Action RPG

Sea Dog (Mariner’s Run) [NES – Cancelled]

Sea Dog (シードッグ) also known as Mariner’s Run is a cancelled RPG / submarine simulation / Shoot ‘em up game planned to be published for NES / Famicom by Vic Tokai. A couple of screenshots were found in old gaming magazines by japanes fans and shared on Twitter, while some details were published online in a japanese website:

“Although gameplay is not clear on screenshots, it seems Sea Dog was going to be a vertical-scrolling submarine shoot ‘em up with some RPG elements. Between deep-sea exploration and combats you would be able to rise to the sea level and stop at nearby ports. You probably could repair your damaged submarine and buy new weapons.”

We could imagine Sea Dog somehow similar to cult-classic Metal Max, but with real-time underwater shoot ‘em up combat instead than post-apocalypse turn-based combat around desert cities. By looking at the few screenshots available we can assume you would have been able to freely explore the ocean underwater, while fighting enemy submarines and hunting down bosses, then reaching nearby islands to help NPCs and upgrade your submarine. The title of the game was probably inspired by the USS Sea Dog, a Balao-class submarine in the United States Navy.

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Revolver (Jade Empire 2) [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Revolver is the codename for an ambitious action RPG that was in development for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 by BioWare with the help of Big Sandwich Games. The project started around the same time as they were working on the first Mass Effect for Xbox 360 (announced in October 2005). While Mass Effect would have been their major exclusive for Microsoft’s home console (PC version of ME was released 6 months later), Revolver was meant to be their new multiplatform series and many resources were put into the project, taking about 5 years to develop.

Unfortunately, in 2009 the game was canned for a series of complex reasons and Bioware never officially announced Revolver to the public, without showing any images or releasing any info. While it’s already unfortunate that we will never be able to play an original BioWare title, the story behind Revolver becomes even more tragic when one finds out that the project was initially started as another, most-requested-by-fans game: a sequel to cult-following, martial arts RPG Jade Empire.

To understand better what happened to Jade Empire 2 and the importance of Revolver in Bioware’s market strategy, we have to dig down to remember what the studio was doing before being acquired by EA with 3 major ongoing series (Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Star Wars: The Old Republic). In the mid ’90s BioWare became a favorite team to western RPG fans thanks to cult classics such as the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series. At the end of the ‘90s they wanted to enter the console market and developed MDK2 for Interplay (published in 2000 for Dreamcast and PC), creating a quality third person action-shooter loved by fans and the critics. Unfortunately, it did not set the market on fire as they could have dreamed for.

The real console success for Bioware arrived in 2003 with the help of LucasArts, when they released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the original Xbox. Still, part of the success was because of the popular Star Wars series, not for a proprietary IP, and BioWare wanted it all. To try to create a new successful IP and to be able to win the average console owner, Bioware decided to embrace a more action oriented combat system suitable for controllers. The results was one of the best action RPGs released on the Xbox: Jade Empire, published in April 2005.

Only a few months later Microsoft released their Xbox 360 and Bioware was already working on 2 exclusive titles for the new hardware: Mass Effect and Jade Empire 2. As reported by Gamespot in November 2005, BioWare co-founder Ray Muzkya told to the press:

“BioWare definitely plans to continue the Jade Empire franchise […] The Jade team did a great job with the first game in that series; we have great teams working on all of our games here. We’ve also said in the past that we’re working on not just one, but two Xbox 360 titles. Enough said.”

We don’t know what exactly happened after that, but it’s possible that the not-as-high-as-expected sales for the original Jade Empire on the Xbox made the team rethink their Xbox-only strategy and the future of their Jade Empire IP. Bioware decided to also develop this new project for PS3, creating a new role playing experience that could have matched the titles from their golden age of Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.

While the first-person-RPG-shooter style of Mass Effect sounded like the best type of game to sell to the Xbox / Halo crowd, Jade Empire 2 was chosen as the core to develop a new action RPG series for both consoles and PC. After only a few initial concepts, the mythical chinese martial-arts setting of Jade Empire 2 was dropped in favor of a more urban, near-future sci-fi settings. With the Jade Empire IP removed from the project, Bioware labeled it with the codename “Revolver”, a title without any particular meaning if not for the same initial letter of the R: drive on their shared network in which files for the game were stored. Other rumored codenames considered for the project were Rainbow, Razor and Riverdance.

