Eidos Interactive

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

Tomb Raider: Ascension [Cancelled / Beta – PS3, Xbox 360, PC]

A reboot of Tomb Raider was developed by Crystal Dynamics and released in 2013 to welcoming applaud and incredible reviews. However, it seems that the development process took a rather sharp turn. This new Tomb Raider project was started in early 2009 and was originally meant to be a much more different game than the final one.  Dubbed Tomb Raider: Ascension (not to be confused with the 2007 fan-made movie), its conception was a world away from what gamers got in the end. Taking inspiration from such titles as Resident Evil, ICO and Shadows of the Colossus, Lara’s reboot début was to be filled with giant supernatural enemies, a child companion that followed Lara, horse combat and explorations in a lavish open-world environment.

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Concept art was already released immediately after the initial game announcement which holds lots of things not included in Tomb Raider’s final draft, and the concept lead many people to believe Tomb Raider was going to become something of a horror-genre game. Before the final Tomb Raider 2013 was released, EIDOS published  a promotional Digital BookTomb Raider – The Final Hours” containing images and a video with the lost Ascension prototype:

“The Tomb Raider name never appeared on Guardian of Light and there was a reason – Crystal was saving that for the next project, what was internally known as Tomb Raider 9, or Tomb Raider: Ascension. Obvious biblical references aside, the team led by creative director Tim Longo was asked to come up with a radically different approach to a Lara Croft adventure. And that’s exactly what they did.

In early design meetings the team started thinking about other games that could inspire a new approach. The emotionally rich role-playing game Ico, the survival horror of Resident Evil, and the towering mythical creatures of Shadows of the Colossus all served as early inspiration. In Longo’s first pass at the design Lara Croft teamed up with a 6-year-old girl named Izumi […] as they adventured through a mysterious island inhabited by ghosts and monsters. Izumi would crawl into small places to help the player, thus creating asymmetric gameplay.

Eventually the player would dicover Izumi’s magical ability to manipulate water and interact with the island. After a few months of work the concept was deemed too ethereal and difficult to understand for Tomb Raider. Izumi was excised and at first replaced by a monkey that would accompany Croft on her adventures. When that didn’t work out the kids and animals were replaced by a more menacing presence on the island: colossal monsters.

In this second full pass at the concept design Lara would ride on horseback and battle against these monsters as they hurled trees at her in sequences reminiscent of a God of War game. Further refinement of the colossal monster concept shifted the art direction into the real of horror, with large zombie-like creatures that would roam a fog-soaked island.

What was intended as a confidential focus test from the Nielsen Group soon became public when one of the participants leaked images and details onto the internet during the summer of 2009. A “Rumored Leaked Photos of Tomb Raider Reboot” thread of the Tomb Raider forums quickly amassed some 3,687 posts from fans who expressed shock over a game that was more Resident Evil or Silent Hill than Tomb Raider. Others worried that setting a game entirely on an island abandoned the Indiana Jones-like globetrotting that was a hallmark of the series. […] Ultimately the horror direction was a shocking twist and focus tests confirmed that the team was “moving in the direction of making the greatest art house game that no one would ever play” […]

In the final game plot there are still some nods to the Ascension name, as we can read in Wikipedia:

Escaping the ancient monastery where she is taken by the Oni, Lara hears from Sam that Mathias is going to put her through the “Ascension“, a “fire ritual” to find the next Sun Queen that will burn her to death if it is unsuccessful. […] Lara realizes that the Ascension is not a ceremony to crown a new queen, but rather a ritual that transfers the original Sun Queen’s soul into a new body; the Sun Queen had learned to become effectively immortal by transferring her soul into a young girl’s body each time she grew old.

Below is listed the most significant changes to Tomb Raider in list form: 

Dream Team Basketball [PSX – Cancelled]

Dream Team Basketball is a cancelled sport game that was in development in 1996 by Anvil Incorporated and it would have been published by US Gold / Eidos Interactive for the Playstation. For some reasons the game was never released, but a playable beta version 70% complete was preserved by the Playstation Museum:

The Dream Team concept: a basketball game where you pit the 1996 USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team against other countries. All of America’s top basketball stars are in the game: Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen, …etc. On paper this game sounds like a sure winner. Anvil Incorporated and U.S. Gold Sports through Eidos Interactive were to bring this concept to the PlayStation in time for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

Thanks to Pcloadletter for the contribution! Scan from EGM 82, May 1996

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Thief: Deadly Shadows [Beta – Xbox / PC]

As we can read in Wikipedia, Thief: Deadly Shadows is a stealth game developed by Ion Storm and published by Eidos Interactive in 2004 for Xbox and PC. After Looking Glass Studios, the developer of the original two titles, went out of business in 2000, many former employees moved to Ion Storm Austin. Here they began developing the long-anticipated third part of the series, Deadly Shadows. It is the last game produced by Ion Storm before its demise in February 2005.

