News on Beta & Cancelled Games

Dungeon Hero (Firefly Studios) [Xbox 360, PC – Cancelled]

Dungeon Hero is a cancelled hack & slash / dungeon simulator that was in development around 2006 – 2008 by Firefly Studios, the team mostly known for their Stronghold series. The game would have been published by Gamecock Media on PC and Xbox 360, but in October 2008 the publisher was bought by SouthPeak Games and the new managers abandoned the project.

As we can read on Softpedia:

“Their latest project is called Dungeon Hero and features as the main character a human mercenary with some combat experience and little left in the way of a moral compass. To make matters even worse, said mercenary is now employed by a pack of goblins, those little charming creatures everyone remembers from any old generic role playing game with a fantasy setting. These goblins are rather upset with another goblin tribe and the mercenary player is there to get the job of leveling goblin cities done.”

It seems Dungeon Hero would have had an comical approach to the genre, with funny situations, unexpected moments and a pinch of goblin-life simulator. As described by Wired and Destructoid (E3 2008):

“Firefly Studios’ upcoming Dungeon Hero, for the PC and the 360, will be different from other dungeon crawlers because, they say, it’s the “first dungeon-based game to realistically depict underground life.” Players will prowl through a remarkably realistic subterranean community, complete with goblin cheese merchants and troll miners.”

“Firefly Studio’s Simon Bradbury wants you to know that like all of us, goblins sometimes have to take a leak.  – We wanted to create a world where the enemies wouldn’t just stand around. Why is there a chest of gold there, and why is this goblin waiting for you to kill him? It doesn’t make any sense.”  This is the peculiar premise behind Dungeon Hero – a believable world, where believable goblins and trolls do believable goblin and troll-like things. The game shuns the hack-and-slash genre’s clichéd dungeons populated by groups of enemies who live for nothing more than to get slaughtered at the end of a hero’s blade. In Dungeon Hero, everything has a purpose; it’s a game set in a completely fictional world that attempts to be grounded in reality.”

“The area we see at first appears to be a goblin hospital, with wounded goblins lying on cots, and others crying out in pain. Goblin doctors stitch up wounded goblin soldiers and goblin citizens. One goblin looks like he’s preparing for surgery as he readies a crude looking drill. Deeper in the trenches, we see more goblins engaging in other, more leisurely activities; one is sitting relaxing on a bench and playing a guitar.”

“As the boat moved through the canals of the city’s underground, goblins on either side went about their daily business. Firefly are trying to convince gamers that goblins (in a sense) are people, too; they’re not simply waiting in dungeons to be hacked and slashed to pieces.  Based on what I saw, I’m sold — some were doing laundry, others were dumping buckets of water from the top floor of their goblin homes.”

“In the demo, we only saw what looked like a handful of moves (mostly different types of slashes), but we were told that there are over 300 different types of upgradeable moves. The skill chart we were shown looked like a map of the human nervous system; it was ridiculous enormous, with dozens of paths breaking off from dozens of paths.”

Unfortunately when the team remained without a publisher during the global financial crisis of 2008, they had to put Dungeon Hero on hold and cut their staff. As we can read on Firefly Studios’ official website:

“Seven years and seven games later Firefly, having felt the effects of the 2008 credit crunch which caused funding to disappear for their ambitious hack-and-slash RPG Dungeon Hero, decided a change was needed. Working with a skeleton team of four the developer quickly prototyped, iterated and released a closed Alpha for Stronghold Kingdoms, Firefly’s first foray into free-to-play, without a publisher. Over the course of the next two years the Kingdoms player base grew from tens to hundreds of thousands. The game entered open beta in 2010 and launched on Steam in early 2012. It would remain in the Top 10 Most Popular free-to-play games on Steam for two years”

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Orb (Blitz Games) [PS2 – Cancelled]

Orb is a cancelled puzzle game that was in development by Blitz Games Studios for Playstation 2. Gameplay would have been similar to Kororinpa, Marble Madness, and the Super Monkey Ball series: you had to move a ball around strange mazes, while pressing switches to open doors and resolving other environmental hazards to reach the goal.

The team created a playable prototype but in the end Orb was never completed. We can speculate they did not find a publisher interested in funding the project so it had to be canned to switch resources to other PS2 titles such as Taz: Wanted, The Fairly OddParents!: Breakin’ da Rules and Bad Boys: Miami Takedown.

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Inevitable Evolution [PC – GeForce 3 Tech Demo]

Inevitable Evolution was the name of a GeForce3 Tech Demo created by Inevitable Entertainment (AKA Midway Studios Austin) in 2001, to pitch their skills to publishers. At the time it was quite impressive, with detailed 3D models and light effects, and by today’s standard it still has that “early ‘00s 3D aesthetic” look that somehow makes it fascinating for us.

As wrote at the time by GeForce:

“Inevitable Evolution showcases the amazing power of the GeForce3, using the nfiniteFX Vertex and Pixel Shaders to achieve some of the most complex real-time character generation seen to date.  The Vertex Shader provides skinning with up to 9 matrices per face, more than double the number previously available in hardware. The Vertex Shader also assists geometry and texture decompression. The Pixel Shader helps bring life to the character by providing multiple layers of per-pixel lighting effects, including: base, dot3, anisotropic and specular layers. The GeForce3 offloads all of these tasks from the CPU, leaving it free to run other tasks such as calculations necessary for the real-time self-shadowing seen in the demo.”

