Action RPG

The Wall (Burut) [Cancelled – PS3, PC]

The Wall is a cancelled immersive sim that was in development between 2005 and 2008 by Burut Creative Team and Play Ten, planned to be released on Playstation 3 and PC. Gameplay would have been similar to Deus Ex, with players helping one of three major factions in a dystopian future: The Government, The Environmentalists, and The Church. NPCs would react dynamically to your actions in sand-box levels you could freely explore to choose how to resolve missions, using customizable weapons, vehicles and special powers.

We can read some details about the game in interviews published at the time by PS3Land and FiringSquad:

“I believe the concept of “The Wall” world is a grotesque reflection of the modern world. We want to show all the avarice and ambition of transnational corporations, who pursue their business targets regardless of the consequences. In their quest for profit often the great treasures of the past, the cultural heritage of Humanity is sacrificed. Trying to improve the world, some greedy corporate giants are destroying it in fact, without paying any attention to this sad truth and firmly believing in the righteousness of their ways. They continue to push the deadly balance wheel, which is poised to crush them in the end. Also we want to show religious fanaticism with it’s terrible bigotry and superstition. Often the fundamentalist zealots are ready to devastate the existing world, just to create an ideal one they imagine in its place.”

“The game’s concept went through many iterations. Our efforts finally bore fruit, and we’ve invented around a dozen of features that are unique to the genre, and should be very interesting to the gamers. Among them are the totally destructible environment, intense development of the character’s relations with the outside world, the team and rankings which change during the course of events.”

The Wall was previewed by some gaming websites, such as CheatCC, Ixbt, and IGN:

“Various super-human abilities will be revealed throughout the course of the game, no doubt proving useful for overcoming certain obstacles and defeating enemies. Developers claim that personality points and actions will affect the plot and how characters react to the player, ala Deus Ex. Which side you choose also affects the game content, including weapons. For example the Government rifles are very industrial, while the Environmentalist firearms are handcrafted with leather and groovy characters etched into them. Weapons are customizable and there are vehicles to drive”

“Players will become Adam – a young man genetically modified by the scientists of the Church. Waking up after suspended animation, Adam must go to fulfill the mission entrusted to him, but the deep freeze slightly affected his brain. As a result of amnesia, Adam remains on his own, and is free to choose his own destiny.”

“The Wall will offer non-linear gameplay and it is up to you to choose whether to strengthen the power of the Government by eradicating the dissatisfied, help an environmentalist or become the God of a New religion. Not only the style of the game depends on the choices you make, but also its endings.”

“About 25 missions are planned, taking place in a wide variety of places – from the skyscrapers of the Government to the underwater levels of poor neighborhoods.”

“One of the more noticeable elements includes highly-destructible environments with numerous break points. Objects, parts of buildings, entire buildings, and other sections of the play area can be gradually and fully destroyed. The amount of destruction is entirely dependent on the type of weapon being used to create it too. An example that Play Ten uses to illustrate this is that a tree won’t be seriously damaged by a pistol, but a rocket launcher will take care of it quite nicely. This sort of destruction isn’t just for looks, though — use can do things like destroy catwalk supports to knock enemies down from snipe points as well. “

“The addition of squad members with specific personalities is one such inclusion, as its RPG-like ranking system affects how people react to the hero. Missions are nonlinear too and like other open-ended games before it, The Wall will give users the option to take on primary and bonus missions that affect the ultimate outcome of the story.”

As far as we know the game was last seen at the Leipzig Convention 2008, then quietly vanished, forgotten by everyone. Play Ten was bought by Bestway Group in October 2008 and merged alongside two other big Russian publishers: Russobit-M and Game Factory Interactive. We assume the new company was not interested in publishing the game, and without a publisher Burut switched their resources to other projects (such as Cannon Fodder 3).

Thanks to Dan for the contribution!

