action adventure

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

A reboot of Tomb Raider was developed by Crystal Dynamics and released in 2013 to welcoming applaud and incredible reviews. However, it seems that the development process took a rather sharp turn. This new Tomb Raider project was started in early 2009 and was originally meant to be a much more different game than the final one.  Dubbed Tomb Raider: Ascension (not to be confused with the 2007 fan-made movie), its conception was a world away from what gamers got in the end. Taking inspiration from such titles as Resident Evil, ICO and Shadows of the Colossus, Lara’s reboot début was to be filled with giant supernatural enemies, a child companion that followed Lara, horse combat and explorations in a lavish open-world environment.

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Concept art was already released immediately after the initial game announcement which holds lots of things not included in Tomb Raider’s final draft, and the concept lead many people to believe Tomb Raider was going to become something of a horror-genre game. Before the final Tomb Raider 2013 was released, EIDOS published  a promotional Digital BookTomb Raider – The Final Hours” containing images and a video with the lost Ascension prototype:

“The Tomb Raider name never appeared on Guardian of Light and there was a reason – Crystal was saving that for the next project, what was internally known as Tomb Raider 9, or Tomb Raider: Ascension. Obvious biblical references aside, the team led by creative director Tim Longo was asked to come up with a radically different approach to a Lara Croft adventure. And that’s exactly what they did.

In early design meetings the team started thinking about other games that could inspire a new approach. The emotionally rich role-playing game Ico, the survival horror of Resident Evil, and the towering mythical creatures of Shadows of the Colossus all served as early inspiration. In Longo’s first pass at the design Lara Croft teamed up with a 6-year-old girl named Izumi […] as they adventured through a mysterious island inhabited by ghosts and monsters. Izumi would crawl into small places to help the player, thus creating asymmetric gameplay.

Eventually the player would dicover Izumi’s magical ability to manipulate water and interact with the island. After a few months of work the concept was deemed too ethereal and difficult to understand for Tomb Raider. Izumi was excised and at first replaced by a monkey that would accompany Croft on her adventures. When that didn’t work out the kids and animals were replaced by a more menacing presence on the island: colossal monsters.

In this second full pass at the concept design Lara would ride on horseback and battle against these monsters as they hurled trees at her in sequences reminiscent of a God of War game. Further refinement of the colossal monster concept shifted the art direction into the real of horror, with large zombie-like creatures that would roam a fog-soaked island.

What was intended as a confidential focus test from the Nielsen Group soon became public when one of the participants leaked images and details onto the internet during the summer of 2009. A “Rumored Leaked Photos of Tomb Raider Reboot” thread of the Tomb Raider forums quickly amassed some 3,687 posts from fans who expressed shock over a game that was more Resident Evil or Silent Hill than Tomb Raider. Others worried that setting a game entirely on an island abandoned the Indiana Jones-like globetrotting that was a hallmark of the series. […] Ultimately the horror direction was a shocking twist and focus tests confirmed that the team was “moving in the direction of making the greatest art house game that no one would ever play” […]

In the final game plot there are still some nods to the Ascension name, as we can read in Wikipedia:

Escaping the ancient monastery where she is taken by the Oni, Lara hears from Sam that Mathias is going to put her through the “Ascension“, a “fire ritual” to find the next Sun Queen that will burn her to death if it is unsuccessful. […] Lara realizes that the Ascension is not a ceremony to crown a new queen, but rather a ritual that transfers the original Sun Queen’s soul into a new body; the Sun Queen had learned to become effectively immortal by transferring her soul into a young girl’s body each time she grew old.

