FPS

Guerrilla: Jungle Revolt [Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Swingin’ Ape Studios were a mostly forgotten studio behind the now cult-classic title Metal Arms: Glitch in the System, a third-person shooter published by Vivendi Universal and Sierra Entertainment in late 2003, for Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube. While the game did not sold much, many gamers loved it for its fun gameplay and multiplayer. Around 2004 after Metal Arms was shipped, Swingin Ape Studios proposed many different projects to publishers: Metal Arms 2, a new SWAT (Police Quest), a GI-Joe tie-in, and a game called “Guerrilla: Jungle Revolt”, to be developed as an exclusive launch title for Microsoft’s soon-to-be released Xbox 360.

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All of these projects were never released, but a few details were shared online thanks to former Swingin Ape developers. Guerrilla: Jungle Revolt was initially conceived as a Mad Max inspired post-apocalyptic coop shooter, but when the team approached Electronic Arts to pitch the project they suggested to change it into a military shooter set on an island, somehow similar to Far Cry. EA knew the talent of the studio and maybe they were interested in publishing Guerrilla as a new IP to contrast Crytek / Ubisoft FPS series.

Swingin’ Ape Studios re-worked their game pitch as suggested by EA, but then proposed it to Microsoft instead. The company though to make Guerrilla an important launch title for their “Xbox 2”, along with other games such as Call of Duty 2, Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero and Quake 4.

Swingin Ape had already worked on an early prototype for Guerrilla using their original Xbox dev-kits: it was playable in local multiplayer on four linked Xbox consoles. This proto was enough to demonstrate basic gameplay mechanics with cooperative on-foot and vehicle combat against AI, but Guerrilla’s concept was much more than a simple FPS.

They planned a free-roaming set of islands, with base-building elements, squad commands and seamless integration of online play. We can imagine Guerrilla’s gameplay as a small open-world in the vein of Just Cause, where you could create your own military base, explore the environment to find enemies and attack their own camps. From slides used to pitch the project to Microsoft we can read more details about their idea:

  • Free roaming access to the 3 islands of Panuba
  • Access grows wider as the game progresses
  • Panuba has diverse regions: cities, jungles, dunes, snowy peaks, ruins, volcanic plains
  • Interactive and alive with islanders walking / driving around, birds reacting to gunshots, destructible environments, etc.
  • Up to 3 Live players may seamlessly join another player’s campaign on-the-fly
  • Coop players may bring their squads with them
  • Other players may became mercenaries, free to roam the island and play against the main player
  • Dozens of vehicles available on ground, water and in air
  • Acquire vehicles trough base buildings, by stealing or by earning

Microsoft offered to Swingin Ape 3 months of funds to develop a Guerrilla prototype on the Xbox 360, as an initial contract to test its potential. While the team was excited for this opportunity, something unexpected happened: Blizzard proposed them to work on their StarCraft: Ghost project, recently removed from its original team (Nihilistic Software).

In the end accepting Blizzard offer was their best option, as they were willing to fund a few years of development for StarCraft: Ghost, compared to just 3 months for Microsoft on the Guerrilla prototype (without knowing what could happen next). Guerrilla was then halted, to focus on the new collaboration with Blizzard.

The rest is history: While work on StarCraft: Ghost proceeded, in May 2005 Blizzard Entertainment decided to fully acquire Swingin’ Ape for their talent. After a while StarCraft: Ghost was also put on indefinite hold and never completed, while the Swingin Ape team became officially part of Blizzard, working on such projects as World of Warcraft.

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Die Hard 64 [N64 – Cancelled]

Becoming a legendary lost game after unconfirmed rumors of screenshots appearing in gaming magazines, Die Hard 64 was one of three Nintendo 64 projects in development by Bits Studios, along with RiQa and Thieves World. Unfortunately, none of them ever saw the light of day on the 64-bit console. Founded in the early ‘90s, Bits Studios released a series of Game Boy and Super Nintendo games, developing a good relationship with Nintendo along the way that lead to a couple of collaboration projects (R-Type DX and Warlocked, published by Nintendo on the Game Boy Color). This relationship with Nintendo blossomed a trilogy of exclusive games conceived for the Nintendo 64.

