The game was officially revealed in May 2001 by EA and showed at E3. You would play as Lt. Nakamuri who could command up to 4 marines (from a pool of 12), all of which had their own personalities and skills. IGN was able to see the game in action and wrote:
Aliens: Colonial Marines pits players in a brand new story that follows the second movie in the series, Aliens. In short, the game begins as your ship discovers a drifting marine space ship floating far too close to a powerful sun that’s pulling it in at a rapid pace. Your team boards the seemingly empty ship, and then you discover a team of rogue scavengers has taken over the ship, hoping to steal equipment, food and resources of any kind. You also discover that aliens are onboard, and killing off the scavengers. As you fight off aliens and find the pilot cabin, you must redirect the vessel before it crashes into the sun.
In one of the early scenes in the game, you confront the alien queen in her egg chamber. She is laying hundreds of alien eggs, and when she notices you, she breaks off from her birthing carapace, and begins chasing you through the ship.
It is a squad-based game in which players can determine the shape of their squad, by simply pressing a button. There are several different configurations, among them a few shaped in a square, a dome, and a triangle, and the squad walks with you and protects you from rogue alien attacks.
The game is remarkable similar to Alien Resurrection on the PlayStation in its pace and look. Players don’t zip around the game like a standard FPS. Instead, you walk around, paced and are constantly on the lookout for alien attacks, which run out of different corridors in front and behind you when you least expect it. Many aspects of the movies have been incorporated into this game, including set design and sound. As you walk through the corridors, knocked out humans, incased in alien goo are strung up along the walls, some dead, and some still living. You can actually save the live ones, who will then join your squad. They will stay with you throughout the game, unless you are unlucky, in which instance they bear little baby aliens from their chest. Then you’re in trouble. (…)
The game moves a slow framerate right now, but the controls were imminently better than in Alien Resurrection, with quick response and rapid turnaround times. I was glad to finally play a game that played like the movies, and that is also good. Now they just have to speed the game up to 60 fps, speed up and tune the controls and work story-based scripts into the game, hopefully like in Half-Life of Red Faction, and they’ll have a hit on their hands.
Initially scheduled for a release in Fall of 2001, the title was pushed back to a release somewhere in Spring of 2002 and then for November of the same year, before being put on-hold by EA in May 2002. It was officially cancelled in October 2002 with EA citing that “there were no plans to pick up its development in the future”. The project was far from complete but no reason were given about why it was cancelled back then. In October 2018, Wumpagem got an interview from former Game Director Joel Goodsell. He explained briefly that Aliens: Colonial Marines was cancelled for technical issues:
Check Six also had a contract for an Alien Colonial Marines game being worked on simultaneously with Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly. The game had some amazing lighting – on the order of what we see in Alien: Isolation or Dead Space – way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, performance and production issues killed that title.
I was a junior programmer for a short period of time on the project. When they were doing the concept, there were other kinds of brand new Xenomorphs and you would have to fight them in the game. Check Six was just too small of a company to make a game as big as Colonial Marines. Spyro: Enter the Dragon was basically funding the game. – Jamien McBride
I was a graphics artist at Check Six and did some work on Aliens and Spyro. I left after a couple of months because of how stressful the work schedule was. The codebase was very difficult to work in. – Franck de Girolami
Check Six got a deal with Maya and they were told to write a SDK for Maya so people can write games. When I started work, I was told to work on Aliens Colonial Marines instead of the SDK. I told the team at Check Six that it was terrible and broken and it needed to be documented so people could work on it. This caused some issues with Maya as four companies bought the SDK and returned it as it wasn’t documented. It was 70% done and the 70% that was, was terrible, slow, buggy and it crashed all the time.
One time, Check Six went to Fox with a DVD they’d burnt. It was a sequence showing the Queen and it worked perfectly prior to the visit. When they showed them the video, the Queen appeared but she was half faded. An explosion occurred which was faded because the shaders were buggy.
The last time they went to Fox, they burnt another DVD of the intro video which worked fine before that. When they showed Fox, the video plays and the game just crashes. You could make out a human character on the screen but the textures weren’t loading and it was about to have some dialogue when the video crashed. This was a surprise to Fox as they’d visited Check Six before and thought the game was looking great. It was at this point, Fox just cancelled the project altogether. – Clancy John Imislund
According to some developers, the game was broken into levels and was mission-based. There were three main acts in the game, and each one was made up of about seven levels. The first act took place on the USS Sulaco. It was hinted that the final act would take place on the aliens’ home planet. There were flamethrowers, pulse rifles with grenade-launcher attachments, and the shoulder-mounted smart gun. As for the aliens, alongside Facehuggers, Chestbursters, Warriors and Praetorians, new types were planned.
Although not related, it is worth mentionning that the second Aliens: Colonial Marines game, this time published by SEGA and initially made by Gearbox Software, also went into development hell as it was announced too soon, in December 2006. Gearbox worked briefly on it until the beginning of 2008 before being focus on the first Borderlands, which was itself modified from its initial form, before SEGA temporarly put on-hold the project in 2009 because of the economical crisis. The development was re-launched in the end of 2010 with TimeGate Studios as the main developer.
Return to the West that never was in this genre-blending total conversion for Unreal Tournament 2004. Equipped with an array of steam-powered weaponry, acrobatic skills, and mystic Spirit Powers only you stand against a ruthless, mechanized foe. A self-styled “steampunk fantasy-western,” Damnation stands apart, providing the gaming community with not only fresh, new gameplay, but an untapped world to explore as well. Damnation is a new breed of gaming experience. As a first/3rd person action/adventure title, Damnation’s gameplay is unprecedented. Combining the immersion and precision-gunplay of a traditional first-person shooter like Call of Duty with the navigational puzzle design of 3rd-person adventure titles like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Damnation is a new paradigm in genre-blending gameplay.