Images: 

Rites of Acerbus (Crest of Dharim) [PC – Cancelled]

Rites of Acerbus (AKA Crest of Dharim) is a cancelled Action RPG that was in development in the late ‘90s / early ‘00s by OMG-Games, a small, forgotten studio founded in 1998. The project started as an Unreal mod, changing the popular FPS into a role-playing game. Soon the mod evolved into a full-fledged game with some interesting features for its time:

“You are Jordan – the son of Eldric, King of Arzaron. Your birthday is a shamble as you are arrested for the murder of your father, rushed through a mockery of a trial and thrust headlong into prison – forever. You’ll be seeing more of your world than you ever wanted as you follow the effects of the rituals of a dark, ancient prophecy bent on the destruction of life on your planet. Step through the political intrigue, militaristic maneuverings, and just plain treachery in search of your father’s killer and the answers you need to stop Acerbus Caelestis from engulfing the world in darkness. You’ll be stepping in style, too, disguising yourself as anyone you can to get the information you need; from a soldier in an enemy army to a priest behind the confessional lattice. You won’t be stepping alone either – several people will find it necessary to join your cause along the way, be it for their own reasons or the noblest cause of all.”

  • Third-person 3D Action/Adventure/RPG
  • Dramatic and compelling storyline and characters, with in-game cinematics
  • Puzzle-based and action-based challenges
  • Ability to disguise yourself as the enemy and other characters
  • Up to three AI characters in your party
  • Multipath dialogue tree-based interaction with all NPCs
  • Real-time combat system based on unique weapon skills
  • Unique magic system
  • “Beast of Burden” for travel and inventory storage
  • Vast game world covering 4 different kingdoms
  • All unique races
  • 70+ hours of gameplay

According to the developers you could meet hundreds of NPCs in this world, each one with its own side quests. They planned an action-combat system against crowds of enemies, and it would have been possible to climb rocks to freely explore the land (just like what Zelda: Breath of the Wild did 17 years later).

The plot followed the misadventures of a certain prince, sent to jail after being accused of killing his father. After escaping the protagonist would try to find out who set him up:

“Once a world of magic and beauty, the Kingdom of Arzaron has fallen into Darkness. You are Jordan, First Prince and sole heir to the throne of Eldric, King of Arzaron. Your father led his nation honorably and fairly, and you have followed closely in his footsteps. It is the eve of your twentieth birthday when the King dies mysteriously in his sleep, of poisoning, says the royal physician; a vial of poison is found in your bedchambers the next day. By law, a prince is old enough to govern the nation without the supervision of the Council on his twentieth birthday. According to the law, a prince must be raised to the crown the day after the king dies.

The coronation proceeds directly after the funeral, which is cut short by the magistrate and a number of guards who accuse you of murdering your father and arrest you. You are shuffled through a mockery of a trial, branded as a slave (tattooed on the inside of your left forearm), and nearly dragged behind a horse across your nation’s borders to a slave camp where five years pass.

You must travel through distant, foreign, not-always-friendly lands in order to gain support and learn about the conspiracy against you in any way you can. You’ll disguise yourself as anyone you can to get the information you need. What follows is a quest into the depths of evil as you discover that your fathe’rs murder was but a small part of a much larger chain of events. Ancient prophecy speaks of the six Rites that would bring about the return of Acerbus, the Ruler of the Dark. “

Development of Rites of Acerbus continued until 2002, but as it often happens with cancelled games by small teams, it was probably too ambitious for their skills and resources. With no publisher backing the project, the game was canned after four years of development.

Thanks to Josef for the contribution!

Images: 

Dai Mao ZARK Densetsu [NES / Famicom – Cancelled]

Dai Mao ZARK Densetsu (大魔王ZARK伝説 – Legend of the Great Demon King ZARK) is a cancelled side scrolling action RPG that was in development by J & U for Famicom (NES) around 1990. Previews and screenshots of the game were published in Japanese magazines at the time, but it quietly vanished and today not much info remains about this game. By looking at the few screenshots available it seems you could use your horse to move through different levels in an overworld map similar to the one seen in Super Mario Bros 3, and each stage had some fantasy enemies to fight.

As noted by Chris Covell, this may have been somehow related to another cancelled Famicom RPG titled “Off Zarken”: if you can read Japanese and would like to translate the main details found in these photos, please leave a comment below!

Images: 

Dwarfs (Obsidian’s Snow White RPG) [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3]

Dwarfs (also known as “Seven Dwarves“) is a canceled action adventure game from Obsidian Entertainment, once planned for the PS3 and Xbox 360. The game was intended to be a tie-in to a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs prequel that was in development at the time. Both the game and the movie were planned to be cornerstones to a new franchise aimed at boys to go alongside its other properties.

