Beneath is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Presto Studios in mid / late ‘90s, to be published by Activision for the original Playstation and PC. The game was quite hyped at the time: it was presented as a “Tomb Raider” killer, with such lines as “Deeper than any Tomb” and “More dangerous than any woman“. As we can read on The Journeyman Project website:
“Follow the exploits of Jack Wells as he searches for his missing father, a renowned archaeologist, down a mysterious network of tunnels deep into the earth. The game features a cutting-edge 3D engine with support for hardware acceleration and levels full of amazing uncharted civilizations to explore, climb and swing your way through.”
Presto Studios wanted to add more than Tomb Raider in their inspirations, and such names as H.G. Wells or Jules Verne were dropped in old press releases, such as in this one by CNN:
“Is the world ready for a revisionist H.G. Wells or Jules Verne adventure game? Presto Studios and Activision think so. In Beneath, Presto (of Journeyman Project fame) is convinced that Tomb Raider opened a door for third-person adventures, but the earlier game relied upon its good looks and lacked easy input control and depth of storytelling.
So Presto set off to build a game around Jack, a turn-of-the-century (19th/20th) adventurer out to track down his missing father whose expedition to the pole has gone terribly wrong. In the best Wells/Verne tradition, Jack discovers an underground world with an entirely unique social and eco-system. Three societies inhabit the underground – a Troglodyte world, a Morlock world, and an Insectoid world. Strangely, all three are biologically and socially connected, the questions to be uncovered are how are they connected and what are they up do?
Whether beefcake Jack will draw women to beneath the same way Tomb Raider’s Lara captivated men is unknown, but Presto definitely has a grand vision for an adventure game in Beneath. Unfortunately, despite obvious enthusiasm behind their product, the first couple of times Beneath was brought in for demonstration to PC Games, there wasn’t a whole lot in evidence to get excited about. These early alphas were all software rendered, there weren’t any adversaries or creatures and nothing to explore but dingy mineshafts. What’s more, the producers seem somewhat disdainful of the need for 3D acceleration in third-person games.
This week Activision trotted Beneath through the office again and we’re happy to report there’s a lot more there to talk about. First, Glide support was finally added a couple of weeks ago. Direct3D will come later, as well high-resolution versions of Jack, but the difference 3D acceleration brings to the game is enormous. Activision won’t release updated screens, so we were forced to run the accompanying E3 SVGA screens, but we’re happy to report that Presto’s texture work is often stunning in 3D.
[…] Now for the targets. Presto still hasn’t put many adversaries into the game, but at least we got to play with some early giant spiders and earwigs. They’re still pretty stupid, and we’d still like to see how the Morlocks and Insectoids are coming along, but this is still progress.”
Thanks to some previews published in gaming magazines at the time we know that Beneath would have been set in 12 different levels spread over 3 lost civilizations. The more players would descent deeper beneath the earth’s surface, the more technologically advanced the lost civilization would became.
In the end Presto Studios were not able to keep up with creating their ambitious 3D adventure, being more used to developing pre-rendered point and click adventures, such as their The Journeyman Project series and Myst III: Exile. A full 3D action adventure game was not an easy task to create and competition was high, with many Tomb Raider clones releasing on Playstation.
Beneath was cancelled and in 2002 the studio was closed down, after the release of their Xbox title Whacked.
Thanks to Mark and Ross Sillifant for the contribution!
Alien Reign is a cancelled sci-fi real time strategy game in development by SquareSoft USA (Redmond) in late 1995 / early 1996. While the project was still in early concept phase when it was canned and no console was decided yet, by looking at the partnership between Squaresoft and Sony in 1996 we can speculate that if only completed Alien Reign could have been released on the original Playstation (and maybe on PC?).
The team that was working on Alien Reign was the same which worked on Secret of Evermore, released in October 1995 for the Super Nintendo. This would have been their second game, if Squaresoft Japan would have not closed them down in spring 1996.
Alien Rage was conceived while the Squaresoft USA team was waiting to know their fate while their parent company was going to decide what to do with their American branch. Clayton Kauzlaric, Daniel Dociu, Brad Clarkson and a few other Squaresoft developers tossed around ideas for this new RTS inspired by their love for Warcraft 2.
“We were just ramping up on 3D at Squaresoft during the completion of Evermore, and I was interested in finding tools that would be simple and easy for artists to pick up and learn quickly. KPT Bryce seemed like it had possibilities. I also wanted a look that wasn’t obviously made of tiles like most RTS games. I hoped our backgrounds could have larger pieces of nicely rendered terrain.
These pictures from March of 1996 are the result. I did the terrain. The buildings and robot were designed by our art director Daniel Dociu then modeled and rendered by Square’s resident Alias guru Brad Clarkson.”
“It’s a small world. I was sitting in Redmond thinking up ways to incorporate 3D art into an RTS game. It turns out there was a guy just a couple miles away working on an engine for an RTS game with 3D height maps. Once those two thing met up, very good things started to happen.”
