News on Beta & Cancelled Games

The Lord of the Rings (EA) [Genesis / Mega Drive – Cancelled]

Around 1992-1994 Electronic Arts was working on a Sega Mega Drive / Genesis video game based on The Lord of the Rings series, but in the end the project was cancelled for unknown reasons. The title was listed in a few EA promotional leaflets, but as far as we know screenshots were never shown in magazines at the time.

In 2015 users from the Sega-16 forum noticed some sprites / animations from this cancelled Lord of the Rings Genesis game in an article posted by former EA developer Ray Tobey, who created the Animax 2D editor used by the company.

The same team also worked on Budokan: The Martial Spirit and the cancelled Cybernauts, both fighting games for the Mega Drive / Genesis. Because of this, we can assume The Lord of the Rings would also have been a fighting game. It’s interesting to notice that an unlicensed The Lord of the Rings fighting game for Mega Drive was published by Glorysun many years later, but it’s not related to the cancelled EA project.

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Oregon Files: The Video Game [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360)

The Oregon Files is a cancelled action game / third person shooter based on the book series written by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo. It was in development around 2008 – 2009 by Sensory Sweep Studios, planned to be published for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

As we can read on Wikipedia:

“The books follow the mysterious “Corporation” and its leader Juan Cabrillo. The “Oregon Files” come from the name of the ship on which the Corporation is based, The Oregon is a high tech ship owned by a private secret service organization called ‘the Corporation’. It is disguised as a rusty old tramp steamer.  In reality it is an extraordinarily sophisticated intelligence-gathering vessel with luxury facilities and top of the line technical capabilities.”

The game was cancelled when Sensory Sweep finally close for bankruptcy, with employees working without being paid for months. As we can read on Mobygames:

“The company filed for bankruptcy in September 2005, but kept all projects going with two name changes (including Fooptube). In early 2008 the employees stopped receiving contributions, even though their paychecks were still deducted for the next few pay periods. Soon after that the paychecks bounced and Sensory Sweep lost Brash Entertainment as a big client when it folded at the end of 2008.”

What remains of the game today is just some concept art, preserved in the gallery below to remember the existence of this lost game.

Among Sensory Sweep other cancelled games there are such titles as Crash Tag Team Racing DS, Time Traveler, Raphael and Sentient.

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Yohoden Hisuimaru: Bonten no Ken [Game Gear – Cancelled]

Yohoden Hisuimaru: Bonten no Ken (妖逢伝ひすい丸 梵天の剣) is a cancelled JRPG that was in development around 1992 – 1993 for Sega Game Gear. From screenshots and footage available we can see it was going to be a classic RPG set in feudal Japan, with the main protagonist being able to transform himself into a Tengu.

A brief description of the game was published in a Japanese website:

“A field-type RPG set in medieval Japan. The protagonist, Hasui Maru, suddenly struck by lightning and became a Tengu. Why was he transformed to this figure? Fate now waits for him. As you can see from these images, it seems that popular figures of Japanese folklore and real-life history would have appeared in the game, such as Momotaro, Kintaro, Ushiwakamaru and Benkei.”

Combat was turn-based and there was a nice-looking overworld map to explore. It seems the project was being produced by Sega and it could have been a great addition to Game Gear’s japanese library. Unfortunately even if Yohoden Hisuimaru: Bonten no Ken looked quite far in development, it was quietly cancelled and soon forgotten.

Some images were found by Romanovh and VGDensetsu in old japanese magazines.

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Tremors: The Video Game [Cancelled – GameCube, Xbox, PS2, PC]

Around 2001 – 2002 Rock Solid Studios were working on a tie-in video game based on the Tremors series, planned to be published by Conspiracy Entertainment for GameCube, Playstation 2 and Xbox. The project was officially announced in August 2002, but the team never shown any media from their game, before it was quietly cancelled and vanished forever.

As we can read on their old website and in following press-releases:

“Tremors is based on the successful Tremors movie franchise, created by Universal Pictures and Stampede Entertainment. The game is a third person action adventure set in the desert around the town of Gold Rock, where Graboids – gigantic landsharks threatens mankind as we know it.

Players will experience an immersive storyline, filled with surprises and challenges in combination with high-octane action. The game is scheduled for release during the fall of 2003.”