The idea originally was that Thief: Deadly Shadows would let you customise difficulty similarly to in System Shock, with you able to tweak how smart the AI was, what your objectives were and so on. It’s a feature which survived until the last betas, but was suddenly cut out of the final game due to the extra work it created for testers. Instead, Thief: Deadly Shadows only has the usual Easy/Normal/Expert skill settings from the older Thief games.

You can get more detail on the cut, as well as RPS co-founder and comics writer Kieron Gillen’s take on the game, in the Unlimited Hyperbole Podcast. If you have more info, screens or videos with beta differences for Thief 3, please let us know in the comments below!

Thanks to Joe Martin for the contribution! 

Abraxas (Fabled Lands MMORPG) [PC – Cancelled]

Abraxas is a cancelled Massive Multiplayer RPG that was in early planning stage at Eidos. The project was originally based on the Fabled Lands series of fantasy gamebooks written by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson, published by Pan Books in the mid 90s. Originally planned as a twelve-book series, only six books were released between 1995 and 1996 before the series was cancelled.

In 1996, the authors decided to use their experience with gamebooks to enter the computer games industry – taking the Fabled Lands series with them.

They started work at Eidos Interactive on an MMO. Eidos was skeptical as to whether an MMO would be financially successful, but was interested enough to set the authors up with a team to research the relevant technology. [Info from Wikipedia]

At Bit Tech we can read in a long article about the project:

When it came to developing the fiction and the overall settings of the MMO though, it was an entirely different story and the groundwork was quickly laid down for adapting Fabled Lands to a new medium – until legal problems reared their heads anyway. Soon, Dave and Jamie were forced to drop the Fabled Lands setting and look at new setting.

“Our publishers told us that our book contract entitled them to 50 percent of our revenue from the game,” says Dave. “They meant our salaries, as Eidos wasn’t going to pay anything to licence a fantasy world when they could just as easily pay us to create one from scratch. Then the publishers said, ‘Okay, not 50 percent, but you have to give us 2% of what you get.’ That was just going to be an irritation, but we decided we’d just come up with a new setting.”

Needing to distance their burgeoning MMO from the Fabled Lands books, Jamie and Dave set about creating a number of new world, one of which became known as Abraxas and Dave describes as being very different from most other fantasy settings […]

The team’s plans for the game were extremely ambitious for the late 90s, as the Abraxas MMO was supposed to include advanced AI that acted as a digital gamesmaster, tailoring the experience for each player.

In the end the game was never released; according to Morris and Thomson, this was because of their own, over-ambitious designs, colleagues who didn’t understand their ideas and the general poor management of game design and development at the time.

“Well, it was all pretty convoluted,” Dave says, a little sadly. “To start with, we had a project manager we’d hired who led a sort of coup! We turned up one day and he told us, ‘The team has decided not to do a fantasy role-playing game. It’s going to be about giant battling robots now.’”

The Abraxas setting is still being developed by the two authors, and may become an interactive e-book for the iPhone and iPad in the future. You can find more info about Fabled Lands and the Abraxas MMORPG at the official Fabled Lands Blog!

Thanks to Robert Seddon for the contribution! Thanks to Jason for the english corrections!

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Deathtrap Dungeon [PSX PC – Beta]

Deathtrap Dungeon is an action game developed by Eidos in 1998 and released for the PlayStation and PC.  Although originally previewed for the gaming press alongside Eidos’ own original Tomb Raider game, Deathtrap Dungeon sat through several years of delays before finally seeing release. [Info from Wikipedia]

Derboo found some early images of the game in a Korean gaming magazine (Gamepia 8/96): in these screens we can notice a character model in red armor which could be an early version of the female player character, an unknown character model and a still from a FMV described as a machine for making humans into monsters, which seems to have been removed from final game.

The female character was changed with a thong leather bikini in the beta, but due to ratings concerns, Eidos gave her some “proper” armor before the game went gold. In some other beta screens, we can see that the game  still looked incomplete, with placeholder models and different rooms layout. If someone could find more info about these or more beta shots, please let us know!

Thanks to Derboo for the contribution!

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