Below is listed the most significant changes to Tomb Raider in list form: 

Aegis: The Awakening (Sennari Interactive) [GBA – cancelled]

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Aegis: The Awakening was a fantasy action adventure for the GameBoy Advance and was announced early in 2002 by its developer Sennari Interactive, the same company that was responsible for GBA ports of games like Powerpuff Girls and Driver 2. Aegis: The Awakening was mentioned on Sennari’s website under GBA titles and was marked as “concept developed”; only a brief description for the game was given:

“The city of Aldara is besieged by an unknown enemy with powerful allies who hope to gain the secrets of magic that certain residents of the city hold. The player must take the role of guardian of the city, one who has unfathomable powers that have lain dormant over the centuries. Seek out the individuals that the enemy wants in order to gain powers and abilities that these people can awaken within you. Seek them out to defend the city and learn your heritage, to learn that you are a member of the legendary protectors of the earth, the Aegis.”

The concept development status of the game stayed unchanged until the end of 2003; I could retrieve no valid reasons why Aegis was cancelled besides their change of focus towards the cell phone market. There is little to none information on the game to be found besides the old Sennari announcement made in 2002 and an article on Gamespot in which the game is mentioned (see part of the article below). Date of cancellation? My guess is late 2003.

Sennari 2002 line-up – Gamespot – February 2002:

IGN 2002 - Sinnari Lineup

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The Guardian [XBOX – Cancelled]

The Guardian is a cancelled adventure game that was in development in 2002 / 2003 by The Whole Experience (WXP Games) to be published by Capital Entertainment Group for the original Xbox. The game’s protagonist would die in a car accident during the introduction and then players would use his ghost to interact with NPCs to resolve different tasks. The Guardian featured an interesting gameplay mechanics involving NPCs hidden thoughts, that could have been read by the ghost, absorbed and used to manipulate the thoughts and reactions of other NPCs. Evil ghosts would also appear during the adventure, suggesting some kind of demonic presence to be eradicated from the game’s world as the final objective.

WXP created a great playable prototype to showcase their game’s main features, in collaboration with Seamus Blackley and Kevin Bachus, but unfortunately the project was canned in late 2003 when Capital Entertainment Group had to close down for lack of funds.

After The Guardian’s cancellation WPX worked for Activision on Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball for Xbox, in 2007 they released “Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action” on the Xbox 360 and worked on other projects for Majesco Entertainment, Disney, NVIDIA and Sierra Online, but in the end the studio closed down in 2010.

Thanks to EDW for the contribution!

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Wuppo [PC – Beta]

Wuppo is a 2D platforming action-adventure game with RPG elements. You play as a little Wum who is just clumsy and who has no special skills or powers. The protagonist gets kicked out of the Wumhouse, where most Wums live together, so the adventure starts with looking for a new home. While searching for that new home, the Wum gets into a lot of exciting adventures for which wit and charm are used and many puzzles will have to be solved.

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The developers Lars Korendijk and Thomas de Waard have been friends since highschool and they have worked together on short movies, animations, stories and games since then. After high school both guys went to college and Lars graduated as an animator and Thomas as a composer. Wuppo started as a fun project to work on outside of school/college, but after both guys graduated, they started to work on the project fulltime, using Knuist & Perzik as the name of their indie team.

You can definitely see that these developers have been gamers for a while and they had many sources of inspiration for Wuppo. The first inspiration would be ‘An Untitled Story’, which made Lars start on his own platformer in the first place. The Rayman series was a shared inspiration for both developers, as they look back on Rayman 2 & 3 with much nostalgia. Other games that helped shape Wuppo to the game it is now were:

  • The Mass Effect-series – influence on the interaction with NPC’s, who all have their own stories
  • Undertale – a more personal touch in the relations with NPC’s
  • Paper Mario – the humor in dialogue and questions were inspired by this title
  • Banjo Tooie – inspired to make a world that feels unique and ‘real’ and to make locations that have a real function in the world.

Differences to the final game
The game has changed a lot during the 7 years it was in development! The entire world has been deleted to start over from scratch once, and the story has been rewritten multiple times. Wuppo’s development could be roughly divided into three phases.

Version 1 was called “Wubblyking”, made in Gamemaker 6.1 ~ 8. The story was about the Wums, then called Wubblies” whose king disappeared. Every Wubbly wanted to be the new king. The developers called this version very ‘random’ – there was no real connection between the different locations and characters.

