News on Beta & Cancelled Games

Timber 64 (Rare) [Nintendo 64 – Cancelled]

Timber 64 is a cancelled 3D platform game that was rumored to be in development by Rare for the Nintendo 64, but it’s existence was kinda unclear even by reading interviews with former rare developers (and some fans consider it an urban legend). When asked about Timber 64 some of them don’t remember such a game ever being in development at the time, but others even describe a Timber 64 prototype demo they created. This contradiction between ex-RareWare employees may have been caused by how the studio was organized during the N64 era. Different Rare teams worked secretly in their own office, without knowing what the other teams were doing at the same time.

As we can read on Nintendo Life:

“Rare was famously secretive,” Steve Mayles recalls, “and that included other games being made in the company. Many people on the team wouldn’t have seen much (if anything) of DK64 and Conker.”

“Rare’s practice of separating teams across its infamous ‘barns’ naturally created some competition. “I’m not really sure we thought about that at the time,” remembers lead environment artist Steven Hurst. “In those days each team worked in relative isolation and competed against each other to develop the ‘best’ games – a healthy rivalry if you like. I do remember actually that we changed BK to be more of a ‘proper’ 3D game (similar to Mario 64) after seeing the work that the Conker team were doing.”

As you probably know Timber the Tiger was later seen in another Rare game: it’s one of the playabler racers in Diddy Kong Racing. Originally Timber was meant to be the main protagonist of the game, when it was not using the Donkey Kong IP.

As we can read from an interview by NotEnoughShaders with Steve Ellis, Martin Wakeley and Lee Musgrave:

NES: There was a rumor that Timber 64 was a game Rare was developing during the N64 days. Basically, the rumor was that Timber from Diddy Kong Racing would get his own game just like Banjo and Conker did. Pipsy and Bumper would co-star in Timber 64. Can you or Lee provide any details on this rumor? It’s interesting because Diddy Kong Racing takes place on Timber Island so it seemed that Rare really liked the Timber character.

Martin Wakeley: I couldn’t say for definite but I have no recollection of that ever being in development. Where the rumour may have started is that an early version of DKR (I think it was called RC Pro Am at the time) had Timber as the lead character. I’m sure I’ve got a badly fitting Nylon polo shirt with the game logo on it somewhere.

Lee Musgrave: There was never a Timber 64 game. Yes, there was Pro-Am64 that had Timber as the main character, but that became Diddy Kong Racing and that was the end of that.”

In february 2021 Kev Bayliss wrote on VGC:

“After finishing work on Diddy Kong Racing in 1998, I started work on a project that was to become a 3D adventure game based in a fantasy style world, similar to that of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time but in a prehistoric environment.

The main character was originally going to be – believe it or not – Timber, the cute tiger from Diddy Kong Racing. That’s because he was intended to be the star of the previous year’s racing game, when it was originally known as R.C. Pro-Am 64.”

“In Dinosaur Planet, Timber was going to be a ‘time-travelling tiger’ with a rucksack, little fingerless gloves, a baseball cap and a small dinosaur for a sidekick.

Actually, I even tried out Timber in a project prior to DKR, where he walked around on all fours like a real tiger cub. It was an early 3D platforming test and I wanted him to use his claws to scale walls. But this project was abandoned and so he was moved into DKR and that’s as far as his career went!

Now, if only somebody could dig up that really old demo with Timber in his rucksack…”

In the end not only Timber 64 was once a real concept in development at Rare, but it was kinda real for 2 different projects: there was a first Timber 64 3D platformer (then cancelled to create RC Pro Am 64 / DKR) and later a different Timber 64 3D action adventure (which later became Dinosaur Planet / Starfox Adventure).

These two Timber games for Nintendo 64 could have been mentioned to someone in the gaming press, and the rumors started circulating. As written by Bayliss, now we just have to wait for someone to find footage or even a playable version of those Timber 64 demos.

Dai Mao ZARK Densetsu [NES / Famicom – Cancelled]

Dai Mao ZARK Densetsu (大魔王ZARK伝説 – Legend of the Great Demon King ZARK) is a cancelled side scrolling action RPG that was in development by J & U for Famicom (NES) around 1990. Previews and screenshots of the game were published in Japanese magazines at the time, but it quietly vanished and today not much info remains about this game. By looking at the few screenshots available it seems you could use your horse to move through different levels in an overworld map similar to the one seen in Super Mario Bros 3, and each stage had some fantasy enemies to fight.

As noted by Chris Covell, this may have been somehow related to another cancelled Famicom RPG titled “Off Zarken”: if you can read Japanese and would like to translate the main details found in these photos, please leave a comment below!

Images:

Heaven vs. Hell (TKO Software) [PC – Cancelled]

Heaven VS Hell is a cancelled RTS that was in development by TKO Software around 2004 – 2005, planned to be released on PC in 2006. It was set in a dystopian future in which God wants to punish mankind and reset the world, but Satan wants some fun too. You would choose between one of the 3 factions (God’s army, Satan’s arm, human army) to play in many strategy-focused missions, following each side of the storyline.

