News on Beta & Cancelled Games

Aftermath [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Aftermath is a cancelled top-down shooter / RPG hybrid that was in development in 2009 by WhiteMoon Dreams, planned to be released for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. The team behind this lost project previously worked on such popular games as Fallout, Descent, Ratchet & Clank, Medal of Honor and many others. The game was pitched as “Diablo 2 with guns”.

As we can read in the old press-release for their demo (currently unavailable):

“Well, the best and simplest way to describe this game is to say it’s “Diablo 2, with Guns!” We wanted to make a fun retro-style shooter (ala Robotron or SmashTV) with some light RPG elements (like leveling up your characters, upgrading your weapons, skill trees, etc). Unlike most retro-style shooters, we wanted to keep the art quality to next gen standards. (But we still love you Geometry Wars!)  Also, we wanted to focus on cooperative multiplayer, so you and your buddies can shoot up the place either gathered around the same console or over the ‘net.

The story behind Aftermath concerns a group of 4 Wanderers who exist in a post-apocalyptic Earth.  They are tasked to save humanity from hordes of mutants, domineering military forces, and murderous robotic entities.

So for the art style, our original inspiration believe it or not, came from Burning Man, which is the annual art festival held every year in the Nevada desert.  All the crazy, funky clothing, art, and music was a direct influence to how we wanted to present the characters and environments in Aftermath.”

Some more details about the game’s story were found in their old website:

“Our story takes place on Earth, a few generations from today. Only a few years earlier, we experienced the LastWar, which devastated the Earth and everything that lived upon it. The cause of the War is a mystery; it was impossibly brief and no one who survived knew the details.

In the years following the cataclysm that ensued, the few scattered survivors of Old Earth struggled to scratch whatever living they could out of the radiation-wracked ruins of their former world. It wasn’t easy. The oceans had dried into vast salt deserts, dotted here and there with a few fetid pools. Plants and creatures now mutated at a terrifying pace into increasingly dangerous and alien forms. In the midst of this desperate fight to survive, memories of the old world faded away.

There were a few, though, who remembered. Amid this chaos arose an order of survivors, who came to be known simply as The Wanderers. They sought to reclaim the knowledge of Old Earth and spread it to the scattered tribes, to replant seeds of knowledge that had been lost and fight for the future. They alone braved the vast wastes separating these far-flung oases of humanity, fighting for those in need, trading, and teaching. With them came a new hope for this struggling world.

Now, a new threat has arisen. It had been thought that the robots of Old Earth; those who had survived the attacks at all, had long since run out of power. Suddenly, Wanderers began to discover oases that had been slaughtered en masse, and those few who survived described armies of mechs marching out of the wastes, killing everything in their path. The Wanderers now accepted a new mission: to find the source of this new evil, and to destroy it. As a Wanderer, this is now your mission as well.”

WhiteMoon Dreams were trying to find a publisher for Aftermath and their second project titled “Warmachine”, but in the end they only found support for the latter, finally published as “WARMACHINE: Tactics”. Aftermath was quietly cancelled and lost forever. Only a short gameplay video is currently preserved below.

In 2017 the same team published Starblood Arena, for Playstation VR.

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Hasbro Toaster VR [Cancelled 1992 Virtual Reality Console]

You’re probably heard of the giant multinational toy and board game company Hasbro, but you might not have heard anything about their first and only foray into virtual reality: the Hasbro VR Toaster. Hasbro was created in 1924 by the three Hassenfeld brothers. They started out in the textile industry, but it wasn’t long before they switched to the toy industry and rose to the top. However, following the enormous success of the Atari 2600 and its cartridge based system, Hasbro sought the possibility to enter the now-booming video game market.

The acquisition of Milton Bradley (the company responsible for the VecTrex) in 1984 was an early step in that direction. Hasbro began to plan the development of a new gaming console, and two different projects were conceived: Control-Vision (a VHS console originally known as Project NEMO) and Toaster VR. “Scene of the Crime”, a prototype that later became Night Trap, was originally in development for the Control Vision. There’s a video hidden within the Sega CD version of Night Trap that shows Hasbro executives demonstrating the “NEMO”.

Control Vision and Toaster VR have both a very interesting development history stretching over a long period of time, but unfortunately they both ended up canceled at the end. The market would be left without another console competitor during the 16 and 32 bit generations. The Toaster was a joint-venture project between David Sarnoff Research Centre (DSRC) in New Jersey, Quantum Works Corporation (QWC) in California, and Abrams Gentile Entertainment (AGE) in New York. It’s worth noting that AGE is the same company responsible for the creation of Mattel’s Power Glove for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which probably hinted at the future of the Toaster.

