Titan A.E. is a cancelled action/shoot ’em up game developed by Blitz Games Studios and published by Fox Interactive, from 1999 to 2000, for the PC and the Playstation. It was based off the animated Sci-Fi adventure film of the same name.
In August 2000, Eurogamer got in touch with Philip Oliver, co-founder of Blitz Games Studios, who explained what happened during the development of the game:
“When Fox purchased the Don Bluth studios they started developing Anastasia, and we were asked to put a concept together for a PlayStation game. They were very impressed, but it was decided that Anastasia was not the right game for the PlayStation, and they produced an activity centre for PCs with somebody else instead. However, they promised that next time they had an opportunity, they would consider us first.”
“Then in January 1999 I got a call asking if we would be available to produce an arcade action game for the new film from Don Bluth – Planet Ice. We started work in March 1999, and a few months later the film was renamed Titan A.E.”
The game was based very closely on the movie, in which a young man by the name of Cale finds himself racing across the galaxy to save what is left of the human race, after the planet Earth was destroyed by a powerful but xenophobic alien species called the Drej. “The storyline of the film reads very much like the plot for a video game, and therefore it made perfect sense to follow the same story and let the player control Cale and Akima [the movie’s love interest], and escape from the Drej to find the Titan.”
The game’s settings and visuals were also closely based on the movie, and “Fox Animation (the Don Bluth group) sent us monthly updates of the film, as well as concept artwork and 3D models of things likes space ships. It’s only been in the last few months that we’ve needed audio, and they have been very supportive.”
It was showed at E3 2000, and IGN wrote some more details on the title:
(…) Titan A.E. pits players as either Cale or Akima as they fight Drej aliens and search for the lost ship known as Titan, which holds the secret to salvaging the last of the human race.
Players can take the game on in two ways, through a third-person action/adventure game, or through the cockpit of a ship. Environments and detailed characters will appear from the movie itself, and the story will parallel the movie, but it’s likely that the development team will take some creative license to create an engaging game on its own.
But only a month later, the project was cancelled after the movie bombed in the box-office:
IGN learned today that Fox Interactive has decided to halt the development of Titan A.E. for PlayStation. Previously set for a fall release in North America, the title was based on the animated film by Don Bluth that completely tanked at the U.S. box offices with a total gross of just over $22 million.
While the poor showing of the movie at the box office seems like a good enough reason to cancel the PlayStation game, according to a PR representative from Fox Interactive it was only one of many different factors that resulted in the decision to discontinue the development of the game.
At Eurogamer, Philip Oliver added:
“Producing video games is a risky business. Development costs are high and time scales long. The public naturally buy things that they have heard of, therefore it removes a great deal of risk to produce games based on popular licenses. Unfortunately it means less creative freedom for us producing the game, and ultimately the game’s success is based more on the license than the game itself. Titan A.E. did not do well at the US box office, and that effected everyone involved in spin-off’s from the movie. It’s a great shame that the American public didn’t buy into Titan A.E. ; I believe lack of marketing had a great deal to do with it. It was a good film, and this sets back the whole movie industry in attempting to create SGI animated sci-fi movies, which ultimately could have been great, as well as a good source of material for the games business.”
Some years later, the playable demo of the game leaked on the internet, and a PSX demo CD is also available for purchase on Ebay.
On the forum The Ocean Experience, which was a forum founded by former Ocean Software’s developers, former artist Brian Flanagan wrote that the game was “99% done” but was cancelled because “the film bombed“.
The Super Nintendo whole source code leaked onto the internet years ago. The gameplay is similar to other Beat ’em up games such as Final Fight or Double Dragon. The player has two bars; one for the life and the other allowing the player to perform special attacks (invisibility, speed running, a dome shield that knocks out everyone who hits it). The regular beat ’em up levels also include a section for gun play, where the player is able to shoot enemies and a driving stage.
Despite being cancelled at the last minute, the SNES version got mixed reviews by many video games magazines back then. The Genesis version has still yet to be found.
Before being released in this form, the game was initially planned to be a First-Person Shooter with horror elements. Its development was very chaotic and spanned approximately for 7 years, with various changes of responsabilities and developers, alongside communication issues.
The development story of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was shared in August 2013 by Polygon. It began in 2005 when 2K Games/Take-Two Interactive acquired the licence from Atari which was in financial trouble. The following year, the publisher boughtIrrational Games which operated in 2 studios, the main office in Boston, Massachusetts, and its subsidiary in Canberra, Australia. Both companies were tasked to work on a new X-COM game and started some different pitches:
In 2005, Take-Two purchased the rights to sci-fi strategy franchise X-COM from Atari. In retrospect, its motive was obvious. The publisher was in the midst of acquiring an enormous amount of talent, and wanted an established video game franchise that could be pushed immediately into development. Following their acquisition by Take-Two in 2006, Irrational Games and sister-studio Irrational Games Australia were renamed 2K Boston (we’ll continue to call it Irrational for clarity, since it switched back to its original name later) and 2K Australia.