The game was previewed by many websites at the time, such as IGN and Gamepressure:

“In Heaven vs. Hell, mankind in the 25th Century has grown arrogant with technology, manipulating natural order enough to finally get the Big Guy’s attention. God unleashes wrathful vengeance, hoping to cleanse Earth and start again.”

“God gets a little miffed about humanity’s meddling in his design so he decides to reboot the whole system and start from scratch. Rather than dooming all of humanity in the process, God decides to let them wait out the reset period in heaven. The devil considers this a breach of the rules and decides to launch an attack on heaven. There are three campaigns, one for each faction and plenty of multiplayer options. “

“In total, it should take about sixty hours to complete the crossing. It is obvious that each side of the conflict is diametrically different, and its aspirations are different in relation to wild people (called “primates”), who in Heaven vs. Hell play the role of one of the three raw materials (the other two are sulphur and farms). The forces of hell want to incarnate them into the legions of the condemned, the armies of heaven try to save them, and the people want to understand them and use them as slaves.

Just like in the classic RTS, here too, we are building bases that are the centre of our missionary forces. As in the Warcraft and Kohan series, for example, the construction of certain buildings affects the area around them. Therefore, the hell bases are accompanied by burnt and destroyed earth, and the angelic ones by truly paradise views.”

Up to 2,000 units can be seen on the screen during the skirmishes, including giant flying demons, succubus, hell worms, angelic archers and proud cavalry in shining armour, as well as special and exceptionally strong heroes such as the Archangel Gabriel or the Messiah.”

Unfortunately in 2005 TKO Software was closed down by their parent company, leading to the cancellation of Heaven VS Hell and 60 developers losing their job.

Thanks to Jackgrimm99 for the contribution!

Images:

Videos:

Barnyard [Beta – GameCube, PS2, PC]

Barnyard is an action game based on the movie of the same name, developed by Blue Tongue Entertainment and published by THQ for GameCube, Wii, PlayStation 2, Game Boy Advance, and PC. Footage of beta gameplay has been uploaded to the IGN youtube channel as a video titled “Barnyard GameCube Video – Clip Compilation 2”.

The main differences in this beta footage are:

  • animals could freely walk around the map
  • there was a life-counter (was completely removed in the final version)
  • players had “happiness level
  • the map was completely different
  • The mobile phone had a music player, battery energy, and an integrated camera that could take photos.
  • There was also a multiplayer mode for some of the minigames such as chicken coop (this minigame was heavily changed in the final version).

Besides IGN’s gameplay on Youtube there’s an official trailer where the Beta version was shown for the first time. It’s still not known if the version in this trailer was different from the one IGN previewed.

In 2021 more beta gameplay footage was found with other differences from the final version:

  • The NPCs still had an AI
  • currency was different
  • the models of the trees and of the fences were different
  • map still had some difference, but it’s pretty close to the final appearance
  • minigames with up-to 4 players multiplayer were still there.

This gameplay was found on a Spanish website named 3DJuegos. The released Barnyard seems to have been built from a canceled, unannounced game in which all NPCs could interact with each other, build relationships and more. This is why the beta version of the game had more advanced NPC AI, but it’s still not known why it was later removed.

Article by InfiniteC0re and @longhorn#5853

Images:

Videos:

Dwarfs (Obsidian’s Snow White RPG) [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3]

Dwarfs (also known as “Seven Dwarves“) is a canceled action adventure game from Obsidian Entertainment, once planned for the PS3 and Xbox 360. The game was intended to be a tie-in to a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs prequel that was in development at the time. Both the game and the movie were planned to be cornerstones to a new franchise aimed at boys to go alongside its other properties.

This wasn’t Disney’s first attempt at expanding the Snow White story. Walt Disney himself had considered it due to public and internal popularity of the characters despite his own dislike of sequels. However nothing ever came of them until the mid 2000s when Disney’s home video department DisneyToon Studios decided to work with the story. Their idea was a prequel with a darker tone intended to explain the organs of the cast, taking inspiration from The Lord of the Rings. The plot would have been about the seven dwarves journeying together with a young girl to stop an evil wizard finding an ancient dwarven power. However, things are not what they seem as it is revealed that the dwarves have been manipulated by the young girl who is the daughter of the wizard. She betrays the dwarves and curses her father, proceeding to take over the kingdom and thus setting up the original movie.