Backed by the successful partnership with Mattel, in 1992 AGE pitched the idea of a Virtual Reality console to Hasbro. They joined with with Steve E. Tice and his company QWC, whose main task within the VR project was overcoming all the problems related to the Head Mounted Display.

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The original codename for this new device was “Sliced Bread Project” and, of course, it encountered many technical challenges related to the Virtual Reality experience. The system was required to be light and cheap in order to sell in the market, which only made the technical difficulties even worse. Realistic and correct perspective image generation was the primary project issue, although there were also issues with the device reacting immediately to the player’s head movement.

Backed by DSRC’s knowledge and resources, a prototype was assembled and early game concepts began to develop. As a former developer of the console remembers: “By the summer of 1995, five games were demonstrated on the complete system of hardware and software, and tested by the 16-year-old son of one of the group leaders.”

With such a long and complex development, the Toaster console went under different names (such as Xscape and Rush) and the game format was changed from cartridges to CD-ROMs. The estimated hardware retail doubled with the changes, and the project was delayed again to the 1996 holiday season.

The aforementioned developer also remembered: “Hasbro had spent $45 million in three years and was due to spend another $22 million on advertising Rush. Tens of millions more would go toward further innovation and inventory. Keeping it or killing it would cost money that would displease the board of directors.”

The final decision to pull the plug on the Toaster was made by former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld himself; despite having spent millions of dollars and having overcome tremendous technical difficulties, the company decided to follow a safer way to enter in the videogame market. This safer entry came in the form of Hasbro Interactive, formed in late 1995, a new company division focusing on porting their most famous games (like Monopoly and Scrabble) to modern consoles.

According to a paper by the Tuck School of Management: “The company created a brand with a traditional board game or toy, and then translated the concept to video. They never started a game or toy development project with video in mind – they waited to see if the traditional project would succeed first.”

Thus, the ambitious Hasbro VR Project was cancelled. Hasbro Interactive continued to grow in the following years, with titles like Frogger becoming a top seller on the Playstation, and with the acquisition of companies like Microprose and Avalon Hill.

With the Hasbro Toaster canceled and only its head mount display sent to gaming studios, all games in development for the hardware were canceled. There were working ports of popular titles like Magic Carpet and Descent, plus original titles conceived exclusively for the console, such as Lancelot’s Quest (by Warren Robinett), Faceball (by Bulletproof Software), Nero Zero (by Katrix), Shatterman (by Angel Studios AKA Rockstar San Diego), Intruder (by Fasa Interactive / VWE) and Holosports Fighter.

This article was originally published in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play”.

Thanks to Celine for the contribution!

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BioTech: Liberator [Playstation, PC – Cancelled]

BioTech: Liberator is a cancelled first person action game in development around 1998 by australian studio Beam Software (AKA Infogrames / Atari Melbourne House and Krome Studios Melbourne), planned to be published on Playstation and PC. Previously the same studio developed and released KKND2: Krossfire for PC and Playstation.

BioTech: Liberator was quite original for its time, with players using morphing mechs / vehicles to resolve different missions in a strange gameplay mix between “Soviet Strike”, “Blast Corps” and Lemmings. Some details about the project can be found in an old press-release:

“You’re stuck in a steaming alien jungle with nothing but your own sweat for company. The enemy has a lock on your position and they’re rapidly closing in. Your shields are down to 14%, you’ve got just two guided missiles left in your BioTech Assault Tank, and if you stay put you’re dead meat. So, what are you going to do? Panic and start crying? Or do you get a little creative… ?

In BioTech: Liberator you take control of a single combat vehicle, but one capable of morphing into widely differing forms, providing you’re carrying the relevant Transform Pod to make the change. Each form has its own unique abilities and weapons and since you’re up against an entire planet of warmongering nasties, you’ll be needing them all if you want to get out of there in one piece.

It’s partly about blowing the enemy into gooey, bite-sized chunks, but it’s also about using the different forms of the biotech vehicle to the best effect – transformations are limited. Much as we hate to use other games as a point of reference, think Soviet StrikeTM meets Blast CorpsTM, with just a pinch of LemmingsTM. In short, a killer mix of strategic problem solving, white-knuckled action and hefty explosions!