Both studios quickly began conceptualizing X-COM games. At this point, Irrational was still a year away from releasing BioShock, which would rocket the studio and 2K Games to mainstream relevance. Irrational team members liked the idea of a second project, and Ken Levine was an outspoken fan of the original X-COM games. A small group crafted a handful of pitches. One of the earliest pitches, claims a source, was a loyal sequel to the classic X-COM games. The engine Irrational used to power its tactical superhero game Freedom Force seemed like a perfect fit for X-COM’s tactical strategy design. However, that concept was scrapped early on for an X-COM first-person shooter.
But translating the storied strategy franchise into a new genre proved difficult. Concepts were created in rapid succession, most of which never made it past the storyboard phase. Ownership of the project bounced back and forth between the Boston and Australia offices as both teams struggled to find a way forward. The pitches shared some similar elements, like the theme of resistance. One pitch imagined Earth post-invasion and full of resistance fighters. The intention was to create scenarios in which humans were outclassed, outmatched and outsized. A source describes one storyboard pitch in which a hero — who resembled Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl — placed boom boxes on plinths in a city square, inspiring humans to rise up against their alien overlords.
In another pitch, which developed into a full demo, the player escaped a commandeered an alien vessel by selecting a location on Earth and transitioning from the ship, through the cloud and onto the ground. In a later scene, the player climbed the back of a giant alien, searching for a way to kill it. This demo was, according to a source, “E3 ready.” Most of the single-player pitches came from Irrational. 2K Australia, meanwhile, focused on creating a multiplayer mode. One demonstration involved asymmetrical team-based multiplayer, with one side playing as humans and the other as aliens. The mode, according to one source, was similar to the Aliens vs. Predator series, with the various races having unique abilities and weapons.
In 2007, following the advancement of BioShock’s development, Irrational Games took the decision to fully focus on that project, leaving 2K Australia as the sole developer of the new X-COM game. The multiplayer mode planned by them was dropped in favor of a single-player campaign. However, later in that year, 2K Games decided to put 2K Australia as a support developer for 2K’s other subsidiaries. For more than 2 years, between the release of the first BioShock and the release of its sequelin February 2010, the X-COM project wasn’t a priority:
By 2007, BioShock had taken shape. Seeing BioShock’s potential, Irrational head Ken Levine decided the studio wouldn’t continue development of an X-COM game, and the project transferred fully to 2K Australia. The multiplayer prototype was scrapped, and 2K Australia began work on a single-player campaign. Though, according to a source, team members at 2K Australia chose to build off one of Irrational’s final concepts: a first-person shooter set in the 1950s in which humanity is woefully under-equipped to fight an invading alien menace. The rest of the game — the story, the mechanics, the point — would be revised.
From late 2007 to early 2010, 2K Australia was tasked by the publisher to act as the developer equivalent of the supportive best friend to the publisher’s other studios. First it helped Irrational finish BioShock, then contributed to the game’s PlayStation 3 port. In 2007, a handful of high-level employees left Irrational to found a California-based studio called 2K Marin, which was built initially to create BioShock 2 and become a premier studio within 2K Games, producing a new IP of its own. 2K Marin needed help, though, so 2K Australia supported the development of BioShock 2 until its release in early 2010.
For three years, alongside this work, a small group within 2K Australia continued work on X-COM, but finding time and resources was a chore. Progress slowed. With BioShock 2 finally out the door, the team looked ahead to finishing X-COM and establishing 2K Australia as leading triple-A studio. 2010 should have been a great year for 2K Australia. With BioShock 2 shipped, the studio finally had its chance to lead a game, and escape this unexpected de facto helper role.
Some people at the publisher side of 2K believed 2K Australia had had a good deal of time — three years by their count — to nurture the X-COM pitch. They were pleased with the initial concept — even though, one source claims, the original vertical slice had been built by a skeleton crew. They named their pitch “X-COM: Enemy Unknown.” The creative leads at 2K Australia wanted the game to be mysterious, and hoped to create a first-person shooter that elicited fear and confusion. The subtitle, Enemy Unknown, wasn’t just a play off the original X-COM’s European title, which was also Enemy Unknown. It was more like an explicit mission statement: You could see the enemy; you could fight the enemy; but you could never truly know the enemy.
The elevator pitch was essentially the original X-COM meets The X-Files, set in the 1950s to 1960s. The time period — something close to it, at least — would survive years of revisions. Practically everything else would not. As a government officer, the player had neither the weapons nor the technology to fight the futuristic aliens that were invading Earth. But they did have a handy camera. The core mechanics of the game were researching and running, with a splash of shooting. The player’s most important skill was photography.
The pitch was, in some ways, strikingly similar to those of the original X-COM games, despite being first-person. The player would select missions from a number of locations on a map. While the general construction of a stage would remain the same each playthrough — the streets and homes of a suburb would be static, for example — certain aspects of the missions would be procedurally generated. So the enemies you encountered, the location of valuable information, the entrances to rooms, the time of day and the mission goal would be a different combination each time, allowing the player to freshly experience the same stage multiple times.
