News on Beta & Cancelled Games

Aero the Acrobat 3: A3RO [Playstation – Cancelled Pitch]

Aero the Acrobat 3 (also known as A3RO or Aero 3D) is the cancelled third chapter in the action platformer series composed by Aero the Acrobat, Aero the Acro-Bat 2 and Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel. Aero 3D was conceived at Universal Interactive Studios in the mid ‘90s, while they were also working with Naughty Dog to create the first Crash Bandicoot for Playstation.

David Siller was the original creator of the Aero the Acrobat series and he later bought back his Aero IP and sold it to Universal Interactive Studios, when he was hired to produce two new 3D platformers: Crash Bandicoot and Aero the Acrobat 3D. In the mid nineties 3D platformers where one of the most successful genres and Universal Studios wanted to to take advantage of the profitable Playstation market to make some money.

As wrote by David in his (now deleted) Facebook page “Crash Bandicoot Untold Story” (archived by Crash Mania):

“Tension was heighten at Universal as they bought from me an IP that I had created at SUNSOFT called “Aero the Acrobat”. I had just bought it from Sunsoft as I departed there for the Universal lot!  Rubin and Gavin again went on the extreme offensive believing that Universal’s new acquisition would become more important than Crash or Willy. I began also designing the new AERO 3D polygonal video game to be added to the line-up.”

In 2016 David shared a few pages from the Aero the Acrobat 3 design doc in his Twitter account (now deleted):

david siller aero the acrobat 3

From these documents it seems the game would have had multiple playable protagonists and 3D flying levels.

From what we know the game was still in early conceptual phase when it was canned. We can speculate that the success of Crash Bandicoot and the internal issues between David, Universal Interactive Studios and Naughty Dog put and end to the project. As we can read from the same archive at Crash Mania:

“Back in Rubin’s office, he was angry at me about “this letter” and then threaten my life! He said I was going to be sorry! I did NOT report this to management or anyone one else at that time. I was a mature adult who could take this and I wasn’t afraid of Rubin as I came from a tough neighborhood and had loads of associates myself. Rubin’s father was a lawyer and I suppose told him to always act tough or people will shit on you. Those tactics do NOT work, but that was the final straw. Mark Cerny then used this severed relationship to get involved as Sony had just arrived. He said quote “They don’t like you!”….”

“When I was hired to join Universal Interactive Studios, it was owned by Matsushita Electric, the largest Electronics manufacturer in the World located in Japan. It was run by the longest in place Management team in all of Hollywood, Lew Wasserman and Sid Sheinberg! It was utopia as far as I was concerned. Everything was so damn cool, everything the Studio did was classy and first rate. Soon as Crash Bandicoot was approaching completion, Matsushita sold their majority interest to the Canadian distillery Seagrams! Everything then became chaotic and all the top tier managers were fired. Sony then came into the picture and that caused even more chaos. This of course played into Rubin and Gavin’s agenda and the s*** hit the fan!”

It’s currently unknown what happened to David after he deleted all his online profiles and if he’s still working on video games.

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Maximo: the Dark Knight [PS2 – Cancelled Pitch]

Maximo: the Dark Knight is a cancelled “Adults Only” (AO) game pitch that was considered by Capcom USA to develop as a spiritual sequel to the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. After Capcom of Japan shown their Ghosts ‘n Goblins N64 prototype to the press in 1996 (a game that was never released), a year later Capcom USA conceived their own pitch for Maximo on the Nintendo 64. As revealed by William (Bill) Anderson (Senior Game Designer for Maximo) in an interview published in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play”:

“Bill: When I came to Capcom to develop Maximo the N64 was still the hot market, but Capcom USA only had one development team at the time and they were all working on Final Fight Revenge, which I was told would wrap up soon. Well soon doesn’t mean the same thing in Japan I guess for FFR had a producer over here from Japan and he wasn’t in any great hurry to finish the game. So it took a really long time to finally get a start date for the production and by then the N64 wasn’t king anymore and I was asked to change all of my designs to Playstation.”

