News on Beta & Cancelled Games

Evil Spell [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3]

Evil Spell is a cancelled beat ‘em up / hack & slash that was in development by Dark Ride Studios for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The team was established in 2010 by ex Grin developers after their former company closed down. They wanted to create simple, low-budget projects to pitch to publishers to receive funds and support, then release them on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network.

In Evil Spel you would have been able to choose between 12 different characters, each one with their one combat style, weapons and skills. For example there was a medieval knight, some kind of WW1 soldier, an evil alchemist and a modern-age street-gangster.

As you can imagine the game was set in different time periods, so they could offer a good variety of levels, enemies and weapons. For example in the early prototype shown by the team at the Game’s Developers Conference 2011 we can see a medieval area mixed with a modern-day street.

In the end we can speculate Dark Ride Studios never found a publisher interested in their projects and were not able to complete Evil Spell. Only a few images and prototype footage are preserved below, to remember the existence of this lost game.

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The Dark Half: Endsville [Playstation, PC – Cancelled]

The Dark Half: Endsville (also known as The Dark Half Interactive) is a cancelled survival horror / adventure game based on the homonymous book by Stephen King. It was officially announced in early 1997, in development by Bits Studios and to be published by THQ and Orion Interactive for Playstation and PC. Unfortunately it seems they never released any screenshot from the game, but details about the project can still be found online in various forms.

In April 1997 IGN wrote:

“T-HQ announced today that it has signed an agreement with Orion Interactive to jointly publish The Dark Half, based on the novel by horror writer Stephen King. The game will be developed by the UK’s Bits Studios.

Also involved in the development of the game will be writers Matt Costello and Paul Wilson, who previously worked on PC titles The Seventh Guest and The Keep, respectively.

Revolving around protagonist Thad Beaumont’s struggle with his evil alter ego, The Dark Half is promised to be a 3D, third-person adventure game, “that will accurately reflect the Stephen King novel,” a T-HQ spokesperson said.”

During their E3 1997 report IGN also wrote:

“A new game for the PC and Playstation will be based on the King novel The Dark Half. The game will be based on Stephen King’s novel about a writer who must struggle with his evil alter-ego. It will be a real time, 3D adventure that contains 28 levels in seven different worlds. The Dark Half: Endsville is forecast for a 1998 release.”

GamePen’s E3.NET published another press release for the game:

“Stephen King, master of disturbing prose, is coming to the PlayStation and the PC next year in fiendish style with “The Dark Half.” The game will be based on King’s eerie tale of writer Thad Beaumont’s struggle with his murderous alter-ego, George Stark. The novel will be transformed into code through the use of two different game engines, one for the pre-rendered world of Beaumont, and one for the rendered-on-the-fly nightmare world of killer George Stark.”

We also know that Jeffery Lieber (mostly known for co-writing the Lost series) would have been the game’s producer, thanks to an old blog post by Paul Wilson:

“I was delighted to see “story by Jeffery Lieber” in the opening credits.  Jeff and I go back to the mid-1990s when Matt Costello and I were scripting the “Dark Half Interactive” project for Orion Interactive; Jeff was acting as producer.  He’s not the least bit squeamish but Matt and I managed to gross him out with our “Birthing Woman” interaction (don’t ask). The project was orphaned and became vaporware when MGM bought Orion.”

More memories about working on the game can also be found in Paul Wilson books “Repairman Jack, and More” and “Aftershock & Others: 16 Oddities”.

If you know someone who worked at Bit Studios in 1997 and could still have some images from this lost game, please let us know!

Thanks to eSpy for the contrbution!

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Wrench (Ensemble Studios) [Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Wrench is a cancelled car-combat game that was in development by Ensemble Studios since the early ‘00s, and in its latest form it could have been published by Microsoft for their Xbox 360. It was developed as an internal demo and cancelled before being officially announced to the public, but bits and pieces of its history were shared online by former Ensemble devs such as Rich Geldreich:

“Unfortunately, mostly due to limited funding, our XNA demo didn’t see the light of day. This R&D and tech would later be used in a prototype at Ensemble named “Wrench”, then in a really cool internal demo Ensemble Studios got to show to Bill Gates in 2004 named “SevenDemo”. SevenDemo was a physics and graphics demo we put together in about 10 days to demonstrate what the still in development Xbox 360 console would be capable of doing. I was told he was very impressed. A few months after SevenDemo was shown, the Wrench prototype game was canceled (see below), so I rolled onto Age of Empires 3. Later, I used a lot of this tech in what would eventually morph into Halo Wars.”