The other half of the pitch focused on the X-COM base. After collecting information, the player would return to an appropriately retro 1950s military base. Here, the player would complete research goals and devise strategies for future missions. The art direction was abstract. Aliens would be wisps of air, globs of goo or puffs of clouds. The first enemy was the titan, the large obelisk that would later be the iconic centerpiece of the game’s marketing materials.
Character 3D model named ‘Rebel Girl’, owned by Irrational Games. Might be from the 2006-2007 iteration.
As it was pointed out by Polygon, following the release of BioShock 2, a large part of 2K Marin was brought in to help 2K Australia developing X-COM. While the single-player campaign was still the focus of 2K Australia, 2K Marin began creating a brand new multiplayer mode for the game, this time similar to Left 4 Dead games. However, communication issues started to surface, as both developers were located on different continents:
Following the release of BioShock 2, 2K Marin’s staff was divided into three groups. The first was a small, multi-discipline team assigned to BioShock 2’s downloadable content. The second consisted of five of the studio’s senior employees who would conceptualize and pitch a new IP for Marin to begin following X-COM’s completion. The final group, which consisted of most of the studio, was assigned to X-COM. To alleviate communication issues between two continents, the publisher assigned 2K Marin to multiplayer responsibilities, while 2K Australia continued work on single-player, (…)
The work seemed doable, according to multiple sources, if not ideal. The division of labor resembled something akin to a outsourcing, and Marin was too large and responsible for too much to have minimal creative input. Marin spent the first few months developing multiplayer designs, building a framework and modifying 2K Australia’s single-player engine to run multiplayer settings. The earliest multiplayer prototype was a survival game in which four players worked to reach a certain point on a map. It resembled Left 4 Dead, complete with an artificial intelligence director deciding when and how to spawn enemies.
Meanwhile the relationship between 2K Marin and 2K Australia remained creatively and structurally confusing, further troubled by the difficulty of simply scheduling a daily conference call across an 18-hour time difference. Most communication took place between the mid-level producers at both studios, who would pass along task lists from Australia to Marin. Team members at 2K Marin felt they didn’t have a direct line of communication back to 2K Australia for when they had questions or alternative ideas. Both sides craved the simple ability to sit in a room with co-workers and hash things out.
XCOM was officially revealed in April 2010 by 2K Games. The same day, decision to merge 2K Australia into 2K Marin was made. This wasn’t well received by many members of both studios for different reasons, and, above all, the communication issue between them was still there. Quickly, it was all clear that the single-player mode and the multiplayer mode wouldn’t reach the alpha state milestone scheduled for November 2010, and 2K wanted a public presentation for E3 2010. Again, the multiplayer mode was scrapped, and 2K Marin had to help 2K Australia for the single-player campaign:
On April 14, 2010, the publisher merged 2K Marin and 2K Australia under the single banner of 2K Marin. It’s unclear whether or not this was an intentional play to artificially bond the two studios. Whatever the case, the name change was not well received by many members of both studios. Australia felt it was losing its identity. Marin felt that it was absorbing a team of developers it hardly knew. The press release quaintly referred to the two as “sister studios.” On the very same day, 2K announced XCOM to the public.
In the press release, the game was simply called XCOM. No hyphen. No subtitle. The words “Enemy Unknown” were abandoned, though the press release emphasized the “unknowable” theme of 2K Australia’s original pitch, mentioning the player’s “frailty — against a foe beyond comprehension.” The press released described XCOM as a “Mystery-filled first-person shooter from the creators of BioShock 2,” which wasn’t entirely true. 2K representatives clarified that the game was being led by the the Australian division, referred to by this wordy label: “the Canberra, Australia arm of 2K Marin.”
Renaming the studios didn’t fix their problems. The team in Marin continued to receive instructions via task lists from Australia, and resentment began to build within both studios. Marin wanted more creative input — its name was now on the project. Australian wanted its chance to lead a project — even if it was now the “wing” of another studio. The name didn’t fix the the studios’ biggest problem: a fruitful line of communication wasn’t coalescing.
By May, it was clear that Marin’s multiplayer and Australia’s single-player would not meet the alpha milestone scheduled for November 2010. 2K chose to scrap the multiplayer and assign Marin to help Australia complete the single-player campaign. The two developers, separated by half a world, had barely a month left before XCOM’s scheduled first public presentation at E3 2010.
Subsequently, the tasks were shared with 2K Marin in charge of mission design, and 2K Australia the strategy layer base. But some struggles were still there, especially for 2K Marin’s programming and animation departments, which were unable to properly execute 2K Australia’s vision regarding the enemies. On the other hand, communication improved a lot, but, slowly, 2K Marin started to have more and more influence on the design:
To maintain a degree of compartmentalization and prevent communication issues, 2K Marin was assigned “Field Ops,” the first-person missions, while 2K Australia worked on the strategy layer of the XCOM base. Though designing the base was 2K Australia’s priority, the studio’s leads also directed the design for field ops, being developed by Marin. This, according to many sources, caused a good deal of creative tension.
