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Klepto [N64 – Cancelled]

Klepto is a cancelled action platformer / adventure / stealth game in development by Utopia Technologies / Sandbox Studios between 1998 and 2000, with a planned release on the Nintendo 64. The team was formed in 1993 and was composed of such talented developers and artists as Atman Binstock, Gary Corriveau, Matthew Moss, Rich Geldreich, Steve Bergenholtz and Robert Jaeger. In the early ’80s, Robert designed and programmed the classic platform game Montezuma’s Revenge (Atari). Utopia Technologies then released Montezuma’s Return in 1998, a 3D sequel to the classic predecessor, which was originally planned for N64 but released only on PC.

It seems that Utopia Technologies was one of the few studios that could use their own microcode to develop games for the N64, a privilege given by Nintendo that was shared only with Rare Ltd, Boss Games (World Driver Championship) and Factor 5 (Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, Battle for Naboo).

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Unfortunately, we never did see what Utopia Technologies could achieve on Nintendo’s console. After the N64 Montezuma’s Return was cancelled and the PC version completed instead, Atman, Gary, and Matthew started working on a brand-new project called “Klepto”. As recalled by Atman:

“Inspired by Umihara Kawase, I set about creating a 3D third person grappling hook game. The idea was that you played a cat burglar-type in a Sci-Fi world. Each mission was designed to be playable in several ways, i.e. you could sneak in and steal the target item and if you were really good, you could sneak out without being detected. However, taking the loot would likely set off alarms and you’d have to fight your way out. Or, if you preferred, you could try fighting your way in and out.

The experience was designed to be as nerve-wracking as possible: the player was allowed as much practice as they wanted in a simulator environment based on incomplete knowledge (one idea was to allow recon missions to fill in pieces of the mission simulator), but only one shot at actually performing the mission for real, with large meta-game rewards/penalties.

The core dynamics were about using a physics-based grappling hook (as opposed to the shoot-zip or stiff fake-swinging types) to move around and manipulate a physics-based environment. The stretchy rope enabled the excellent and deep player-skill rubber-banding movements from Umihara Kawase, with some additions like slip-walls where the grappling hook could freely slide in one direction.

But more than just a fun method of getting around, the grappling hook’s stretchy rope provided an indirect yet high-fidelity way to interact with objects and enemies – the player could reel in/let out rope, or move themselves to change the rope’s tension. You could shoot out and attach to the foot of guard standing on a ledge, then reel-in while moving back to yank him off the edge. Or you could gently drag a crate of something fragile (and likely explosive) to the edge of a shaft way, then gently lower it to the bottom. There were a number of tools that were added on top of the vanilla grappling hook. In order to fight the entropy of all objects ending up at the bottom of a level, you could attach rapid-inflate balloons to an item (or enemy).

The player could also shoot a spring, one end at a time, allowing you to attach any two things in sight, like an enemy to a bomb crate. And the general purpose “pipe tool” ended up being a flamethrower, which was useful for cutting springs, detonating bombs, and torturing bound-up (by springs) enemies into dropping keycards.”

The team developed a playable prototype for Klepto and they displayed it at E3 1999 where several parties expressed interest in publishing the game, including Nintendo. As recalled by Gary:

“There were a decent number of prototype levels that I built showcasing the various mechanics. The environments were simple, but we had some really nice interaction driven animations on the characters thanks to Atman’s hard work. The rope itself was also very cool. He connected a string of rigid cubes with springs and then skinned the whole thing. The player could then control the tension of the rope, by loosening and tightening the springs on demand.

We had some nice mechanics going on. You could shoot your bungee-cord grappling hook and swing around the environments, or hook onto enemies and so forth. You could attach rockets to your hook and smash enemies around the level with it.”

As the N64’s life cycle was coming to an end, no party decided to commit to Klepto and it was left without a publisher. When Utopia Technologies presented the game to Nintendo, they seemed to like it and encouraged them to consider bringing it to GameCube, but that wasn’t possible for their small team budget.

Sometime after Montezuma’s Return was published in 1998, Robert Jaeger left Utopia Technologies and the remaining team members changed their name to “Sandbox Studios”. They then released such games as Dinosaur for Dreamcast and Shrek for the original Xbox. In 2001 the company was acquired by Digital Illusions CE and renamed “Digital Illusions Canada”, but later closed in 2006 when DI was acquired by Electronic Arts.

We managed to contact a few people who worked at Utopia Technologies / Sandbox Studios, but sadly it seems that only some early Klepto concept arts were preserved by the studio. We still hope that one day someone could find some screenshots, videos, or even a playable prototype from the game that could be saved and added to the unseen history of video games. Although it’s unlikely, it’s never impossible.

Thanks to Rich, Gary and Maik for their contributions!

