Raiders of the Deep (Xbox One – Cancelled)

Raiders of the Deep (codenamed Project Submarine) is a canceled futuristic military Free-To-Play multiplayer First-Person Shooter developed around 2013-2014 by Spark Unlimited for the Xbox One.

Information about this game are pretty scarce as it was never announced. Following information about the story, game design concepts and features were shared in a PDF file by former Spark’s developer Sam Wey:

I was given the responsibility to compose a game design pitch document and PowerPoint presentation for a triple A title to be pitched to Microsoft. I managed the support of two artists and was able to bounce ideas off of the veteran designers around me. Now that Spark doesn’t exist anymore, I think it’s safe to show this.

In the near future ice caps have melted and most of the earth is covered in water. National governments have been rendered powerless in the face mega corporations that violently battle for power. These corporations store and transport valuable data caches in offshore submarines piloted by bands of “deep sea raiders”. Corporate espionage has taken the form of violent confrontations between these underwater pirates. They plunder each other for these valuable data caches, risking life and limb for wealth, power and prestige. The aesthetic of this near future is sleek but grounded in a gritty realism of believable, familiar technology.

Raiders of the Deep is a free-to-play, competitive multiplayer, first-person-shooter that utilizes ship customization, level orientation changes and free flowing water simulation to dynamically change map layout and combat strategy. This will be a uniquely next gen experience only made possible by the next generation console technology, the incredible FX capabilities of Unreal 4 Engine and Phys-X GPU water simulations. It is a game about assembling your level from pre-made rooms, customizing them with items bought and earned, and then squaring off your ship against your opponent’s – creating an online arena that’s always half familiar, half unknown. It’s a game about assuming the role of a mercenary on a submarine of your own design or fellow clan member’s vessel – giving orders or executing orders while leveling up distinct character classes. It’s a game tailor made for league play, one that allows for true leadership and teamwork, raiding-like rewards, side “bets” before matches, taunting and bribing – it’s perfect for eSports or competitive gamers of all skill levels. Most of all, it’s a game that will start small, focused and fun, and can expand – based on player feedback – in a variety of exciting directions.

Key Features

  • Your Ship, Your Way: Submarine customization – Choose from predesigned ship layouts or swap and rotate rooms, then add decorations and themes. Tons of customization options to buy or earn to make your level truly reflect your personality and strategic approach.
  • Truly Dynamic and Interactive Backgrounds – As your submarine sinks, damaged rooms will flood and the whole environment will turn on its side and even flip upside down. This will instantly change map layout and as a result map strategy changes. Destroy ship systems to cut lights or overtake the command center to gain control of auto-turrets. Use the level itself as a tool and a weapon to overcome the odds.
  • Free Flowing Water Simulation Gameplay – This will define the next generation gaming experience with water simulations only possible on the Xbox One with the help of Unreal 4, Phys-X, and Thunderhead cloud computing. Flood compartments to change the playing field. Force opponents to surface for air to setup a headshot. Lurk under the water surface and take the enemy by surprise. As the submarine tilts, water will flow from one compartment to the next.
  • The Madden of Shooters: Playbook System – Play like a well practiced clan even with complete strangers. Setup custom or use pre-loaded context-sensitive “plays” before breaches and give on-the-fly orders or follow the orders of your teammates for bonus XP. Plan your own sequences on Smart Glass and share them with friends. Use teamwork, fake-outs, traps and advanced tactics to outsmart and outgun the other clan.
  • Free to Play / Free to Win – A fully featured shooter with no entrance fee. In-App-Purchases for extra in-game currency or specialized costumes / items are available, but everything is based on Pay to Enhance (and show off), not pay to Win.
  • Knowing is Half the Battle – Each time you play, one half of the multiplayer online battle arena will be yours (or your clan’s), the other half will be a mystery until you board your enemy’s sub. Bazillions of possible combinations.
  • Clan Classes – Cloak yourself as a Saboteur and map out the enemy’s ship for your team, quickly hack equipment or find shortcuts as an Engineer, go guns blazing and lay traps as a Raider or stomp through corridors slowly as an armored Deep Diver. As the game grows so will the number of Classes…
  • Level Up and Collect – Advance in four different classes, unlock tons of weapons andabilities, and personalize your character’s look to a staggering degree.
  • A True Team Sport – Fully supports Tournament Play and eSports with optional clan rooms, specialized leaderboards, pre-set play times, uniform elements, league web pages, and recording and uploading match videos to brag and review replays to sharpen tactics.