2K Marin’s various departments struggled to execute on Australia’s direction of mysterious levels and unknowable enemies. Sources say the themes were difficult to express in moment-to-moment gameplay. Animators struggled with telegraphing the attacks of the amorphous goo enemies, and programmers failed to express how the enemy or the player took damage. Despite the game being labeled a first-person shooter, its core mechanic was research, via taking photographing evidence and retrieving information. The goal of a mission was typically to keep an enemy alive, and extract research from it. But because most enemies lacked faces, artist and programmers labored over ways to express the direction a character looked and whether or not the player was in its line of sight. This made the stealth nature of research missions particularly difficult. The very simplest mechanics of most games — like knowing whether the enemy was looking at the player — were made difficult by the too-alien nature of Australia’s enemies.
If the project wanted to progress, problems needed to be worked out face to face, person to person. So the leads at both studios agreed to make it happen. To ease the tension and clear the lines of discussion, the two studios began swapping small groups of employees, sending developers on the nearly 12-hour journey across the Pacific Ocean from one location to the other, for weeks and months at a time. It sort of worked. According to many sources, communication gradually improved, but the building frustrations had taken a toll. An exodus of employees had already begun. With communication improving, 2K Marin slowly influenced the creative direction of the project. Leading up to E3 2010, the studios began to focus on research and upgrading abilities within XCOM, and decreased the emphasis on strange, mysterious encounters. The design was changing.
A vertical slice of the game was ready and showed behind closed doors at E3 2010. Reactions from the media were very mixed, as many had difficulties to understand why this new entry was a First-Person Shooter, instead of a turn-based strategy game. Many previews based on this presentation were written. For its part, Joystiq concluded:
While there are still some unanswered questions — 2K Marin wouldn’t say whether or not you can issue squad commands, for one — I walked away from the demonstration fairly impressed. At the very least, 2K Marin has nailed the feeling of the old X-COM games, especially the feeling of otherworldly fear during missions. If the research progression manages to be as addicting as it was in the originals, XCOM just might surprise some die-hard fans. It certainly surprised me.
But after E3, troubles occured following the departures of two key members of 2K Australia, prompting, again, 2K Marin to gain more influence in the design department. Also, concerns were still present for the enemies design, which was responsible of many gameplay’s problems, and the decision to reboot the project was taken. Several pitches and prototypes for new features were made by 2K Marin:
In late 2010, 2K Australia was rocked by the high-level departures of Art Director Andrew James and Design Director Ed Orman. 2K Marin plunged into the leadership void, quickly taking on additional creative responsibilities. Members of Marin had already been promoted to senior roles, even before the departures, so they were easily slotted into the updated org chart.
There was internal concern amongst leads at both studios and the publishing side of 2K that XCOM would not be completable if it continued down the path of “mysterious” enemies and a research-based mission structure. The project underwent a small reboot. The leads wanted to protect much of the work that had already been done on the game. The hope was to find something that would improve XCOM, and allow it to ship sooner, rather than later. The overall structure would remain the same, but the in-level experience would change.
During the reboot phase, the game’s leads at 2K Marin wanted to establish whether the backbone of the game would be shooting or stealth. Members of the various departments within Marin began rapidly creating pitches and prototypes for supplemental features, pushing again for familiar, readable tropes from other games. Some of these included a Splinter Cell-like mechanic where enemies saw the player’s last known position. Another prototype resembled a traditional third-person shooter. At one point, a suspicion system was in the game, in which the player’s unusual behavior would alert the aliens, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Around this same time, the designers decided to give the player control of the two squad mates, an option that hadn’t been available in the 2010 builds. Control of squad mates was initially limited, but made the game more strategic, and inspired some team members to pitch the shift from first-person to third-person, allowing the player to see more of the battlefield. The ideas would be grafted onto the current build to, ideally, strengthen what was already there. One source describes this iteration of XCOM as “a victim of its own timeline,” stuck with systems and tools that had been chosen years earlier. Intentionally or not, the groundwork was being laid for a larger reboot.
2011 wasn’t getting better for 2K Marin and the game. First with the cancellation of their new I.P. in order to refocus resources on XCOM, then with new changes for the title: story, level design and enemies. 2K Marin became the lead developer instead of 2K Australia:
The Marin directors who had been working on the new IP were gradually put on XCOM, and the new IP was canceled, further damaging the morale of the team at Marin. One source claims many employees had taken jobs with the studio on under the impression BioShock 2 would be followed by the new IP and the studio would become one of 2K Games’ premier developers. XCOM had been seen, at first, merely as a small, quick support job for 2K Marin. Suddenly, the new IP was gone and the team was stuck in what was beginning to feel like a development quagmire. Some at 2K Marin felt as if they’d inherited another studio’s problems.