Final Fight Revenge was available in the arcades in mid 1999, but Capcom USA already started their new Playstation 2 pitch for Maximo: the Dark Knight in late 1998, to be able to start development before Sony’s second console would be released in March 2000. Their idea was to create an action game for adult gamers, with violent gameplay, realistic visuals and a mature storyline. To conceive a dark medieval fantasy setting suitable for their new game, David Siller (Creative Concept and Studio Director for Maximo) got in contact with Joe Pearson, writer and producer for such series as Roswell Conspiracies and Kong: The Animated Series. As written by Joe to Ross Sillifant:

“It all took place in 1998. This was a paid gig from Capcom who approached me through a contact via David Siller whom I had worked with on the first Crash game. At the time, Capcom was seriously considering doing a hard R-rated for violence and sex dark Maximo medieval fantasy game and they wanted me to write up a concept Bible and opening game cinematic/introduction.

This was a dream come true as I was a big fan of Michael Moorcock’s brilliant Elric book series and a real opportunity to delve into my own dark side and cut loose with some edgy over-the-top world building and scenarios. The result you can read for yourself. I think it’s pretty, horrifically successful in a dark fantasy way.

It wasn’t easy as I was in full production as the Show Runner on the 40 episode animated Roswell Conspiracies series, but it was such a rare opportunity to cut loose, I made the time over a long weekend to write it up. Well, Capcom paid me for it, and then shifted over to the G-rated mode for the game itself so I never got to write out the script scenarios for the sexed up “Princess reward levels”.  Oh well, that’s entertainment.”

In this opening scene written by Joe for the undeveloped Maximo: the Dark Knight pitch we can read:

“FADE IN on a tortured landscape of jutting rocks and twisted trees. Flames burn from crevices torn in the barren earth. Smoke and fumes fill the screen. Distant, giant shapes can be dimly seen dwarfing the stunted trees. As the narrator speaks we slowly PUSH IN. The shapes emerge from the smoke—a deformed, one eyed cyclops with huge, misshapen hands and a second, tusked face embedded in its chest, a dead white giant worm, with the multiple legs and clawed tail of an earwig and the face of a baby, a jet black female Centaur with red burning eyes and hair, a sickly green, multi-limbed octopus with the face of a beatific, painted geisha (each tentacle ends in a lamprey toothed mouth), and a hairy, spider-like creature with the head of a ravening wolf, etc. (go wild, use your imagination)

We move past the monsters to reveal Lilith on her titanic obsidian throne. She is supremely beautiful and terrifying. A giant, red skinned demoness, with black bat shaped wings and huge bull like horns (I’m picturing a beautiful female version of the Tim Curry character from “Legend”. Her lower legs and feet are goat-like. She caresses the head of a massive catlike creature with the spiked tail and armor of a stegosaurus. Piles of thousands of human skulls form pyramids on either side of her throne.”

The original draft script for Maximo: The Dark Knight’s prologue is preserved in here.

In the end Capcom USA sent their pitch for this adult-only Maximo to Capcom of Japan, that unfortunately rejected their idea. As told us by William:

“No, no prototype of a realistic Maximo was ever produced. Once we submitted the full game design document to Capcom Japan, along with the concept art we produced they pushed back and said that they wanted all of the realistic looking games to come out of Capcom Japan, so that’s when we had to change the look and feel of the game. It was our intent to make a gritty and dark game from the start, so we were a bit ticked off when our producer rep from Japan showed up with a first playable demo of Devil May Cry, for it had the look and feel of what we had originally proposed. Oh well, nonetheless we ended up with a game more successful than even Capcom Japan had expected, so much so that they asked us to convert the game to Japanese first, so they could do a big launch of the game in Japan, before here in the US.

Their second concept for a Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ spiritual sequel was Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, later released for Playstation 2 in December 2001. Maximo became a cult-classic for the console, but unfortunately the second episode “Maximo vs. Army of Zinsold poorly and the third Maximo game had to be cancelled.