This wasn’t Disney’s first attempt at expanding the Snow White story. Walt Disney himself had considered it due to public and internal popularity of the characters despite his own dislike of sequels. However nothing ever came of them until the mid 2000s when Disney’s home video department DisneyToon Studios decided to work with the story. Their idea was a prequel with a darker tone intended to explain the organs of the cast, taking inspiration from The Lord of the Rings. The plot would have been about the seven dwarves journeying together with a young girl to stop an evil wizard finding an ancient dwarven power. However, things are not what they seem as it is revealed that the dwarves have been manipulated by the young girl who is the daughter of the wizard. She betrays the dwarves and curses her father, proceeding to take over the kingdom and thus setting up the original movie.

Soon after the project started, it began to develop an internal following. Many saw Dwarfs as the seeds to a new franchise to go alongside Disney’s Fairies and Princess lines. In order to get the fledgling franchise off to a good start, a video game was proposed. Obsidian was approached due to their history and skills developing deep RPGs, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2. The game, known as “Project New Jersey” internally, was intended to be a third person action adventure with a much darker tone than even the prequel movie. Kevin Saunders (game designer at Obsidian for such titles as KotOR2 and NN2) was the Lead Designer on Dwarfs, and he gave a short description of the opening of the game on his Formspring account:

“This wasn’t a happy-go-lucky Disney game. Disney’s Buena Vista Games wanted dark and I gave them dark. In the opening sequence, for example, you, as a teenage prince, awake in your bed to haunting sounds. Exploring the dark castle, you come across a terrifying shadowy creature that you kill in a desperate struggle – its cries shifting from a supernatural shriek to that of a human woman’s bloodcurdling cry of death. The illusion is then dispelled, and your mother, the Queen, lays dead before you, the bloody knife that killed her in your hand. This wasn’t a cinematic – it was all a gameplay sequence that you’d actually play out“

Saunders’s Formspring post also names some of the proposed team. Obsidian built a team of veterans for this project. Josh Sawyer (who was the lead designer for Icewind Dale 2 and later director for Fallout: New Vegas) was picked as the systems / combat lead. Brian Menze, a longtime artist for both Black Isle Studios and Obsidian, was doing the concept art for Dwarfs. Saunders described Menze work as “So much personality and character, reminiscent of Disney’s classic characters, but weathered by the grim realities of a dark fantasy world”. Brian Mitsoda, known for being a Writer for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, worked as the creative lead on the project and along with Kevin Saunders on the story. When asked about Dwarfs, he said:

“If I could resurrect any project that I worked on, it would be this one. This was essentially our action-RPG version of a Pixar movie crossed with a first-party Nintendo game. I don’t know how much is still covered by NDA, but it was obviously inspired by Disney’s classic movies artistically, although script-wise we definitely wanted to capture the characterization and emotion of Pixar films. Conceptually, it was a darker fairytale type of story, but it was mostly focused on the journey of the teenage protagonists as they journeyed around the land meeting up with these eccentric little men and using their unique powers to advance through the plot. It had a lot of heart, great monster and character concepts by Brian Menze, and very interesting level potential.”

With an enthusiastic and experienced team coming together and a plan set in place, things looked set for work to begin on a great new game. However, things weren’t looking so good for the movie, with difficulty for Studio Executives and their desire to add their own touches to the film. Having to constantly fight to keep the movie true to its original vision, director Mike Disa (who previously worked on such titles as Pocahontas, Fantasia 2000, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and The Origin Of Stitch) felt burnt out with the project.

In particular, a repeated insistence by studio executives of having the character of Dopey to talk in the movie and then to explain his mutism in the original movie as trauma from watching his mother die. As Mike told during an interview with Integratedcatholiclife:

“Essentially the studio executive wanted Dopey to talk! [Laughs in disbelief.]  It just comes down to my respect for great films.  Snow White is today still the best animated film ever made. Those characters are spectacular.  It’s a sad statement on our industry that the best film was 80 years ago, but it’s still the best film.  I would never walk into a sequel and do anything to disrespect the core of the characters like making Dopey talk.”

Around this time, Pixar’s creative director John Lasseter took over Disney’s animation departments and was reviewing the current projects. At first it seemed like Dwarfs would be safe but as the executives pushed for more influence, Disa’s confidence on his project dropped. Not wanting to pitch an idea that he didn’t believe in, Disa left the project and Dwarfs was canceled as soon as Lasseter got a look at the new script. This was also the end for Obsidian’s game.