In the end Alien Reign was never released, but its concept somehow survived into the Total Annihilation project. As we can read on Wikipedia:
“Total Annihilation was a commercial success. It shipped 250,000 units by October 30, 1997. It ultimately sold over 1.5 million copies by 2002. The game was highly praised by critics, and won numerous awards, including GameSpot’s Game of the Year Award for 1997. It won GameSpy’s Top Ten Real-Time Strategy Games of All Time in 2004, leaving StarCraft in second place.”
Stephane with the help of a few more developers such as Pavlos Germidis worked at Virtual Studio from october 1997 to september 1998. In just 3 months they developed a short prototype for Commando, used to show off its 3D engine and main mechanics. Stephane worked on the game’s 3D engine, its tools and game programming while Pavlos worked on the artwork design, the story pitch and the CGI movie which would introduce the game.
Commando would have been an interesting take on the 3D action genre. The game was divided into different missions, each set in a different area on Mars full of enemies and huge final-bosses. You could steal and control enemy mechsand bikes, there would have been different ways to resolve a problem such as killing an enemy or avoid it with by flying away using a jetpack. It was a bit more open-ended than similar third person shooters of its time.
The deal for Commando was that Stephane would create the game and handle everything directly with Namco. Only the financial aspect would go thru Virtual Studio, which would get 30% of the price for being a financial go-between. Many trips to Japan were required in order to find an agreement on the game design, technical features and financials terms. The contract was finally signed by Stephane in Tokyo at the Namco building.
Unfortunately it seems that Virtual Studio misunderstand its part in the whole deal. When Stephane directly signed the game with Namco, Virtual Studio were surprised to be limited to a financial partner and quickly changed their mind about the deal. In the end the game had to be cancelled.
Only a few, tiny screenshots from the Commando prototype are preserved below, to remember its existence.
Firo and Klawd 2: Holiday Highjinks is the cancelled sequel to the original 1996 game developed by Interactive Studios Limited (later known as Blitz Games) and published by BMG Interactive for Playstation and PC. The game was a top-down shooter with pre-rendered graphic, in which an ape police detective and an odd job cat) had to explore a series of branching levels while killing all the enemies.
The first Firo and Klawd was considered quite a bad game by reviews at the time, and while we did not find any actual sales data we can assume it sold poorly. As far as we know Firo and Klawd 2 was just in early conceptual phase before the company decided that it was not worth creating a sequel to a low-selling game. The project was then cancelled and vanished into obscurity: the image preserved in this page remains the only proof of it existence.
If you know someone who worked on this game, please let us know!
At the time Cyclone Studios was mostly known for BattleSport, a “futuristic sports game” published by 3DO in 1997 for their 3DO console, Playstation, Sega Saturn and PC. In BattleSport players battle in small arenas controlling armored hovercraft. The main objective is to shoot an energy ball into a target to score points, while killing your opponents. You could somehow imagine it like a mix between “Rocket League” and “Quake 3 Arena”.
BattleSport was popular enough to deserve a sequel and soon Cyclone Studios started working on BattleSport 2 which was officially announced by 3DO at the time, originally planned for the ill-fated 3DO / Panasonic M2. As wrote by Gamespot:
“Battlesport II (working title) Another former M2 title, Battlesport II is a futuristic sports game planned as a PlayStation-only title due spring of ’98. The first Battlesport game was originally released on the 3DO console system, and it is due for the PlayStation soon through Acclaim.”
“3DO has secured approval from Sony to develop a sequel to BattleSport, one of the better titles for the original 3DO hardware. The game is currently under the working title of BattleSport 2 (no big surprise there) but it may end up as BattleSport Extreme among other possibilities. It has not yet been decided whether the game will focus more on combat or sports, but, “It will be drastically different than the first,” according to a 3DO spokesperson. BattleSport 2 is slated for an early 1998 release.”
Some more details about the game were shared by former Cyclone Studios President Helmut Kobler, in a short interview posted in 1997 on the n64.com website (now closed):
“N64.com spoke with Cyclone Studios President Helmut Kobler, who gave us an idea what the game will be like. “We definitely want to bring a version of BattleSport to N64,” said Kobler, the 28-year-old former University of California at Berkeley student. “We’ve spoken with Nintendo, they’ve given us the OK to make it, but right now we’re focusing on bringing a little more order here in-house before we move on to anything else.”
Cyclone will orchestrate a Nintendo 64-specific title, with loads of changes, abilities no other system will have, and has yet to decide which system the game will be developed for, 64DD or N64 cartridge. “Battlesport is born to be on a system like N64,” Said Kobler. “And there is a possibility of the game going four-player, if two systems could be hooked up. As far as I know, a link up is a possibility, but I can’t speak for Nintendo. […] But we’ll only do the game when we feel it’s right. We’re a small company, and we like it like that, so we need to be ready, and need to manage our resources properly.”
Kobler’s plans to make a version of BattleSport for Nintendo 64 include alterations like improving the graphics so that tanks and arenas will contain a quantifiable leap in polygons, and special effects that will include smoke and exhaust, and an altogether far more detailed world. “You wouldn’t just see a flat wall area, crowds, color, and much more would be seeable. And tanks could destroy certain parts of the arenas,” Kobler says.
