New Cancelled Games & Their Lost Media Added to the Archive

Duke Nukem: Critical Mass [PSP – Cancelled]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Best Video Games Books: Our Top 100+ List!

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To celebrate the release of our book “Video Games You Will Never Play” (published in September 2016), we would like to suggest to you even more amazing video game books you can read while trapped at home during the upcoming cold winter or to buy as a Christmas present for your nerd cousin who loves video games. There are already many “top 10 books” lists with some nice suggestions (such as the ones at Goodreads, Wikipedia, Games Radar, Heavy, PC Gamer and The New Yorker), but those usually don’t have less known titles we love and often they list the same books over and over. We’d like to suggest many more books related to games, with the help of our readers, like you!

This long list with all our favorite games-related books (available in English) was originally meant to be added as a bonus in our own volume, but as we had to cut a lot of content to fit our articles in the 480 pages limit, this “best video game books” list had to be canned too. In the end we decided to still finish this huge article and to publish it on our website, so here it is!

We also asked to some of our favorite authors and gaming historians (such as Bob Pape, Brian Schrank, Chris Kohler, Clyde Mandelin, Felipe Pepe, Gabe Durham, Jeremy Parish, Jesper Juul, John Szczepaniak, Nathan Altice, Nick Montfort, Rob Strangman and Sorrel Tilley) to suggest a book themselves and in the end, we collected more than 100 titles. We would like to add even more videogames books, to create the most complete list ever to help people to find the most interesting ones. Each book is listed with details, price, number of pages, size and average price on Amazon, so you can easily compare them (remember: always check the current price on Amazon, as they often change day by day and could be on sale!).

If you know of other great video game books that should be added, please leave a message below with a short description to explain why you loved that book, so we can include it in our list! Thanks a lot for your help :)

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Route 66 [PC – Cancelled]

Route 66 is a cancelled point and click adventure game that was in development in the early ‘90s by Disney Software/Buena Vista, initially planned to be released for 386 (or 286) PCs with 320×200 VGA cards. The game was formatted onto 2 or 3 floppy disks that would play on these computers. The team behind this lost game was composed of talented developers, artists, and designers, such as Darlene Waddington (game design), Jeff Hilbers (art and graphic design), Sue Chow (game design) and Jimmy Huey (programmer). At this time, Disney Software was just a small division of Disney Consumer Products, but they were working hard to create games based on new and existing IPs.

Route 66 was intended to be an interesting mix of adventure and survival gameplay. The main protagonist was a young man named Dart Stranger who was busy hitchhiking from St Louis to Santa Monica along Route 66, a world-famous series of highways in America. Dart’s grandfather (or another distant relative) had died in LA, and had supposedly left some much needed money to Dart. Since Dart lived back in Chicago, players had find a way to get to LA within a certain amount of time in order to be there for the reading of his will. The player would start the game with only a few dollars, not enough for a bus ticket, so the only way to reach Santa Monica was through hitchhiking on Route 66. Getting to Santa Monica alive was the main objective of the game.

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Hitchhiking revolves heavily around the drivers who pick you up, and the development team wanted to focus on that aspect of it. There was an interesting gameplay mechanic where each of the drivers had a special personality and the player would have to figure out how to respond to them correctly while in the car. Some want to talk and tell jokes, hear your stories, or maybe they just want to remain quiet. Players could gauge how well they were doing by the driver’s expressions. If handled correctly, they’ll drive you to the next city. If you don’t, they would boot you on the street and force you to find another ride. Just like classic point and click adventures from the ‘90s (Monkey Island, Day of Tentacle, Full Throttle, Sam & Max, etc.), Route 66 was full of humor and weird characters that added charm and funny dialogue to the game.

While traveling on Route 66, Dart would reach several main cities, and the gameplay would become more like a side-scrolling exploration survival game. Players had to look for a place to stay and eat, and hopefully finding some money to survive until you arrive in Santa Monica. During the game, Dart would get good rides and bad rides, make good decisions and bad decisions, meet with good folks and crazy folks, get thrown in jail and beat up by cops, eat bad food, sleep in the rain, get robbed by fellow travelers, become sick and held in hospital, and so on and so forth. This was an original hitching simulation in which strange things could happen, including your own death, all depending on how much attention you pay to the NPC’s behavior.

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The flow of all these gameplay segments was controlled by a simple but detailed decision tree, reminiscent of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. The team’s goal after all was to achieve some semblance of interactive fiction. Darlene and Sue were busy writing stories and lines for all these diverse eventualities, while Jeff was creating sprite artworks/animations and Jimmy created all the code that made the game run, coming up with a lot of inventive techniques and tools to overcome the restrictions of their target platform (such as a conversation editor tool). They were able to develop some nice playable demos for Route 66 and everybody at Disney Software liked them; all that was left for them to do to complete the game was keep creating new content.

Unfortunately, internal issues among Disney killed Route 66 before more content could be made. The business world became fascinated with “multi-media” and the new “CD Revolution” in 1992 and 1993. Disney’s management also fell into this hype-disease and suddenly Disney Software wasn’t just an uninteresting division of Disney Consumer Products anymore, but a potential cash cow. High-rank producers at Disney wanted a piece of the multi-media gaming pie and the new political environment in the company led to a lot of nasty fratricide among producers, all of whom were looking to improve the status of their own projects by killing somebody else’s. Even with a fun and interesting playable demo, Route 66 was doomed.

After Route 66 was cancelled along with other titles in development (“Jungle Cruise” and “Dog Eat Dog”), the team was fired. They tried to pitch these concepts to other companies, but were turned down time and time again. Luckily, Dog Eat Dog was greenlighted by Trilobyte, the studio founded in December 1990 by Graeme Devine and Rob Landeros (known for such games as The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour). The team was able to keep working on Dog Eat Dog, an original policemen simulator, until its second cancellation in mid/late ‘90s.

Thanks to Jeff and Chris for the contribution! Article edited by Ryan DePalma

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Metal Lancer [Genesis / Mega Drive – Cancelled]

Metal Lancer is a cancelled first-person space shooter that was being developed by Yuji Naka for Mega Drive / Genesis in 1990. It’s the last project on which the the legendary japanese programmer worked on before Sonic The Hedgehog (1991). As we can read from a 2016 Denfaminicogamer interview with Naka, the game’s main character was a girl who controlled a space robot. Metal Lancer would also have featured complex scaling effects similar to what the SNES could accomplish with Mode 7

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Unfortunately, Naka doesn’t say in the interview why he dropped the project, though we can speculate that either he simply found the game too complex to develop on a Mega Drive or Sega just wanted him to work a more promising title like Sonic.

Thanks to Youloute for the contribution and Michele Zanetti for the japanese translation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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