News on Beta & Cancelled Games

Horrorville (Dogfish) [PS2 – Cancelled]

Dogfish Entertainment was a rather obscure studio established in October 2000, created by former employees of Bullfrog Productions (Syndicate Wars, Dungeon Keeper 2, Dark Omen). The team worked on many different prototypes, trying to pitch their ideas to publishers. One of these concepts was for a survival horror game titled “Horrorville“, which around 2001 could have been green-lighted by Sony as a first-party game, along with another game titled “Dinosaur Zoo“. Unfortunately we don’t have any more detail about these cancelled projects. In 2002 Sony decided to cut their collaboration with Dogfish and the company had to close down. Horrorville and all their other prototypes were lost forever.

Only a single image (of what we assume could have been Horrorville’s female protagonist) is preserved below, to remember the existence of this unreleased game. If you know someone who worked at Dogfish Entertainment, please let us know!

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Thieves World (Bits Studios) [N64 – Cancelled]

You might remember a game called Rogue Ops that was released on Xbox, Gamecube and Playstation 2 way back in 2003. Well, this game wasn’t always called that way. When the developper Bits Studios started the project during the Nintendo 64 era, this was called Thieves World. We are lucky enough to have a gameplay video of how the game would have looked like, right down here:

As written in the video description:

“Thieves World was a n64 game developed by bits studios in 1999. When the n64 life cycle ended development was moved to the ps2. This is a prototype of the game running on the ps2. It’s basically a mix of the n64 assets with a new main character, added “nextGen” special FX and such… the game will keep transform and later be released under the title Rogue Ops. This video was recently unearthed by a ex bits employee. The n64 rom or early ps2, gamecube or xbox build are still lost to this day.”

As the video suggests when it starts, Thieves World was a working title so it is possible that it would have had a different name had it been released on the Nintendo 64 back then. During the video, we see the female main character infiltrating what seems to be a well guarded bank. There are guards with guns, she shoots darts from afar to put them to sleep and she can also ambush them in close quarters. Thieves World had a more stealth approach to its design than Rogue Ops and this is confirmed by one of the programmers who worked at the company Bits Studios at the time.

Please read below part of a very interesting interview we had with Mr. Frederic Villain about what it was like to work for this company and the projects Bits Studios had at the time like RiQa, Muzzle Velocity (Die Hard Vendetta) and Thieves World. The full interview was published in our Unseen64 bookVideo Games You Will Never Play”.

Unseen64: What happened to RiQa and Thieves World? There is a lot of confusion about these two unreleased N64 games and we’d like to finally find out the truth. We know that they were two different projects but it seems that the released Rogue Ops took some elements from both. Is this true? Why were they cancelled and how much was done on the Nintendo 64?

Fred: “When I joined Bits Studios with other ex-employees/friends from Haiku Studios, the main focus of the studio was RiQa for N64. A very ambitious third person game with a main female character called RiQa. As far as I can remember the team had already been working on the game for a couple years. I was assigned to the project and worked on various gameplay and VFX tasks as well as the support of the infamous 64DD as the content of the game was supposed to be huge. The project had a lot of difficulties on the tech side and the team was fighting between the ambitions and the hardware/software limitations.

At the same time Nathanael Presson which I knew from Haiku, was working on creating a new multiplatform engine for the company. I was working on and off with him to add support for the N64 to the engine. After 6 months at Bits we presented the tech to Foo Katan (the boss of the studio) and he was sold. While the RiQa engine iteration cycle was very slow (level made in Max and long building times to get it on console), we had an Editor/Engine that allowed LDs to create levels in the Editor (using Booleans and Portals inspired from the original Unreal Editor) and allowed them to play directly on the console by a press of a button. This was the beginning of the “Thieves World” project, another third person game with a female lead (at the time Tomb Raider was an inspiration for everybody and female leads were very popular!).