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Of this trilogy, only RiQa was a prominent title at E3 1999, as Die Hard 64 and Thieves World were never officially announced. One of the first mentions of a Die Hard tie-in for Nintendo 64 was published in June 1999 by IGN when they wrote about its publisher:

“[…] Fox Interactive is working on Die Hard 64. In unleashing your cash-making movie machine into the world of videogames, you can’t make the mistake of skipping a console like the N64 and it seems that the folks behind the movie have realized this fact. While the rumor is still brewing, several sources, both stateside and overseas are reporting that a Die Hard project is in the works at Fox Interactive and that the game is scheduled for an early 2000 release.”

Nothing more was said about the project until March 2000 when IGN contacted the publisher again to ask about the game:

“Interested to know what had become of Die Hard 64, we contacted Fox Interactive today and a company representative briefly theorized about the title with us. “The game is just a rumor,” said the Fox spokesperson, “and to be honest with you, I don’t see it coming to fruition.” While this is not a solid confirmation of the game’s termination one way or the other, it definitely doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The fact of the matter is that Fox Interactive’s first foray into Nintendo 64 development, namely Fox Sports College Hoops ’99, backed by an impressive amount of money, turned to disaster when the game failed to sell. And with the industry’s insistence that the 64-bit console is a “dying system,” it isn’t a stretch to conclude that the publisher simply canned the game after determining that the risks involved were not worth any possible profits to be made.”

IGN’s assumption about the fate of the game were quite spot-on and in May 2001 Fox Interactive officially announced “Die Hard: Next Generation”, planned for Nintendo GameCube and developed by Bits Studios. The title was then released as “Die Hard: Vendetta” in 2002 for GameCube, PS2 and Xbox.

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The mystery remains (at least until a few years ago): Was Die Hard 64 really in development for Nintendo 64? Was any FPS ever made by Bits Studios on the cartridge-based hardware? While even some former Bits Studios developers did not know about the project (as seen in our interview with Frederic Villain in our book), in 2016 we were able to get in contact with a few people that worked directly on the game, to find out the truth.

We should start this investigation with another IGN article posted in May 2002, where they were able to interview Bits Studios’ CEO Foo Katan and Die Hard: Vendetta producer Mario Aguera, revealing some more details:

“In the past couple of years we have kept a relatively low profile as we have been developing new and existing technologies to make use of the hardware available at our disposal today. Die Hard: Vendetta will justify our hard work in that time. […] we’ve always had a close relationship with Nintendo here at Bits and they first approached us about Project Dolphin in the autumn of 1999. At that point it was purely the hardware specs and they had some demonstrations running through software emulation. We originally started designing the game when the N64 was out, but in Spring 2000 we decided to start our design again for the GameCube. For the first year we were just working with the emulator, hoping that Nintendo would deliver on their promises. Needless to say they did.”

The early Nintendo 64 design for the game started out as an original IP titled “Muzzle Velocity”, a first person shooter in which players would take the role of Jack, a member of a SWAT team during a mission in Los Angeles. In Muzzle Velocity original storyline, the crime wave in LA is out of control and the LAPD cannot stop it on its own. Jack was been sent by Bert, his SWAT leader, to supply the LAPD with backup and neutralize the situation. During the first mission of the game, a bomb detonated in a Hi-Fi store downtown. The owner was refusing to up his “fire insurance” to the gangsters, who in return wrecked his shop. The gangsters have then gone on a looting spree in the surrounding shops. The main mission objectives would have been to clear the area of gangster and minimize innocent casualties.muzzle-velocity-die-hard64-early-concept

Muzzle Velocity’s gameplay and controls would have been similar to other classic N64 FPS games, such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. Players’ mission objectives in this first level were given by Bert and once in control, they would have been free to move Jack around downtown LA. There would be a few LAPD cops and civilians running around the levels, either running from the fight, defeating bad guys or simply dodging bullets. The buildings in the area would have been mostly shut up, but some would have their shutters half way down, allowing Jack to enter them by crouching into the window; the environment was meant to be interactive and it could have been damaged by players during shootouts. While Jack would start the first mission with a 9mm pistol and SWAT armor, any weapon used by the gangsters could be picked up, such as shotguns and baseball bats.

