Black Isle Studios

Baldur’s Gate 3: The Black Hound [Cancelled – PC]

Black Isle Studios, a divison of Interplay, was an RPG power-house in the late 90’s, being responsible for developing Fallout 1 & 2, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale 1 & 2, as well as publishing BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate games. Sadly, it also became known for its cancelled games, such as Torn, Stonekeep II, Fallout 3 “Van Buren” and, the subject of this article, The Black Hound.

First announced in 2001 and commonly known as Baldur’s Gate III: The Black Hound, the game actually bears no relation to the plot, location or characters of the previous Baldur’s Gate game. It wouldn’t even be developed by BioWare, or use the famous Infinity Engine. In fact, the name “Baldur’s Gate III” was a legal trick, as during its development Interplay lost the Dungeons & Dragons license to Atari but could still develop D&D games under the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale brands.

Under code names like “FR6” and “Project Jefferson“, The Black Hound began as its own game in late 2000, being developed by a small team as a side project. Full development would only begin in 2002, after Icewind Dale 2 was released. The team was led by Josh Sawyer, a History Major, and while it would still use the AD&D ruleset and be set in Forgotten Realms (like Baldur’s Gate), it would be a more grounded, low-level adventure, with a heavier focus on role-playing.

What is known of the original plot is that you would be set in the Dalelands region of Forgotten Realms. There you would create a new character – not a child of gods or special in any way – that would run into the eponymous black hound being fiercely hunted by a cleric named May Farrow. More than just a mere animal, the hound was a physical manifestation of her guilt for allowing her husband to die and then failing to properly resurrect him. She would kill the dog, but it’s spirit would bound to you, allowing you to see and interact with the guilt of others. The cleric would then begin to hunt you as well, and the game would be centered on your journey to understand what happened to you, interacting with factions like the Archenriders, the Church of Lathander and the Red Wizards of Thay, until eventually confronting May Farrow’s husband – now a powerful abomination which feeds from guilt.

Not much is know about the gameplay, other than it would be based on the previous Infinity Engine games – with multiple party members and real-time-with-pause combat – but updated to the recently released D&D 3rd Edition ruleset. Karma would be a central part of the game, as players would be able to explore the game’s world in a non-linear way, but would face the consequences of their actions, including failed and incomplete quests. To ensure this, a robust reputation system was devised, which would track your relationship with individual factions and locations, as well as your overall fame/infamy.

Thinking the Infinity Engine to be overused and inspired by the Aurora Engine that BioWare had developed for Neverwinter Nights, Black Isle decided to create a new engine as well, code named the Ferguson Engine. This new engine would be built from the ground with the D&D ruleset in mind and would allow for 3D character models, instead of Infinity Engine’s sprites. Unfortunately, the only two games designed with said engine were The Black Hound and the original Fallout 3 (codenamed Van Buren), and both never saw the light of day. Still, a tech demo of Van Buren was leaked in 2007, allowing curious souls to play a bit and imagine how these games would feel.

While there were plans for a full trilogy of games, The Black Hound was cancelled in 2003, reportedly about 80% complete, when Interplay lost the rights to the Baldur’s Gate brand as well and could not release a D&D RPG anymore. Suffering from financial issues, Interplay would close the Black Isle Studios shortly after.

However, that was not the end of The Black Hound. Black Isle Studios` former manager, Feargus Urquhart, gathered a few key developers, such as Josh Sawyer, Chris Avellone, Chris Parker, Darren Monahan and Chris Jones and founded a new studio: Obsidian Entertainment.

Focused on RPGs, Obsidian would then develop titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas and Dungeon Siege 3. Neverwinter Nights 2 came with a toolset for creating modules and in 2007 Sawyer began using them to work on a personal project: a The Black Hound module. He posted about the project for a few years, sharing screenshots and discussing his views on mechanics such a damage resistance, feats and classes, but the module was never finished.

Another attempt at resurrecting the game would occur in 2008, when Obsidian pitched Baldur’s Gate III to Atari, holder of the Dungeons & Dragons license at the time. Negotiations went far and designers worked for months on the project, but Atari was suffering financially, didn’t have the money required and the game was abandoned as well. In September 2012 Obsidian would crowdfund a spiritual successor the Infinity Engine games, a 2D isometric RPG titled Pillars of Eternity. The Kickstarter campaign was a success, raising $4,163,208 dollars, and the game was eventually released in March 2015 to critical acclaim.

