News on Beta & Cancelled Games

The Outsider [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3]

The story behind The Outsider is closely linked to David Braben, a prolific game designer, recognized as one of the most influential figures in the industry, and to the company he founded, Frontier Developments. Braben started actively working in video game development in the early eighties while still being an undergraduate at Cambridge University and delivered his first title Elite in 1984, in a joint effort with fellow university colleague Ian Bell.

Elite was published by British software house Acornsoft, which mostly specialized itself in developing educational applications for the BBC Micro and the Acorn Electron, released in 1981 and 1983 respectively for the UK market by the now defunct Acorn Computers Ltd, also based in Cambridge.

Elite was revolutionary in several regards. For one, its deep mechanics and open ended nature, a revolutionary approach in a time when games used to be intense experiences set to just take some minutes of the player’s time. But it also became widely recognized for the technology running behind, being the first title to include hidden line removal in its tridimensional engine, a crucial first step in the transition between the primitive 3D wireframes and into what the more complex rendering engines would be capable of doing in the upcoming years and decades.

After the success of Elite, Braben delivered Zarch for the Acorn Archimedes, another family of home computers and the first general-purpose line produced by Acorn. Zarch would be subsequently ported to other contemporary systems under the name of Virus. It was just after this that Braben started work on the long-anticipated sequel to his awarded title Elite, named Frontier: Elite II, as well as foundation of his own game development studio, Frontier Developments Ltd, company which still nowadays operates with Braben as its CEO.

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After publishing yet another entry in the Elite series, called Frontier: First Encounters and a sequel to Virus for the PlayStation, titled V2000, Frontier was keeping a steady flow of own-produced games covering different genres and platforms. From several expansions of the Rollercoaster Tycoon main series to A Dog’s Life for PlayStation 2 and two entries in the Wallace and Gromit game series, among others.

However, the title discussed here was anticipated to be the most ambitious project Frontier had worked in so far. Announced in the E3 2005 in Los Angeles, The Outsider was an action thriller with strong sandbox roots set to take place in the city of Washington DC and some nearby real world locations, such as the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Joint Base Andrews, and the Newport News Shipbuilding, where panic and martial law has taken over after the Air Force One has been shot down. The main character, CIA operative John Jameson has been wrongly pinned with the crime and must explore the city as a fugitive, fighting back when necessary and finding the clues to clear his name; all while running away and – ideally – keeping a low profile towards police and army forces.

The game’s plot was to be heavily motivated by the fear of terrorist attacks present back then in the occidental society and was said to reflect how a single man could feel and behave after being cornered and seemingly having lost everything in life. It definitely reminds of other widely popular action thriller films and TV shows of the time, such as 24, Prison Break or the Jason Bourne series. But more on that last one later…

Just looking at the available screenshots and trailers gives the impression that the game was meant to be yet another sandbox / open world game where the player must navigate the city and fulfill a – mostly linear – set of missions; all while blowing up facilities or driving some vehicles in the process. However, Frontier’s ambitions with this game were going far beyond this. As the tagline on the British developer’s website explicitly says “(…) The Outsider stimulates characters’ motivations in an immersive, dynamic world and storyline. This gives the player genuine freedom to change the story outcomes in a way not seen before.”

The aim was to bring something closer to Elite’s openness into a different genre and offer the player a range of opportunities to explore and discover. For example, the player’s choice between a stealthy and a more brutal interaction with the environment would have led to different consequences in the story’s progress and point it into different directions. Even in-game dialogs were influenced by this pursuit of freedom, with a quite generous range of answers to choose from in conversations with NPCs, allowing the player to get different reactions from them or again, conduct the plot in different directions.

Unfortunately, the development process of The Outsider underwent some ups and downs that led to the eventual abandon it suffered, after reportedly three years of preproduction work and another two of actual development work had been invested on it. The original publisher, Codemasters dropped its support with the title very advanced in development, which caused the dismissal of around 30 Frontier employees and rendered the company unable to cope with the enormous development costs. The exact reason as to why Codemasters would suddenly drop financial support for a title almost close to completion seems to lie in an internal change of policies and realignment of priorities after purchase of the English developer and distributor by the Indian entertainment conglomerate Reliance Entertainment.

At least on paper, The Outsider was a very promising idea and this woke up the interest of Electronic Arts, company that noticed the resemblance between the game and the Jason Bourne franchise and proposed a reworking of the title to accommodate it in the Bourne universe, as from a market perspective it was safer to bet on well-known intellectual IPs rather than risking a lukewarm reaction with a new one. Sadly, this new iteration of the game did not go forward as negotiations did not fully fructify between both companies.