Even if Revolver was never officially announced by BioWare, in the last few years the internal codename was revealed through many different resumes, articles, interviews, reference footage and demo reels, allowing the world to find out about this lost title. While Revolver was already in development and Jade Empire 2 canned, in 2007 Eurogamer asked BioWare co-founders if they had plans to create a sequel to Jade Empire:

“It’s an IP, it’s a setting that we were really passionate about, and we still are. Both Greg and I were big believers in the IP… We’re just looking for the right way to deploy it.”

The studio really wanted to create the greatest western action RPG ever conceived and they started brainstorming ambitious features that could evolve the genre into a new standard. It seems that they exaggerated those ideas as while Revolver was still in its early stage, many of those features were already being cut. As wrote by an anonymous developer who worked on the game:

“While still working on Mass Effect, I’m included in some of the Revolver meetings. Revolver is at that interesting point where things start getting cut. This is good. The project had a whole lot of things up in the air, a ton of features that were each individually doable but way beyond the scope of the project when taken together (unless we had more funding than any other project and weren’t planning to ship until 2012).”

Even with many of its features removed, the game was still too big for BioWare. To fulfill their vision for Revolver they soon hired Big Sandwich Games to help with the development: a team funded by ex-Rockstar Vancouver employees. This could not have been just a coincidence as Revolver was meant to blend sandbox open-world urban games like GTA and classic action RPGs, using “super powers” (such as the ability to jump from one skyscraper to another) to move around the city, as in Crackdown, Prototype or Infamous.

Players would have explored the game’s world using exaggerated parkour movements, jumps and climbing as seen in the Assassin’s Creed series, while fighting enemies with the over-the-top, responsive combat style of Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden. All of this while keeping the same story-focused narrative of classic BioWare titles, but in non-linear branching paths. Writers and developers soon found out that merging a free roaming open world game with a complex narrative was not without problems:

“So we’re trying to figure out how flight messes up plots – which plots can be broken by you being able to fly into an area that you’d ordinarily have to walk through (and thus run into encounters that advance the plot). […] In Jade Empire, there were encounters that you could skip, definitely, but there was no way you were gonna skip an entire dungeon – the dungeons were just too expensive and too few in number. […] Right now, we’re focusing on making dungeons (where here, “dungeon” means “an enclosed area with a bunch of combat in it”) that give the players multiple reasons to go inside – so the player doesn’t have to make the choice between getting content or missing content for roleplaying reasons.”

Revolver wanted to allow players to enjoy a story focused RPG in a sandbox world by giving them multiple ways to receive important quests from different people. If we would miss (or kill?) a character with a key-quest, the game system would offer the same or a slightly different quest from another NPC, giving more freedom on how to freely explore the world while still following the main storyline that writers wanted to tell. A similar conversation system to the one used in Mass Effect was also planned, with dialogue to resolve as some sort of “puzzle” and different answers for different “morality alignments”.

A lot of time was spent on creating concepts and prototypes to better understand what the team would have been able to do. At some phase of development the team also experimented with a cell shading engine, similar to what happened to Borderlands. Before it was canceled in 2009 it seems Revolver was close to the end of pre-production, meaning that the core gameplay, story and features were set.

“We have a demo that looks better than many finished games and gives a pretty good look at the directions we intend to go on look and feel.”

What happened to Revolver? While the game was never officially announced or canceled, there are a series of possible reasons for its demise. Mass Effect became a HUGE commercial and critical triumph and every doubt about being able to be profitable with a new IP were wiped out: now BioWare had its own Star Wars series. They did not need to experiment with another new IP as Mass Effect was already more popular than what they could have dreamed. Mass Effect 2 was later released on Playstation 3 too and it soon became a consolidated multiplatform franchise.

If that was not enough, in October 2008 the studio announced another big project that in the following years would have taken a lot of their resources: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a MMORPG set in the Star Wars universe. To keep up with SW:ToR’s development, BioWare had to open a new studio in Edmonton and they even asked for help from Big Sandwich Games. As they already had a strong collaboration with BSG, the team could have moved from Revolver to The Old Republic.

We also have to remember that in October 2007 BioWare was bought out by Electronic Arts and they had the final word on which games had to be completed or not. When the financial crisis of 2007 – 2009 hit USA and Europe, lots of gaming studios closed down and many projects were canned. It was not a time for experimental, overly-ambitious games and EA decided to cut funds for Revolver and for another original BioWare project for next gen consoles, titled “Agent”.