In September 2005, the team wrote a postmortem on BeyondUnreal about what was going to be their next plan about the project:
We sit here, now, in the newly formed office of Blue Omega Entertainment and look forward to starting full production of the retail version of Damnation in just over a month. The lessons we learned from the prototype have strongly shaped the structure of this new development studio. Since our Grand Finals submission, we have completely stopped development of the mod. We have spent the last four months doing nothing but preproduction. We have meticulously planned out our design docs, production pipelines, and schedule. Everything that went wrong with the prototype has been addressed and reworked from the ground up.
Most prototypes aren’t as fully realized as Damnation: Hell Breaks Loose. We didn’t necessarily need to put as much effort and time as we did into creating polished art assets just to test out the game design. Given the chance to do it over, I don’t think we would change that though. Taking the art production pipeline as far as we did on the prototype showed us where all the holes were. It taught us what we could outsource and what absolutely had to stay in-house. We were able to make mistakes that on the full game could have cost us millions, but on the mod were only annoyances.
In the end, even though we didn’t win the license, we feel that the prototype was a success. We were able to test out our game design and get tons of great feedback from the mod community. We now know that we are more than capable of taking the Damnation concept to completion and we feel confident that it will be a great game. In fact, the lessons we learned about valuing quality over quantity ensure that whether the final game matches our current vision or not, it will be fun. We believe that that focus alone is enough to make it a success.
Blue Omega tried to pitch their Unreal Mod to develop it into a commercial game and when they found a publisher interested in the project, the team worked hard to expand Damnation into a full title for the then next gen consoles. But the development of this new version didn’t go as planned: officially revealed in March 2008 for a release planned in December of the same year, the title was pushed back in 2009 for a release in May. Damnation received unfavorable reviews by the press.
In January 2013, VentureBeat investigated with former Lead Game Designer Jacob Minkoff what went wrong during the development:
Damnation was intended to be something very special. The game germinated from a hybrid first/third-person action game entered into the first Make Something Unreal competition in 2004. While it didn’t win, production continued with a full retail release as the ultimate goal. Aspirations were high among the team, and its plans for the game were lofty.
Blue Omega was aiming high with Damnation. It wanted to create huge battlefields that player and adversary alike could traverse any way they saw fit. It was seeking to create both organic locations and enemies, throw the player into the mix, and watch the emergent gameplay spiral out of control in the most fantastic of ways. Things eventually did spiral, though no one, especially the player, benefited in the least.
“Damnation was a product of a green team that didn’t really know what they were doing. It was my first professional game development project; the same was true of many members of the core team.”
The eagerness of the team also led them to overlook the huge challenge set by the new console hardware they were developing for. “We were on the cusp of a new generation, and we learned lessons that have since become common knowledge in game development,” said Minkoff.
In trying to expand upon Damnation so dramatically while working with new hardware, Blue Omega tried to accomplish too much too soon. “Making a sprawling — theoretically — triple-A game on console and PC was simply too much for us to handle,” said Minkoff.
This problem was only exacerbated by the decision to outsource large portions of the game and maintain an uncommonly small in-house team. The strategy was originally intended to afford this core team the greatest level of flexibility and allow it to adapt throughout development. As Minkoff revealed, this simply was not the case in practice.
“Outsourcing was a problem,” he said. “You need the time, experience, and budget to turn on a dime — to throw out what you’ve made and try something else quickly, and within constraints. We did not have the resources or knowledge to do that at Blue Omega.”
This inflexibility, caused by inexperience and outsourcing, led to the game’s woefully protracted development cycle. Few games command four years to make, and when they do finally see release, it’s usually justified with high levels of polish and production value. This was the opposite for Damnation. The longer it stayed in development, the more out of touch and less impressive it became. Level architecture, A.I., textures, animations, movement, physics, audio mixing, sound effects, dialogue, cutscenes, acting, weapons, and general common sense all had their merits eroded over the years it took Damnation to gestate.
“In the end, you usually run out of time or money,” said Minkoff. “With Damnation, we ran out of both. One of the primary reasons why you see so much architectural reuse is because it was cheaper to pay for a retexture than all new geometry. It also took less time to do so, giving us more hope of us meeting our release date.”
It could have been a great game had the team been more experienced, focused, and time-efficient. Minkoff sees the silver lining: “Many games never ship at all because the investment to make the game simply pass console certification would be prohibitive. That it shipped at all is a triumph for Damnation’s team.”
His positivity likely emanates from where Damnation took him next and where he was able to take its fundamental concepts. After the game’s completion, Minkoff moved to Naughty Dog and designed some of the most memorable sections of the Unchartedsequels. There, he was finally able to realize his ambitions for Damnation thanks to an experienced team and appropriate resources.
That the similar yet vastly superior first Uncharted game was in development at the same time as Damnation and saw release two years earlier to critical acclaim is an irony that is not lost on Minkoff. Instead of wallowing in the past, however, he is looking toward the future and building upon his first game’s auspicious past.
“Everyone has to learn somewhere,” he said. “I learned on Damnation.”
More recently, someone claiming to be a close source from the developers wrote under a video by Youtuber Matt McMuscles:
I work for the guys who came up with and had it made. They hired a company to do the coding and worked with a publisher to get it out on the various platforms. It was coming along with issues, as the developer wasn’t listening to my boss, and then the publisher decided that they were tired of waiting and forced them to release it when it was half done. The original concept of the game was awesome, and would have been amazing if they actually made what he paid for. An alternate history of the US where the South won the Civil War, with the tension and conflicts that arise from having an enemy directly border you. With steampunk elements. It sounded really cool.