At its core, Raiders of the Deep is a version of capture the flag enhanced with point control. Before a game begins, players will enter a lobby where each team will vote on a map layout for their respective team as well as what room to place the data cache (flag) in. When the conflict begins, the two teams’ ships dock with one another. The ships will be connected through airlocks. The goal is to board the enemy’s ship through these airlocks, find “data caches”, hack them, and return to the command room of your ship with the data. These data caches could be anywhere the opposing team voted to place them, so no two games will ever be the same. The control points will enable or disable defense systems; easing access to the rooms that contain the data caches. This will be the main gameplay mode but it will only be one of many types of gameplay offered.

Breach or Be Breached:

  • Battles will begin with you either assaulting the enemy’s ship or defending your own, but the gameplay then stretches between the two sides.
  • Set up Breach Plans as the Attack – Select where to enter. Set up fake outs. Try to bribe members of the opposing ship.
  • Set up Traps as the Defender – Determine where the opposing team will breach. Place traps. Take cover.

Attack and Defend:

  • The heart of the gameplay is the gathering of data caches from the opponent’s ship.
  • Combat – Battle opposing team crew members.
  • Find Data Caches – Various rooms have different amounts of data, hack the systems or defend hackers while they collect the data.
  • Return Enemy Data to Your Command Room – Take the data back yourself or guard the data carrier.
  • Complete Side Objectives – Some rooms are connected with ship systems, hack these for various bonuses (cut out lights, turn off / take control of auto defenses, etc).
  • Defend Data Caches – Try to keep the opposing team from hacking your ship’s systems by laying traps and taking defensive positions in key rooms.
  • Eliminate Data Carriers – Take out the enemy carrying your data before he is able to upload it in their Command Room.

Collect Winnings:

  • Overcoming the other team isn’t just for bragging rights…
  • Earn XP and Cash – These are used to level up your character class and buy new character and ship items.
  • Roll for Rare Goods – When you win your team will get a variety of rare items, which can be “rolled” to see who gets them.


Ship Customization

The player will be able to build his ship in an offline mode on the XBox One or by using their Smart Glass app on a phone or tablet. The player will be able to move each of the ships rooms where he feels is strategically the best. He will then hide his Data Cache in a safe in one of these rooms. The player will be able to save out different ship load outs that he can then access during online play. This customization will enable each match to be different depending on how the Clan would like to defend or attack.

Point Control

While the core of the gameplay is capture the flag with data caches, it is the Point Control mechanic that will keep map strategy dynamic and interesting. The Point Control element will have different strategic effects on gameplay. The defending team will have many defensive features on their ship which will be countered by the difficulty of defending so many vital systems rooms. Attacking teams will have the benefit of quickly changing targeted rooms. Attacking rooms in a strategic sequence will cause a cascade of chaos that will win the match.

For example, taking out an opponent’s reactor will take out command center functionality which weakens the defense turret systems. The weakened defensive systems will give the attacking team access to assault the medical bay which slows reinforcements which in turn, buys them time to find and decrypt the data caches.

Water Core Game Mechanic

Water will be the wild card in every firefight. It can be your savior in one battle only to suffocate you in an icy death in the next. Water will dynamically change level layout and strategy through both changes in orientation of the whole submarine and water levels of each compartment.

Example Gameplay Beats of Action:

When the firefight began, the pump room was dry. As the gun battle rages, the hull is damaged and water begins flooding into the room. A thousand pounds of pressure forces water through the hull of your submarine and is altering the layout of the arena. Soldiers on the low ground begin wading slowly in the waist deep water and being picked off by the enemy in the high ground. As water overtakes the high ground, troops resort to diving deep and sneaking up on the enemy with combat knives. Water fills the compartment to the ceiling and the few survivors are now clustered at and gasping for air in the few air pockets where they can keep their heads above water. Reinforcements breach a blast door and water flows into and floods the other compartments while drones seal the damaged hull.

Water mechanics:

  • Water’s effect on players

○ Knee high water slows down players

○ Waist deep water slows players more; crouching allows you to hide under water.

○ Fully flooded compartments will only have a few air pockets above water and most combat will take place under water.

 Water’s effect on the environment

o Damaged rooms start flooding, flooded areas of the ship will start sinking and the whole ship will start to tilt effectively changing the layout and strategy of a given arena.

  • Natural Water Simulation Behavior

○ The flow of water from one compartment to the next will cause players to slide.