Whether or not XCOM would be released seemed, briefly, inconsequential. The purpose of 2K Marin had changed. It wasn’t to be 2K’s new premier studio which would — alongside Irrational and Firaxis — produce high-budget games based on its own IP. Instead 2K Marin had become something else: a clean-up team.
Jordan Thomas, who served as the studio’s creative director, became the narrative lead and overhauled XCOM’s story. The previous version hinted at American civil rights issues in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Thomas brought these story details into the main storyline, and moved the story to the year 1962 to play off global Cold War paranoia.
To streamline the development, the game was restructured as a linear sequence of levels — casting the randomized level sets to the wind. Furthermore, humanoid enemies were introduced to the cast of villains, with the previous mysterious enemies taking supplemental roles. 2K Marin was becoming the lead studio.
In the spring of 2011, 2K Games approved that 2K Marin was going to do a totally new demo for the next E3, instead of working on the current version, which displeased some senior employees. That demo was made in 10 weeks, but it wasn’t enough for 2K Marin to implement every new features they wanted to make. The pitch initially made by 2K Australia was discarded:
Multiple sources claim senior level employees at 2K Marin weren’t happy with the state of the game leading into E3. One source describes the early 2011 build as a hodgepodge of previous iterations. In the spring of 2011, senior team members asked 2K for permission to put the current version aside and instead spend the 10 weeks leading to E3 constructing a demo for the game the team wanted to make. This was a chance for a fresh start — or something like it.
According to one source, the publishing side of 2K was supportive. With the random levels and detective mode of 2K Australia’s pitch removed, the current version of XCOM lacked a hook that elevated it above a generic first-person shooter. The source claims that 2K executives were and still are vocal about releasing high-scoring games and believed more time might produce a better final product. In theory, the task was comparably straightforward: switch the perspective and add some new powers and alien abilities. The art assets could be salvaged. The game could be saved.
For the demo, the senior team members wanted to add a third-person perspective and expand squad control, but neither fit the current build of the game. There wasn’t enough time to make the entire demo run in third-person, so for a second time 2K presented XCOM at E3 as a first-person shooter — despite the fact that the 2K Marin team knew the game would ultimately use the third-person perspective. In the demo, a first-person character directed squad-mates by shifting to a third-person perspective — the shift to a paused third-person meant they didn’t have to animate the lead character just yet.
The press reacted favorably to the demo, more so than it had the year prior during the behind-closed-doors presentation. Typically, a game’s E3 appearance is followed by a slow-drip of publicity, including screenshots, trailers, developer diaries and interviews, but the XCOM project had been totally silent. Jordan Thomas explained by saying, “We just felt it wasn’t X-COM enough.” 2K announced the game’s release date: March 6, 2012, less than a year away. XCOM had been scheduled to launch against Mass Effect 3, possibly the biggest sci-fi game of the generation.
After E3, the start of what would become The Bureau: XCOM Declassified began within both studios. Cleared once and for all of the communication issues, those two teams decided to definitely pivot on a Third-Person tactical shooter, instead of a horror First-Person Shooter. But this pivot caused additional delays in the development since a large part of the game had to be redesigned:
The E3 2011 demo served as the template for the revision of XCOM as a tactical third-person shooter. Beginning with the creation of the E3 demo, both studios felt there was a clearer sense of creative direction. It was the most collaborative year, according to one source, with many more employees shuttling back and forth between the Marin and Australia offices.
According to one source, Thomas decided XCOM would be a bridge between the Firaxisgame and the original series. The gameplay would pivot on the third-person tactical shooter genre, making a clear and definitive cut from the stealthy, horror style of the original pitch. The team even contracted a voice cast, recording the script in 2011. (According to another source, most of those roles would be recast over the next year.) But even with the improved work environment and creative guidance, development was taking longer than expected — particularly because the switch to the tactical genre required many environments to be completely redesigned.
The rest of the story no longer concerns those scrapped versions of XCOM. Sadly, further development of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified didn’t went well as 2K Games was the target of everything that went wrong during 5 years of development from this point on, alongside losing money in this still-not-released title. In order to solve some problems, they decided, in October 2011, to entirely remove 2K Australia from the game, and many higher-ups of 2K Marin changed responsabilities and roles, in especially Jordan Thomas, who left the project and joined Ken Levine on BioShock Infinite. After some additional setbacks, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was released in August 2013 and got mixed reviews by the press.
XCOM wasn’t the first failed attempt at taking risks for the franchise. Years prior, another canceled hybrid First-Person Shooter/strategy game named X-COM: Alliance was on the way and suffered of 7 years of development before being canceled in 2002, not without having to change publishers and developers many times.
Marvel: Chaos is a cancelled superhero fighting/brawler game developed by Electronic Arts Chicago and published by Electronic Artsaround 2006-2007, for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. It featured several playable Marvel Comics‘ characters, alongside destructible environment.
Few details were available about this game as it was officially revealed during the San Diego Comic-Con 2007 in July, and officially cancelled in November of the same year. During its announcement, Gamespy wrote:
Electronic Arts announced that famed development cell EA Chicago (developers of Fight Night and Def Jam: Icon) has signed on to build an all-new slugfest featuring Marvel Super Heroes for Xbox 360 and PS3.