Thieves World, in turn, had a lot of ups and downs. After a few more months the RiQa project was cancelled and the focus of the studio became “Thieves World”. We continued working on the engine and the gameplay of the game for several years. At some point another team in the Studio started developing Muzzle Velocity, which later on became Die Hard: Vendetta, using the same Editor/Engine and we contributed to support this team. We had some problems on the creative side on TW and we spent a lot of time iterating on the design. As the N64 life cycle reached its end the decision was made to move on to next gen and we had to upgrade the engine significantly to push the tech to benefit from next gen consoles hardware.

A lot of people left the team in the years after this reboot and at some point I was the only original member of the team left. The game was almost canned but we signed a deal with Kemco and the game was ultimately rebooted to become “Rogue Ops”. The original TW project was supposed to be a stealth, no weapon game, which created a lot of issues on gameplay side. Kemco decided to introduce more shooting and we finally got a game. TW was not inspired by other titles at the time like MGS or Splinter Cell, it was actually imagined before or at the same time as those games. But the development cycle was so long that at release time those games had long been released.”

Unseen64: Jas Austin (another former Bits Studios developer) told us that Thieves World almost became a Rare game: is true that they wanted to move development from Bits  Studios to Rare? We wonder if Thieves World could have became a Perfect Dark spin- off. After Rare and Nintendo published the original Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64,  they also wanted to release a quick sequel called “Velvet Dark” that would have been a third person action / stealth game.. maybe the two projects are related.

Fred: “Yes as far as I can remember Jason is right! While the TW game had design difficulties, Bits Studios was audited by Rare. A presentation of the game and the tech was done to Rare after several months of audit and while the tech was recognized on N64, Rare did not decide to acquire the game or the studio. They were already working on Perfect Dark at the time and some concepts in both games are similar, but this is as far as it goes regarding the history between those two games.”

As mentioned in the written interview, the reason why Thieves World didn’t happen is because the N64 had reached the end of its lifecycle and a decision was made by Bits Studios to move this project to the next generation. This meant rebuilding the game and transfer as much as possible to their new project. Thieves World was in production for a few years after RiQa was cancelled, so we can assume it got quite far in development. They did, however, experience creative hardships and spent a lot of time on the design side of the project.

During that transition, sadly most people left Bits Studios. Mr. Villain was the only member of the project who stayed until the end and saw this Thieves World come alive as Rogue Ops when finally released on the new generation of consoles in 2003.

“But I am still proud to that day, it got finally released as Rogue Ops, even if it was not a massive commercial success”

The company Bits Studios has worked on quite a good list of games before it went under in 2008. As mentioned on Wikipedia, unfortunately the parent company ‘Playwize’ sold off all assets and technologies Bits Studio had due to overall poor sales.

Article by Alex (Brub)

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On a last note, see below a Rogue Ops retro video commercial for comparison purposes. One wonders how different Thieves World would have been compared to Rogue Ops, but at least something came out of this cancellation.

The Sandman (Silicon Knights) [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3]

The Sandman is a cancelled third person shooter / action game once in development at Silicon Knights around 2009. While the game was never officially announced by the company and we don’t have any details about its story and gameplay, by looking and the remaining concept art preserved in the gallery below we can speculate the main character was somehow able to control some kind of “dark matter”. This power would form different objects and demons around the protagonist, with an effect similar to sand flying around him. This is probably the reason for the “Sandman” name and as far as we know the game was not related to the omonimous Vertigo comic in any way.

The world found out about this lost game because of some old resumes, leaked concept art and a disastrous legal case. As we can read on Wikipedia:

“On May 2012 Epic Games defeated Silicon Knights‘ lawsuit (opened in July 2007) and won its counter-suit for $4.45 million on grounds of copyright infringement. Silicon Knights was directed by the court to destroy all game code derived from Unreal Engine 3 and to permit Epic Games access to the company’s servers and other devices to ensure these items have been removed. In addition, the studio was instructed to recall and destroy all unsold retail copies of games built with Unreal Engine 3 code, including Too Human, X-Men Destiny, The Sandman, The Box / Ritualyst, and Siren in the Maelstrom.”