○ The volume of water is maintained when water flows from one compartment to the next.

○ If both compartments have the same level of water:

■ then no water level change will occur.

○ If one compartment is filled to the ceiling and then the hatch is blown open to an empty compartment:

■ then players in the empty compartment will get knocked off their feet from the flooding water and the players in the full compartment will be pulled into the empty compartment.

■ active stand up minigame- after being thrown off their feet, players will scramble to get up again to continue combat. Skillfully using the two analogue sticks to rebalance and orient yourself quickly will allow you to shoot or find cover first. It’s the difference between a quick jump up on to your feet (best) and a hobbled slow stand up(suboptimal).

 Different character classes and loadouts will favor dry room fighting versus wet room fighting.

  • Example of wet loadout

○ wet suit

○ rebreather

○ gas powered harpoon

■ most ballistic weapons will not fire underwater. the harpoon gun provides superior underwater ranged combat. It impales players and pulls them in for a brutal melee kill.

  • Example of dry loadout

○ heavy armor

○ thermal vision

○ freeze grenade

■ a well aimed and timed freeze grenade will freeze your opponent in the water, float them to the top, making them vulnerable for execution.

Playbook System

We all wish we could be as coordinated as a clan but most players never have the opportunity to have this experience because most just jump into public matches. The playbook system will come with proven “plays” that will automatically delegate responsibilities to team members. Instructions and timings will appear on their HUD and waypoints will appear in the world. The following are example plays:

  • Offensive Plays

○ Breach and Clear

■ Player A begins torching the airlock hatch to breach it.

■ Players B and C gets in position to cover angles on airlock hatch.

■ Player D primes flash grenade to be tossed in the second hatch is breached.

■ Players E, F, and G prepare to rush in.

■ 3, 2, 1… BREACH!

■ Player D tosses in flash grenade which promptly explodes.

■ Players B and C provide cover fire while Players E, F, and G move in and clear the room.

  • Defensive Plays

○ Ambush

■ Players A, B, and C hide behind columns

■ Players D, E, and F hide behind supply boxes.

■ Player E provides sniper cover from above.

■ Wait for breach and wait for all players to commit to entering the room.

■ Fire!

In other competitive multiplayer games this level of teamwork and coordination is out of reach for 99% of players. This system of automated delegation and timing system will give players a sense of cohesion even on public matches. The XP and in-game currency rewards for good execution will incentivize teamwork. Any team member can call plays but players of higher level will overrule lower level players.

Secondary Game Mechanics


The player will choose to play as one of the following classes. Each will have distinct weapons and abilities to suit different play styles and counter enemy tactics. Some classes will be inherently better at wet or dry combat. The wet and dry loadouts will modify these characteristics so players can adapt to the current state of the battlefield.

Saboteur – This light class will be a master of speed, stealth and reconnaissance. When cloaked, enemies will only see a faint distortion at regular intervals. Saboteurs will provide vital information to fellow teammates by removing the “fog of war” from the minimap for their teammates. While too weak to stage an offensive alone, by employing the cloak and infiltrating rooms before breaches they will provide spotting of enemy locations for their teammates.

Raider – This heavy class will be the bread and butter of combat providing both defensive and offensive firepower. If a lighter class opponent does not use the environment to their advantage, the Raider will dominate in a head to head firefight.

Engineer– This medium class is vital in his support of the team through his mastery of structural, electrical and software engineering. The engineer can hack enemy turret systems, decrypt enemy data caches faster and find shortcuts for the saboteur. When divers damage the hull and compartments start flooding, the engineer deploys drones to repair it.

Diver– As the most adept swimmer and demolitions expert, this medium class is vital to any boarding party. The diver can set charges to destroy a ship’s hull and vital systems. Destroying a ship’s hull causes flooding which alters the environment in the diver’s favor. The diver is also fastest at breaching but requires the support of other divers and raiders to survive a firefight.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Sam Wey left Spark Unlimited in July 2013, just after the release of Lost Planet 3. He is credited in the ‘special thanks’ section of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, the last game released by Spark, in March 2014.

In May 2015, Spark Unlimited ceased any activities in game development. As we can read on Polygon, it seems Raiders of the Deep might have been canceled in the process:

Los Angeles-based Spark Unlimited, the developer behind Lost Planet 3, Legendary and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, is no longer making games and has laid off all of its employees, a former employee of the company told Polygon today.

