Angel Studios

Shatterman (Angel Studios) [Hasbro Toaster VR – Cancelled]

Shatterman is one of the few games in development for the ill-fated Hasbro Toaster VR by Angel Studios (the modern Rockstar San Diego). The studio was founded in 1984 to create computer graphic videos for such projects as the legendary movie Lawnmower Man (1992).

We don’t know if Hasbro was impressed by the first person shooting segments of Lawnmower Man or if Angel Studios was chosen by coincidence, but those parts in the film could give us an idea about how Shatterman could have been conceived. At the time Angel Studios was still mostly a CG video production company. In fact, most of Shatterman’s team were recent college grads with little to no experience working on a commercial game.

However, they did have all the hardware needed to create awesome looking games thanks to Silicon Graphics workstations, one of the most powerful hardware at the time. This probably helped them join the legendary “Dream Team”, a group of studios organized by Nintendo in the mid ‘90 to create ambitious games for the “Project Reality” (the early codename for the Nintendo 64).

Shatterman could have been Angel Studios first game if the Hasbro Toaster VR would have not been canned in mid 1995. In 1996 they were finally able to release their actual first commercial game (along with Zono): Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn.

Hasbro Toaster’s graphical power was probably over-hyped at the time as in reality its games would have looked somehow like a mix between Super FX Chip powered SNES games (StarFox) and early 3D arcade games (Virtua Racing or Virtua Fighter), with texture-less polygons and vivid colors. As recalled by Allen Battino, former Angel Studios’ Senior Art Director:

“I don’t remember much about Shatterman, but what I do remember is that he was designed to have the least amount of polygons possible while having a heroic look that would be glasslike and break up in shards effectively.”

While the default play view mode was third-person (with the camera right behind the in-game character), players would view the action through their VR goggles as in some kind of direct first person view. Once hit by too many shots, the character would break into pieces in a quite impressive effect (for the time). There’s not too much information known about Shatterman’s story. The plot would follow the life of Shatterman, a futuristic film-noir-inspired detective, who would drive from location to location as he takes out the bad guys.

Why he was driving and where he was driving remains cloudy, however the driving sections should be noted. Angel Studios was responsible for pioneering open world racing games with the popular PC-exclusive Midtown Madness in 1999.

Unfortunately, Hasbro’s technology and lack of real hardware made things a bit complex to create. As noted by Paul Skibitzke, one of the programmers who worked on Shatterman:

“The VR features we supported (3D rendering, stereoscopic rendering, head tracking) were not at all difficult to develop or use in a videogame. They’d been supported on our Silicon Graphics (SGI) hardware for a couple of years at that point, and the Angel Studios game engine was built with support for them.

However, actually using those technologies was hard on the body and mind. Between low frame rates, low goggle resolution, slow head tracking, and sheer weight of the goggles, you were likely to get nauseous and/or a sore neck after 15 minutes of using the hardware. So most of the time, we would test the game from the computer monitor, without goggles.

As far as the features of Hasbro platform itself, all our work was done on SGIs.  We never actually got any Hasbro hardware! We were told that it would effectively be a game console, with orientation-sensing 3D goggles, and a controller.”

Only a single combat area and an early city driving prototype were completed before work on the project stopped.

For Angel Studios, Shatterman was an interesting proof of concept for the anticipated platform, but the lack of actual hardware to develop on made it clear that it was useless to plan a whole game for a vaporware console.

Shatterman was not the last virtual reality game that Angel Studios worked on. Their experience with VR helped them sign a contract with Disney to create the Virtual Jungle Cruise at DisneyQuest in 1998, which seems to still be available at the Disney World Resort in Orlando.

After releasing some other games for various consoles, such as the Resident Evil 2 port for the N64, the Midtown Madness series, and Smuggler’s Run, Angel Studios was bought by Take-two in 2003 and renamed Rockstar San Diego. They then moved on to work on such popular titles as Red Dead Revolver, Midnight Club and Grand Theft Auto V.

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

Agent (RockStar) [XBOX PS2 – Cancelled]

Agent is a cancelled action / sandbox style game that was in development in 2003 by Rockstar San Diego / Angel Studios, for the Playstation 2 and Xbox. There are not many info available on the project, as it was never officially announced, but we can assume that it was going to be somehow similar to the GTA series. In the end the game was never finished for unknown reasons, but it’s possible that Rockstar San Diego had to shift resources to finish Red Dead Revolver. Only few screens  and a video from an ealry prototype / tech demo are saved in the gallery below, to preserve its existence.

A new project also called Agent is now in development at Rockstar North for the Playstation 3, but we are not sure if the 2 games are somehow related. As we can read in Wikipedia, Agent by Rockstar Nord will be set in the world of the late 1970s and it will “take players on a paranoid journey into the world of counter-intelligence, espionage, and political assassinations”.

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Red Dead Revolver [Beta – PS2, XBOX]

Red Dead Revolver is a western third-person shooter published by Rockstar Games and developed by Angel Studios, a team that is now known as Rockstar San Diego. The game was released in May 2004, for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, but its development begun 3 years before (2001 / 2002) and the project was originally meant to be published by Capcom.

In 2002, Angel Studios were acquired by Take Two Interactive and Rockstar Games purchased the rights of the title and expanded on it. The original version of Red Dead Revolver had a more arcadish and fast gameplay, while the final one had a more “open world realistic” approach. The “Angel Studios Version” was played more like an “on rails” shooter (but with free movements), instead the “Rockastar San Diego Version” is more like an action adventure.

Chek the trailers below for a comparison. If you played the game and can help us to notice more differences, it would be appreciated!

Thanks to BemaniAK for the contribution!

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Here’s the final version of the game for comparison:

 

Buggy Boogie [N64 – Proto / Cancelled]

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There are just few informations available about this strange project developed by Angel Studios, that at first appeared to be some sort of car-battle game, but then it became something more similar to Mario Kart, before being cancelled.

Thanks to an interview on GamaSutra we can read some more details from one of the original developers:

“When I was working on the Dream Team [at Angel Studios], they wanted us to do this DNA-based driving game called Buggy Boogie. You had these vehicles that would eat other vehicles and adopt their powers and morph. It was really cool. But they would sign three month contracts, and Miyamoto himself would say that he did not want any documents. He would just say, “Find the fun, and I’ll be back in three months to take a look at what you have.”

We went through about three iterations of that. We busted our hump trying different things, but at the end of it, he kept coming back and saying that it wasn’t there, and it wasn’t fun. We were a new company that didn’t know how to make games. After about six or nine months, he came back and said, “You guys have really worked hard, and we see the progress, but we’re not seeing the product. But another opportunity has come up for a fantasy golf game, so why don’t you guys work on that? In three months, we’ll be back. Show us a golf game.”

Even if Buggy Boogie looked like an interesting project, it seems that Nintendo killed it for a reason or another… really a shame. In the few screens and concept arts remained from the game, we can see some of its development changes.

Thanks a lot to Hey Hey for the contribution!

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