The Outsider has never been seen again since then, although Braben himself had stated back in 2011 that the game had been abandoned but not cancelled. A few years passed and Frontier kept themselves busy in the meantime with a hefty variety of titles, including new entries in the Roller Coaster Tycoon series, several Kinect games or the beloved Lost Winds and its sequel for Wii.

The latest first-hand information on the game came from Braben himself in declarations to Eurogamer during the Gamescom in 2014, where he stated that “it was stopped,” and “it probably is gone for good.” Considering how much The Outsider was aiming to revolutionize the story telling in games and just try to stick out from the rest of sandbox and action games, it is indeed a pity that we never got to experience David Braben and Frontier’s unique way of interactive storytelling by ourselves.

In 2014 Frontier Developments released Elite: Dangerous, the latest chapter in Braben’s space adventure series, developed thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The game has sold almost 2 million units in 2016 and while Frontier Developments seems to keeping up their promises with Elite, we’ll still miss what could have been with The Outsider.

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Acid Rain (Namco Bandai) [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360]

Acid Rain is a mysterious cancelled Playstation 3 / Xbox 360  game that was being developed by Namco Bandai Games USA just for a few months in early 2009, probably by the same team behind their Afro Samurai game. A few concept arts from this obscure project were leaked online some years ago, and while we tried many times to get in contact with people who worked on the game, unfortunately we were not able to get any more details about it.

By looking at these images we can just speculate that the game would have been some kind of action / horror game, and it looks like it could have been an interesting one.

If you know someone who worked at Namco Bandai USA in 2009 and could remember something about Acid Rain, please let us know! In the meantime we’d like to preserve these concept arts in the gallery below.

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High Heat Major League Baseball 2004 [GBA, Gamecube – Cancelled]

High Heat Major League Baseball was a series of baseball games published by the 3DO company. The game made its debut in 1999 and featuring the official licensed team and player names from all 30 MLB teams each year a new game was up for release. High Heat Baseball was acclaimed to be one of the best baseball games around; the game always had its focus more on genuine and realistic gameplay than on the quality of its graphics.

The 2004 edition however promised improved graphics and a new graphics engine, a new animation system and renewed motion captured player movements. The Gameboy Advance version was under development by Mobius Entertainment (later renamed Rockstar Leeds) and this edition would be the third version of the series on the handheld. For the Gamecube the game would make its first appearance and development was done by 3DO itself. 3DO announced the new installment of the game in December 2002 as they released the first images of the game and a release date was set for spring 2003, around the same date as the release of the Playstation 2, the Xbox and PC versions.

Both versions were finished and ready for release as things went wrong for 3DO in May 2003, the company faced big financial problems for quite a while now, mainly due to bad title sales, and the company now even had to file for bankruptcy and made the announcement that the team and it’s games were for sale and were finally acquired by Rockstar Games.

The Playstation 2, Xbox and PC versions just had had their release dates in March and would shortly after have been followed by the Gameboy Advance and Gamecube versions but with 3DO in serious trouble both titles were shelved for the time being and thus finally resulting into a non release for both platforms. At the 3DO bankruptcy auction in August of that year Microsoft bought all rights for the High Heat series from 3DO for an undisclosed sum. Microsoft however hasn’t developed a new title in the series so far and for now it’s even more questionable if they ever will with a baseball franchise of their own on the Xbox.

Below some screenshots of both titles; I could retrieve no promotional or gameplay footage of the cancelled versions.

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Screenshots and Box cover Gameboy Advance – 12-2002:

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Screenshots and Box cover Gamecube – 12-2002

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Project Carbondale (Sega) [Xbox, PS2 – Cancelled]

Project Carbondale is a cancelled survival horror game that was being development by SEGA in 2003 for Xbox and Playstation 2. While the game was never officially announced, the public found out about its development thanks to a few articles published online by various websites, including The Southern Illinoisan, in which they wrote about Sega employees exploring the city of Carbondale (Illinois) to take inspiration and capture reference for the project.

“CARBONDALE – Aliens have landed in Carbondale and they are killing anything that moves. Your natural instinct is to flee, but a severe mid-winter blizzard has cut off all hopes of escape. Quick! Grab a gun, a sledgehammer, a scythe, any weapon you can get your hands on. Your only hope for survival is to stand your ground and fight – in the mall, the old Carbondale high school, city hall, even the sewer system if you have to. This is a fight to the death and it’s going to be bloody.