John Butrovich, Chief Technical Officer at Spark Unlimited, confirmed to Polygon that “it’s the end of Spark as a game developer.” Principal members of the studio “have decided to move on to other things,” Butrovich said, and confirmed that Spark Unlimited co-founder Craig Allen resigned as president and CEO from the company late last year “to pursue other ventures and interests.”

Butrovich said that Spark’s in-development free-to-play game was canceled, as were other projects at the studio, leading to the company shutting down game development.

If you know someone else who worked on Raiders of the Deep and could help us preserve more screenshots, footage or details, please let us know!


Some pages from the PDF file

TimeShift/Chronos [Beta – Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2, PC]

TimeShift is a futuristic First-Person Shooter released in 2007 for the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, developed by Saber Interactive and first published by Atari, then, by Sierra Entertainment.

TimeShift‘s plot revolves around a secret program aimed at designing two time shifting suits. One is stolen by the doctor Aiden Krone, the main villain, and you, wearing the other, must go find it. Following him backward through time to 1939, player discovers a dystopian sci-fi alternative past with Krone as the supreme ruler.

Its key feature is the player’s ability to control time: slowing, stopping and rewinding it. This allows many possibilities during gunfight as well as solving specific puzzles.

The game’s development was pretty messy. It was first revealed in February 2004 under the title of Chronos, and was planned for the PC, Xbox and Playstation 2, using the in-house engine of Saber Interactive, the Saber3D Engine. As we can see on the screenshots for this version, it was using the same HUD as previous Saber’s game: Will Rock. Here is what we could read on French website Jeuxactu:

Known for having developed Will Rock, Saber Interactive is currently working on a new project called Chronos. This will be an FPS based on the same engine as Will Rock’s (which is also a homemade engine). If we don’t know anything at the moment about the scenario and the gameplay of the game, Saber Interactive has nevertheless shared some images on their official site. Planned on PC, Xbox and PS2, Chronos should probably be released later this year in the United States, as soon as a publisher is found.

The project resurfaced in October of the same year when HomelanFed announced that Atari was going to be the publisher:

A check of Atari’s official web site reveals some titles of games that have not yet been officially announced. The PC section shows a listing for Civilization IV, which is most likely the next game in the long running and popular strategy game series. Other unannounced games listed include three identified as “action” titles with the names Chronos (PC-Xbox), Enemy In Sight (PC-Xbox) and Rat Race (PC). Besides the titles and the game platforms there is no other info available on these games.

In January 2005, Atari renamed Chronos as TimeShift and shown it to Gamespot. Throughout the entire 2005 year, the project was showcased here and there at various occasions. However, in April 2006, Atari sold the game to Vivendi Universal Games, owner of the Sierra Entertainment’s brand, as we can read on Gamedeveloper:

Officials from Vivendi Universal Games have confirmed, via a pre-E3 press showing, that time-bending PC and Xbox 360 first person shooter title Timeshift will now be published by VU Games, rather than original publishers Atari. Although representatives from Atari have not commented on the change, the game was initially scheduled for a May release by the company, but no longer appears on Atari’s schedules. Vivendi officials were unable to provide further details at time of press, indicating only that the game currently does not have a scheduled release date.

The storyline alongside various characters were rewritten or removed, the only exception being the doctor Aiden Krone, formerly named Ivan. Here is what we can read about these former characters on GameGossip:

Colonel Michael Swift

Colonel Michael Swift (recently retired) has a unique combination of brains and brawn that have helped him to rapidly rise to the top ranks of the Air Force. An all-state running back in high school, Swift passed up on athletic scholarships from some of the country’s best universities to join the Air Force Academy where he majored in military strategic studies. After graduating from the Academy at age 21, Swift spent ten years as a combat and recon pilot, flying thousands of sorties. In the year 2004 during a secret mission he was shot down over hostile territory. He spent three months navigating the treacherous terrain of the enemy’s land, avoiding capture and battling the elements before successfully reaching the border of an ally. His resurfacing became the stuff of legend and the Air Force soon promoted him to the rank Colonel. He soon became a specialist in the research and development of advanced weaponry for future combat. Upon the death of his wife he retired from active duty and became a full-time father.

When a government agency initiated the testing of the Quantum Suit and the Chronomicon – a highly publicized event – they chose Swift to perform the experiment as he was the only candidate with the proper mix of DNA, brains and strength to perform he job. After initially declining the offer, the tragic death of his daughter Emma causes him to reconsider.

Professor Ivan Krone

Professor Ivan Krone was born in 1947. Krone’s father, Nicholas, was a scientist who worked in the US Patent Office in Washington DC.