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Whore of the Orient (Team Bondi) [Cancelled]

Whore of the Orient is a cancelled game from Team Bondi and Kennedy Miller Mitchell, it was a spiritual successor to L.A Noire and planned to be released for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Like L.A Noire you would play as a detective but this time in 1930s Shanghai, it would also use the motion scan technology that was first used in L.A Noire. From leaked gameplay in 2013 it showed that the game had a focus on hand to hand combat, but still retained the usual cover shooting mechanics found in L.A Noire. In interview with Eurogamer Brendan McNamara (writer and director at Team Bondi) described the game saying “It’s pretty interesting. It’s one of the great untold stories of the twentieth century. So I think it’ll be good”

When Team Bondi sought a publisher for Whore of the Orient, it was reported that no publisher was interested due to claims of poor working conditions during the development of L.A Noire. When Team Bondi closed it’s doors in 2011 its assets were sold to Kennedy Miller Mitchell where development continued, and Warner Bros Interactive had taken interest in the game, but later abandoned the project in 2012. In 2013 it was rumored that the game had been put on hold and in June of 2013 it was reported that Kennedy Miller Mitchell had revived $200,000 of funding from an investment board. It was then reported that Whore of the Orient was set for a 2015 release date, but that never happened and we would not hear anything more about the game until 2016. In June of 2016 in an interview on the GameHugs podcast with Derek Proud (former producer on Whore of the Orient) he was asked “so will we ever see that game” and he replied “I don’t think so“.

There are still screenshots of the game on the internet, the aforementioned 2013 leaked footage of the game can also be found online.

Article by Nathan Coe.

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The Terror of Tech Town [NES Power Glove – Cancelled]

The Terror of Tech Town (also known as Tektown) is a cancelled NES game that was in development since late ‘80s by Mattel for their classic Power Glove motion controller. Players would move their “robotic hand” through corridors in a series of hi-tech buildings, interacting with objects and resolving puzzles to open doors and finally escape from the town.

Originally listed alongside with other Power Glove titles (Super Glove Ball, Glove Pilot) in an article published in “Compute!’s Guide to Nintendo Games” in 1989, Tech Town was later marked as to be released in Spring 1991 during the Official Power Glove Game Players Gametape VHS Volume 1.

One presumed screenshot of Tech Town seems to have been published in a Power Glove Press Kit showing an updated version of a 1985 Commodore 64 tech demo titled “Time Crystal”, created by Jim Sach. After Jim worked for a while on Time Crystal for Amiga, it seems he managed to sign a deal with Mattel to create a Power Glove version but we are still not sure if the project is the same as Tech Town, as concept gameplay footage of “Time Crystal Powerglovelooks really different from confirmed Tech Town gameplay footage from the Game Players Gametape (as seen  in the video below).

The Power Glove Press Kit describes Tech Town with “As you travel through the “corpor-hoods”, the Glove can open doors, search through corridors, and even travel through time and space” so is still possible that the “outdoor environment with dinosaurs” could have been a different section of the same game in a different time. We could see more from the game in the soon-to-be-released The Power of Glove documentary, as another presumed screenshot from Tech Town was published in their Kickstarter campaign page.

In the end only two games created specifically for the Power Glove were ever released by Mattel: Super Glove Ball and Bad Street Brawler. The other 3 games announced (Glove Pilot, Manipulator Glove Adventure and Tech Town) vanished forever after the company and the market lost faith in the accessory.

Thanks to Maik for the contribution!

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OneChanbara Reboot (Darkworks) [Cancelled Pitch – PS3, Xbox 360]

Darkworks was an independent French studio not widely known by the average gamer, but they released a couple of fan favorite games as Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (Playstation, Dreamcast and PC) and Cold Fear (PS2, PC and Xbox). The company was founded in 1998 and unfortunately was closed down in 2012, because of economic issues and difficulties in founding new publishers for their titles. In about 15 years of activity, Darkworks were able to successfully complete and release only 2 games, while all their other projects were either cancelled or moved to different developers. There are already a good number of interesting lost Darkworks games in the Unseen64 archive, but many more still remain unseen and even if we tried multiple times to get in contact with people that worked at the studio, it seems almost impossible to know more about what happened to them or to their cancelled games.

Between all those unfinished projects once in development at Darkworks, there was what it looks like a reboot of the OneChanbara series originally created by Tamsoft, the games in which to play as a girl in bikini and cowboy hat, slashing down enemies with double katanas. In the images archived below, you can see that they created a concept art for a western version of Aya (the “clothes” are identical to the original character), one of the main protagonist of OneChanbara. We can speculate that Darkworks tried to pitch to D3 Publisher a new OneChanbara game for PS3 and Xbox 360, during the same time in which D3 also tested a western version of their popular Earth Defense Force series by letting Vicious Cycle Software to develop EDF: Insect Armageddon. Unfortunately for Darkworks, this project was not greenlighted and we’ll never know how good a French OneChanbara could have been. Only a few concept arts remain, to preserve the existence of this lost pitch.

Thanks to Dorwaks for the contribution!

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Switchblade 2 [NES – Cancelled]

Switchblade 2 is side-scrolling action title originally developed by Core Design and published by Gremlin Interactive for Amiga in 1991. A Famicom / NES port of the game, created by Kemco, was slated for release in november 1992. The player controlled a soldier, nicknamed “Switchblade”,  who had to save planet F-S5 from an alien invasion. As in similar action titles, he was able to double jump, use blades, guns, and collect power-ups for the latter. More weapons and upgrades could also be bought in the store.

It’s unknown why Kemco never released their version of Switchblade 2 or if it had any major difference compared to the original Amiga version, graphics aside.

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