“A few years have passed since the first wave of monsters shook the grounds of Nevada. Burt Gummer has kept himself busy investigating Graboid activity and repelled the threats when needed, but business is going slow.

Strange disappearances are investigated by Gold Rocks sheriff, who makes a horrifying discovery – the Graboids are back. The investigations leads to a recently built plant and research center outside the town. The mystery unfolds and turns out to be more of a “normal bug-problem”.

At the same time, unknown of the two heroes above the ground, a heroine fights the source of the monsters from heart of the top-secret underground facility. Tremors is a game of monsters threatening mankind, corporate cover-ups, betrayal and three heroes that simply refuse to surrender against any threat.”

  • Based on the Tremors cult series of movies and the upcoming SciFi Channel TV-show.
  • Three characters – three agendas that ties into one, immersive story. Play as Burt Gummer from the movies.
  • Fight the Graboids, Shriekers and Assblasters – for a start. You’re up against evolving monsters.
  • State-of-the art enemy AI that plans and thinks. Monsters reacts after your actions.
  • Blow the monsters to pieces of goo with a wide range of weapons; revolvers, rifles, SMG’s and the classic Barrett .50.
  • Fluent and extensive movement with the help from +500 motion captured movements.
  • Powered by the RSSTech – one of the most powerful rendering systems ever.

In 2003 fansite UK Tremors posted an interview with Rock Solid Studios about their game:

UK: 1, So how long have you been working on the game? is there anything to see yet?.

CS: We are still quite early in development, many details are still confidential. Including planning and design, we have worked on this game since April/May 2002. Even though we cannot show anything officially yet, we are playing the game internally and there are both Graboids and Shriekers in the game at this point.

UK: 2, Will the game be based on any of the films or just the upcoming TV series?

CS: The game is an independent story, but with tie-ins to the TV series and the movies.

UK:3, Is there any details of the game that you can let us in on? E.g. storyline, structure, gameplay, multiplayer etc

CS: The game is a single-player action-adventure in line with the Resident Evil series of games, but cross-overs to games such as Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. As players are partly dealing with monsters hunting on heat or vibrations, there will be different ways to move around in the environment.

UK: 4, Is it still set to be released on all the major gaming systems? Do you have any kind of release date set at the moment?

CS: Still to be determined.

UK: 5, you must have seen the films a lot of times by now. Has Stampede/Universal supplied you with much information and help? 

CS: They have been much helpful.

UK: 6, For our readers, will this be a game they will be playing into the small hours? 

CS: Definitely. As there are many different ways of defeating the monsters, players will come back to try different solutions to various problems.”

In the end Rock Solid Studios closed down for bankruptcy before releasing any game and was later reboot as Avalanche Studios, finally finding success with the first Just Cause. As we can read on Wikipedia:

“During that period, another Stockholm-based video game development studio, Starbreeze Studios, announced that they would acquire Rock Solid. The agreement between the two companies was ultimately broken by Starbreeze, and the acquisition was stopped. In addition, Universal decided to cancel Tremors: The Game, which led Rock Solid to declare bankruptcy. With the failure and collapse of Rock Solid, Sundberg and Blomberg became unemployed and in debt. They eventually decided to start over in 2003, establishing Avalanche Studios with six other employees.”

A few 3D models from this lost game are preserved in the gallery below, to remember its existence.

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Baldur’s Gate 3: The Black Hound [Cancelled – PC]

Black Isle Studios, a divison of Interplay, was an RPG power-house in the late 90’s, being responsible for developing Fallout 1 & 2, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale 1 & 2, as well as publishing BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate games. Sadly, it also became known for its cancelled games, such as Torn, Stonekeep II, Fallout 3 “Van Buren” and, the subject of this article, The Black Hound.

First announced in 2001 and commonly known as Baldur’s Gate III: The Black Hound, the game actually bears no relation to the plot, location or characters of the previous Baldur’s Gate game. It wouldn’t even be developed by BioWare, or use the famous Infinity Engine. In fact, the name “Baldur’s Gate III” was a legal trick, as during its development Interplay lost the Dungeons & Dragons license to Atari but could still develop D&D games under the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale brands.

Under code names like “FR6” and “Project Jefferson“, The Black Hound began as its own game in late 2000, being developed by a small team as a side project. Full development would only begin in 2002, after Icewind Dale 2 was released. The team was led by Josh Sawyer, a History Major, and while it would still use the AD&D ruleset and be set in Forgotten Realms (like Baldur’s Gate), it would be a more grounded, low-level adventure, with a heavier focus on role-playing.

What is known of the original plot is that you would be set in the Dalelands region of Forgotten Realms. There you would create a new character – not a child of gods or special in any way – that would run into the eponymous black hound being fiercely hunted by a cleric named May Farrow. More than just a mere animal, the hound was a physical manifestation of her guilt for allowing her husband to die and then failing to properly resurrect him. She would kill the dog, but it’s spirit would bound to you, allowing you to see and interact with the guilt of others. The cleric would then begin to hunt you as well, and the game would be centered on your journey to understand what happened to you, interacting with factions like the Archenriders, the Church of Lathander and the Red Wizards of Thay, until eventually confronting May Farrow’s husband – now a powerful abomination which feeds from guilt.

Not much is know about the gameplay, other than it would be based on the previous Infinity Engine games – with multiple party members and real-time-with-pause combat – but updated to the recently released D&D 3rd Edition ruleset. Karma would be a central part of the game, as players would be able to explore the game’s world in a non-linear way, but would face the consequences of their actions, including failed and incomplete quests. To ensure this, a robust reputation system was devised, which would track your relationship with individual factions and locations, as well as your overall fame/infamy.

Thinking the Infinity Engine to be overused and inspired by the Aurora Engine that BioWare had developed for Neverwinter Nights, Black Isle decided to create a new engine as well, code named the Ferguson Engine. This new engine would be built from the ground with the D&D ruleset in mind and would allow for 3D character models, instead of Infinity Engine’s sprites. Unfortunately, the only two games designed with said engine were The Black Hound and the original Fallout 3 (codenamed Van Buren), and both never saw the light of day. Still, a tech demo of Van Buren was leaked in 2007, allowing curious souls to play a bit and imagine how these games would feel.

While there were plans for a full trilogy of games, The Black Hound was cancelled in 2003, reportedly about 80% complete, when Interplay lost the rights to the Baldur’s Gate brand as well and could not release a D&D RPG anymore. Suffering from financial issues, Interplay would close the Black Isle Studios shortly after.

However, that was not the end of The Black Hound. Black Isle Studios` former manager, Feargus Urquhart, gathered a few key developers, such as Josh Sawyer, Chris Avellone, Chris Parker, Darren Monahan and Chris Jones and founded a new studio: Obsidian Entertainment.

Focused on RPGs, Obsidian would then develop titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas and Dungeon Siege 3. Neverwinter Nights 2 came with a toolset for creating modules and in 2007 Sawyer began using them to work on a personal project: a The Black Hound module. He posted about the project for a few years, sharing screenshots and discussing his views on mechanics such a damage resistance, feats and classes, but the module was never finished.

Another attempt at resurrecting the game would occur in 2008, when Obsidian pitched Baldur’s Gate III to Atari, holder of the Dungeons & Dragons license at the time. Negotiations went far and designers worked for months on the project, but Atari was suffering financially, didn’t have the money required and the game was abandoned as well. In September 2012 Obsidian would crowdfund a spiritual successor the Infinity Engine games, a 2D isometric RPG titled Pillars of Eternity. The Kickstarter campaign was a success, raising $4,163,208 dollars, and the game was eventually released in March 2015 to critical acclaim.

While Pillars of Eternity isn’t The Black Hound nor uses the D&D ruleset, it has Josh Sawyer as its director and features many similarities, being a party-based RPG with real-time-with-pause combat system and sporting a distinct visual style that combines 2D backgrounds with 3D character models. It also featured a nice Easter Egg to the days of Black Isle Studios, with one of the cities featuring an inn named The Black Hound.

Meanwhile, Trent Oster, a former BioWare employee, founded a company named Beamdog and developed enhanced editions of the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games, adding features such as widescreen support and tablet ports. After the success of the re-releases, the company began working on Siege of Dragonspear, an expansion to Baldur’s Gate, and mentioned many times their ambition of one day developing Baldur’s Gate 3.

In 2019 a new version of Baldur’s Gate III was formally revealed both for Microsoft Windows and Google’s Stadia, developed by Larian Studios (Divinity series). We can assume this version of BG3 will not be related in any way to the cancelled ones.

Article by Felipe Pepe, originally published in our book Video Games You Will Never Play.

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