Some more details on the fall of Silicon Knights were published on Kotaku in October 2012. On May 2014, following the loss of the court case, Silicon Knights filed for bankruptcy. As far as we know, every The Sandman file had to be deleted, so it could already have been lost forever. As Epic Games had access to Silicon Knights’ server, someone may have saved parts of their cancelled games. We can only hope one day someone may be able to share more screenshots, footage or details from these projects.

If you know someone who worked on The Sandman and may help us to save something more from the game, please let us know.

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Shatterman (Angel Studios) [Hasbro Toaster VR – Cancelled]

Shatterman is one of the few games in development for the ill-fated Hasbro Toaster VR by Angel Studios (the modern Rockstar San Diego). The studio was founded in 1984 to create computer graphic videos for such projects as the legendary movie Lawnmower Man (1992).

We don’t know if Hasbro was impressed by the first person shooting segments of Lawnmower Man or if Angel Studios was chosen by coincidence, but those parts in the film could give us an idea about how Shatterman could have been conceived. At the time Angel Studios was still mostly a CG video production company. In fact, most of Shatterman’s team were recent college grads with little to no experience working on a commercial game.

However, they did have all the hardware needed to create awesome looking games thanks to Silicon Graphics workstations, one of the most powerful hardware at the time. This probably helped them join the legendary “Dream Team”, a group of studios organized by Nintendo in the mid ‘90 to create ambitious games for the “Project Reality” (the early codename for the Nintendo 64).

Shatterman could have been Angel Studios first game if the Hasbro Toaster VR would have not been canned in mid 1995. In 1996 they were finally able to release their actual first commercial game (along with Zono): Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn.

Hasbro Toaster’s graphical power was probably over-hyped at the time as in reality its games would have looked somehow like a mix between Super FX Chip powered SNES games (StarFox) and early 3D arcade games (Virtua Racing or Virtua Fighter), with texture-less polygons and vivid colors. As recalled by Allen Battino, former Angel Studios’ Senior Art Director:

“I don’t remember much about Shatterman, but what I do remember is that he was designed to have the least amount of polygons possible while having a heroic look that would be glasslike and break up in shards effectively.”

While the default play view mode was third-person (with the camera right behind the in-game character), players would view the action through their VR goggles as in some kind of direct first person view. Once hit by too many shots, the character would break into pieces in a quite impressive effect (for the time). There’s not too much information known about Shatterman’s story. The plot would follow the life of Shatterman, a futuristic film-noir-inspired detective, who would drive from location to location as he takes out the bad guys.

Why he was driving and where he was driving remains cloudy, however the driving sections should be noted. Angel Studios was responsible for pioneering open world racing games with the popular PC-exclusive Midtown Madness in 1999.

Unfortunately, Hasbro’s technology and lack of real hardware made things a bit complex to create. As noted by Paul Skibitzke, one of the programmers who worked on Shatterman:

“The VR features we supported (3D rendering, stereoscopic rendering, head tracking) were not at all difficult to develop or use in a videogame. They’d been supported on our Silicon Graphics (SGI) hardware for a couple of years at that point, and the Angel Studios game engine was built with support for them.

However, actually using those technologies was hard on the body and mind. Between low frame rates, low goggle resolution, slow head tracking, and sheer weight of the goggles, you were likely to get nauseous and/or a sore neck after 15 minutes of using the hardware. So most of the time, we would test the game from the computer monitor, without goggles.

As far as the features of Hasbro platform itself, all our work was done on SGIs.  We never actually got any Hasbro hardware! We were told that it would effectively be a game console, with orientation-sensing 3D goggles, and a controller.”

Only a single combat area and an early city driving prototype were completed before work on the project stopped.

