Action Adventure

Legend of Zelda: Sheik (Retro Studios) [Wii – Cancelled Concept]

In May 2020 Shinesparkers published a series of links to the online portfolio of Sammy Hall, former Retro Studios contract artist who worked on concept art for a cancelled Zelda game based on the Sheika tribe. This unreleased, darker view on the Zelda timeline would possibly explore what happened to the last male Sheik after Ocarina of Time’s “Bad Ending” in which Link does not succeed.

These drawings were noted as being used for pre-production of Retro Studios’ Sheik Zelda project between 2005 and 2008 (the same artist also worked on Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Donkey Kong Country Returns), so we can assume it could have been planned to be released on Nintendo Wii or WiiU. As we can read on their original page:

“Old storage hard-drive diving! (2005 – 2008) More stuff from a long lost cancelled Zelda (Sheik) action/jrpg that never went beyond pre-production. Really want to return to these some day to finish a few. Zelda games have wacky weird stuff, and this game was setting out to be ten times weirder.”

“Fun pre-pre-pre-production origin story of the Master Sword. Within the bad ending of “Ocarina of Time” exploring the last male Sheik’s (after a genocidal ethnic-cleansing) journey transforming into the Master Sword. All while the Dark Gerudo are giving their 100 year birth to Gannon.”

After these images were found by fans and gaming journalists, the artist just deleted his whole ArtStation account. IGN was able to get in contact with him, asking about this Zelda project and another canned Nintendo DS Boo game:

“Speaking to IGN, ex-Retro Studios concept artist Sammy Hall explained that both games were in pre-production when cancelled, and “I doubt many at Nintendo proper saw much of any of this stuff. I was mostly put into a room like Milton from Office Space and tasked to brainstorm between other projects.”

According to Hall, the ideas for both games came from ex-Retro leads Mark Pacini, Todd Keller and Kynan Pearson, but were “cancelled the week they went to create their other studios.”

Around 2008 – 2009 many video game websites published rumors about a Retro Studios Zelda game featuring Sheik, so it seems those rumors were true but the project was already cancelled at the time.

Unfortunately today some of these fascinating Zelda artworks seem to have been lost, as other websites did not save them all. We’d like to preserve them in the gallery below, to remember the existence of this lost video game. If you saved concept art from Retro Studios’ Zelda that are missing from this page, please let us know in the comments below or by email!

Thanks to AvenPlainstrider for the contribution!

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Vampire Hunter (Square Enix + Digital Extremes) [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

Digital Extremes is a Canadian video game developer founded in 1993, best known for creating Warframe, Dark Sector, The Darkness II and co-creating Epic Games’ Unreal series. Around 2012 the team was working with Square Enix to develop a new action adventure set in a fantasy vampire world, possibly to be published for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.

Unfortunately the project was never officially announced and they cancelled it in the end: we don’t have any more information about how it would have been played nor why it was never completed. Some concept art from this Vampire Hunter game is preserved below, to remember the existence of this lost project.

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Ninth Doctor Who (2005 Video Game) [Cancelled / Tech Demo]

A Doctor Who video game, based-off the science-fiction series of the same name, was being developed by Australian developer IR Gurus Interactive (later rebranded Transmission Games). The game would have coincided with the first series of the revived 2005 tv-show starring Christopher Eccleston as The Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. Development lasted half a year and was funded through substantial government subsidies. The reason for its cancellation according to Paul Callaghan who worked at the studio was simply “It’s complicated”.

“I’d wanted to work on a Doctor Who game since I was about 11 years old, so this was kind of a dream project for me,” said Callaghan. “When it was cancelled, I had to take a step back to work out whether or not this was the career I wanted to pursue.”

As to the plot for the game, it is vague whether the details given by Callaghan are what was planned for it. From the Sydney Morning Herald article:

“He conceived a plot around aliens modifying the human race with airborne nanobots, allowing companion Rose Tyler to undergo some changes: “We could give her some cool alien powers!””

According to Andy Widger, then head of communications for BBC Worldwide, there were no intentions of releasing it as he told website GamesRadar:

“The news of a Doctor Who game is a little premature. At present the only work being done is on an interactive demo for internal evaluation. There is no firm proposal for a game and no commitment to particular formats or an idea of a potential release date – and no screenshots.

Article by Vitas Varnas 

Aquaria (Lobotomy Software) [Nintendo 64, Playstation – Cancelled]

Aquaria is a cancelled action adventure that was in development by Lobotomy Software for Nintendo 64 and Playstation. It was described as having a feeling similar to SEGA’s Nights Into Dreams, but underwater and with full 3D levels to explore in every direction. If you played Exhumed / PowerSlave on Saturn or Playstation, you probably remember it was quite good for its time: a Metroidvania adventure in first person view, before Metroid Prime even existed. Aquaria could have been another cult-hit by the same team, but unfortunately we never got the chance to see more from the project. It was just mentioned in old gaming magazines, such as in GameFan Magazine Issue 5:

“Currently Lobotomy is working on both games, with the company’s 20-or-so staff split roughly down the middle on each project. They have a number of games on the back burner, including PowerSlave 2 (a 3rd person Tomb Raider style adventure starring a young King Ramses), Aquaria (like Nights underwater, but with full 3D control) and a PC strategy game called Gothic. They are currently in the process of applying to become and N64 developer (Aquaria will be their first N64 title) and never miss the opportunity to snatch a quick game of Death Tank during lunch breaks.”