Thanks to Ross Sillifant for the contribution!

Dagoth Tactics (Moor Zoological Gardens) [PC, Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens was an impressive GeForce tech demo created in 1997 / 1998 by The Whole Experience (WXP), a small development team base in Seattle. In this demo you could move around a fantasy setting, inhabited by strange creatures:

“Creative Labs will ship their ‘3D Blaster Annihilator‘ with WXP’s technology demo “Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens”. This demo is using the engine of WXP’s upcoming fantasy action title ‘Experience’ and it’s the first independent application that is using GeForce’s T&L-engine. The demo is not a real game, but you can walk around and explore the beautiful scenery that soothes your mind by looking at it. I have to say that I never saw a game-demo as impressive and as beautiful at the same time, but some of you might be very disappointed about the complete lack of blood and violence.”

Another Geforce tech demo in the same Dagoth Moor settings was later released in 1999 under the title “Isle of Morg”:

“Isle of Morg is a technology demo that integrates the features found in GeForce2 GTS with typical gameplay mechanics such as physics and collision detection, as well as special effects including particle systems, dynamic water, environment mapping, per-pixel shaders, and dynamic lighting. It’s a great example of what is possible in today’s games.”

Thanks to the success of their tech demos WXP were able to work on a few commercial games for various publishers, with titles such as Lord of the Rings and Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball. The team wanted to create their own original game “Experience” since 1997, but between contract works and difficulties in finding a publisher for their own IP, they had to keep it as a side-project until many years later.  In 2002 / 2003 they also worked on “The Guardian“, a cancelled adventure game to be published by Capital Entertainment Group for the original Xbox.

In 2007 they developed a pitch demo for a new strategy game based on their Dagoth Moor settings. This game was titled “Dagoth Tactics”, planned to be released on PC and Xbox 360. There are no other details available about Dagoth Tactics: by looking a the few images available we can assume it would have been a classic strategy game with Hex-Grid movements.

In the end Dagoth Tactics was never completed and it was cancelled in favor of a FPS set in the same fantasy settings. Initially titled “Exod Intervention” WXP’s original first person shooter was then released in 2011 as Xotic on Steam and Xbox 360. Unfortunately it seems the game did not sell enough to keep the team alive, and WXP was soon disbanded. We probably will never get another game set in the Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens.

 

Beneath (Presto Studios) [Playstation, PC – Cancelled]

Beneath is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Presto Studios in mid / late ‘90s, to be published by Activision for the original Playstation and PC. The game was quite hyped at the time: it was presented as a “Tomb Raider” killer, with such lines as “Deeper than any Tomb” and “More dangerous than any woman“. As we can read on The Journeyman Project website:

“Follow the exploits of Jack Wells as he searches for his missing father, a renowned archaeologist, down a mysterious network of tunnels deep into the earth. The game features a cutting-edge 3D engine with support for hardware acceleration and levels full of amazing uncharted civilizations to explore, climb and swing your way through.”

Presto Studios wanted to add more than Tomb Raider in their inspirations, and such names as H.G. Wells or Jules Verne were dropped in old press releases, such as in this one by CNN:

“Is the world ready for a revisionist H.G. Wells or Jules Verne adventure game? Presto Studios and Activision think so. In Beneath, Presto (of Journeyman Project fame) is convinced that Tomb Raider opened a door for third-person adventures, but the earlier game relied upon its good looks and lacked easy input control and depth of storytelling.

So Presto set off to build a game around Jack, a turn-of-the-century (19th/20th) adventurer out to track down his missing father whose expedition to the pole has gone terribly wrong. In the best Wells/Verne tradition, Jack discovers an underground world with an entirely unique social and eco-system. Three societies inhabit the underground – a Troglodyte world, a Morlock world, and an Insectoid world. Strangely, all three are biologically and socially connected, the questions to be uncovered are how are they connected and what are they up do?