Muzzle Velocity did not last long once Bits Studios partnered with Fox Interactive to collaborate on a new project. It’s possible that the deal was overseen by Gary Sheinwald, former Bits Studios Development Manager who left to work at Fox as Senior Producer from 1995 to 2001. Because of the partnership with Fox, Muzzle Velocity had to be tied with a movie and initially Speed 2 was proposed.

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Dubbed Speed 2: Cruise Control, the game would have been primarily set on a boat, though a bus level was also conceived as a nod to the original film. The game was then planned to release in January 1999 for Nintendo 64 and PC. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you view it) the movie was a huge failure when it released and both companies decided to switch the project once more to another, more successful IP: Die Hard. As an interesting note, the original script for Speed 2 was meant to be Die Hard 3 (“Die Hard with a Vengeance”, codenamed “Troubleshooter”) in a strange case of film development foreshadowing the game development process.

Still being developed as a Nintendo 64 game and using the new TWED engine created by Nathanael Presson and Frederic Villain, a lot of effort was put into creating Die Hard 64. The initial plan was overly ambitious, with 30 or 40 missions planned, but once Steven Goodwin took over as the new lead programmer and explained to the producers how many years they would need to achieve such a huge game, the number was heavily cut down. Only a handful of levels were developed on the Nintendo 64 before the switch to the GameCube, but they still had a good prototype with the minimal gameplay available. This Die Hard 64 prototype was leaked online in August 2017 on the Assembler Games Forum.

Being a N64 game, a 4 player deathmatch mode was also devised, to keep in line with Rare’s multiplayer masterpieces. While years passed, in early 2000 Bits Studios found itself in some issues when RiQa was cancelled and the N64’s life cycle reached its end. Neither Die Hard 64 nor Thieves World were finished yet and it was unlikely that many people would buy a N64 game once they were, as the new generation of consoles were almost out. The studio decided to move their last N64 games to GameCube and significantly upgrade the TWED engine so they could push the tech into the next gen hardware.

Danny Carr took over design duties for the GameCube version and had a new vision for a cinematic game that felt and played like a film, probably preceding the new generation of linear shooters that became popular many years later. Development of the game still took a while to be completed: Carr left the studio in late 2001 and Mario Aguera took the lead. Aguera wanted to add many interesting elements he saw in other (at the time) successful games and movies into the design, a proposal that would lengthen development time even more. For example, the sneak/action modes were inspired by Thief, while the “bullet time” mechanic was taken from The Matrix.

In the end Die Hard took so much time to be released that it looked like Bits Studios copied the “bullet time” mechanic from Max Payne, albeit it was implemented in early prototypes before the release of Remedy’s game. When finally published in 2002, Die Hard: Vendetta was much different from what the team originally conceived in late ‘90s and it only received average reviews.

As it always happens in these cases, we can only dream of an alternate reality where Die Hard 64 was successfully completed and became another masterpiece for our beloved Nintendo 64.

Original Die Hard 64 article published in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play” in 2016, thanks to Amhed for proofreading.

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Showdown: Scorpion [PC – Cancelled]

Showdown: Scorpion is a cancelled FPS in development around 2005 by B-Cool Interactive, planned to be published by Akella for PC in 2007. It was set in a cyberpunk future (the music you can hear in one of the trailers is from Ghost in the Shell), where you could use guns, technology and even paranormal skills to fight your way against sci-fi soldiers and zombie-alike monsters.