“I first worked on the rendering and shader code of a prototype 3rd person car combat project named “Wrench” (also see here). After Wrench was canceled (this kind of game just didn’t match our strengths, honestly), I helped modernize and optimize Age of Empire 3’s graphics engine. (Age3 looked really good already, but Wrench had rendering and lighting tech that pushed the game even further.)”

“The team at Ensemble made this demo with the Wrench prototype code in approximately 7-10 days, where it was known inside Ensemble as “SevenDemo”:

“Video of the never before seen “Wrench” graphics/physics engine technology demo shown to Bill Gates by Ensemble Studios (Dallas, TX) in early 2004. We put this D3D9 shader model 3 demo together in roughly 7 days, but we had been working on the tech for around 18 months. The prototype AMD graphics cards we were using at the time became unstable at high clock frequencies, so we unfortunately had to show it at only 640×480 or 800×600 resolution with no AA. The real-time participating media effect used on the entire scene (pay attention to the light rays poking in from the front garage doors as they are riddled with bullet holes) consumed around 40% of our entire GPU budget. This effect is 100% dynamically computed by ray marching through dynamic 16-bit spotlight shadow maps, and was a very advanced effect for 2004. This demo shows light prepass rendering, HDR rendering, omni light shadows via dual paraboloid shadow maps, spotlight shadow maps, and dynamic light scattering effects on the omni/spot lights. Much of this engine code wound up shipping in Age of Empires 3 and Halo Wars.”

Also Richard wrote on Twitter:

“The Wrench gameplay prototype was a 3rd person outdoor car shooter. We had multiplayer working. The prototype was coming along, but I think Ensemble got pressured by Microsoft to pivot back to RTS game prototypes. This led to the “Phoenix” prototype, which then led to Halo Wars 1”

It’s interesting to notice that Phoenix was also the name of a cancelled RTS in development by Bungie for the first Xbox, but as far as we know it was not related to Ensemble Studio’s canned project. Unfortunately Ensemble Studios was closed by Microsoft in late 2008 after publishing Halo Wars. Some of their cancelled games were revealed in an article about the “last visit” at the studios by Gamasutra, with titles such as Agent, Bam! and their Halo MMO.

If you know someone who worked on Wrench and could help us to preserve more screenshots or videos from this lost game, please let us know!

Ground Effect (Angel Studios) [PC – Cancelled]

Ground Effect is a cancelled hovercraft racing game that was in development by Angel Studios (the modern Rockstar San Diego) around 1996 1997, planned to be published by Inscape for PC.

A short preview of the game was published in PC Powerplay magazine (issue 18):

“It’s about bloody time that there was a hovercraft racing sim out there for us to go crazy with. The whole idea of being propelled on a cushion air seems to have universal appeal. Not only that, but it makes a great kind of racing game too. Gone are the traditional and familiar physics of a road based racer, or even a straight water based racer, as the hovercraft is an interesting mode of transportation altogether. The development team spent a lot of time with hovercraft enthusiasts to get the feel of the thing just right. With 3D accelerator support, this is looking good.”

The game silently vanished after Inscape was acquired by Graphix Zone in early 1997. We can speculate Ground Effect was reconsidered by the new company as a niche racing game that would have not sold enough to spend more money on. Other lost games by Angel Studios are titles such as X-Girl, Sofa Kingdom, Shatterman and Buggy Boogie.

After releasing other games such as the Resident Evil 2 port for the N64, the Midtown Madness series, and Smuggler’s Run, Angel Studios was bought by Take-two in 2003 and renamed Rockstar San Diego. They then moved on to work on such popular titles as Red Dead Revolver, Midnight Club and Grand Theft Auto V.

Thanks to Xanarki for the contribution!

Tower (Grin) [Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Tower is a prototype for a cancelled team-based third person shooter for Xbox 360 and PS3, that was in development by Grin, the team mostly known for such games as Bionic Commando Rearmed, Wanted: Weapons of Fate and the cancelled Final Fantasy Fortress. With its arcadey graphic and gameplay, Grin probably desired to create a simple but fun online multiplayer experience, possibly to publish it digitally on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Store.

As you can imagine from its title, Tower offered multiple-floors arenas with an interesting gameplay mechanic: players would have been able to freely move around all surfaces of the towers, walking on walls and ceilings. This would have created many different approaches to combat, as you and your enemies could shoot and run around from multiple places.

Not much more is known about this lost game. In the end the project was halted (along with their other canned games: Streets of Rage Reboot, Strider, Wanted 2) because of Grin’s financial difficulties that eventually bankrupted the company. In the gallery below you can find some screenshots and footage from an early build, preserved to remember its existence.

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