The battle isn’t real, though. It’s one of the biggest video game releases of 2004 being developed by Sega. Thousands of people, maybe even millions, will be fighting to save Carbondale from alien beasties next year. “Initially Sega said ‘We want to place this game in a small town,'” said Cord Smith, product manager for Sega of America. “Initially they said an East Coast town, but they just wanted something that wasn’t the West Coast. (The Japanese game designers) are familiar with San Francisco and California culture, but to them, that’s not America. America is what’s between the two coasts.”

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Smith is now spending nine days leading a team of eight game designers from Tokyo around key Carbondale locations, including University Mall, the old high school central campus, the police station, city hall, water treatment plant, local homes and apartments, and yes, even the sewer system. “They’re soaking all this in, with the biggest smiles on their faces,” Smith said. “They keep saying this is kind of what they imagined, but they’re blown away that everyone has a yard, everything’s beautiful, everything’s so lush and green.”

The game’s designer, Shinichi Ogasawara, says bringing the design team all the way from Tokyo to see the Midwest for themselves is the best way to create a realistic small-town environment. The team is shooting digital videotape and still photographs that will be used to provide the textures of the games’ three-dimensional environment. Some team members photographed close-ups of anything that could be interactive, such as light switches and the weights used by Carbondale firefighters. Other team members photographed walls, ceilings, floors and artwork hanging on walls.”

Shinichi Ogasawara had previously worked on many different light gun arcade games, such as “Gunblade NY: Special Air Assault Force”, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “The Maze of the Kings”, but it seems this would have been his first console project.

At the time, Cord Smith was resigning from SEGA and about to join Ubisoft, but his sister was the acting City Attorney of Carbondale, and – through her many city contacts – he was able to grant unlimited access to many locations that could have been used in the game: the abandoned high school, hospital, shopping mall, fire station, police station (and armory and shooting range), water treatment plant, and even the underground waterways & sewer system. The team met in Illinois and toured together for multiple days at the various sites.

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As far as we were able to gather, Carbondale was being developed for Playstation 2 and Xbox, but at that time, many devs were also looking into next-gen tech. We were told that the early prototype of Carbondale seemed to be on the PS2. Unfortunately it appears that this early prototype simply wasn’t of high enough quality to receive the green-light for its next milestone, but there is not enough info available to know exactly what happened to the game, and additional details about its gameplay mechanics are scarce.

It seems that the game was meant to be a traditional survival horror with moments of more “bombastic action”, potentially through the invasion of alien enemies. People who talked with Ogasawara at the time got the sense that they wanted it to be SEGA’s answer to the Resident Evil franchise, featuring a much more realistic Western setting (hence the research), but also SEGA’s leanings towards action and arcade-like fun factor.

We were able to exchange a few emails with Cord, who shared a few memories about this lost game and their Carbondale exploration:

“One of my favorite locations was an abandoned high school. The city had built a new one and left the old in an eerie state, with lots of books, equipment, and other items left behind. We visited it at night, so it was as if a apocalyptic event had occurred and everyone evacuated in a hurry. In other words: perfect video game reference.

The mirrors behind the theater stage still had cosmetics nearby, the cafeteria had trays out on the tables, and textbooks were strewn about the classrooms. We split up into two teams, each with cameras and flashlights, and in one area I found a CPR dummy, which amounted to a dressed male mannequin torso. Without hesitation, I took it and returned to the main stairway near the school’s foyer. I could see the other team’s flashlights scanning the walls along the distant hallway, and faked a scream before sliding the torso along the floor towards them. As the seemingly severed body moved into the beams of their flashlights, the school erupted with the other groups’ terrified screams. And we laughed, and laughed. So much fun!”

We hope to be able to preserve more details and footage from the game in the future.

Thanks a lot to Mortimer for the contribution!

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Game Boy Gallery [Beta]

Game Boy Gallery is a collection of Game & Watch mini games (Ball, Vermin, Flagman, Manhole, and Mario’s Cement Factory) released in Europe  and Australia in 1995 for the original Game Boy. Aidan noticed that a 1994 UK ad for the Super Game Boy has beta footage of Ball, Vermin, Manhole, and Vermin’s mode select screen. The footage is only a couple of seconds (or, in Ball’s case, a couple of frames), but you can check a few screenshots here, with comparisons to the original G&Ws and the final version of Game Boy Gallery. Manhole’s character also changes his expression!

Thanks to Aidan Eagar for the contribution!

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