It made more sense from a marketing standpoint to focus on proven franchises rather than on expensive, still unfinished projects that could have failed. After about 7 years of difficult development in late 2009, BioWare were also finishing their work on Dragon Age: Origins, finally released in November of that year. The game became another huge success for the studio, with more than 3.2 million copies sold in just a few months. Unfortunately, Revolver did not have the same chance to prove its original open world gameplay and ambitious features. People that were working on the project were moved to more profitable games at BioWare, such as the money-making sequels for Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

This article was originally published in 2016 in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play

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Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari 2 (River City Ransom 2) [Wii, PC – Cancelled]

As we can read in the Kunio-Kun Wiki, Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari for the NES / Famicom is the third entry in the Kunio-kun series, published in the west as River City Ransom / Street Gangs. The game is more RPGish and open-ended than other beat ’em ups, with a non-linear city to freely explore while fighting against enemies to level-up your characters. In the main Kunio series you take the role of Kunio, a japanese high-school delinquent (bancho) with a good heart, punching and kicking other gangs to free the streets of your city.

Downtown-Nekketsu-Monogatari-2-River-City-Ransom-Cancelled

The game was released for the Wii Virtual Console in 2007 and a sequel titled “Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari 2” was announced in 2011 by Miracle Kidz (a team of former Technos developers), planned to be released for Wii and PC. Unfortunately the team decided to officially cancel the project in 2012, to switch resources on different projects.

As noticed by Arc Hound on Twitter:

“Miracle Kidz’s teaser site for Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari 2 (the canceled Wiiware sequel to River City Ransom) is still up after all these years, although it only contains character bios and a link to purchase the planning document from their site.

Sueshiro and Okita, the two planned protagonists from DNM2, actually appeared in a fan-video from 2008 by AC-Promenade supporting the launch of Miracle Kidz’s website. Shame that the game become vaporware and Miracle Kidz has since been disbanded.”

If you can do a translation / summary of the details found in those japanese Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari 2 design doc pages (saved in the gallery below), please leave a message below!

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Warrior’s Lair (Ruin) [PS3, PSVita – Cancelled]

Warrior’s Lair (working title ‘’Ruin’’)  was an action role-playing game set in a medieval fantasy universe. Developed by Idol Minds (now known as Deck Nine), Ruin was supposed to feature gameplay similar to Diablo and Torchlight, which were pretty big in the early 2010s. 

The game was to be released on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita and sold as a single package, as then-confirmed by Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony Worldwide Studios, in a statement for Eurogamer

‘’Both games will be packaged together. You can play the game at home on PS3, save your data on our PSN server on the cloud, and you can continue playing the game on PS Vita by downloading the save from the PSN. And you can do vice versa. It’s a continuous experience, playing the same game on PS Vita and PS3.’’

The game was presented in June 2011 at E3. The seamless gameplay and cross-connectivity were arguably the biggest selling points of the game. Its isometric view and dungeon-crawling elements were reminiscent of games such as Diablo, confirming their main inspiration for the project. Ruin was also supposed to contain simulation of destructible environments and ragdoll physics. 

During the same E3 conference, Sony Entertainment demonstrated the ability to transfer active games between the two systems using cloud storage. Warrior’s Lair/Ruin was supposed to feature social media integration, allowing players to post their progress on Facebook and Twitter. Players could show up in each other’s games and either collaborate or compete. 

After 2 years of sitting in limbo, the game was officially canceled in July 2013, as stated by a Sony representative to IGN:

‘’Sony Computer Entertainment can confirm that Warrior’s Lair for PS Vita is no longer in development’’; We apologize to those who pre-ordered the title and ask that they contact their retailer directly to cancel their pre-sale.’’

We don’t exactly know why the game was canceled. All that we know is that Sony Entertainment San Diego was supposed to add the finishing touches back in 2012, and when the game didn’t show up at E3 2012, the future of the game was put into question. 

As we can read at PushSquare:

“Apparently, when the title was canned, Idol Minds had been working on the project for a full year. The game was supposedly just three months away from release, with Sony having already invested “millions of dollars” into it. But the plug was pulled nevertheless, even if the reasons behind its cancellation weren’t even clear to those that worked on it.

“First, I assume it had to do with the weakness of the Vita,” Floyd explained. “Sony internal studios, to me, looked like they never had much faith in it. As far as we were concerned, the game was primarily a PS3 game; we weren’t going to bank on the Vita.” Regardless, the title apparently looked and played great on the troubled handheld, with the cross-save feature working like a charm.”