The retail version retains some of the mod’s gameplay such as the acrobatic moves and spirit vision.
The original Damnation 2004 mod can still be downloaded here.
Before being released in this form, the game was initially planned to be a First-Person Shooter with horror elements. Its development was very chaotic and spanned approximately for 7 years, with various changes of responsabilities and developers, alongside communication issues.
The development story of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was shared in August 2013 by Polygon. It began in 2005 when 2K Games/Take-Two Interactive acquired the licence from Atari which was in financial trouble. The following year, the publisher boughtIrrational Games which operated in 2 studios, the main office in Boston, Massachusetts, and its subsidiary in Canberra, Australia. Both companies were tasked to work on a new X-COM game and started some different pitches:
In 2005, Take-Two purchased the rights to sci-fi strategy franchise X-COM from Atari. In retrospect, its motive was obvious. The publisher was in the midst of acquiring an enormous amount of talent, and wanted an established video game franchise that could be pushed immediately into development. Following their acquisition by Take-Two in 2006, Irrational Games and sister-studio Irrational Games Australia were renamed 2K Boston (we’ll continue to call it Irrational for clarity, since it switched back to its original name later) and 2K Australia.
Both studios quickly began conceptualizing X-COM games. At this point, Irrational was still a year away from releasing BioShock, which would rocket the studio and 2K Games to mainstream relevance. Irrational team members liked the idea of a second project, and Ken Levine was an outspoken fan of the original X-COM games. A small group crafted a handful of pitches. One of the earliest pitches, claims a source, was a loyal sequel to the classic X-COM games. The engine Irrational used to power its tactical superhero game Freedom Force seemed like a perfect fit for X-COM’s tactical strategy design. However, that concept was scrapped early on for an X-COM first-person shooter.
But translating the storied strategy franchise into a new genre proved difficult. Concepts were created in rapid succession, most of which never made it past the storyboard phase. Ownership of the project bounced back and forth between the Boston and Australia offices as both teams struggled to find a way forward. The pitches shared some similar elements, like the theme of resistance. One pitch imagined Earth post-invasion and full of resistance fighters. The intention was to create scenarios in which humans were outclassed, outmatched and outsized. A source describes one storyboard pitch in which a hero — who resembled Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl — placed boom boxes on plinths in a city square, inspiring humans to rise up against their alien overlords.
In another pitch, which developed into a full demo, the player escaped a commandeered an alien vessel by selecting a location on Earth and transitioning from the ship, through the cloud and onto the ground. In a later scene, the player climbed the back of a giant alien, searching for a way to kill it. This demo was, according to a source, “E3 ready.” Most of the single-player pitches came from Irrational. 2K Australia, meanwhile, focused on creating a multiplayer mode. One demonstration involved asymmetrical team-based multiplayer, with one side playing as humans and the other as aliens. The mode, according to one source, was similar to the Aliens vs. Predator series, with the various races having unique abilities and weapons.
In 2007, following the advancement of BioShock’s development, Irrational Games took the decision to fully focus on that project, leaving 2K Australia as the sole developer of the new X-COM game. The multiplayer mode planned by them was dropped in favor of a single-player campaign. However, later in that year, 2K Games decided to put 2K Australia as a support developer for 2K’s other subsidiaries. For more than 2 years, between the release of the first BioShock and the release of its sequelin February 2010, the X-COM project wasn’t a priority:
By 2007, BioShock had taken shape. Seeing BioShock’s potential, Irrational head Ken Levine decided the studio wouldn’t continue development of an X-COM game, and the project transferred fully to 2K Australia. The multiplayer prototype was scrapped, and 2K Australia began work on a single-player campaign. Though, according to a source, team members at 2K Australia chose to build off one of Irrational’s final concepts: a first-person shooter set in the 1950s in which humanity is woefully under-equipped to fight an invading alien menace. The rest of the game — the story, the mechanics, the point — would be revised.
From late 2007 to early 2010, 2K Australia was tasked by the publisher to act as the developer equivalent of the supportive best friend to the publisher’s other studios. First it helped Irrational finish BioShock, then contributed to the game’s PlayStation 3 port. In 2007, a handful of high-level employees left Irrational to found a California-based studio called 2K Marin, which was built initially to create BioShock 2 and become a premier studio within 2K Games, producing a new IP of its own. 2K Marin needed help, though, so 2K Australia supported the development of BioShock 2 until its release in early 2010.
For three years, alongside this work, a small group within 2K Australia continued work on X-COM, but finding time and resources was a chore. Progress slowed. With BioShock 2 finally out the door, the team looked ahead to finishing X-COM and establishing 2K Australia as leading triple-A studio. 2010 should have been a great year for 2K Australia. With BioShock 2 shipped, the studio finally had its chance to lead a game, and escape this unexpected de facto helper role.
Some people at the publisher side of 2K believed 2K Australia had had a good deal of time — three years by their count — to nurture the X-COM pitch. They were pleased with the initial concept — even though, one source claims, the original vertical slice had been built by a skeleton crew. They named their pitch “X-COM: Enemy Unknown.” The creative leads at 2K Australia wanted the game to be mysterious, and hoped to create a first-person shooter that elicited fear and confusion. The subtitle, Enemy Unknown, wasn’t just a play off the original X-COM’s European title, which was also Enemy Unknown. It was more like an explicit mission statement: You could see the enemy; you could fight the enemy; but you could never truly know the enemy.