Many of the team who worked on Dwarfs were sad to see it go. Brian Mitsoda described his feeling as: “I think if it had come out, it would be considered a classic today. It still hurts to know we’ll never finish it. If DoubleBear (Mitsoda’s own company) ever gets big enough, I would totally do something similar to it”. His wife, Annie Mitsoda, described the game as her “One that got away”.  Feargus Urquhart, Ceo of Obsidian, talked about the game in an interview with Kotaku: “It was a lot of fun, we feel we turned in a really cool prototype. We worked on it for about a year. It’s one of the games here that the team just loved working on. And unfortunately – which, it happens in this industry – you have changes of focus at a publisher.”

Since Dwarfs’ cancellation, Obsidian has moved on to other high profile projects like Fallout: New Vegas, and other licensed games like South Park: The Stick of Truth. However this wasn’t the last time Obsidian had a licensed game canceled on them: you can check out the article on Aliens: Crucible. Other lost projects conceived by the team were Futureblight, a post-apocalyptic RPG for Take-Two Interactive, a couple of pitches for EA and Ubisoft, and “Project North Carolina”, an open world adventure to be published by Microsoft for their Xbox One.

After so many canned games Obsidian’s future could have been bleak, but in 2015 they finally released Pillars of Eternity thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, and it was welcomed by gamers as one of the best RPGs of the last decade.

Article by Philip Dempsey, originally published in 2016 in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play” 

BackSpace (Obsidian) [Cancelled – PC, Xbox 360, PS3]

BackSpace is a cancelled sci-fi RPG that was in early development by Obsidian Entertainment from January to April 2011 (around the same time they were finishing Dungeon Siege III), to be published by Bethesda on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The project was pitched as “Sci-Fi SKYRIM with Time Travels” and it was led by Jason Fader (who also worked on Obsidian’s cancelled Aliens RPG, Fallout: New Vegas, and the System Shock remake at Nightdive Studios).

While the game was quickly canned by the studio and it was never officially announced, Kotaku published a short article on the game in 2013, showing off remaining concept art created by Obsidian and sharing a few details on its gameplay:

“BackSpace is a single-player action-RPG set in a scifi space environment with simple elements of time travel. The combat is paced similarly to Skyrim, but slightly faster since there is no concept of blocking. The easiest way to look at it is a mix of Mass Effect, Borderlands, and System Shock 2 for gameplay and setting.”

“It was to be developed in some sort of partnership with Bethesda, I’ve heard, and it’d use the same engine as their ridiculously-successful role-playing game Skyrim. Although BackSpace wasn’t an open-world game, players would be able to travel between a number of planets as well as one large space station.”

“This station is huge,” a BackSpace design document reads. “It can be compared in size to The Citadel of Mass Effect [or] Babylon 5. The station has several locations devoted to diverse research fields which would allow us to have vegetation overgrowth, high-tech disasters, and mutations of science as visual themes.”

“[…] a technical error would fling your character ten years into the future, and you’d spend a bulk of the game hopping back and forth between the time of the attack and a dismal, alien-occupied future. Quests in the game would task you with hopping between timelines in an attempt to save humankind.”

In 2017 Jason replied to a few questions on Reddit, sharing even more details on what happened to BackSpace:

“I was working closely with Bethesda on BackSpace. Since there were no other projects lined up after the Old World Blues team finished their work, I took it upon myself to try to find another project for the company. I reached out to Bethesda and directly asked them what type of game they’d be most interested in publishing next. From there, I started working on a pitch based on a prior game I made, ThreadSpace: Hyperbol (story only, not gameplay). The gameplay was something designed around Bethesda’s interests at the time. No other publishers were pitched on it, to my knowledge, but there was interest from a 3rd party in creating a TV show based on it.

I actually started working on the project a bit before that by myself after hours. Probably as early as October (2010). It was an “after school project” for a very long time, and after a few months, more and more folks would join me after hours to volunteer their time to help. I don’t think we actually worked on it by day until the final month for the prototype. Then the layoffs happened. Then I stuck around for a few more years. Then the big layoffs (including me this time).”

In April 2011 Obsidian had to lay off part of their team, including many of those developers who were working on BackSpace. With financial difficulties in keeping the team active they worked on South Park: The Stick of Truth and many cancelled ventures (such as Stormlands for Microsoft), until they found success on Kickstarter with Pillars of Eternity.

Images: