New Cancelled Games & Their Lost Media Added to the Archive

Blue Vault (Elixir Studios) [PC – Cancelled]

Blue Vault is a cancelled sci-fi strategy game similar to Syndicate / X-Com, that was in development in 2004 by Elixir Studios, the team lead by Demis Hassabis, a skilled programmer who co-created Theme Park and worked with Peter Molyneux during their Bullfrog and Lionhead days. Players would take the role of a secret team of agents with the mission of stopping aliens from invading our planet, while hiding their existence from the population.

At the time Elixir Studios had released two interesting but ill-fated games: “Republic: The Revolution” (2003) and “Evil Genius” (2004). Blue Vault would have been their third project, offering players more than 30 missions to resolve using strategy combat, managing the squad’s finance, keeping up the team morale and upgrading their skills. During missions civilians must have been protected but at the same time you had to not let them know what was really happening. As we can read from IGN:

“Blue Vault’s strategy element involves the usual research, resource-gathering, unit recruitment and skill advancement, but the team is going into a lot of detail that’ll be “almost to an RPG level” according to Sutherland. There’ll be 40 unique unit characters, each with their own features, toolset, stats and hopefully, voice. “X-COM missions were quite similar with very little characterization. We want to push the character element further, so you really care about your teams. Imagine each Blue Vault operative shouting orders or screaming in agony with a different voice.”

Some more details were published in PC Zone Magazine (issue 141, May 2004):

“[…] tension is the crux of the gameplay, so  even if you manage to deal successfully  with an interplanetary nuisance, if you  scare the bejesus out of too many people  – what Elixir is calling ‘culture shock’ –  you’ll fail the mission

Ops are your standard tactical soldier,  whereas Indigo Ops are your elite  troopers that utilise alien technology.  Obviously, the latter are more adept at  dealing with space tourists, but you have  to be careful not to freak out bystanders,  who will notice their strange uniforms and  hybrid weaponry.

Engineers, on the other hand, repair  stuff, allow you to recover valuable alien  artefacts, hijack cars to build barricades  and also reinforce any cover-up with  visible evidence, such as releasing  weather balloons to explain that bizarre  ‘meteorological event’ annoyingly  witnessed by dozens of people.

Finally, there are your Conspirators –  the ‘Men in Blue’ who’re crucial for crowd  control and ensuring that you protect the  populace from mass panic caused by first  contact. This is where Elixir’s ‘stimuli system’, also used to a certain extent in  Republic, comes into play, where  individual Al-controlled characters react  to things they see and hear. So, if a member of the public has a  glimpse of alien technology, for example,  or is confronted by a Blue Vault soldier  pointing a gun at them, they’ll become  fearful, but this will soon recede if you  manage to tell them to move out of the  danger zone. However, if the person is  left in the vicinity of an alien visitor, they  will go into culture shock, meaning they’re  so scared and irrational that they  become a danger to themselves. In this  case, you quickly have to use your  Conspirators’ special persuasive powers  to calm people down, or you’ll quickly fail  your objectives. Up to 1,000 people can be rendered on screen, with up to 3,000 polygons each.

Blue Vault has a total of six alien races  and 15 different model types with  emergent behavior, so it’s extremely  important how you deal with the  combat and containment of these  creatures. “If you get it wrong, say a  friendly alien race comes along and you  decide to blow them back to the Stone  Age, the next time they appear, they’ll be  aggressive,” says Hewitt,  “take the time to find out about them, work with them, then next time  they’ll be more helpful.” Elixir is working towards a total of  more than 30 scripted missions, ranging  from rescuing and escorting a stranded  alien so it can repair its vehicle and  launch, to a spaceship full of warlike  alien convicts that crashes in a  downtown leisure zone on a  Saturday night. There’ll also be  random spanners in the  works, such as an  epidemic of  intergalactic  spores that bury  themselves in  human skin.”

Unfortunately in 2005 Elixir Studios was faced with serious financial problems. Their publisher abandoned Blue Vault, possibly because Republic and Evil Genius did not sell as expected. It seems the team tried to pitch the game to other publisher, possibly using a possible “Men in Black” license, but without any luck. With no money to keep the studio alive, Elixir had to close down: Blue Vault and all of their other planned projects (Republic Dawn: The Chronicles of the Seven , Evil Genius 2) were canned and lost forever.

Thanks to Ross Sillifant and Josef for the contribution!

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Alien Commander (Warren Spector) [PC – Cancelled]

Alien Commander is a cancelled first person sci-fi adventure set in the Wing Commander universe, proposed by Warren Spector to Origin Systems while he was working at Looking Glass Studios. The team already developed Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss and UUII: Labyrinth of Worlds for Origin: now they wanted to work on something different than classic fantasy RPG. While Alien Commander was canned quite early, some of its ideas were merged into another game titled “Citadel” to create a different project known as “System Shock”. As we can read from an article and interview with Warren Spector published on Retro Gamer in January 2018:

“I was as sick of fantasy games as Paul having worked on several Ultima games and Underworld and Underworld II, I had a design spec for a game that was called Alien Commander, which was going to be a first-person science fiction game using the Wing Commander technology, and then along comes Paul with Citadel (System Shock’s original title) and I just dumped the Alien Commander proposal and System Shock went ahead.”

In PC Gamer magazine (May – June 1994) Spector also sadi:

“The game [System Shock] started off as something called Alien Commander (intended to be a Wing Commander tie-in) but soon moved completely away from that. Part of the fun for myself and project leader Doug Church was that we weren’t tied to the Ultima universe or to the Commander universe, so we could basically do whatever we liked“.

Since 2015 NightDive Studios announced they were working on a System Shock remake with the help of Warren Spector, and during one of their Twitch Streams they confirmed both Alien Commander and Citadel got merged to create the original System Shock.

Some more details on Alien Commander can be found in the pitch document Spector wrote in the early ‘90s, preserved in the “Warren Spector Papers” archive at the Briscoe Center for American History:

“This game combines Underworld technology with a Wing Commander storyline. The technology is strong and there have been very few first-person SF games (none of them successful to my knowledge). We all know the strength of the Wing Commander trademark. It’s been over a decade since the destruction of the Tiger’s Claw and a huge chunk of the old girl has been discovered in a backwater portion of the galaxy. Strange signals are being picked up from the derelict and the player has been sent to investigate.

[…] There are lots of creatures roaming around the ship, most of them dangerous. There are some people, too – a few survivors of the Claw’s explosion (some in suspended animation, some just recently awakened), a salvage crew that was drawn here by the same signals that attracted you, some folks, creatures you just can’t explain.

What the player doesn’t know (and must learn) is that members of the race known as the Double Helix (introduced in the Claw Marks magazine included in Wing Commander) had infiltrated the ship before it was blown up. They’ve spent the last ten+ years taking over the living creatures on the ship – most (but not all) of the people and creatures the player encounters are DH hybrids. […] The hybrids created by the merger are shape shifters. There’s no way to tell an enemy from a friend..

As the player explores the corridors of the ship, he must get the power on, find oxygen, repair life support and communications systems, acquire new components for his suit, new equipment he can fit to the suit or cart along with him for when he needs it. He must figure out that things are now what they seem, avoid being taken over by the DH, etc.

[…] When it appears the player is about to win, the DH pulls out their ace in the hole – they’re not just genetic manipulators, they can survive and thrive in electronic circuitry. They’ve infiltrated the ship’s computer system periodically and they duck in there now, intent on destroying the player even if it costs their lives. The last third (or so) of the game, takes place in cyberspace. In the Tigers Claw’s computers.

[…] In addition to your primary character, you start with a couple of sentries and drones. Sentries are like floating cameras. Set one up and it can survey an area. You can switch to its view at will. What it sees replaces your view or window or it appears alongside your view, in a smaller window. Drones can fly, but can’t interact with objects. Stopped by obstacles, but they’re small and can squak into / through places you can’t fit. Again, you can switch to drone view.

As the game goes on, you can acquire robots (and maybe other allies) you can switch to. Your character goes into stasis (so you better be someplace safe) and you then control a robot with different abilities than your main character. Maybe you can give a robot orders and have it carry them out without direct intervention from you. […] Even if you die, it should be possible to win using only robots.”

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Ghosts ‘n Goblins 3D [Playstation – Cancelled]

Ghosts ‘n Goblins 3D (AKA Makaimura 3D in Japan) is a cancelled chapter in the titular Capcom series that was planned in 1994 for the original Playstation, 3 years after the release of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts for the Super Nintendo. As far as we know this canned PS1 game was never officially announced by Capcom (but they did announce Ghosts ‘n Goblins for Nintendo 64) even if rumors about a 32-bit Makaimura were around at the time. In September 2020 a former Capcom artist shared a few pieces of concept art on Twitter, but later removed their message: those drawings are preserved in the gallery below, to remember the existence of this lost game. By looking at one of the remaining drawings, we speculate the game may have had an isometric top-down view.

It seems Kouji Ogata (at the time a Capcom employee who worked on the opening of the SFC version of Super Street Fighter II) was originally in charge of Ghosts ‘n Goblins PS1 character design, but was later replaced by someone else (Pink Head?) before the project was just canned.

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Flesh & Wire (Running With Scissors) [Cancelled – PS2, Dreamcast, GameCube]

Flesh & Wire is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Running With Scissors (of Postal fame), announced in 1999 and planned to be published by Ripcord Games for Playstation 2, Dreamcast and GameCube. It would have been and over-the-top shooter where you could control an alien blob to explore the world and resolve environmental puzzles. As we can read on IGN:

“The game follows Angus, a sleazy, slimy cop who wakes up one morning with an alien amoebae-like creature noshing on his legs, and his city has been engulfed by a bio-ship by the name of the Nulloid. Rather than worry about what the heck the thing’s doing to his lower half, he comes to the realization that he can control the gelatinous blob, and uses this newfound power to move around and utilize special abilities, sloshing around the levels. He’ll also utilize massive amounts of firepower, so expect over-the-top violence […]”

In 2016 Running With Scissors CEO Vince Desi talked about Flesh and Wire in an interview posted on their official website:

Robin TGG: I had almost forgotten that you once worked on a title called “Flesh and Wire”. What was that game all about? And why was it canceled?

Vince RWS: Yeah that was after POSTAL got cancelled, we actually had 2 other original games in development, but financial reality simply didn’t allow us to continue. It was a sci-fi based game that had a blob as the main character, I really liked it, who knows maybe someday we’ll take another look at it.

The game was somehow similar in concept to a more violent “A Boy and His Blob”, as you could transform the blob into different forms, such as a ladder to reach high places, a bungee to get down and a shield to protect the protagonist from bullets. Some more details on its development can be read on the March 1999 issue of Game Developer magazine:

“According to Randy Briley, the soft-spoken art lead for the project, the development process for FLESH & WIRE (FW) has always been a little bit different. For starters, the publisher (Ripcord Games) has been very hands-off, letting the development team drive the development. This uncharacteristic display of trust has as much to do with RWS’s track record of getting products out the door on time as it does with Ripcord Games’ relative newness to the gaming scene. And although the style of game play has some basis in currently released titles (the game is some-thing of a cross between RESIDENT EVIL and THE THUNDERCATS), the look of the game is anything but conventional. From character design and animation to background generation, the unorthodox look derives from equally unorthodox production methods.

When RWS finally settled on the game spec, they realized that from a resource production standpoint, they had bitten off more than they could chew. In addition to the standard budget of special effects, GUI art, and several minutes of cut scenes, the spec called for over 200 static screens of game play with in betweens, and a set of enemy and player characters’ 300+unique animation sequences. With a production cycle of just under 18 months, no budget for outsourcing, and an extremely small art team, the task seemed pretty daunting. It was time to improvise.”

[…] rotoscoping could be done largely in-house with little or no overhead, the production time compared to hand animation was much faster, and although it required the talents of a skilled animator to implement, it provided a cheap, efficient method to complete the animations on schedule. The team went down to a local gymnasium and interviewed several martial arts students. Then, working closely with the art lead (a martial arts expert himself), the actors were mocked up to look like the characters in the game. Several sets of motion shots were taken, using two synchronized digital cameras set 90 degrees apart (front and side). After digitizing these images and importing them into Softimage, the result was a sequence of images. The Animator then animated the characters by hand, using the images as a guide. […]

Compared to the mammoth task of generating over 200 hundred in-game background scenes, the character animation problem looked simple. With only a handful of 3D artists on staff, the team had to make some tough decisions. As the project evolved through its initial stages, it became clear that the art direction was evolving towards the techno-grunge look typified by such industry standards as The Crow and City of Lost Children. The level of detail the team wanted would require hours of tedious texture and modeling work using classical CG methods. Given the size of the team and the allotted time, this simply would not be possible. Rather than cut the design or ask for more time, the team resolved to find a solution that would allow them to maintain the scope of the project while holding true to the artistic vision. They Took a gamble, and decided to build the entire game using miniatures.

“Near the end of the planning phase of the project, RWS presented the publisher with a proof of concept for the process. For the first test, the team put together a town from a model railroad set and digitized it into the POSTAL engine. In short, the result was a huge success.

Put simply, the sets for the game were built with “anything we could get our hands on,” says RandyBriley. Basically, the team would just bring stuff in: PVC piping, copper tubing, old VCR’s, and so on, and the pieces were glued together and painted using a hot glue gun and standard modeling paints. Most of the back-drops for the game were created using Styrofoam panels, which proved easy to get hold of and standardize.  “Once we got an assembly line going with a certain panel (background piece), we could crank each one out in a matter of a few hours.”

By far however, the biggest advantage of the process is the lack of any requirement for CG expertise on the part of the artists. Consider that with a single trained 3D artist to guide the process, the bulk of the artists can be classically trained with little or no industry expertise. This means that production costs go down for any given piece of work or, you get a lot more resources for a lot less money.”

As said by Vince, in the end they were not able to keep up development for 3 different projects at the same time, so Flesh & Wire had to be canned. We hope someday to be able to see some more images from this strange and original video game.

Thanks to Josef for the contribution!

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Das Reich 2005 (Joylabs) [PC – Cancelled]

Das Reich 2005 is a cancelled FPS that was in development by Joylabs around 2002 – 2004, planned to be released on PC. The team was founded by former Westka Interactive developers after the cancellation of their previous game titled “Y-Project”, when their parent company VIVA Media Germany disbanded the team. Das Reich 2005 was set in a dystopian version of 2005, when Nazis still ruled nearly every European country. While playing the game you would support different rebel factions with the common goal to bring down the Nazi regime.

Joylanbs planned to share more details about the game at E3 2003, but as far as we know it never happened. One year later Joylabs sent a single screenshot and logo to the press, but soon both the game and the team just vanished, forgotten by everyone. We can speculate they never found a publisher interested in Das Reich 2005 and without more resources Joylabs had to close down and cancel the game.

Thanks to Josef and Dan for the contribution!

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