Version 2 was also made in Gamemaker 6.1 ~ 8. This version already contained parts that stayed in the final game like an early version of the “Wumhouse” and “Wumgarden”. The story was again very different – the protagonist was a world-famous plumber whose wrench got stolen. Still there were no other races than the Wums and the lore/history of the world wasn’t in the game either.

Footage of this version:

Version 3 was made in Gamemaker Studio and is the version people can play right now on Steam.

Thomas and Lars were very perfectionist about the game and especially the last area changed a lot. It has been changed completely from the beta and that had a big influence on the story as well! The ‘Fnakkers’ were originally going to build a big machine in an underground factory to kill off the Wums, but Knuist & Perzik decided that the ‘fnakkers’ shouldn’t portray Evil itself. They were much more interested in challenging the player to feel empathy for its archenemy. The end result is a game with no clear line between good and evil. Every person and end-boss has its own story and motives, which might be wrong or bring others in danger, but they never do so on purpose/for fun.

Tough choices
The toughest moment for Knuist & Perzik was to decide to delay Wuppo to make it better. The last area of the final game was one of the things that slowed down the development. It took a couple of months before they felt like the concept was refined. This was also the time they started to look for a publisher – which they found in SOEDESCO, also a Dutch company. They finally released the game on September 29th 2016, to great joy of their fanbase.

In the future Knuist & Perzik would like to make new games if possible, but for now they will keep supporting Wuppo and create additional content for it.

Thanks a lot to Lars Korendijk, Thomas de Waard and Esther Kuijper for their help in preserving these memories from the beta development of Wuppo!

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Captain Blood [Cancelled – PC, Xbox 360]

Captain Blood is a cancelled pirate-themed action adventure based on a series of novels by Rafael Sabatini, that was in development for PC and Xbox 360 since 2003 by Russian studio Akella (the team behind titles like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Age of Pirates”). The game was never officially canned, as of May 2016 you can still find its website online and in the last 13 years it had multiple reboots: Captain Blood easily became a legendary vaporware and was labeled by some fans as “The Russian Duke Nukem Forever”.

When still in early development, Captain Blood’s leads Dmitry Demyanovski and Andrei Ivanchenko decided to open their own team “.dat” and left Akella: the remaining team restarted the game with Renat Nezametdimov and Yuri Rogach taking the new lead. At E3 2004 Captain Blood was officially announced by 1C Company, the Russian publisher of other games made by Akella, showing a gameplay trailer with open sea naval combat and realistic sword fighting system.

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This second version did not last much longer and in 2005 Captain Blood suffered more heavy changes, becoming like a pirate version of God of War, with fast-paced over-the-top fights, finishing moves, quick time events, lots of blood and gore. Akella was split in two different teams, named respectively SeaDogs and SeaWolves, with the first working on Age of Pirates, and the latter to develop this new version of Captain Blood.

In 2007 for some unknown reasons SeaWolves were sold to 1C, along with Captain Blood. New people took lead of the project and it was updated to a more powerful 3D engine. At this time the game looked great, like a mix between Fable 2 and God of War, but because of the new acquisition by 1C many of the original developers left the team.

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Even with some internal issues, SeaWolves and 1C continued working on it and in 2010 Captain Blood seems to have been completed, ready to be published. Unfortunately another complication fell against the game: Playlogic (the company that would publish it in Europe and USA) sued 1C for some disagreements over the license and this blocked the release of Captain Blood. We don’t know what happened, but maybe Playlogic tried to get some money to save themselves from their economic troubles, a move that did not help them at all, as in August 2010 they were declared bankrupt.

In 2013 someone found a playable review copy of Captain Blood for the Xbox 360 at a flea market and bought it for about $4: it does not seem to have been leaked online yet, but we hope that one day someone could be nice enough to upload it for everyone to enjoy and preserve.

Thanks to Ross Sillifant for the contribution and to Stanislav Costiuc for his great article on this lost game!

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