News on Beta & Cancelled Games

Lex Ferrum [N-Gage – Cancelled]

Lex Ferrum is a cancelled multiplayer hack n’ slash that was in development by YDreams and Nokia for the ill-fated N-Gage. The project was quite ambitious and original for its time, using actual geo-localization of players who communicated and competed locally via Bluetooth. The team behind the game was composed by Tiago Carita (game designer, 3D artist and animator), Pedro Lopes and António Lobo (both in charge of 2D art) and Antão Almada, Mário Franco, Hugo Abreu and Eurico Moita (programmers).

I’d like to thank Tiago Carita for the time he took to answer my questions about their lost game, and Ivan Barroso for getting us in contact. Also, special thanks to Nélio Códices who sent me all of the screenshots you can see in this article.

Lex Ferrum was in full development around 2003, green-lighted after a prototype made in two months for Nokia. The company was looking for a way to demonstrate the Bluetooth capabilities of their recently launched N-Gage, and YDreams was hired to create a new game that would use such features. Lex Ferrum would use Bluetooth to connect more than 100 players in the same area, an impressive feature that was tested during the Nokia Conference 2003 in Portugal.

Lex Ferrum told the story of a fierce battle between Moors, Nordic, and Iberian warriors for the control of Akio, a sacred realm taken by evil spirits. Players are invited to choose one of these clans, each one with three playable characters. After choosing your warrior you would immediately start fighting against near real-human players and deadly ghosts controlled by AI.

Each warrior could choose between different weapons, such as axes, swords and scimitars. During the Nokia Conference 2003 you could move around the place with your N-Gage, finding real-life Lex Ferrum Bluetooth shops decorated with weaponry and altars. When you got close to one of these shops, the game would immediately connect to them via Bluetooth and activate the corresponding place on the N-Gage screen. You could then buy new weapons, magic potions and spells, for extra help on the virtual battlefield. According to Carita, during the Nokia Conference 2003 around the venue you could also find “two medieval chapels with chanting priests, a witch with a steaming cauldron and a gunsmith doing his craft, one in each corner of the event. If you got close to one of those areas, your N-Gage Bluetooth would detect them and you could be resuscitated by the priest, buy scrolls from the witch or weapons and armour from the blacksmith.”

During battles even deaths were of extreme importance: dead characters became ghouls and to resurrect you had to take vital energy from enemies or find a real-life priest around the venue. In the end, only one name would be remembered: the last warrior remaining alive would be declared the heir to the throne of Akion, the leader of its people. With its 100-player multiplayer, Lex Ferrum was basically a local hack ‘n slash battle royal.

After each battle players would acquire gold and experience points, to be used to buy items in shops and level-up your character. If you didn’t have 100 real life friends you could also play Lex Ferrum by yourself, fighting opponents controlled by the game’s AI. This “single player mode” would have been quite useful, as technology at the time was not advanced enough for the game’s 100-player ambitions: “it was quite hard to connect more than 10 people in the same 50 m2 area using available bluetooth technology at the time. To connect 100 players would have been impossible. The team was in panic and despair when we found out our idea wasn’t technically feasible. Bluetooth could hardly see each other and it kept losing connection: it was hard to fight someone near you”.

In the end YDreams made some changes to Lex Ferrum’s code: “When there were too many N-Gages around you, Bluetooth could detect the IDs of each device, but it didn’t connect. We then used GPRS signal between cellphones and if there wasn’t any bandwidth the game would just launch an opponent controlled by AI. In this way, it looked like you were connected via BT to dozens of people”.

After the game’s presentation during the Nokia Conference 2003, YDreams in collaboration with Nokia tried to expand the game’s mechanics with more layers of combat, content, characters and missions, but unfortunately they realized it was not financially doable. The only playable version of Lex Ferrum was conceived to be used during Nokia events and with no more budget to invest into the project it had to be canned.

Thanks to Códices we can preserve some Lex Ferrum screenshots in this page: if any other concept or media shows up in the future, it will also be saved here.

Article by Jump/Error, original version in Portuguese on the Videogame PT Blog!

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The King of Cosplays [Neo Geo Pocket – Cancelled?]

The King of Cosplays is a cancelled RPG that may have been in development around 1999 – 2000 by Viccom, possibly to be published by SNK for their Neo Geo Pocket. This is quite the strange and previously unknown game, but our friend and Korean-gaming expert Sam Derboo found a short article about it in Korean Game Power magazine (July 2000 issue):

“The King of Cosplays supposedly in development 1999~2000 at Viccom, NGPC RPG where your characters get stronger the more convincingly cosplay as SNK characters”

Could Viccom and SNK really have been working on a Cosplay-RPG? While the concept sounds weird, we know there were quite some strange / original titles on Neo Geo Pocket, such as Dark Arms: Beast Buster, the “SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash” series, Biomotor Unitron and Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun. Also as noted by Sam, “Viccom is known to have cooperated with SNK on several levels (development support / training for Fight Fever, NeoGeo distribution in Korea including NGPC, ties to The Real Kim Kap-hwan) so it’s not completely incredible.

At the moment this scan is the only proof we have of the existence of The King of Cosplays. Could this have been a Game Power magazine inside-joke? While we may never know the truth, for sure it could have been quite the amazing niche RPG if ever released. If you’ll find something else about this mysterious NGPC game, please let us know.

Thanks to Sam Derboo for the contribution!

DogTag (DiezelPower) [PC, Xbox, 360 – Cancelled]

DogTag is a cancelled shooter that was in development around 2005 by DiezelPower for PC, Xbox and Xbox 360, to be published by British company Digital Jesters. It was going to be a third-person squad based shooter, featuring cover mechanics and basic orders that could be given to teammates. It would encourage players to use the environment for defensive and offensive maneuvers, with blindfire, flanking and enemies that would counter tactics being used against them.

