Action RPG

Shadowrun: Assassin (FASA Studio) [PC – Cancelled]

Shadowrun: Assassin is a cancelled stealth action RPG set in the popular fantasy sci-fi universe, that was in development for PC by FASA Studio around 1997 – 1998. While today it’s mostly forgotten by fans, Assassin would have been the first 3D PC Shadowrun video game, and the fourth Shadowrun tie-in after the previously released SNES, Genesis / Mega Drive CD projects.

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Some details were published by NEXT Generation magazine (issue 42) in June 1998:

“And yes, Virginia, there will be more Shadowrun titles. Currently scheduled for an early ’98 release is Shadowrun: Assassin, a 3D action/adventure title that is the first of a planned series of Shadowrun games, each of which will detail a different archetype from that universe. Assassin features Solitaire, a high-tech contract killer with a twist. According to producer Vijay Lakshman, “Her job is not to go out and kill business leaders or politicians. Her job is much tougher – she is trained to hunt down and terminate other assassins.”

“Again, as in Mech Commander, the means of accomplishing each mission or assignment is open-ended. The Assassin team is designing each mission from the inside out, placing guards and security systems to genuinely protect the target, not merely to serve as obstacles for a player to overcome. “We’re taking the idea of an action game and moving it more into the area of a kind of sweaty-palmed nervousness,” Lakshman says. “Not like running in and shooting everyone in this room, but in constantly having to watch out how much noise I make — I’m this badass assassin. I’m supposed to get in as a ghost and get out as a ghost. My mission is only 50% complete once I take the target out — that’s when all the shit really hits because then I still have to get out alive!” The idea of stealth is so integral to the game’s mechanics, the eventual release will even feature a noise meter.”

“All the cybergoodies one could expect from a Shadowrun game will be at Solitaire’s disposal, including cyberware dermal sheaths, shock pulse hands, cyberlimbs, and hand razors. In all, the game will feature 25 weapons, 10 unique to Solitaire, and all pulled right out of the Shadowrun books.  But what makes FASA Interactive a company to watch are the tantalizing hints about what it will be up to in the future. According to Lakshman, “The whole ultimate goal is to have this online, persistent universe where people come in and get contracts from another human player and go on runs against corporations being led by humans. That’s our ultimate goal.”

In 2019 MrTalida shared on Twitter a previously unseen Shadowrun: Assassin’s Fact Sheet and a PowerPoint presentation which was used by FASA to pitch their project to potential publishers like EA and Hasbro. In this document we can find even more details about FASA’s ideas for their unreleased game:

“In Shadowrun: Assassin you are a covert specialist trained to eliminate targets sanctioned for termination. You will accept a contract, analyze strategic data, and then exercise your contract. You will become known as a deadly operative able to accomplish missions others consider impossible.  You will compete in a world of lethal assassins, one-shot one-kill scenarios, and no second chances…”

“High Concept: 007 meets Blade Runner, Action/RPG based on the top-selling Shadowrun franchise”

“You are an assassin, with access to over 20 hi-tech weapons and 15 deadly spells. You will be tested by over 40 different enemies, from huge Troll warriors to elite corporate mercenaries. You will journey through 30 missions spanning 10 unique environments that test your skill and courage. You will hunt down and terminate 25 targets of opportunity. Failure is not an option.”

  • Producer: Vijay Lakshman (The Elder Scrolls: Arena)
  • Technical Director: Eric Huffman (Age of Empires, BattleTech LBE series)
  • Art Director: Brennan Priest (Wing Commander IV, Privateer, Septerra Core)

In the end Shadowrun: Assassin was canceled when Microsoft purchased FASA Studio in late 1998 / early 1999 and moved them from Chicago to Seattle, to focus their resources on MechWarrior. Many years later FASA Studio worked again on a different Shadowrun multiplayer FPS (using the Halo engine) for the original Xbox and on Shadowrun Awakening RPG for Xbox 360, both cancelled. They had to wait 2007 to finally release a Shadowrun team-based FPS for PC and Xbox 360, just before closing down forever.

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Seeker (Headstrong Games) [Cancelled – PC, PS4, Xbox One]

Seeker is a cancelled top-down action RPG somehow similar to a sci-fi Diablo, that was in development in 2014 – 2015 for PC and unannounced consoles (possibly PS4 and Xbox One) by Headstrong Games. The project was officially announced in February 2015 on their blog, but the game soon vanished with no explanations.

“We’re very proud to announce our new game, Seeker. It’s an action RPG set in space with lots of tech, aliens, plasma weapons and, of course, loot! It’s been a manic few weeks getting it ready to show at GDC but we’re finally there and it feels good to be heading out to the show with something we really believe in. There’s a video and some screen shots here to give you an idea of the game-play and setting. We’ll be updating the blog regularly with more info as the development progresses.

Choose the Class that suits your style. Customise your character, Drone and Starship as you progress. Each mission draws you further into unknown star systems. Fight your way through crystal caverns, alien hives, ruined starships and robotic planets. Every destination is an opportunity to salvage alien artefacts, precious minerals and weaponry. Swept up in an epic saga, you will be called upon to occupy a pivotal role in the fate of the galaxy.”

Headstrong were mostly known for their Art Academy series and Battalion Wars series published by Nintendo, but around 2017 Kuju Entertainment (their parent company) dissolved the team to incorporate their employees directly into Kuju.

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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.

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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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