In 1955 Krone’s parents were killed in an accident. With no known relatives Krone was transferred to an orphanage where he spent the rest of his youth. He became highly anti-social and isolated himself from the other children in the home. Krone escaped reality by embracing the study of science. For the next decade he devoted all of his time poring over the works of the world’s great physicists, from Newton to Einstein to Feynman to Hawking. Krone soon began to see himself as the next in line among the kings of physics.

By the age of 17 Krone was accepted into the Technology Institute where he studied for the next 10 years before receiving his doctorate in Applied Physics at the age of 27. Upon graduation he took a position in the Institute as an associate professor. He began to delve seriously into the study of time travel and time control. By the turn of the century, Krone had developed a device that he was convinced would allow for limited time control functionality. He sought out students interested in participating in an experiment to test the device. One student volunteered. The test proved disastrous – the device exploded during the experiment and the student was killed.

An investigation followed the tragedy and Krone was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide. He was sentenced to an unusually harsh prison sentence. For the next decade-and-a-half Krone’s obsession with time control grew even stronger. He feverishly devoted himself to its study during his long tenure in prison. Upon his release he had a host of ideas ripe for testing, but he couldn’t find a way to get them funded. He was rejected and shunned by the academic community and mocked for his obsession with the study of time. Krone was left to find a way to fund his studies on his own.

For the next decade Krone worked zealously. He spent days working as a janitor in a local college and nights secretly working in the school’s labs. By the turn of the century Krone had made a startling breakthrough. While he had not yet discovered a way to travel in time, he created a device that allowed for limited control of time. Word leaked to the public of this invention and the government quickly assumed control of the device in the name of the national interest. Krone was devastated. He had worked his entire life to come to this moment and now the government had usurped control over his project. The government promised him compensation and guaranteed him the right to continue to develop the project. He reluctantly agreed, all the while resentful of the government for scorning him and then assuming control over his life’s work. It was in this environment that Swift was chosen to test the Quantum Suit in November of 2007.

Jasmine Lin

Jasmine Lin is Ivan Krone’s assistant on Project TimeShift. She has a passion for what she does, and it has taken complete priority in her life – above family, a vacation, or a relationship. She is especially optimistic about Krone’s project…but she has a chip on her shoulder due to having been passed over multiple times within her career progression because of both the male-dominated nature of the military and the innate bureaucracy of the government itself. Additionally, she has been given the awkward and stressful task of gaining the commitment of the notoriously obstinate Colonel Swift, who is ironically the ONLY man found within the military (past or present) to be able to take part in the project due to his unique DNA.

General Bruce Mitchell

General Mitchell is Project TimeShift’s military overseer. While Professor Krone is the director—and the brains—behind the project, Mitchell unquestionably holds the purse strings. It is Mitchell who suggests Swift’s involvement in the Project, as his ex-superior. Enormously competent and meticulous to a fault, Mitchell cares only for the men under his command and his duty to his country.

Emma Swift

Emma is Swift’s 5 year-old daughter. She is the only family he has, and is the reason he initially turned down the chance to be involved in Project TimeShift in the first place. Her death in an accident that destroyed her school bus haunts Swift even as he agrees to take part in the Project.

Some famous actors were initially going to voice characters in the game. Revealed in July 2006 by Gamespot, Dennis Quaid was the voice of Michael Swift and Michael Ironside voiced Dr. Ivan Krone:

Today, Vivendi Games announced that Michael Ironside has joined the voice cast of TimeShift, the sci-fi shooter the publisher recently acquired from Atari. Ironside will play Doctor Krone, one of the scientists developing the time-travel technology at the center of the game’s storyline.

Joining Ironside is one of Hollywood’s more recognizable leading men. Dennis Quaid, whose 20-year career has spanned the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s, is also joining TimeShift’s cast. It will be his first game project and will see the aging heartthrob play Colonel Michael Swift (Ret.), a former test pilot who becomes the world’s first “chrononaut,” or time traveler.

Rounding out the cast is character actor Nick Chinlund, who will play General Mitchell, director of the game’s time-travel project. Though not a marquee name, Chinlund has appeared in many movies familiar to gamers, including Chronicles of Riddick and Training Day. Chinlund has had guest spots in several high-profile TV series, including The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives.