While Pillars of Eternity isn’t The Black Hound nor uses the D&D ruleset, it has Josh Sawyer as its director and features many similarities, being a party-based RPG with real-time-with-pause combat system and sporting a distinct visual style that combines 2D backgrounds with 3D character models. It also featured a nice Easter Egg to the days of Black Isle Studios, with one of the cities featuring an inn named The Black Hound.

Meanwhile, Trent Oster, a former BioWare employee, founded a company named Beamdog and developed enhanced editions of the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games, adding features such as widescreen support and tablet ports. After the success of the re-releases, the company began working on Siege of Dragonspear, an expansion to Baldur’s Gate, and mentioned many times their ambition of one day developing Baldur’s Gate 3.

In 2019 a new version of Baldur’s Gate III was formally revealed both for Microsoft Windows and Google’s Stadia, developed by Larian Studios (Divinity series). We can assume this version of BG3 will not be related in any way to the cancelled ones.

Article by Felipe Pepe, originally published in our book Video Games You Will Never Play.

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Project V13 (Strategy RPG Version) [PC – Cancelled]

Project V13 was the codename originally used for Interplay‘s original attempt at creating Fallout Online, an overly-ambitious MMO that was initially in development in 2006 by Engage Games Online, then by Micro Forté and in the end by Masthead Studios, before to be finally cancelled.

The original Project V13 MMO was canned after a lengthy court case with Bethesda as Interplay lost the rights to make the MMO using the Fallout IP. Interplay could have probably tried to rework their MMO into an original IP, but we can assume they understood it would have been difficult to successfully develop and complete a quality MMO without enough money and without a recognized IP to work with. That’s when they decided to redesign their game as a classic isometric turn-based strategy RPG using a new setting, but still similar to the original two Fallout games. This kind of project is something they could have easily completed with way less money, using their previous experience on strategy RPGs.

To work on this second version of Project V13 Interplay decided to reconstitute the previously closed Black Isle Studios, using their fame to hype up the game, even if only Mark O’Green and Chris Taylor were back from the original team. In december 2012 Interplay and Black Isle opened a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to create a prototype of their new strategy RPG, raising slightly over $6000.

Donating to the campaign gained access to the Black Isle Forums on which they posted updates and pieces of concept art from the game, as well as a picture of the tabletop prototype that they were using to test out the rules for the digital game.

Here’s the original details available on the Black Isle website / crowdfunding campaign:

“Project V13 (PV13) is the first planned Black Isle Studios release in years, a post-apocalyptic strategy RPG. You will create a character to represent yourself within the game world. Your character will be a hardy adventurer from a variety of backgrounds; one of the last remaining humans, a new breed mutant, or a technologically advanced cyborg. The choice is yours.

Once you have determined your character’s background, you will found your “colony”. From a deserted city, a broken down military base, or even the ruins of an oil pumping station, the colony will be yours to rebuild and control. Attract non-player characters for guards, peons, scientists, and other activities. Or, if you are the type that so desires, shanghai the NPCs. Put them to work rebuilding your society and improving your colony.

Meanwhile, you will experience grand adventures to gather the resources and ancient technologies as well as fight back the enemy hordes. Your character will gain experience, advance skills, learn new talents and gain access to incredibly powerful equipment. Or die trying.

Explore the world, meet friends, and fight your neighbors for control of resources. PV13 will be your chance to rebuild a devastated world.

Project V13 cancelled Black Isle second SRPG

About the Team

We’re an experienced team of game developers. We love the post-apocalyptic genre and want to do something exciting with it. PV13 has been in development for years, but we’ve had to make some major changes recently. We believe the changes are for the better and we’re excited about working on this new iteration of PV13.

We Need Help

But we can’t do it alone. We need to raise money to put together a prototype. We need more developers and staff. This is a big world we’re developing.

The prototype will be a “proof of concept“. It won’t have the entire world or a finished game. We’ve got some great ideas, but they haven’t been tested in the crucible of actual play. We need time and money. We’ll have most, if not all, systems in the proof of concept. We’ll be able to run around the world, interacting with NPCs and objects, basic combat, building and worker management, and test the other core gameplay mechanics.

We can then use this prototype to raise the additional funds necessary to complete the game.

Our backers will have immediate access to a private forum, where you will be able to interact with the developers. You’ll have the earliest possible access to the friends and family beta test towards the end of development. You will be able to influence the game’s ultimate direction by providing valuable feedback.