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IGN played the game at E3 2007:

“Tucked away on the E3 showroom floor was Scorpion: Showdown, a first-person shooter from Akella. Set in the 2040s, this game puts you behind the sights of about 15 weapons and sets you lose on a land filled with bats, zombies, beasts and soldiers. You’ll get updates on the mission from a woman named Anna, but other than her, you’re on your own.

We got to take Scorpion through a flooded warehouse today, and as we ducked beneath scaffolding and blasted man-eating zombies, it was clear Akella was going for a jump-out -and-scare-you feel. Filled with dark corners and creepy monsters, there were plenty of opportunities to crap your pants, but you could always arm your night-vision goggles or flashlight.”

.. and also GameSpot were able to play the same demo:

“Showdown: Scorpion seems to be a fairly straight-ahead shooter. There are supposedly two methods to the madness here: Either you can proceed stealthily and attack your enemies with silenced weapons, or you can go to town with a number of modern and futuristic weapons if you wish to just blow some stuff up.

The weapons here are, at least in the section that we saw, a fairly normal group of pistols and machine guns, including a slightly advanced model of the venerable AK assault rifle family. There are going to be some wackier weapons on hand, though, such as the quote-unquote “gravity gun,” which shoots out a ball of gravity that violently repels anyone near the center of the explosion away from it. In addition, the genetic experimentation that was performed on you will let you enter a bullet-time state to slow down your enemies, a la Max Payne, or even in some cases psychically dominate your enemies and force them to fight for you.”

This was meant to be B-Cool’s first project, but it seems it was too much for a small team. In the end Showdown: Scorpion was cancelled. Some models were later reused for Scorpion: Disfigured, which was a different game despite a similar title and look. B-Cool was closed in 2009, with many more canned projects such as a “Scorpion” sequel, “Metro-3” (third game in The Stalin Subway series for Buka) and “La Guerilla 2040”.

Thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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The Unseelie [PC – Cancelled]

In 2004 Australian developer KaWow! started working on a first-person shooter called The Unseelie, that mixed horror with adventure elements. The game told a storyline about an old haunted forest and a village trapped in time. It was planned to be published by Octagon in 2005, but sadly the project was cancelled for unknown reasons.

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KaWow! were founded in 1997, helping other studios with the development of some games for PC and consoles, such as GORE: The Ultimate Soldier and other projects for television multimedia integration, LAN and Internet multiplayer first person games.

The Unseelie’s story still stand out today and is a quite haunting and mysterious one:

“In a chilly November evening, Damian Logan is driving his car on the countryside, crossing a dark Irish forest, when suddenly a child-like figure appears on the road. Trying to avoid an accident, Damian`s car gets out of control and crashing into a nearby tree.

Upon awakening he stumbles into an ancient forest, called “Tir-Na-Bràch-Marbh” – Land of the Eternal Death. Wandering lost deeper and deeper into the woodlands, he discovers stones, buried in the shape of a septagram, with a source of light shining from its center.

Walking towards it, the light is bright and dazzling, but suddenly dimming – plunging the forest in absolute blackness. Strange voices begin whispering from left and right, near and far….

As the story unfolds, we learn that Damian is trapped in a world between the living and the dead. The dark haunted forest has tangled and enclosed a 17th century Irish village, severing its contact with the rest of the world and stopping time from passing.

In order to escape and return home, the protagonist has to battle “The Unseelie” (pronounced “Un SHEE Lee”), an unblessed cursed fairy race, based on Celtic mythology.

By defeating all seven demon lords, Damien would obtain certain ritualistic objects which allowed him to escape the clutches of Lord Finvarra, the King of the Dead, by opening a portal to his reality and returning home.”

To help during your quest you would be able to use an arsenal of roughly 30 different weapons, plus the possibility of crafting your own weapons from materials found in the game. By battling foes like Banshees, Goblins, Demons, Elementals and Ghosts, new experience points were collected to unlock skills and upgrade weapons.

The Unseelie is a great game to work with because of the way it uniquely combines Celtic mythos with popular first-person gameplay,” said Lloyd Melnick, Co-Founder of publisher Octagon.