Key Features are:

  • A wide range of unique and awesome weapons, a deadly enemy and fiendish puzzles to solve
  • Fully deformable true 3D landscape – if you don’t like the way something looks, blow it up!
  • Multiple 2 player modes. Choose from Deathmatch, Conquer and Chase variations
  • Support for force feedback devices

Some more details were found in a Russian website, featuring a few screenshots taken from an unknown magazine:

The game consists of at least 30 missions (20 standard, 5 bonus and a few secret ones), which often require not only shooting, but also finding items, saving hostages, capturing enemy bases, and much more.

BioTech: Liberator was planned to be released in 1999, but the same year the studio was sold to Infogrames. It’s possible that Infogrames decided to cancel the game to switch resources on more safe and profitable projects, as GP 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours.

If you know someone who worked on this lost game, please let us know!

Thanks to Visurox & Edward Kirk for the contribution!

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Baten Kaitos 2 / 3 [Cancelled – Wii]

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a now cult-classic RPG developed by Monolith Soft and tri-Crescendo, and published by Namco for the GameCube in 2003. A prequel titled “Baten Kaitos Origins” was published in 2006 directly by Nintendo, which a year later officially purchased the majority of Monolith Soft’s shares from Bandai Namco.

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Just before Nintendo’s acquisition of Monolith the team started working on the third Baten Kaitos, but the project halted when Namco sold them to Nintendo. We can assume this “Baten Kaitos 2” (as it would have been a sequel to the first game) would have been developed for Wii, as the console was released in late 2006 just a few months after BK: Origins. Yasuyuki Honne (director and producer for the Baten Kaitos series) unveiled some details about their “Baten Kaitos 3” on Twitter in September 2018, as translated by a ResetEra user:

“It’s been more than 10 years since the release of Baten Kaitos II, and even now it pains me that I continue to receive requests for a sequel. I think the statute of limitations has run out, so I can say a little bit about it. Immediately after the release of Baten Kaitos II, Namco (now Bandai Namco) worked on a sequel up until the pre-production phase, but just before Baten Kaitos III could become a reality, the story ended due to the circumstances of the involved parties.

If we made it, it would have been grand-scale game with settings at the bottom of the sea, on land, and in the sky. There’s a large amount of concept art for the sequel sealed away at Bandai Namco. Requests for a sequel should be directed not just to myself and Monolith Soft, but also to Bandai Namco.”

Unfortunately at the moment it seems unlikely that Bandai Namco would ever share or use concept art from this unrealized third Baten Kaitos project. The two released games sold poorly and even if Nintendo would have not acquired Monolith it’s possible that the game would have been cancelled anyway, just as it happened with the announced (and canned) “Baten Kaitos DS”.

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As we can read on Wikipedia:

According to Sugiura, Monolith Soft’s relations with Namco had undergone a negative change after Nakamura retired as head of Namco in 2002, three years before the merger with Bandai. The company underwent changes and Monolith Soft felt they were being given less creative freedom, and the newly-created Namco Bandai was less willing to take creative risks. The company then received consultation from Shinji Hatano, an executive director at Nintendo, who advised them to continue creating innovative projects. Spurred on by Hatano’s supportive attitude, Monolith Soft decided to break away from Namco Bandai to become a Nintendo subsidiary; this provided Monolith Soft creative freedom in exchange for software development exclusivity for Nintendo platforms. Nintendo’s purchasing of the majority of Monolith Soft’s shares from Bandai Namco Holdings was publicly announced in April 2007.

After the cancellation of the third Baten Kaitos, Monolith Soft developed and released many new games loved by fans, such as Soma Bringer, Disaster: Day of Crisis and the Xenoblade Chronicles series.

Sacred Line Zero: Mega Drive Prototype Released

Sacred Line is a first person dark adventure / surreal thriller developed by Sasha Darko (a Russian music producer, game developer and writer), released for free in 2013 for PC. In 2015 an extended version of the original Sacred Line game was released for Mega Drive (phisically and digitaly), titled “Sacred Line Genesis“.

A prequel titled “Sacred Line Zero” was also in development for Mega Drive / Genesis, but in the end the project was canceled. In 2018 the Sacred Line Zero prototype was revised and released to public for free.

You can download the prototype ROM here. You can launch it via any emulator and it was tested with Fusion 3.64. It should work on real hardware via Everdrive.

Huge props to Sasha Darko for releasing the prototype!