For Angel Studios, Shatterman was an interesting proof of concept for the anticipated platform, but the lack of actual hardware to develop on made it clear that it was useless to plan a whole game for a vaporware console.

Shatterman was not the last virtual reality game that Angel Studios worked on. Their experience with VR helped them sign a contract with Disney to create the Virtual Jungle Cruise at DisneyQuest in 1998, which seems to still be available at the Disney World Resort in Orlando.

After releasing some other games for various consoles, such as the Resident Evil 2 port for the N64, the Midtown Madness series, and Smuggler’s Run, Angel Studios was bought by Take-two in 2003 and renamed Rockstar San Diego. They then moved on to work on such popular titles as Red Dead Revolver, Midnight Club and Grand Theft Auto V.

This article was originally published in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play”.

Aftermath [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Aftermath is a cancelled top-down shooter / RPG hybrid that was in development in 2009 by WhiteMoon Dreams, planned to be released for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. The team behind this lost project previously worked on such popular games as Fallout, Descent, Ratchet & Clank, Medal of Honor and many others. The game was pitched as “Diablo 2 with guns”.

As we can read in the old press-release for their demo (currently unavailable):

“Well, the best and simplest way to describe this game is to say it’s “Diablo 2, with Guns!” We wanted to make a fun retro-style shooter (ala Robotron or SmashTV) with some light RPG elements (like leveling up your characters, upgrading your weapons, skill trees, etc). Unlike most retro-style shooters, we wanted to keep the art quality to next gen standards. (But we still love you Geometry Wars!)  Also, we wanted to focus on cooperative multiplayer, so you and your buddies can shoot up the place either gathered around the same console or over the ‘net.

The story behind Aftermath concerns a group of 4 Wanderers who exist in a post-apocalyptic Earth.  They are tasked to save humanity from hordes of mutants, domineering military forces, and murderous robotic entities.

So for the art style, our original inspiration believe it or not, came from Burning Man, which is the annual art festival held every year in the Nevada desert.  All the crazy, funky clothing, art, and music was a direct influence to how we wanted to present the characters and environments in Aftermath.”

Some more details about the game’s story were found in their old website:

“Our story takes place on Earth, a few generations from today. Only a few years earlier, we experienced the LastWar, which devastated the Earth and everything that lived upon it. The cause of the War is a mystery; it was impossibly brief and no one who survived knew the details.

In the years following the cataclysm that ensued, the few scattered survivors of Old Earth struggled to scratch whatever living they could out of the radiation-wracked ruins of their former world. It wasn’t easy. The oceans had dried into vast salt deserts, dotted here and there with a few fetid pools. Plants and creatures now mutated at a terrifying pace into increasingly dangerous and alien forms. In the midst of this desperate fight to survive, memories of the old world faded away.

There were a few, though, who remembered. Amid this chaos arose an order of survivors, who came to be known simply as The Wanderers. They sought to reclaim the knowledge of Old Earth and spread it to the scattered tribes, to replant seeds of knowledge that had been lost and fight for the future. They alone braved the vast wastes separating these far-flung oases of humanity, fighting for those in need, trading, and teaching. With them came a new hope for this struggling world.

Now, a new threat has arisen. It had been thought that the robots of Old Earth; those who had survived the attacks at all, had long since run out of power. Suddenly, Wanderers began to discover oases that had been slaughtered en masse, and those few who survived described armies of mechs marching out of the wastes, killing everything in their path. The Wanderers now accepted a new mission: to find the source of this new evil, and to destroy it. As a Wanderer, this is now your mission as well.”

WhiteMoon Dreams were trying to find a publisher for Aftermath and their second project titled “Warmachine”, but in the end they only found support for the latter, finally published as “WARMACHINE: Tactics”. Aftermath was quietly cancelled and lost forever. Only a short gameplay video is currently preserved below.

In 2017 the same team published Starblood Arena, for Playstation VR.

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