill them for their supplies.  One of the only aspects that remained relatively unchanged was the vs multiplayer in which one player would control an army of aliens/zombies with the game pad, while the other would try and survive as long as possible with a Wii-mote and nunchuck.

ZombiiU was released on November 18th, 2012 and ports for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC were released on August 18th, 2015.  News of a sequel in development began to spread when creative director Jean-Phillipe Caro mentioned working on a prototype, but It has since been 100% denied by the Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot as the game was not financially successful for the company.  It has been more recently revealed that this proposed game would have re-instated co-op gameplay like in the previous installments.  Ubisoft Montpellier continues to work on big franchise games such as the next Ghost Recon and the sequel to their cult hit Beyond Good and Evil.

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Whore of the Orient (Team Bondi) [Cancelled]

Whore of the Orient is a cancelled game from Team Bondi and Kennedy Miller Mitchell, it was a spiritual successor to L.A Noire and planned to be released for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Like L.A Noire you would play as a detective but this time in 1930s Shanghai, it would also use the motion scan technology that was first used in L.A Noire. From leaked gameplay in 2013 it showed that the game had a focus on hand to hand combat, but still retained the usual cover shooting mechanics found in L.A Noire. In interview with Eurogamer Brendan McNamara (writer and director at Team Bondi) described the game saying “It’s pretty interesting. It’s one of the great untold stories of the twentieth century. So I think it’ll be good”

When Team Bondi sought a publisher for Whore of the Orient, it was reported that no publisher was interested due to claims of poor working conditions during the development of L.A Noire. When Team Bondi closed it’s doors in 2011 its assets were sold to Kennedy Miller Mitchell where development continued, and Warner Bros Interactive had taken interest in the game, but later abandoned the project in 2012. In 2013 it was rumored that the game had been put on hold and in June of 2013 it was reported that Kennedy Miller Mitchell had revived $200,000 of funding from an investment board. It was then reported that Whore of the Orient was set for a 2015 release date, but that never happened and we would not hear anything more about the game until 2016. In June of 2016 in an interview on the GameHugs podcast with Derek Proud (former producer on Whore of the Orient) he was asked “so will we ever see that game” and he replied “I don’t think so“.

There are still screenshots of the game on the internet, the aforementioned 2013 leaked footage of the game can also be found online.

Article by Nathan Coe.

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Gunhero [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360]

After finishing Medal of Honor: Vanguard and Medal of Honor: Airborne, in 2007 EA Los Angeles started to work on a new game for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, titled Gunhero. While keeping a first person view as their previous MoH titles, this new project would have been set in a post zombie-apocalypse world, focused on using melee weapons and close quarter combat, somehow preceding what Techland did 4 years later with Dead Island and one year before the release of Left 4 Dead. The project was still in early development and many features were not decided yet, as the plan for a possible coop multiplayer mode, but unfortunately it was cancelled before to be completed. The game was noticed in 2011 by Siliconera after Gunhero’s Art Director Zach Schlappi published a few concept art online.

The main character in Gunhero was a volunteer SAR pilot whose crew fatally died after their Jayhawk was brought down by a rescued survivor who was hiding the zombie infection. Caught in the middle of the quarantine zone, the pilot had to survive through zombies to rescue scientist who may hold a cure.

Even if their early prototype did garnered a lot of internal praise, Dead Space was also pitched to EA during the same time and they decided to cancel Gunhero as there was not room in their portfolio for two survival horror games. Even if Dead Space became a success for EA, the popularity of open world, first person zombie games in the following years marks the cancellation of Gunhero as a huge missed opportunity for the studio.

In 2010 EA Los Angeles would be re-branded as Danger Close Games, but 3 years later after the commercial failure of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, the studio was dissolved and some employees moved to DICE Los Angeles.

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Disruptor [Playstation – Beta]

Disruptor is FPS developed by now popular Insomniac Games for the original PlayStation and published in 1996 by Universal Interactive Studios. Disruptor was initially planned for the 3DO game console back in 1994 but due to the bad reception of the 3DO development of Disruptor was quickly shifted over to the PlayStation 1.

As we can read on 1UP:

“I think we were very lucky to get out of the Disruptor development process alive,” says Price. “None of us had ever been in the game business before. We were just guessing that it might be fairly easy to do, and man, were we wrong.”

It was 1994. The 3DO, a platform created by EA founder Trip Hawkins, was the cutting edge of game-console technology, a CD-based system retailing for an insane $700. Insomniac took advantage of the CD format‘s low price and dove into Disruptor. Within a year, the rug was pulled out from under the team. “3DO tanked, big time,” says Price.

They shopped a demo around to publishers up and down the West Coast, looking to move Disruptor over to Sony’s newly released PlayStation. It wasn’t going well. “Everybody had turned us down,” says Price. “We were down to no money in the bank, and this was really our last shot.” Their final meeting was with Mark Cerny, a veteran game designer/producer whose work spans 1984’s Marble Madness to the recent Jak and Daxter series. At that point, Cerny was scouting developer talent for Universal Studios Interactive in Los Angeles. He found it in Insomniac.

“Mark saw the engine that Al [Hastings] had programmed on the 3DO and said, ‘Wow, these guys have potential.’ We signed a three-game deal with Universal based on that meeting,” says Price. “It saved our asses.” Ted Price was 24. Al Hastings was 21.

Some more details can be found on IGN:

“We began on 3DO because when I started Insomniac, 3DO was the first really viable CD-based system out on the market,” Price explained. “They had dev kits available for very low prices. And Sony, at the time, wasn’t making dev kits available to everybody. So I was able to purchase a dev kit for about $8,000. We kind of set our path.”

Hastings told me more. “We started on 3DO, because… I guess when we were starting, it was before anybody like us could get our hands on a Sony dev kit. I don’t even know if they were out or not. But the 3DO, they were pushing it to anyone who wanted it. At the time, I think a lot of people thought it might succeed. I don’t think we were alone in our naiveté. But pretty soon, maybe halfway through [development], it became clear that 3DO was just never going to be viable. It was about that same time that Sony and SEGA were putting out the alternatives,” in the form of PlayStation and Saturn, respectively.

The gallery below includes some early beta screenshots from the PS1 version of the game, with some small differences from the final game.

These beta screenshots was found on the official interplay website for the game. They are pretty similar to the final game with the exception of the HUD, where the health bar is moved to the bottom corner and features a different design than the final game, the Psionics icon seems to be a little bit different than in the final game and the Ammo count has been moved to the opposite corner of the screen.

These beta screenshots were found in a small article in the French PlayStation Magazine (issue 4). It’s much of the same from the other ones.  The last one is the most interesting one, as the enemies appear to be actual 3D models, however in the final game all the enemies are pre-rendered 3D-looking sprites in a 3D environment. The psionics icon had red eyes which is not present in the final game. And the weapon shown does not directly match any weapons from the final game.

Article by Hennamann 

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