Sounds great, but what will you do with my money?

We have been working hard behind the scenes to resume operations as Black Isle Studios. Since we are no longer constrained by licensing issues, we have the opportunity to build a new IP from the ground up and there is a lot more latitude to unleash our creativity, try some new ideas and even incorporate your suggestions. Our goal at this stage is threefold: 1) prove to management that you want Black Isle Studios resurrected – and all the history and tradition of excellence that goes with it; 2) to continue to staff up BIS and complete our PV13 game design; and 3) to develop a tech demo/ proof of concept for our design that will open the doors to additional funding.”

Unfortunately feedback on this new project was not very good, only hardcore fans of Black Isle and old-school strategy RPGs supported the crowdfunding campaign, it was not enough to really develop a playable prototype and raise more funds. Interplay quietly removed any references to Project V13 from their website, the supporters’ Forum were closed down sometime later and there are no official statements on what happened to it.

As wrote by machiavalium on Reddit:

“After seeing it and realizing it was months past the deadline, I decided to check it out again and see where the project stood. It hasn’t changed much at all, in fact the ability to donate was still up and running until August 15th, 2014, eight months past the original deadline and two months past the Forum deadline. They ended with only $6,630 (Campaign Successful!), with donations trickling in once every couple months according to their feed.

They haven’t provided public updates since January 3rd, despite continuing to take donations for another eight months. Did anyone around here contribute? Has anyone heard any news? Or was it really just a shady cash-grab by Black Isle/Interplay?”

Only a few concept arts and a photo from the tabletop test-game remains to remember this unreleased project. On September 2016 Interplay sold off all their remaining intellectual properties and video game assets, ending their long troubled existence.

Thanks to True Patrician for the contribution!

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Fallout 3 [X360/PS3/PC – Beta & Unused Stuff]

Fallout 3 is a action RPG developed by Bethesda Game Studios in 2008, for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. As we can read on Wikipedia, the F3 project was initially under development by Black Isle Studios, a studio owned by Interplay Entertainment, under the working title Fallout 3: Van Buren.

When Interplay went bankrupt and closed down Black Isle Studios before the game could be completed, the license to develop Fallout 3 was sold for a $1,175,000 minimum guaranteed advance against royalties to Bethesda Softworks, a studio primarily known for the The Elder Scrolls series.

Bethesda’s Fallout 3 however, was developed from scratch, using neither Van Buren code, nor any other materials created by Black Isle Studios.

In the released game there are still many unused items, weapons and perks, while in some early videos we can notice various beta locations and characters. You can find the full list of unused items at Fallout Wikia!

The following YouTube videos show cut content and development content from when fallout 3 and its DLC was in development. Very interesting stuff; almost all of the cut content can be accessed on the PC version and the beta tesla cannon can be found in the broken steel DLC and used on all ports of fallout 3 too.

Thanks to DCodes7 for the contribution!

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Black Isle’s Torn [PC – Cancelled]

Black Isle’s Torn is a computer role-playing game developed for Windows by Black Isle Studios, announced on March 2001 and cancelled in July of that year. The game was to use a modified version of the SPECIAL role-playing system, which had been implemented in the Fallout series.

Developed on various editions of the Lithtech engine, Torn possessed features unseen in previous Black Isle Studios games, such as 3D graphics and real-time camera movement.

In July 2001, after circulation of rumors, Torn was officially cancelled.Following the incident, fifty-six members of Black Isle Studios’ staff were laid off. The ultimate reason for Torn’s cancellation was eventually revealed by Feargus Urquhart:

“I don’t know if we ever released an official reason on why [Torn] was canceled, but in a nutshell, the game was canceled because it was not going to be done in time to get Interplay the revenue the company needed to continue operations. That sounds like it was all Interplay’s fault, but that’s really not the case. The project was not going well and continued to be an ongoing challenge.”

The delays were caused by numerous engine upgrades and large problems with pathfinding, due to the team’s inexperience with 3D engines. [Infos from Wikipedia]

Thanks to Celine for the contribution!

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Fallout 3: Van Buren [PC – Cancelled]

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Fallout 3 was initially under development by Black Isle Studios, a studio owned by Interplay Entertainment, under the working title Van Buren. Van Buren was set to carry on the Fallout series, following Fallout 2, prior to being cancelled. Interplay Entertainment went bankrupt and closed down Black Isle Studios before the game could be completed, and the license to develop Fallout 3 was sold for