[…] Lastly, explained Kobler, the game will have new parts to it, which add to the strategy. “Some of the new elements will include underground and above-ground tunnels to hide from the enemy, and pits as well,” he added.”
In the end BattleSport 2 was still primarily in development for Playstation, but unfortunately it seems that Sony, 3DO and Cyclone Studios were not exactly sure how to enhance this sequel. As we can read in an interview with Lance Lewis (former Cyclone developer):
“MT: What is the current status of 3DO’s BioSwarm for the Playstation?
LL: We actually finished a playable level to demo at E3 in 1998, although it was never shown there. In defense of the game, I think it had really begun to take shape, and it was quite unique. However, this was one of those projects that just had too many “red flags” around it from day one. It was originally a sequel to the 3DO Multiplayer game BattleSport. I believe Sony wasn’t too keen on the idea, so it was redesigned and called N.R.G. (energy… get it?). Again, it wasn’t received too warmly so it was redesigned again to become BioSwarm. All of this was going on while the game retained that same engine, presenting a problem for the design team. I feel technology should be built to house a game, a game shouldn’t have to be restricted by pre-built technology. Now, there was nothing wrong with the technology, it was great in fact… but… it was built to do a particular style of game, so every design after that was obviously going to be limited. Upper management really didn’t care about details like this and so once again the 3DO theme: “Re-use, re-use, re-use…”
Unfortunately Lance Lewis passed away in January 2018; family and friends organized a “celebration of life” ceremony for him in San Jose.
To learn more about this lost game we got in contact with James Hampton, former Lead Game Designer at Cyclone Studios on BioSwarm, who recall when he started working on the project:
“Eddie Ruvinsky and Rob Adams were the lead programmer and artist on the team, and together they put together a playable level that featured these articulated hover ships that Rob had designed. When I started at Cyclone Studios, I was tasked with building a game design based on this prototype.
I agreed that the ships were fun to zoom around the arena they built, and wanted to add some unique mechanics that could help the game stand out in the vehicle combat genre. As a group we brainstormed and came up with a bunch of pop-culture inspired enemies and arenas.
The core idea for BioSwarm (as seen in the storyboards for the intro movie) was that a pair of intergalactic garbage men come across Earth, and when they see how polluted Earth is, they saw as the perfect landfill to dump their toxic waste on. This space trash turns out to be these energy based creatures that travel in swarms which defended itself by bringing stuff to life to fight for them. Each of the arena would be set in different kinds of trash themed locales such as ‘Silicon Slums‘ (where old computers parts and monitors go to die), a nuclear power plant, and even a Vegas like level that focused on ‘trashy pop culture’. Example: in the Automobile wrecking yard level, the swarm summons a boss monster whose body is made up of automobiles and car parts (this is the enemy creature seen in the BioSwarm poster and video). This initial build included a subtle easter egg in that a lot of the cars used in the boss monsters body were based on the vehicles the dev team drove to work every day.
The amazing art duo of Rob Adams and Mark Dixon came up with some excellent concept art to show what these new kind of enemies could be.”
BioSwarm’s gameplay was quite different from its early conception as BattleSport 2. Sports’ mechanics of scoring points by shooting balls in a target were dropped in favor of a more combat-focused gameplay, merging cult classics vehicle combat games such as Twisted Metal and Vigilante 8 with an interesting “flocking Artificial Intelligence”.
As told us by James:
“The goal for the BioSwarm player was to round up these alien energy creatures that defended itself by bringing inanimate objects to life to act as their protectors. Sort of a science fiction take on rodeo lasso-ing using these Hoverships to chase down, lasso and capture the ‘swarm’ of creatures. The Swarm used a “flocking” AI algorithm which resulted in these dynamic movement patterns of the swarm moving as one.”
The team worked hard on BioSwarm until April 1998, when Cyclone Studios were fully merged into 3DO and the project was cancelled so that they could instead focus on titles based on their “Army Men” franchise. They developed “Army Men: Air Attack”, published in 1999 for Playstation, Nintendo 64 and PC.
Before BioSwarm got canned the team was able to develop a “pre-alpha” version, which offered a taste of what the moment to moment gameplay was like. While not everything was implemented, you could control a hover ship in an environment inspired by Three Mile Island / nuclear plants and chase down the swarming creatures and zap them. This early demo was presented to the executives at Cyclone and 3DO, as well as a handful of journalists from some of the game magazines publishing at the time (such as EGM). We hope one day someone could rediscover BioSwarm‘s playable demo to share and preserve it online.
On a curious note, years later after Cyclone Studios merged with 3DO their former office space was used by Thomas Dolby’s company Beatnik to work on audio software solutions and games for Macromedia and shockwave.com. James remembers Dolby shown him a demo of Beatnik’s software remixing “She Blinded me with Science” in the same conference room they used to pitch game ideas while at Cyclone.
Huge thanks to James Hampton for helping us preserving more details to remember this promising lost game. All BioSwarm art was developed by lead artist Rob Adams and Mark Dixon. Also thanks to Ross Sillifant for the contribution!