Over the course of your journey, protagonist Damien would have gained access to a wide range of powers and attacks related to Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Wood, Metal and Spirit. Some monsters were resistant against physical attacks and could only be beaten with certain magic.

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The adventure-aspect of the game focused on players using elemental powers to solve many puzzles on the way through the 7 levels of the three-dimensional environment, generated by their homemade AMP II engine, which offered real-time lighting, matrix shading, high-resolution textures and bump mapping.

We used all of the visually stunning rendering techniques of our engine and combined them with the sinister forest setting of Celtic legend and some engaging game play design to make something that makes you want to play, but keeps you looking over your shoulder,explained Steve Woodgate, who was KaWoW! CEO until 2016 and is currently managing director of Coronum Pty Ltd.

It is unclear what happened to the studio. Since Mr. Woodgate left KaWoW! in 2016 we can assume they were active at least until that date, even though no other game seems to have been released since the cancellation of The Unseelie.

The company’s old website (www.kawow.com) is unreachable, and what remains today are only screenshots, a few articles splattered across the web and a couple of videos showing in-game footage. This was probably from the beginning of the game, when Damien escapes his crashed vehicle and discovers a stone-circle with a beam of light in the middle, showing: “Some fairy tales were never meant to be told…“.

Article by Niko, thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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Cleric (Plutonium Games) [PC – Cancelled]

Cleric is a cancelled game that was in development for PC by Texas based studio Plutonium Games, and from what we have found, this could have been a quite unique and interesting project. It was a First Person Survival Horror (game) mixed with puzzle elements, action and role playing.

There were plans to release it around the month of December in 2003 but that didn’t happen. On April 14 in 2004  it was announced it was put on indefinite hiatus or cancelled altogether according to a post on the main website of Plutonium Games. There were hints that they had difficulties finding a publisher for their game:

“After a long trip, it looks as if Cleric may not be made for a long time to come, if ever. I want to thank everyone that has supported us over the years. This site will remain up as will the forums. I have recently (3 months ago) taken a job with another studio (Destineer Studios) as a 3D Artist on their tactical shooter project “Close Combat – Marines: First to Fight“. Who knows? Maybe a few years down the road, I’ll get the opportunity to start Plutonium Games back up again. Until then, I’ll be building up my portfolio & experience with Destineer. Thanks again for all the great support!”

The website isn’t up anymore, and no more information can be found about Plutonium Games anywhere on the internet, so we assume the company no longer exists.

As for more information pertaining to how the game would have turned out, here’s a brief story and design summary. Cleric’s story is set in 16th century Russia and the dead are walking again. Women are disappearing and it is up to Reverend Father Aronos Schuler (the main character of the game) to investigate this mystery and to put an end to the plight of the undead. What was interesting is regardless of his position, he was meant to be a character of little faith and the story would have developed around the mystery of the undead of course but also of the Reverend’s internal struggles. Multiple path scenarios were considered with multiple endings as well depending on the player’s actions throughout the game.

Players would have had 2 different holy symbols to use for their main weapons. These would have given a series of different abilities like flying, sensing danger, re-animating the dead, healing and summoning, to list a few. Some traditional weapons like swords, maces and old muskets would have also been weapons the Reverend could find during his travels. Fore more story and gameplay details, you can check an old Gamespot preview and their image gallery.

Judging from the video, you can tell the focus wasn’t exactly just about shooting since the musket would need reloading after every shot. You have a symbol that repels the undead used like a holy cross and if held long enough, they start to catch fire. It seems the mission was to escort a woman to a shelter whilst protecting her from the undead. Later in the video the reverend approaches a statue and acquires a miracle power that lets him summon lightning to strike the undead!

Lastly, for the last bit of information we have for Cleric, there’s a very interesting interview with CEO/Lead Designer Matthew Doyle of Plutonium Games.

If Cleric had not been cancelled, we believe it could have been remembered as quite the cult classic of its time.

Article by Alex Bérubé

Thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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