Whether beefcake Jack will draw women to beneath the same way Tomb Raider’s Lara captivated men is unknown, but Presto definitely has a grand vision for an adventure game in Beneath. Unfortunately, despite obvious enthusiasm behind their product, the first couple of times Beneath was brought in for demonstration to PC Games, there wasn’t a whole lot in evidence to get excited about. These early alphas were all software rendered, there weren’t any adversaries or creatures and nothing to explore but dingy mineshafts. What’s more, the producers seem somewhat disdainful of the need for 3D acceleration in third-person games.

This week Activision trotted Beneath through the office again and we’re happy to report there’s a lot more there to talk about. First, Glide support was finally added a couple of weeks ago. Direct3D will come later, as well high-resolution versions of Jack, but the difference 3D acceleration brings to the game is enormous. Activision won’t release updated screens, so we were forced to run the accompanying E3 SVGA screens, but we’re happy to report that Presto’s texture work is often stunning in 3D.

[…] Now for the targets. Presto still hasn’t put many adversaries into the game, but at least we got to play with some early giant spiders and earwigs. They’re still pretty stupid, and we’d still like to see how the Morlocks and Insectoids are coming along, but this is still progress.”

Thanks to some previews published in gaming magazines at the time we know that Beneath would have been set in 12 different levels spread over 3 lost civilizations. The more players would descent deeper beneath the earth’s surface, the more technologically advanced the lost civilization would became.

In the end Presto Studios were not able to keep up with creating their ambitious 3D adventure, being more used to developing pre-rendered point and click adventures, such as their The Journeyman Project series and Myst III: Exile. A full 3D action adventure game was not an easy task to create and competition was high, with many Tomb Raider clones releasing on Playstation.

Beneath was cancelled and in 2002 the studio was closed down, after the release of their Xbox title Whacked.

Thanks to Mark and Ross Sillifant for the contribution!

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Excalibur (Auran) [Cancelled – PC]

Excalibur is a cancelled action RPG that was in development by Australian team Auran (later known as n3vrf41l Publishing and N3V Games Pty), announced in 2001 for PC. The game was based on the legend of King Arthur and his “Sword in the Stone” Excalibur.

Established in 1995, Auran first came to prominence with the hit RTS “Dark Reign: The Future of War“, which won Strategy Game of the Year in 1997. As one of Australia’s oldest and largest game studios Auran has won numerous technology awards and operates from world-class facilities in sunny sub-tropical Brisbane. Boasting a team of internationally experienced developers, Auran’s staff have worked on a titles including: Asheron’s Call 1 & 2, Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online, Mythica, Middle Earth Online, Need for Speed Underground, Magic and Mayhem and many more.

As we can read from the original press-release on Gamespot and Shacknews:

“The game is set in a medieval fantasy world split into three main realms: Albion, Poisoned Camelot, and Avalon. It features ranged, melee, and magical combat, and it includes a wide range of medieval weapons, such as swords, maces, axes, longbows, and crossbows, as well as a number of magical spells. Players will be able to follow the game’s single-player storyline or engage in head-to-head combat in multiplayer mode over the Internet. Excalibur will also include elements of siege warfare, such as catapults, battering rams, and cauldrons of boiling oil.”

– Master the three disciplines of melee combat, range combat, and magic

– Wield swords, maces, axes and other medieval weaponry with dazzling technique

– Fire awesome range weapons, including the legendary long bow and the deadly crossbow

– Cast cool magic spells to help your friends or hinder your enemies

– Fight hand-to-hand over the Internet

– Shoot huge catapults

– Ram castle gates

– Pour boiling oil over your foes

Morph into strange beasts

– Fight savage hand-to-hand battles for Internet supremacy!

In the end Excalibur was never completed: we can assume the project was too ambitious for such a small team, and they instead found niche success in their Trainz simulation series.

Thanks to mihapsx for the contribution!

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