The elevator pitch was essentially the original X-COM meets The X-Files, set in the 1950s to 1960s. The time period — something close to it, at least — would survive years of revisions. Practically everything else would not. As a government officer, the player had neither the weapons nor the technology to fight the futuristic aliens that were invading Earth. But they did have a handy camera. The core mechanics of the game were researching and running, with a splash of shooting. The player’s most important skill was photography.
The pitch was, in some ways, strikingly similar to those of the original X-COM games, despite being first-person. The player would select missions from a number of locations on a map. While the general construction of a stage would remain the same each playthrough — the streets and homes of a suburb would be static, for example — certain aspects of the missions would be procedurally generated. So the enemies you encountered, the location of valuable information, the entrances to rooms, the time of day and the mission goal would be a different combination each time, allowing the player to freshly experience the same stage multiple times.
The other half of the pitch focused on the X-COM base. After collecting information, the player would return to an appropriately retro 1950s military base. Here, the player would complete research goals and devise strategies for future missions. The art direction was abstract. Aliens would be wisps of air, globs of goo or puffs of clouds. The first enemy was the titan, the large obelisk that would later be the iconic centerpiece of the game’s marketing materials.
Character 3D model named ‘Rebel Girl’, owned by Irrational Games. Might be from the 2006-2007 iteration.
As it was pointed out by Polygon, following the release of BioShock 2, a large part of 2K Marin was brought in to help 2K Australia developing X-COM. While the single-player campaign was still the focus of 2K Australia, 2K Marin began creating a brand new multiplayer mode for the game, this time similar to Left 4 Dead games. However, communication issues started to surface, as both developers were located on different continents:
Following the release of BioShock 2, 2K Marin’s staff was divided into three groups. The first was a small, multi-discipline team assigned to BioShock 2’s downloadable content. The second consisted of five of the studio’s senior employees who would conceptualize and pitch a new IP for Marin to begin following X-COM’s completion. The final group, which consisted of most of the studio, was assigned to X-COM. To alleviate communication issues between two continents, the publisher assigned 2K Marin to multiplayer responsibilities, while 2K Australia continued work on single-player, (…)
The work seemed doable, according to multiple sources, if not ideal. The division of labor resembled something akin to a outsourcing, and Marin was too large and responsible for too much to have minimal creative input. Marin spent the first few months developing multiplayer designs, building a framework and modifying 2K Australia’s single-player engine to run multiplayer settings. The earliest multiplayer prototype was a survival game in which four players worked to reach a certain point on a map. It resembled Left 4 Dead, complete with an artificial intelligence director deciding when and how to spawn enemies.
Meanwhile the relationship between 2K Marin and 2K Australia remained creatively and structurally confusing, further troubled by the difficulty of simply scheduling a daily conference call across an 18-hour time difference. Most communication took place between the mid-level producers at both studios, who would pass along task lists from Australia to Marin. Team members at 2K Marin felt they didn’t have a direct line of communication back to 2K Australia for when they had questions or alternative ideas. Both sides craved the simple ability to sit in a room with co-workers and hash things out.
XCOM was officially revealed in April 2010 by 2K Games. The same day, decision to merge 2K Australia into 2K Marin was made. This wasn’t well received by many members of both studios for different reasons, and, above all, the communication issue between them was still there. Quickly, it was all clear that the single-player mode and the multiplayer mode wouldn’t reach the alpha state milestone scheduled for November 2010, and 2K wanted a public presentation for E3 2010. Again, the multiplayer mode was scrapped, and 2K Marin had to help 2K Australia for the single-player campaign:
On April 14, 2010, the publisher merged 2K Marin and 2K Australia under the single banner of 2K Marin. It’s unclear whether or not this was an intentional play to artificially bond the two studios. Whatever the case, the name change was not well received by many members of both studios. Australia felt it was losing its identity. Marin felt that it was absorbing a team of developers it hardly knew. The press release quaintly referred to the two as “sister studios.” On the very same day, 2K announced XCOM to the public.
In the press release, the game was simply called XCOM. No hyphen. No subtitle. The words “Enemy Unknown” were abandoned, though the press release emphasized the “unknowable” theme of 2K Australia’s original pitch, mentioning the player’s “frailty — against a foe beyond comprehension.” The press released described XCOM as a “Mystery-filled first-person shooter from the creators of BioShock 2,” which wasn’t entirely true. 2K representatives clarified that the game was being led by the the Australian division, referred to by this wordy label: “the Canberra, Australia arm of 2K Marin.”
Renaming the studios didn’t fix their problems. The team in Marin continued to receive instructions via task lists from Australia, and resentment began to build within both studios. Marin wanted more creative input — its name was now on the project. Australian wanted its chance to lead a project — even if it was now the “wing” of another studio. The name didn’t fix the the studios’ biggest problem: a fruitful line of communication wasn’t coalescing.
By May, it was clear that Marin’s multiplayer and Australia’s single-player would not meet the alpha milestone scheduled for November 2010. 2K chose to scrap the multiplayer and assign Marin to help Australia complete the single-player campaign. The two developers, separated by half a world, had barely a month left before XCOM’s scheduled first public presentation at E3 2010.