Unfortunately, the chances of Warrior’s Lair eventually seeing the light of day are slim. After Reddit user u/nduval emailed the developers asking about the future of the title, they said:

It’s great to hear from you. Ruin was a passion project for the entire team and we were heartbroken when Sony ran out of funding to finish it.

Things are different over there now, with the success of the PS4, so building fan interest in the game and communicating that to Sony would be the only way forward.

We would love to return to that game and finish it.

Article by Marco Giuliani

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Forgotten Castle: The Awakening [PC – Cancelled]

Forgotten Castle is a cancelled action RPG in development by Twin Dolphin Games around 1992 – 1993, to be published on PC by Electronic Arts. The project was quite ambitious for its time: a fully 3D explorable fantasy world in early ‘90s was something amazing to see in screenshots (The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall was released 3 years later) and the game was previewed with high hype by many magazines. CDs were not much used for PC games and this would have been released on 9 disks, quite a massive size for ’90s games.

As we can red in Forgotten Castle’s preview from Edge (issue 1, 1993):

“Twin Dolphin’s Forgotten Castle could take the RPG action adventure into a new realm. Forgotten Castle is a PC showcase of spectacular quality. The Ferrari of fantasy roleplaying games. If you can imagine this detailed cityscape scaling and rotating smoothly around you, you’re about one tenth of the way to grasping the graphic flair on display. Twin Dolphin are working wonders on the PC.

There’s a huge playing area to discover with an enormous range of environments. Check out the falling water that flows into the gutter. It’s lovely. The dungeons are equally well presented with detailed graphics and unrivaled angles of perspective. Skeletons wait for you in there, too. Walk through the village and then turn and look in one of the windows for a realistic 3D interior. There’s complete freedom of movement, unlike The 7th Guest. And the scaling graphics leave you breathless.

There is a wealth of different environments including streets, caverns, crypts, and creepy dungeons. Everything takes place in real time, too, and there’s an ‘invisible’ interface to help out, without bogging down the screen in icons. You click on the mouse and something dies, basically.  Okay, there’s lots more to it than that but the feel of the whole thing is action-orientated. It’s designed to appeal to a wide range of players, and as such, might not meet the grey matter-testing requirements of diehard Dungeon Master and Ultima Underworld fans.

So what’s it all about then? The story unfolds like this. You’re a prince on an epic quest searching for your father, the last true king of the land of Alonia. Evil rules where justice once prevailed etc, etc, and you have to travel to the city of Hedburg to defeat the monsters and ‘foul Ruzakian hordes’ that have taken over the town.”

As you can imagine, Forgotten Castle was way too ambitious for a small team like Twin Dolphin. Clay Graham who worked on the project wrote on his blog:

“Twin Dolphin Games was creating a Virtual Reality game on the PC for EA Games. There was only one Oracle Tower down the street, and as a startup things were very different than the large glass covered offices of SOM. We were scrappy, and as the company’s “Virtual Architect” I was responsible for building all the spaces and experiences for their 3D Dungeon Adventure. “Forgotten Castle” was very innovative visually, but the company made a bad choice in their game engine and it failed completely.”

More details about Twin Dolphin’s failure to complete the game and their difficulties with the 3D engine were published on issue 164 of Compute! Magazine:

“The news hasn’t been good for what looked like a promising entry in the Ultima Underworld school of free-scrolling RPGs. Twin Dolphin Games’ Forgotten Castles, which looked dazzling at its unveiling at last summer’s CES, has run into the computer-game equivalent of the tuna net. The EA affiliate was to have delivered the game last November, but delays in finishing the 3-D engine and interface ultimately led to the withdrawal of the company’s main investor in late October. Matters were further complicated by the departure of the game’s chief engineer in early December, according to president Steve Ruszak. Twin Dolphin Games itself probably won’t last beyond the summer, but there are other fish in the sea, and Ruszak reckons Forgotten Castles – which is 60 to 70 percent complete – may yet surface. Both it and the 3D engine are for sale as a package, and he’s optimistic the company will find a buyer.”

As far as we know, no other publisher ever bought the IP or 3D engine from Twin Dolphin and the studio soon closed down for lack of money. Forgotten Castle was lost forever and as its name hinted, it was indeed forgot by everyone.

We can only hope former Twin Dolphin developers preserved files of their lost games, to share online in future. If you know someone who worked on this cancelled project, please let us know!

Thanks to pcloadletter for the contribution!

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