Not many details apart from the game’s planned existence have been revealed as yet, but with a little luck, we may be able to score some face time with EA Chicago’s bombastic General Manager Kudo Tsunoda. In the meantime, we’ve got some quotes from madman Tsunoda to tide you over, such as, “We looked at past comic-based games to find out what was missing and what was needed to successfully translate the intensity, excitement and fiction from comics into fighting games.” Tsunoda also stated, “We’re challenging ourselves to make a game that delivers on the Super Hero promises of past top-tier fighting games.”
Unfortunately, the game was quickly cancelled and EA Chicago closed down by its parent company, as stated in November 2007 by GameSpot:
Last week, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello announced in a quarterly earnings conference call that the publisher would be weathering a round of layoffs and studio closures. At the time, the only operation confirmed for closure was the EA Chertsey studio in the UK. Today, GameSpot has obtained an internal EA memo stating that EA Chicago is also being closed.
EA Chicago is best known for its work on the Def Jam and Fight Night franchises. It had been working on a new licensed Marvel fighting game, as well as a second fighting game based on a new intellectual property. The Fight Night series has already been moved to an EA Sports studio, and an EA representative said that announcements would be made regarding EA Chicago’s other projects in the future.
The memo, sent by EA Games president Frank Gibeau, states that EA will announce the closure today, and calls it “the toughest decision I’ve made in my career–one that in no way reflects on the talent and dedication of the people who work there.” Gibeau singled out studio general manager Kudo Tsunoda as one of the best creative minds in the industry, and said that many of the affected employees will be offered jobs at other EA locations, with those leaving the company receiving severance and outplacement assistance.
“We’re willing to take risks, make long-term investments, and to support teams and individuals between launches,” Gibeau said. “But each team is responsible for staying on a reasonable path to profitability. Sticking to that strategy is what gives us the financial resources and flexibility to take risks on new projects.
“Unfortunately, EA Chicago hasn’t been able to meet that standard. The location has grown dramatically in the past three years while revenue from the games developed there has not. The number of employees has grown from 49 in 2004 to 146 people currently in the new facility in downtown Chicago. As it stands, EA Chicago has no expectation of hitting our profitability targets until FY2011 or later.”
Gibeau stressed again that the company was willing to take risks and make long-term investments, but added every game must “be committed to delivering a reasonable expectation of profitability” if the company’s corporate philosophy is going to work.
“It’s a performance commitment that binds us together and ensures we have the resources we need to invest back into our people and creative output,” Gibeau said.
Over the years, an Xbox 360 prototype has leaked on the internet.
The game was set in the future while Steven Seagal partnered with Trish Morgan in order to lead an ultimate assault on an evil corporation named Nanotech, which was responsible for the death of Steven’s former partner Jack Fremen:
Steven Seagal is a legendary runner, but commanders dislike his loose style and contempt for rules. His partner, Jack Fremen, was killer on their last mission. There is no evidence to support it, but many wonder if he might still be alive had Seagal followed orders.
Trish Morgan, another veteran runner, has been assigned as his new partner. She’s tough as any but has the attitude that commanders look for.
Now, the rebels will attempt the ultimate mission: an assault on Nanotech’s main campus.
High command nervous about Seagal – They know he’s out to avenge Fremen’s death. But he’s the best chance they have.
He’s the only choice…
The second main character, Trish Morgan, was also meant to be playable and would have different features than Steven Seagal. According to some source, she teamed up with Seagal in order to rescue her son, who was kidnapped by Nanotech.
“There have been a lot of games based on movies, but not any that we know of based on a Hollywood celebrity.We have the rights to his name and his image, but we used a look-alike because the resolution of even digitized images on cartridges is not such that you can tell the difference.”
“Seagal still consulted extensively on the project and he received a [combination] of royalties and guarantees as his compensation.”
Daily Variety offered more of a look into the game’s motion-capture process.
“TecMagik shot much of the game at a Santa Monica studio using technology developed for compact disc platforms and a Hollywood-style production team that included a director/producer, actors, dancers, a choreographer and a costume designer. In four days of shooting, the company filmed more than 10,000 frames of Seagal’s aikido action.
Seagal’s involvement supposedly included “input into plot progression” and approval of the final product.
The Final Option’s release was slated for spring 1994. The game would appear on both the Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis systems.
The following information comes from Nintendoplayer, who, over the years, managed to own a prototype of the game and explained how it works and plays:
The Final Option in its alpha form is essentially a bloodless beat-em-up brawler. The goal is simply to reach the exit and advance to the next level.
Decked out in his trademark leather jacket and blue jeans, Steven Seagal infiltrates the evil Nanotech’s laboratories and reactors in six dangerous missions, three stages per mission.
He can unleash Aikido chops and crotch kicks to anyone dumb enough to get in the way, or play really dirty by tossing an infinite supply of throwing knives or by pulling out a handgun when the action gets to be too much to handle. Seagal can also perform a combo move to throw thugs.
Health and more knives and ammunition can be picked up off the ground.
Seagal’s trademark fighting technique of standing in one place and waiting for punks to run into his fists has translated well into the gameplay. Lab technicians and crooked cops will dutifully form organized lines to receive their deserved beatings.
Enemy attacks range from kicks and punches that do minor amounts of damage (and can be blocked) to bullets that can take Seagal down with one hit. The player is given unlimited lives in the prototype, so difficulty is not an issue. (In fact, the only way that Seagal can lose is if he deliberately stays too long in one of the gas-filled rooms that have timers; that will result in a TIME UP.)
What is an issue, however, is Seagal’s inability to jump, as the big lug can only “crouch hop” short distances. Every stage has platforming or obstacles that need to be leapt over, but the best that Seagal can hope for in most cases is to let out a high-pitched yelp as he plummets down ditches, burns alive in fire pits, or disintegrates while drowning in pools of glowing-green acid.
Fortunately, to compensate, the player can navigate a cursor around to place Seagal back on safe ground after falling. During some especially dicey moving platform sections, the player will have to repeatedly resort to doomful diving in order to move forward. Seagal was never known for overly exerting himself in action sequences, and again, this game strives for realism.
Still on Nintendoplayer, an interview of former designer Steve Wik can be found. Many things that happened during the development was shared, and by the sound of it, looks like it was less than easy for the developers:
The game’s credits list you as an artist. What exactly were your duties?
Actually, I had more to do with the game design than the art. On the art end, I was the one who put together the animations from frames captured from laserdiscs of the actor footage. On the design end, I had key input into the whole concept of the game that would have involved optionally using stealth and distraction to sneak past enemies rather than just the standard walk-to-the-right-punching-endless-waves-of-guys kind of game.
Jeff Tarr, director of marketing for TecMagik, admitted to The Hollywood Reporter in 1993 that a Steven Seagal look-alike was used in the game instead of the actual actor because gamers would not be able to tell the difference. Tarr still insisted that the star “consulted extensively” on the project, having “input into plot progression” and final approval. How involved really was Seagal in the making of this game? Did you ever get to meet him or talk with him?
As far as I know, Seagal had no interest or involvement in this game. The real reason Seagal did not appear in the game was that TecMagik was too cheap to pay him! I never heard about him having any sort of approval on anything. As far as I was ever told, he sold his name and likeness, and that was the end of it. We certainly never had to pitch our design to him and never saw any feedback from him about it.
I understand that much of the game was shot at a Santa Monica studio. A director/producer, actors, dancers, a choreographer, and a costume designer were hired, and 10,000 frames of Seagal’s look-alike were filmed. Were you present during any of this? If so, could you describe the scene and what that whole process was like? It would also be interesting to know more about the actor who played Steven Seagal.
The actor who played Seagal was just some guy we found at the audition. He was tall enough and knew something about Aikido. But I’d need to see the prototype you’re looking at, because at first we were using footage of our art director Randy Briley, who used to compete in martial arts competitions and knew Aikido. I don’t know for sure when or if the final Seagal footage got implemented.
I helped design the character moves and actions, but I wasn’t at the shoot. The choreographer would have been Randy Briley. There were actually two shoots, and the explanation is kinda meandering and lengthy, but amusing:
When the project began, we were presented with a really terrible design that TecMagik had paid some other company to write up. It was based on a driving game engine that TecMagik happened to have access to. Yes, it began as a driving game! After some brutal jokes about how would you even know it’s Seagal–have his ponytail flapping out of the side window–we made short work of destroying that original design and convincing TecMagik to let us start our own from scratch.
The first producer TecMagik gave us was a woman who we were told got her job because she’d “graduated from Harvard School of Business” and “was formerly a bank manager.” Pretty much the first thing she made clear to us was that she’d never played a video game in her life. We foolishly thought that would work to our advantage and lead her to trust our knowledge and design instincts, but that wasn’t to be the case. In the end, she looked at our design with all the stealth mechanics and said, “Why are you doing all this? Why don’t you just make it like Streets of Rage 2? That game sold a million units, clearly it’s what the kids want!”
But we fought that battle and got to keep our “unnecessarily gameplay-filled” vision of the game. Relations with that producer got so heated that TecMagik switched her to a different project and gave us a new guy they’d just hired.
This new producer apparently got hired because he and some friends had developed some sort of strip poker game for PC. Anyway, this guy turned out to be even worse than the previous producer, and at one point he started criticizing the character designs in the footage, which we had already been using for months. He felt the characters needed to be more wild and freakish. Which is certainly true if you’re hand-drawing them, and we didn’t necessarily disagree with the idea of improving them, but doing the digitized Mortal Kombat thing is a different story, as he was soon to discover.
While the owner of TecMagik was out of town, this producer authorized, on his own, a new shoot for the enemy characters and supposedly paid his strip poker buddies and girlfriend a few grand in TecMagik money to do it.
First, the thing was clearly shot in someone’s garage. There was no green screen! The camera angle, distance to the character and lighting often changed per shot so nothing could possibly have been matched up. He had characters doing dive rolls and falls and jumps where they’d actually go partially out of frame! In some shots, lights and other items actually blocked the view of the characters. (…) It was a nightmare. Hilarious, though.
The prototype does not have Trish Morgan in it, but I assume that she was supposed to be controlled by the second player. Do you remember anything about this character, what she looked like, her special abilities, etc.?
Trish would have been very similar to Seagal in terms of abilities, weaker in hand-to-hand, but with more powerful weapons to compensate. We never got around to fleshing her out, I think the plan was to get beyond the prototype stage before putting effort into her. We were focused on getting Seagal himself playable.
The prototype is an early build, so all of the computer monitors say the same thing, many dead-ends block the way, and none of the levels can be completed. Could you go into some detail on how the final game would have played? For example, would Seagal have battled a boss at the end of each stage?
The idea was that there would be multiple paths for replayablilty. The level layouts would offer spots where the player could move into the background and sneak around in shadows as an option to combat. Blackthorne would eventually do something similar, though in our version you could still move right or left while hiding. We had ideas for situations like being able to kick one of those typical office chairs and make it roll past an enemy, which would distract him so you could get by or attack him from behind.
The boss events would have been more like Contra, with static emplacements launching projectile and beam attacks while enemies also came out to attack you and an occasional “super” version of an enemy type as a midboss. I don’t think we’d designed a final boss yet.
My prototype runs on the Super Nintendo, but apparently there were also plans to release Steven Seagal on the SEGA Genesis. Is that true? If so, was the game ever up and running on the Genesis?
Well, this calls for another lengthy and meandering answer… While we were developing the SNES version, another company was hired to develop the Genesis version semi-independently. The deal was we’d share the character footage with them, but beyond that, I think they were pretty free to diverge from our design at will.
Unlike RSP, which was in Arizona, the Genesis dev company was located literally across the street from TecMagik in San Francisco. As we discovered later, this provided them with lots of opportunity to play weird politics against us. The closest thing there ever was to a Genesis version up and running was the utterly bogus “prototype” they put together to show, I think, at CES. Basically, what they did was take the raw Seagal walking animation frames and put him on a black background. He was much larger than our working prototype version and had the benefit of all of the Genesis’ RAM and color palettes being applied to him. So, basically, he looked great, but anyone with the slightest clue knew there was no possible way he could look like that in a real game. The sample environments they showed were done the same way. They looked terrific, but that was because they were using all of the system’s resources to display a single screen image with no characters or anything else going on. It was totally fraudulent!
But this unscrupulous developer used it as a wedge to show how much “better” their team was. I think the guy was trying to get them to pull the project from us and give it to them. I have no idea how he would’ve eventually explained why the game ended up looking so much crappier than their “prototype.” We were never into playing that kind of bogus self-promotional game, we were totally focused on putting together functional gameplay.
The game was originally slated for a spring 1994 release until it was delayed to early 1995. Then it kind of disappeared. When was the game officially cancelled, and can you provide any insight into why development was finally shut down? Did you hear about or personally experience any problems related to the game’s development?
My understanding was that TecMagik simply ran out of money, but there may be a more interesting story about what was going on there. Publishers went out of business all the time, so we just kept rolling with our other projects.
Greg Goldsholl, who played Steven Seagal for the game told to Nintendoplayer that it shouldn’t have been made from the beginning:
(…) I told Steven Seagal I played him in the game. He said he hadn’t approved the game and they weren’t supposed to do it. (…)
Over the years, the source code of the prototype leaked on the internet.
Still according to Nintendoplayer, another game starring Seagal was planned by TecMagik, this time for the Playstation and the Nintendo 64 named Deadly Honor, although to this day, not much is known about this title, except a tidbit of information that we can read on the video game graveyard of Playstation Museum:
Slap an action star’s name on a video game and people are bound to pay attention, at least at first. But the problem is that this game went through an SNES incarnation before it wandered into PlayStation and N64 development, and then it never came out for any of the systems. Deadly Honor was TecMagik’s upgrade from the SNES game, Steven Seagal is The Final Option, the company was working on. If Deadly Honor was to be somewhat along the lines of The Final Option, it would have placed you as Steven Seagal in a game loosely based on the star’s action films, such as Under Siege, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, and so on. The game was to be an action game where you ran around doing a lot of damage. What’s notable about the game is that it was reportedly being created from digitized film footage and was to use AnimaTek’s Caviar technology – a surface pixel real-time rendering engine, to create realistic figure and object animations.
The game was in development for the SNES and supposedly had a couple of complete levels, however TecMagik announced Deadly Honor for the N64 and PlayStation, and you can guess where the SNES game went. Ironically, the N64 and PlayStation games never saw the light of day either.
Thanks to Nintendoplayer, Steve Wik and Greg Goldsholl!
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