As far as we know this was just a tech demo and not a full video game, but we can speculate Inevitable Entertainment could have been pitching it as a possible project to publishers. In the end their first commercial game was “Tribes Aerial Assault” for Playstation 2, released in 2002. Two years later the team was acquired by Midway Games and developed such titles as Area 51 and BlackSite: Area 51, before being closed by their parent company in 2008.

Thanks to Liqmatrix for the contribution!

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Tribes Extreme [PC – Cancelled]

Tribes Extreme is a cancelled Starsiege Tribes single + multiplayer expansion that was in development for PC by Dynamix, around 1999. It was meant to offer a proper single player experience, with 12 campaign missions and a new tribe featured in the storyline. As we can read on the Tribes Wiki:

“In the game’s campaign, the “Bone Ripper” tribe of Grievers has completely wiped out the player’s holdfast (a military/civilian homestead where tribes members live), killing almost everyone. In the Greater Tribes, this is completely taboo – battle is highly structured, even ceremonial – you never attack civilians. The player must first rid his holdfast and surrounding area of remaining Bone Rippers, then seek revenge.”

An interview with Tribes Extreme lead designer Scott Rudi published by IGN in October 1999 has some more details on the game:

“The single-player campaign in Tribes Extreme will continue to lean heavily on teamwork. The player will be in command of up to 7 other warriors to achieve the campaign goals. While each AI warrior will be relied on to fulfil its role (sniper, assault, defender, etc), the player can give specific commands to any if they feel it necessary. This way, we can offer a lot of fun for those who like to micromanage as well as those who just want to get in there and blast away.”

“One last thing I should mention is that if you know someone who has been hesitant to get Tribes because of the online-only play (it is pretty scary for the newer user to go online with the experts), this is the game for them. By the time they complete the training missions and the campaign, they’ll be ready to face off against the best out there. At the same time, the AI can be turned up by the advanced user (via campaign difficulty settings) to provide a real challenge. There’s some great stuff for everyone in Extreme.”

“Other than the 24 offline missions (12 training, 12 campaign), we’re shooting for around 10 balanced competition maps and at least 10 general multiplayer maps (not including the Open Call submissions). The balanced maps I’ve described above. The general maps are pretty much the same style as what was released in Tribes, but many featuring new buildings. The nice thing is we’ve been able to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t over the past months and put that knowledge to work in the new maps.”

“We’ll also be including what we call Cooperative maps, where players will be able to fight an AI team, or both teams can have human players supplemented with AI bots, depending what the server has specified. The first (AI team vs. human team) is intended to sharpen the skills of organized tribes in preparation for match play. Usually, people have had to scrimmage or do some other less-than-desirable thing to practice their team skills.”

This expansion was officially cancelled in December 1999, when the team was not satisfied with the work done on the single-player content and decided to focus their resources on Tribes 2.

“Over the past several months, we’ve had two teams focused on two new Tribes entities–Tribes Extreme and Tribes 2. In the past few weeks we’ve been evaluating the status of both, and we’ve come to some conclusions. First, we’ve made the decision to cancel Tribes Extreme “The Retail Product.” We had two goals for Tribes Extreme: To deliver a compelling single player experience and produce new multiplayer content for tournaments, etc.

Meanwhile, the single player component has taken us much longer to wrap our heads around than we originally anticipated and we just don’t feel we have anything close to finished that would be worth charging for or releasing. However, we’ve learned a ton of stuff during the development of Tribes Extreme, and we feel that we have a insanely cool plan for the single player component in Tribes 2”

Thanks to Evan for the contribution!

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Human Nature [PC – Cancelled]

Human Nature is a prototype FPS in development around 2000 by Paulo Ferreira, a highschool teacher who wanted to create a 3D game all by himself. According to the author, the project was ignited by his curiosity in answering the question: “How does someone develop a full 3D game in C/C++?

In his own words “The project was never finished for various reasons: programming games was never my main activity, my lack of knowledge in 3D modelling, the computer I had back then was very limited and didn’t allow me to work on more complex things. Still, the game had a simple particle system, lightmaps, doors, 3D sound, transparencies, collisions, raycasting and other things I learned and programmed at the time”.

For this prototype Ferreira used some 3D character models he found online (originally made for Quake), and others created by himself. Players would control Twain, a soldier hired by Shadow (a security agency working for powerful clients) for his combat skills. As a secret agent you would go on a mission to fight against an evil corporation, a classic story from your “typical ‘80 / ‘90s action movies”. Your first mission would have been held in New York, a simple tutorial-job to learn the basics of the game. Players would have to search for the building where a group of cyber-terrorists were hiding after having invaded a military server. Armed and well-trained enemies would wait for our arrival: it was our goal to kill them all.

As time passed Ferreira did not find any other dev who could help his project, while he was handed more responsibilities at school and had some changes in his family life. Gradually Paulo lost interest in developing Human Nature, until he decided to abandon the project.

Nowadays aside from his classes and the “videogame programming club” he manages at school, Ferreira makes games with Unity3D, publishing them on Google Play Store, Windows Store and Itch.io. His goals are still the same as back when he was working on Human Nature: enjoy new experience and inspire his students in making games.

Huge thanks to Paulo Ferreira for sharing with us his memories, information and screenshots from his lost game!

Article by Jump/Error, original version in Portuguese on the Videogame PT Blog!

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