Subsequently, the tasks were shared with 2K Marin in charge of mission design, and 2K Australia the strategy layer base. But some struggles were still there, especially for 2K Marin’s programming and animation departments, which were unable to properly execute 2K Australia’s vision regarding the enemies. On the other hand, communication improved a lot, but, slowly, 2K Marin started to have more and more influence on the design:
To maintain a degree of compartmentalization and prevent communication issues, 2K Marin was assigned “Field Ops,” the first-person missions, while 2K Australia worked on the strategy layer of the XCOM base. Though designing the base was 2K Australia’s priority, the studio’s leads also directed the design for field ops, being developed by Marin. This, according to many sources, caused a good deal of creative tension.
2K Marin’s various departments struggled to execute on Australia’s direction of mysterious levels and unknowable enemies. Sources say the themes were difficult to express in moment-to-moment gameplay. Animators struggled with telegraphing the attacks of the amorphous goo enemies, and programmers failed to express how the enemy or the player took damage. Despite the game being labeled a first-person shooter, its core mechanic was research, via taking photographing evidence and retrieving information. The goal of a mission was typically to keep an enemy alive, and extract research from it. But because most enemies lacked faces, artist and programmers labored over ways to express the direction a character looked and whether or not the player was in its line of sight. This made the stealth nature of research missions particularly difficult. The very simplest mechanics of most games — like knowing whether the enemy was looking at the player — were made difficult by the too-alien nature of Australia’s enemies.
If the project wanted to progress, problems needed to be worked out face to face, person to person. So the leads at both studios agreed to make it happen. To ease the tension and clear the lines of discussion, the two studios began swapping small groups of employees, sending developers on the nearly 12-hour journey across the Pacific Ocean from one location to the other, for weeks and months at a time. It sort of worked. According to many sources, communication gradually improved, but the building frustrations had taken a toll. An exodus of employees had already begun. With communication improving, 2K Marin slowly influenced the creative direction of the project. Leading up to E3 2010, the studios began to focus on research and upgrading abilities within XCOM, and decreased the emphasis on strange, mysterious encounters. The design was changing.
A vertical slice of the game was ready and showed behind closed doors at E3 2010. Reactions from the media were very mixed, as many had difficulties to understand why this new entry was a First-Person Shooter, instead of a turn-based strategy game. Many previews based on this presentation were written. For its part, Joystiq concluded:
While there are still some unanswered questions — 2K Marin wouldn’t say whether or not you can issue squad commands, for one — I walked away from the demonstration fairly impressed. At the very least, 2K Marin has nailed the feeling of the old X-COM games, especially the feeling of otherworldly fear during missions. If the research progression manages to be as addicting as it was in the originals, XCOM just might surprise some die-hard fans. It certainly surprised me.
But after E3, troubles occured following the departures of two key members of 2K Australia, prompting, again, 2K Marin to gain more influence in the design department. Also, concerns were still present for the enemies design, which was responsible of many gameplay’s problems, and the decision to reboot the project was taken. Several pitches and prototypes for new features were made by 2K Marin:
In late 2010, 2K Australia was rocked by the high-level departures of Art Director Andrew James and Design Director Ed Orman. 2K Marin plunged into the leadership void, quickly taking on additional creative responsibilities. Members of Marin had already been promoted to senior roles, even before the departures, so they were easily slotted into the updated org chart.
There was internal concern amongst leads at both studios and the publishing side of 2K that XCOM would not be completable if it continued down the path of “mysterious” enemies and a research-based mission structure. The project underwent a small reboot. The leads wanted to protect much of the work that had already been done on the game. The hope was to find something that would improve XCOM, and allow it to ship sooner, rather than later. The overall structure would remain the same, but the in-level experience would change.
During the reboot phase, the game’s leads at 2K Marin wanted to establish whether the backbone of the game would be shooting or stealth. Members of the various departments within Marin began rapidly creating pitches and prototypes for supplemental features, pushing again for familiar, readable tropes from other games. Some of these included a Splinter Cell-like mechanic where enemies saw the player’s last known position. Another prototype resembled a traditional third-person shooter. At one point, a suspicion system was in the game, in which the player’s unusual behavior would alert the aliens, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Around this same time, the designers decided to give the player control of the two squad mates, an option that hadn’t been available in the 2010 builds. Control of squad mates was initially limited, but made the game more strategic, and inspired some team members to pitch the shift from first-person to third-person, allowing the player to see more of the battlefield. The ideas would be grafted onto the current build to, ideally, strengthen what was already there. One source describes this iteration of XCOM as “a victim of its own timeline,” stuck with systems and tools that had been chosen years earlier. Intentionally or not, the groundwork was being laid for a larger reboot.
2011 wasn’t getting better for 2K Marin and the game. First with the cancellation of their new I.P. in order to refocus resources on XCOM, then with new changes for the title: story, level design and enemies. 2K Marin became the lead developer instead of 2K Australia:
The Marin directors who had been working on the new IP were gradually put on XCOM, and the new IP was canceled, further damaging the morale of the team at Marin. One source claims many employees had taken jobs with the studio on under the impression BioShock 2 would be followed by the new IP and the studio would become one of 2K Games’ premier developers. XCOM had been seen, at first, merely as a small, quick support job for 2K Marin. Suddenly, the new IP was gone and the team was stuck in what was beginning to feel like a development quagmire. Some at 2K Marin felt as if they’d inherited another studio’s problems.
Whether or not XCOM would be released seemed, briefly, inconsequential. The purpose of 2K Marin had changed. It wasn’t to be 2K’s new premier studio which would — alongside Irrational and Firaxis — produce high-budget games based on its own IP. Instead 2K Marin had become something else: a clean-up team.
Jordan Thomas, who served as the studio’s creative director, became the narrative lead and overhauled XCOM’s story. The previous version hinted at American civil rights issues in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Thomas brought these story details into the main storyline, and moved the story to the year 1962 to play off global Cold War paranoia.