Computer & Video Games Issue 192:

“Lobotomy’s first N64 game, Aquaria already looks fantastic. The graphics run at 60fps and are apparently some  of the best seen. Enix are converting the game to PlayStation.”

C&VG probably confused Aquaria with Aqua Prophecy or another cancelled Enix game for Playstation. Thanks to our friend Ross Sillifant in 2015 we published an interview with Brian McNeely (former Lobotomy Software developer), who shared some memories about their work on Aquaria:

“We had a playable demo of Aquaria up and running on PlayStation. It was a free roaming third person underwater adventure game where you controlled an alien merman character.  The Nights comparison ties into how fluid the controls were.  You could do various dolphin-like acrobatics to maneuver through the environment.   In addition to the playable demo I had the majority of the design pretty much completed but when the company began to close its doors we had to stop development.  At one point we were contacted by Sega to possibly make the next Ecco the Dolphin game and we sent them our Aquaria prototype, but that never panned out.  If you’ve ever played Ecco the Dolphin Defender of the Future you can get a pretty good idea for how the core character controls and camera system for Aquaria were designed.”

In 1998 Lobotomy’s talented developers were acquired by Crave Entertainment and the team was renamed to Lobotomy Studios, to work on a Caesar’s Palace game for the Nintendo 64, but after a year of development the game was postponed and eventually cancelled. As we can read on Wikipedia, at that point Lobotomy Studios was closed and employees were let go or given the option to be relocated to another position at Crave Entertainment.

We hope one day someone could find screenshots, footage or even the playable Aquaria prototype: it would be great to preserve more documents of this lost video game.

Thanks to Celine and Ross Sillifant for the contributions!

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Alien Commander (Warren Spector) [PC – Cancelled]

Alien Commander is a cancelled first person sci-fi adventure set in the Wing Commander universe, proposed by Warren Spector to Origin Systems while he was working at Looking Glass Studios. The team already developed Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss and UUII: Labyrinth of Worlds for Origin: now they wanted to work on something different than classic fantasy RPG. While Alien Commander was canned quite early, some of its ideas were merged into another game titled “Citadel” to create a different project known as “System Shock”. As we can read from an article and interview with Warren Spector published on Retro Gamer in January 2018:

“I was as sick of fantasy games as Paul having worked on several Ultima games and Underworld and Underworld II, I had a design spec for a game that was called Alien Commander, which was going to be a first-person science fiction game using the Wing Commander technology, and then along comes Paul with Citadel (System Shock’s original title) and I just dumped the Alien Commander proposal and System Shock went ahead.”

In PC Gamer magazine (May – June 1994) Spector also sadi:

“The game [System Shock] started off as something called Alien Commander (intended to be a Wing Commander tie-in) but soon moved completely away from that. Part of the fun for myself and project leader Doug Church was that we weren’t tied to the Ultima universe or to the Commander universe, so we could basically do whatever we liked“.

Since 2015 NightDive Studios announced they were working on a System Shock remake with the help of Warren Spector, and during one of their Twitch Streams they confirmed both Alien Commander and Citadel got merged to create the original System Shock.

Some more details on Alien Commander can be found in the pitch document Spector wrote in the early ‘90s, preserved in the “Warren Spector Papers” archive at the Briscoe Center for American History:

“This game combines Underworld technology with a Wing Commander storyline. The technology is strong and there have been very few first-person SF games (none of them successful to my knowledge). We all know the strength of the Wing Commander trademark. It’s been over a decade since the destruction of the Tiger’s Claw and a huge chunk of the old girl has been discovered in a backwater portion of the galaxy. Strange signals are being picked up from the derelict and the player has been sent to investigate.

[…] There are lots of creatures roaming around the ship, most of them dangerous. There are some people, too – a few survivors of the Claw’s explosion (some in suspended animation, some just recently awakened), a salvage crew that was drawn here by the same signals that attracted you, some folks, creatures you just can’t explain.

What the player doesn’t know (and must learn) is that members of the race known as the Double Helix (introduced in the Claw Marks magazine included in Wing Commander) had infiltrated the ship before it was blown up. They’ve spent the last ten+ years taking over the living creatures on the ship – most (but not all) of the people and creatures the player encounters are DH hybrids. […] The hybrids created by the merger are shape shifters. There’s no way to tell an enemy from a friend..

As the player explores the corridors of the ship, he must get the power on, find oxygen, repair life support and communications systems, acquire new components for his suit, new equipment he can fit to the suit or cart along with him for when he needs it. He must figure out that things are now what they seem, avoid being taken over by the DH, etc.

[…] When it appears the player is about to win, the DH pulls out their ace in the hole – they’re not just genetic manipulators, they can survive and thrive in electronic circuitry. They’ve infiltrated the ship’s computer system periodically and they duck in there now, intent on destroying the player even if it costs their lives. The last third (or so) of the game, takes place in cyberspace. In the Tigers Claw’s computers.

[…] In addition to your primary character, you start with a couple of sentries and drones. Sentries are like floating cameras. Set one up and it can survey an area. You can switch to its view at will. What it sees replaces your view or window or it appears alongside your view, in a smaller window. Drones can fly, but can’t interact with objects. Stopped by obstacles, but they’re small and can squak into / through places you can’t fit. Again, you can switch to drone view.

As the game goes on, you can acquire robots (and maybe other allies) you can switch to. Your character goes into stasis (so you better be someplace safe) and you then control a robot with different abilities than your main character. Maybe you can give a robot orders and have it carry them out without direct intervention from you. […] Even if you die, it should be possible to win using only robots.”

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