Soon after the project started, it began to develop an internal following. Many saw Dwarfs as the seeds to a new franchise to go alongside Disney’s Fairies and Princess lines. In order to get the fledgling franchise off to a good start, a video game was proposed. Obsidian was approached due to their history and skills developing deep RPGs, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2. The game, known as “Project New Jersey” internally, was intended to be a third person action adventure with a much darker tone than even the prequel movie. Kevin Saunders (game designer at Obsidian for such titles as KotOR2 and NN2) was the Lead Designer on Dwarfs, and he gave a short description of the opening of the game on his Formspring account:

“This wasn’t a happy-go-lucky Disney game. Disney’s Buena Vista Games wanted dark and I gave them dark. In the opening sequence, for example, you, as a teenage prince, awake in your bed to haunting sounds. Exploring the dark castle, you come across a terrifying shadowy creature that you kill in a desperate struggle – its cries shifting from a supernatural shriek to that of a human woman’s bloodcurdling cry of death. The illusion is then dispelled, and your mother, the Queen, lays dead before you, the bloody knife that killed her in your hand. This wasn’t a cinematic – it was all a gameplay sequence that you’d actually play out“

Saunders’s Formspring post also names some of the proposed team. Obsidian built a team of veterans for this project. Josh Sawyer (who was the lead designer for Icewind Dale 2 and later director for Fallout: New Vegas) was picked as the systems / combat lead. Brian Menze, a longtime artist for both Black Isle Studios and Obsidian, was doing the concept art for Dwarfs. Saunders described Menze work as “So much personality and character, reminiscent of Disney’s classic characters, but weathered by the grim realities of a dark fantasy world”. Brian Mitsoda, known for being a Writer for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, worked as the creative lead on the project and along with Kevin Saunders on the story. When asked about Dwarfs, he said:

“If I could resurrect any project that I worked on, it would be this one. This was essentially our action-RPG version of a Pixar movie crossed with a first-party Nintendo game. I don’t know how much is still covered by NDA, but it was obviously inspired by Disney’s classic movies artistically, although script-wise we definitely wanted to capture the characterization and emotion of Pixar films. Conceptually, it was a darker fairytale type of story, but it was mostly focused on the journey of the teenage protagonists as they journeyed around the land meeting up with these eccentric little men and using their unique powers to advance through the plot. It had a lot of heart, great monster and character concepts by Brian Menze, and very interesting level potential.”

With an enthusiastic and experienced team coming together and a plan set in place, things looked set for work to begin on a great new game. However, things weren’t looking so good for the movie, with difficulty for Studio Executives and their desire to add their own touches to the film. Having to constantly fight to keep the movie true to its original vision, director Mike Disa (who previously worked on such titles as Pocahontas, Fantasia 2000, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and The Origin Of Stitch) felt burnt out with the project.

In particular, a repeated insistence by studio executives of having the character of Dopey to talk in the movie and then to explain his mutism in the original movie as trauma from watching his mother die. As Mike told during an interview with Integratedcatholiclife:

“Essentially the studio executive wanted Dopey to talk! [Laughs in disbelief.]  It just comes down to my respect for great films.  Snow White is today still the best animated film ever made. Those characters are spectacular.  It’s a sad statement on our industry that the best film was 80 years ago, but it’s still the best film.  I would never walk into a sequel and do anything to disrespect the core of the characters like making Dopey talk.”

Around this time, Pixar’s creative director John Lasseter took over Disney’s animation departments and was reviewing the current projects. At first it seemed like Dwarfs would be safe but as the executives pushed for more influence, Disa’s confidence on his project dropped. Not wanting to pitch an idea that he didn’t believe in, Disa left the project and Dwarfs was canceled as soon as Lasseter got a look at the new script. This was also the end for Obsidian’s game.

Many of the team who worked on Dwarfs were sad to see it go. Brian Mitsoda described his feeling as: “I think if it had come out, it would be considered a classic today. It still hurts to know we’ll never finish it. If DoubleBear (Mitsoda’s own company) ever gets big enough, I would totally do something similar to it”. His wife, Annie Mitsoda, described the game as her “One that got away”.  Feargus Urquhart, Ceo of Obsidian, talked about the game in an interview with Kotaku: “It was a lot of fun, we feel we turned in a really cool prototype. We worked on it for about a year. It’s one of the games here that the team just loved working on. And unfortunately – which, it happens in this industry – you have changes of focus at a publisher.”

Since Dwarfs’ cancellation, Obsidian has moved on to other high profile projects like Fallout: New Vegas, and other licensed games like South Park: The Stick of Truth. However this wasn’t the last time Obsidian had a licensed game canceled on them: you can check out the article on Aliens: Crucible. Other lost projects conceived by the team were Futureblight, a post-apocalyptic RPG for Take-Two Interactive, a couple of pitches for EA and Ubisoft, and “Project North Carolina”, an open world adventure to be published by Microsoft for their Xbox One.

After so many canned games Obsidian’s future could have been bleak, but in 2015 they finally released Pillars of Eternity thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, and it was welcomed by gamers as one of the best RPGs of the last decade.

Article by Philip Dempsey, originally published in 2016 in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play