To streamline the development, the game was restructured as a linear sequence of levels — casting the randomized level sets to the wind. Furthermore, humanoid enemies were introduced to the cast of villains, with the previous mysterious enemies taking supplemental roles. 2K Marin was becoming the lead studio.
In the spring of 2011, 2K Games approved that 2K Marin was going to do a totally new demo for the next E3, instead of working on the current version, which displeased some senior employees. That demo was made in 10 weeks, but it wasn’t enough for 2K Marin to implement every new features they wanted to make. The pitch initially made by 2K Australia was discarded:
Multiple sources claim senior level employees at 2K Marin weren’t happy with the state of the game leading into E3. One source describes the early 2011 build as a hodgepodge of previous iterations. In the spring of 2011, senior team members asked 2K for permission to put the current version aside and instead spend the 10 weeks leading to E3 constructing a demo for the game the team wanted to make. This was a chance for a fresh start — or something like it.
According to one source, the publishing side of 2K was supportive. With the random levels and detective mode of 2K Australia’s pitch removed, the current version of XCOM lacked a hook that elevated it above a generic first-person shooter. The source claims that 2K executives were and still are vocal about releasing high-scoring games and believed more time might produce a better final product. In theory, the task was comparably straightforward: switch the perspective and add some new powers and alien abilities. The art assets could be salvaged. The game could be saved.
For the demo, the senior team members wanted to add a third-person perspective and expand squad control, but neither fit the current build of the game. There wasn’t enough time to make the entire demo run in third-person, so for a second time 2K presented XCOM at E3 as a first-person shooter — despite the fact that the 2K Marin team knew the game would ultimately use the third-person perspective. In the demo, a first-person character directed squad-mates by shifting to a third-person perspective — the shift to a paused third-person meant they didn’t have to animate the lead character just yet.
The press reacted favorably to the demo, more so than it had the year prior during the behind-closed-doors presentation. Typically, a game’s E3 appearance is followed by a slow-drip of publicity, including screenshots, trailers, developer diaries and interviews, but the XCOM project had been totally silent. Jordan Thomas explained by saying, “We just felt it wasn’t X-COM enough.” 2K announced the game’s release date: March 6, 2012, less than a year away. XCOM had been scheduled to launch against Mass Effect 3, possibly the biggest sci-fi game of the generation.
After E3, the start of what would become The Bureau: XCOM Declassified began within both studios. Cleared once and for all of the communication issues, those two teams decided to definitely pivot on a Third-Person tactical shooter, instead of a horror First-Person Shooter. But this pivot caused additional delays in the development since a large part of the game had to be redesigned:
The E3 2011 demo served as the template for the revision of XCOM as a tactical third-person shooter. Beginning with the creation of the E3 demo, both studios felt there was a clearer sense of creative direction. It was the most collaborative year, according to one source, with many more employees shuttling back and forth between the Marin and Australia offices.
According to one source, Thomas decided XCOM would be a bridge between the Firaxisgame and the original series. The gameplay would pivot on the third-person tactical shooter genre, making a clear and definitive cut from the stealthy, horror style of the original pitch. The team even contracted a voice cast, recording the script in 2011. (According to another source, most of those roles would be recast over the next year.) But even with the improved work environment and creative guidance, development was taking longer than expected — particularly because the switch to the tactical genre required many environments to be completely redesigned.
The rest of the story no longer concerns those scrapped versions of XCOM. Sadly, further development of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified didn’t went well as 2K Games was the target of everything that went wrong during 5 years of development from this point on, alongside losing money in this still-not-released title. In order to solve some problems, they decided, in October 2011, to entirely remove 2K Australia from the game, and many higher-ups of 2K Marin changed responsabilities and roles, especially Jordan Thomas, who left the project and joined Ken Levine on BioShock Infinite. After some additional setbacks, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was released in August 2013 and got mixed reviews by the press.
XCOM wasn’t the first failed attempt at taking risks for the franchise. Years prior, another canceled hybrid First-Person Shooter/strategy game named X-COM: Alliance was on the way and suffered of 7 years of development before being canceled in 2002, not without having to change publishers and developers many times.
F.R.A.G. is a canceled online first-person shooter that was in development by Allods Team for PC. The project would be published by My.Games in 2016-2017.
As we can read in the first preview, it was an experimental shooter. Unlike most shooters of the time, F.R.A.G. had much lower speed and pace and relied on teamplay with unique heroes with abilities (Like machine-gunner with healing shields or soldier with shotgun and jetpack ). The only negative aspect mentioned in the review was that the game hadn’t got its face (Maybe at that time the developers hadn’t made unique models and left placeholders).
The beta was launched on May 19th, 2016, then the project quietly died. The true reason is unknown, but, judging the user reviews, people didn’t really appreciate this approach and even called it a shooter for grannies.
Trinity : The Shatter Effect, also simply known as Trinity, is a canceled First-Person Shooter published by Activision and developed by Gray Matter Interactive for the PC, and Vicarious Visions for the Xbox, from January 2002, until, at least, Summer 2003.
Using a heavily modified version of the ID Tech 3, the game was revealed in spring 2003, and Gamespot was one of the first media to get information regarding this title:
“Activision announced today that development has begun on Trinity, a new first-person action game for the PC and Xbox platforms. Gray Matter Studios, the creator of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, is developing the PC version, while Vicarious Visions, which is known for porting Jedi Knight II to the Xbox and GameCube, will be handling the development of the game for the Xbox. The game is set in New Orleans in the year 2013, when a virulent plague is sweeping across the city. New Orleans’ only hope to find the source of the virus and stop it from spreading further is the Nightstalker, a biologically enhanced hero who possesses superhuman powers. At the Nightstalker’s disposal are weapons ranging from pistols and shotguns to grenade launchers and sniper rifles.