For the gaming press some of its elements drew comparisons to other cover-based shooters such as Kill.Switch and the then-upcoming Gears Of War, but DogTag had a slightly different gameplay style in mind. By mixing the fast action gameplay of traditional shooters and the slower, tactical combat of games like Full Spectrum Warrior, DiezelPower wanted to create a breed of game in which both these styles would come together. It would create a gritty, but arcade-like tactical shooter, in which players would have to think to defeat their opponents, but could also have fun in fast-paced shooting. Online co-op was also going to be a major feature.

The story would have certainly helped with that grittiness. Described as “controversialby publisher Digital Jesters, the plot focuses on one of the civil wars that frequently ravage a large number of nations in Africa. After a United States-backed group is forced to retreat from the conflict, the U.S. sends in a battalion of Marines to replace them. For reasons unknown, however, the colonel of this battalion revolts and leads a mutiny against his own country. The U.S. once again send in a small elite force tasked to bring the colonel back for questioning. Hell breaks loose when they arrive in Africa, as they are immediately met with heavy resistance from the rebelling American forces, starting a long fight that would pit U.S. soldiers against each other, something rarely seen in a video game.

The most obvious inspiration for the storyline would probably be Apocalypse Now, but it is also eerily similar to another controversial title that would come out in 2012: Spec Ops – The Line (which also featured streamlined tactical combat and a story about a U.S. force led by a mutineering officer and the special ops team sent it to capture him, with the setting changed to an evacuated Dubai stricken by a catastrophic sandstorm). But if the storyline in DogTag was intended to be as psychological or as critical of violence as it was in Spec Ops: The Line, it is unknown.

DogTag was to be released in 2006, and would have been a next-gen title at that point in time. Initially, it would only be released on PC and Xbox, but an Xbox 360 port was planned later on with added content. However, it seems the game was not meant to be.

Towards the end of 2005 publisher Digital Jesters became the center of controversy when it faced several accusations of wrongdoing from many of their business partners. These accusations included lack of payment for games developed by external studios, price changing and selling of games in territories not covered by their contracts, and doing business under different names in what seemed like an attempt to escape financial troubles. Despite a substantial investment that Digital Jesters claimed had left them “110 percent financially secure”, KaosKontrol (the company that owned DiezelPower) petitioned the UK High Court to force Digital Jesters into liquidation, in what is known as a winding-up order. Legal action was also threatened against the key people in the company directly and many of their publishing deals were cancelled. The Digital Jesters website disappeared not long after that.

KaosKontrol claimed that it still owned the rights to DogTag, that its development was not affected and was ready to seek out another publishing deal for their game. However, nothing else was heard about it. With the team presumably unable to find another publisher and left in financial trouble (and possibly accumulating legal fees) they had to close down some time afterwards. DiezelPower themselves seem to have survived in some form and are still around to this day, with their two most recent games, Nation Red and Versus Squad, being available on Steam.

Article by António Pedro Pinto

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Dragon Ball Z: Legacy of Goku 4 [3DS – Cancelled]

Around 20152016 Webfoot Technologies pitched a fourth game in their “Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku” series, to be developed on Nintendo 3DS or possibly Android / iOS smartphones. Like previous chapters, The Legacy of Goku 4 would also be an action RPG, at least by reading comments posted by the team on their official Facebook page:

“Yes, we developed LOG1 as an indie game, without any funding (they didn’t give us a contract until the game was almost finished). Then when it sold well, we got contracts immediately for LOG2. And there’s a whole giant story on how we only got half the funding we should have on LOG2, but someday I’ll be writing a book and telling all the business deal secrets.”

“Ok, so there is interest in LOG4! If we did the Indie Go Go over the Summer, could you guys help point people to the page so we could get the support we need? I really think from the interest posted in just a few hours, this really could work.”

“We’re trying a few 2D concepts and mockups will follow soon. Mandi will create a few different sprite styles soon. Keep in mind this was her first quick mockup only!”

“We’d like to keep gameplay almost the same, but finish balancing the games properly this time. Also, Go Go backers will be able to vote on certain aspects of the game style.”

It seems Webfoot Technologies were not able to find a publisher interested in funding their new DBZ project. They hinted at a possible crowdfunding campaign, but it would have been quite hard to do something like that unofficially using the Dragon Ball IP. After drawing some concepts, 2D and 3D mockups, The Legacy of Goku 4 had to be canned (at least for now).

Thanks to William for the contribution!

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Kabuki Samurai Sensei: Bride of Shadows [3DS, PSVita – Cancelled]

Kabuki Samurai Sensei: Bride of Shadows is a cancelled action RPG adventure that was in development by Smack Down Productions (AKA SDP games) for Nintendo 3DS and PSVita. The game was announced in August 2010, with just some concept art and vague details about its gameplay. Players would explore medieval Japan, through temples, floating castles and dizzying waterfalls.

The game was planned to feature Zelda-style side quests and “Dragon Ball style action”, with the main protagonist using swords and shurikens in epic fights. Battles would take place in arenas, with Quick Time Events, using magic elements of fire, earth, wind and water against different types of demons from Japanese folklore.

While the game was initially announced as a 3DS exclusive, we found footage of the game running on what seems a PSVita. At the time Smack Down Productions did not have a publisher for the game, so we speculate they never found one and the project was quietly canned. Bride of Shadows concept and models were later reused for a simpler side-scrolling hack & slash titled “Kabuki Samurai Sensei” which seems to have been published on Apple Store in November 2011, but later removed.

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