Additionally, Trinity includes a feature called “FlashTime” that will allow players to dodge enemies or execute special attacks. “Trinity brings an all new intensity and cinematic quality to the first-person action genre,” said Larry Goldberg, executive vice president, Activision Worldwide Studios. “Run-and-gun gameplay takes on a whole new dimension when players can warp around the map in the blink of an eye, see through walls, and tackle enemies with deadly acrobatic maneuvers.”
Following it’s announcement, information about the background were spread right before E3 2003. For example, Gamespot wrote:
“The game is set in New Orleans in the year 2013, when a virulent plague is sweeping across the city. New Orleans’ only hope to stop the virus from spreading further is the Nightstalker. This biotechnically enhanced vigilante possesses superhuman powers and must single-handedly take action against an evil company known as the Silmara Corporation.
As the Nightstalker, you’ll follow a story of conspiratorial intrigue. You’ll get some help from the Caretaker, who you’ll be able to talk to directly through a brain implant. The Nightstalker has had his abilities enhanced by an array of biotechnical and neurological implants that grant him superhuman strength, special vision powers, and the ability to warp time and space–a power known as Flash. Flashtime will allow you to slow down time to dodge enemies or execute special attacks. Flash can also be used to jump higher, move enormous objects, and survive falls from great heights. Special thermal-vision and night-vision modes will give you the chance to get the drop on enemies.
A potent arsenal is the key to your survival as you face down Silmara. You’ll have a range of small arms to choose from, including machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers, plus the more futuristic laser rifles and liquid nitrogen cannons. As a change of pace, you’ll man turrets, ride gunships, hack into installations, and solve a variety of puzzles.”
IGN managed to get further details about the story, the main character and some concepts and ideas thanks to an interview with Drew Markham, game director at Gray Matter:
“When the game begins, our character has been dubbed the Nightstalker, he’s more of the anti-hero kind of guy with darker qualities. When you begin the game we have a guy waking up with no memory of how he got there. But we immediately establish the facts through this sidekick that’s called the Caretaker. This a guy that you see constantly through the game and he’s even in your heads-up display. Basically, the Nightstalker wakes up thinking the Caretaker character has kidnapped him. But the Caretaker has a video tape that was made before the Nightstalker lost his memory because he knew he was going to lose his memory. The tape pretty much explains that he went into this knowing that it was part of the process and that he’s going to know, as events progress, why things had to be done this way. So even though he has this video of himself explaining why he’s there in some small way, he’ll still have this nagging doubt about the validity of that. So essentially we begin the game with this mystery and we go into training immediately because you have this guy waking up not knowing about himself not to mention that he has all of these incredible physical abilities. All of this has been part of this process and procedure that has happened to him in the intervening months that have gone on since he recorded the tape to himself. That’s where you’re going to go in and learn about these physical abilities that he has called Bio Augmentation.”
“A key part of the game is you being upgraded. You start with lower level abilities but will be able to improve them during the game. So we establish something that allows you to learn a certain play type and then upgrade that for you. You start with abilities in the game that seem to give you quite a big edge, but as the enemies are reacting to that, they’re developing ways to thwart these powers. Your edge will start to get duller and duller till a couple of levels down the line they might have a very effective countermeasure to your ability. But then you’ll get another upgrade that will put you back up in another way.”
“You’ll really feel like your enemies are reacting to you, that they’re developing things around you. It really keeps you on your toes and as we introduce you to new types of enemies, they’ll be vulnerable to certain things you have at your disposal and other things that aren’t. By the time you’re fighting enemies, you’re at that point where you’ve just become more than a nuisance. You have all this wild rumor speculation about what you can do. The beginning of the game as you’re using your powers, enemies will react in awe sometimes where they’ll sit back and say “what the hell?” So they’re physically reacting to what you’re doing. But that’ll change as time goes on and everybody becomes more aware of you.There’s a strong emphasis on the tactical nature of what you’re supposed to use when you go up against the enemies in the game. We wanted players to have to be smart about how they approach certain situations.”
“You have hard-points on the body for one heavy weapon, two pistol slots, and a couple more. But you have to pick up weapons and drop weapons as you move through the game and there’s many more weapons than you could possibly take with you. As you encounter these situations, you’ll have to be aware of how certain enemies react to different weapons and abilities.There are two areas of abilities. One is the pure bio-augmentation abilities, which are physical abilities that allow him to jump higher, run faster, and to jump off of buildings and not take significant damage. But your bio energy used to power the augmentations will be taken off for the damage that you would normally get from a fall like that. So if you decide to jump off of something very high, then you’ll be leaving yourself with less energy should you decide to use another one of your skills. All of these bio moves that he has are individually accompanying defensive postures. For example, there’s a burst back move where you’ll jump back and project out a magnetic deflection in front of you that causes bullets to deviate. The other side of your abilities is called flash power. They’re based on this temporal field generation technology that an ex-Silmara scientist came up with. This is a guy, by the way, that’s been missing for months before the game starts and everybody is trying to find this guy so he obviously has a lot to do with the stuff going on. Anyway, the flash abilities basically allow you to advance your metabolic and perceptual rates in time. The world to you might slow down by 25% while it slows down for the enemies by 75% so you can aim and move better, but still have a significant speed advantage. This allows you to dodge bullets and all that kind of groovy stuff.There are a tremendous amount of moves between the bio augmentation and flash moves. So you have your pure bio and flash moves and then you have those that use both.”
“The bio-mods are always active, but you use a double tap scheme that makes them work or different combinations of keystrokes to invoke them. But you only have a certain amount of energy on tap, so the player won’t be able to just burst around like a super strafe, because you’ll use energy up quickly. Another interesting thing is the inhibitors that have been placed on the augmentations to keep you from damaging them. One of the things I like about this is that at a certain point in the game, you’re going to have the ability to go in to your internal systems and turn the inhibitors off so you can run in the red. But if you go over the threshold completely, you’ll shut down, which can be bad in the middle of a battle. It’s all about giving players the choices to how they want to play but we didn’t want to go the RPG route and we didn’t want this to be a heavily managed character. You’ll head back to your regen pod, which acts as a home base of sorts, where you’ll get new implants. The mods occur at intervals during the game, however there are certain mods and abilities that can be received prior to their pre-ordained time to be given. If you dig hard enough in a certain level to find something that will allow it, you might get an augmentation you would normally at level 10 while you’re still in level 7 or 8.”
The game was showed at E3 2003, where both IGN and Gamespot wrote previews. Thus IGN told:
“The long and detailed single player game takes place in and around New Orleans, a location not often utilized in the video game world. Taking the product into this area meant designing a different type of city than was usually seen in shooters and games in general. Different architecture means different gameplay opportunities. Outside of the city areas in the game, Trinity will also bring players out into swamps and inside high tech labs as we were shown in the demo.
The outside levels are pretty crisp in color and it’s easy to tell that this game was built around the Quake 3 architecture. It’s also pretty easy to see that it has been improved on immensely. AI, physics, rendering, and pretty much everything else has either been upgraded or completely replaced by the programmers at Gray Matter.
As you move through the game you’ll be able to upgrade your character with new parts and increase the power of existing enhancements. This is a good thing as the AI in the game is adaptive to your powers. What will work in the beginning of the game won’t towards the end as develop technology to counter your abilities.
Using the Nightstalker’s abilities is easy enough for the pull off. Some can be triggered by the press of a button, such as the time bending ability, which slows everything down to the point where you can see bullets coming towards you. You can perform physical feats such as flipping around and twisting in the air during a jump. Some of the abilities can be used in concert with one another for different effects.
Your vision augmentations are pretty useful as well. They’re a pretty interesting interface when you use them, with your entire field of vision changing dramatically. Your different modes allow you to see heat through walls and in the dark, night vision makes everything brighter when heat signatures won’t do the trick, and in another mode you’ll be able to detect structural weaknesses that you can use explosives on to open up new paths or solvepuzzles.
With around 40 hours of gameplay on an engine that should run well on most low-end systems, this might be a game those of you just looking for a single player experience will want to keep your eyes on.”
“The game’s hook is much the same as that of Max Payne, except here it’s called “flashtime.” Sure enough, in flashtime you can dodge bullets and move at unnaturally fast speeds, as the whole world around you seems to slow to a crawl.
You of course have limited access to flashtime and must use it when you wish to take out a number of enemies quickly, make a hasty retreat, or get out of harm’s way. While everything is slowed down, you can jump extra far, perform sideways flips (your whole view rotates as you launch yourself in midair), and even use close-ranged kicks to thrash your opponents.
The action has a pretty good dynamic to it already, even though the game is a ways off. Much like in Max Payne, in Trinity, when the action is slowed down, you can clearly make out individual bullets flying through the air–and you can even see Matrix-style contrails behind them. The game apparently takes place in and around New Orleans, and the level we tried out seemed to be a bayou of some sort–nothing too futuristic about it, except for the high-powered assault rifle at the Nightstalker’s disposal and the weird uniforms of the enemy troops.
The main character’s remarkable powers should allow for some action sequences that are highly challenging. Aside from the flashtime thing, Trinity’s mechanics are pretty standard for a first-person shooter, but just as bullet time did a lot to distinguish Max Payne from other third-person action games, flashtime does much to give Trinity a rather unique style to it. The experience reminded us of using the Force speed ability in Jedi Knight II, only here we could also jump superfar and kick people in the face, and shoot them too.”
While it seemed to be well advanced, the game was unfortunately canceled during the fall of 2003, when Activision lost over 30% of its revenue, during the fiscal year, as we can read on Gamespot again:
“Today, after the financial markets closed in New York, Activision reported its fiscal second-quarter results. The bullet points are as follows: Compared to last year’s second quarter, revenue decreased by 31 percent; the company reported a net loss for the quarter of $10.1 million, compared with last year’s income of $9.1 million; and revenue for the quarter fell to $117.5 million, from $169 million a year ago. Activision attributed the results to the quarter’s “significantly smaller release schedule.”
Activision’s second quarter ended September 30.
The company said it would take a one-time, pretax charge of $23 million in the third quarter–this is due to it’s slashing of 10 products from its current release calendar. The titles affected are Trinity, Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder 2, and Street Hoops 2.”
“Trinity was the first game I worked on as an industry professional at Gray Matter Studios. This shooter was ahead of it’s time and could have gone toe-to-toe with Monolith‘s soon to be released “F.E.A.R.” title, but sadly, marketing didn’t quite know how to sell this title, and Activision (who owned Gray Matter by that time) had bigger plans for our little studio. Those plans would change the world of games forever.”
After the cancellation of Trinity, Gray Matter will meet the same fate as many other studios owned by Activision after them, forced to work on the expansions of their brand new golden ticket back then, Call of Duty, with United Offensive, before being merged with Treyarchin 2005.
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