In the final game, none of the work done by these actors were retained, as characters Michael Swift and Bruce Mitchell were both entirely removed, and character Ivan Krone rewritten. Storyline was also a bit modified, but remains the same in general:

The storyline basically was as follows: Michael Swift, the protagonist, volunteers for a time-travel experiment, under the direction of scientist Dr. Ivan Krone. Swift travels back to 1911 and tampers with the past in some way. Upon returning to the present day, the entire world has changed and Krone is now an evil dictator ruling over a 1984-but-cartoony-esque United States.

Following the acquisition by Vivendi Games, TimeShift was pushed back for the end of 2007 and decision to make a complete overhaul of the project was taken. In April 2007, director of product development Kyle Peschel, explained everything that happened on Shacknews:

“So Sierra pulled me in the office last year–with seven bugs left to fix on TimeShift–and said, ‘If we gave you a year, what would you do with that?’

I said, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? I’ve got seven bugs, let’s put the fucking thing out tomorrow. I’m sick and tired of fucking crunching. I can’t handle hundred hour weeks for another year.’ And Martin Tremblay, who had recently arrived, said, ‘No, Kyle, I really believe we can do something greater than what we’re doing now. What would you do?’

“Well I said, ‘I’d scrap the physics system, get rid of this Meqon and put in Havok. I’d kill off the first four levels of the game, because we made the classic video game mistake of doing the beginning first and the end last, and the end is great and the beginning is weak. All these Full Motion Videos we paid for, I want to get rid of them. I want to get rid of the story, I want to get rid of the style guide, I want to get rid of the weapons, I want to get rid of the menus, I want to get rid of the HUD, I want to get rid of the suit. I want to get rid of the main character; people aren’t identifying with him.’ I just went down this list. I was kind of going after that list so aggressively that I was kind of hoping people would say to just release the game tomorrow, and then I could be done with it. But he goes, ‘Okay. Let’s do that.’

TimeShift has switched publishers (from Atari to Vivendi subsidiary Sierra), switched platforms (from Xbox and PC to Xbox 360, PC, and PS3), switched visual styles (from steampunk to gritty oppressive future), and switched innumerable control- and design-related decisions, but it has not switched its producer. Peschel described to me how he started on the project back at Atari, and how he managed to stick with it when it was dropped as a result of that publisher’s well-publicized tumultuous financial situation.

TimeShift was picked up almost four years ago almost as a value title,” he explained. “When it was originally picked up by Atari, I had just come off of some other first person shooters. It was kind of opportunistic–let’s take a chance on these guys in Russia. So I sat down and started looking at the game said, ‘You know, I think we could really do something with this,’ provided we really built the mechanics and made it not gimmicky, focused on an interesting art style like steampunk–set it apart from the myriad of things. So we started rolling with it, and got about done with the Xbox [version], and I sat down with [then Atari CEO] Bruno Bonnell and all the execs at Atari, and they said, ‘So, Kyle, can you make this game for 360?’ I’m like, ‘What, am I a fucking genie now?’ They say, ‘No, seriously, it’s for 360 now.’

“I say, ‘Okay, I’m sure we can get that out.'”

That was to be the first time the game would undergo large-scale redevelopment. Soon, however, Atari’s funding started to dwindle in the face of falling revenues, and in January 2006 the team was pressured to get a demo released quickly. Internet response illuminated some of the game’s major issues, some of which were a result of the game being quickly ported up to target then-current hardware, and some of which went as deep as the game’s perhaps poorly planned visual style.

“When you get something in that many hands, you listen to the feedback. I’m making games for guys like me, not for corporate America. I mean, I work for corporate America–I don’t want to sell it like I’m the fuckin’ hero of gamers everywhere–but I’m cognizant of what people are saying. I was on Shack reading the comments and, reading between the lines, people were saying basically, ‘I really like some of what they’re doing, but this steampunk shit is ass. Look at this fucking knuckleduster thing, what the fuck is that? It’s all confused.'”

Soon after, Atari announced that it would be shedding much of its development to help reduce expenditures. TimeShift was put up on the auction block, and Peschel quit his job to go work for Vivendi’s Sierra Entertainment label. “Within a day,” he recalls, he was approached by management with the possibility of Vivendi acquiring TimeShift from Atari and reassigning him to the project. At the time, Peschel was working under industry veteran Drew Markham, who founded Gray Matter Studios, designed Xatrix’s Kingpin: Life of Crime, and produced Gray Matter’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Markham saw, as Peschel had when the game was first signed by Atari, that TimeShift had more potential than it was demonstrating, so Peschel went back and started rethinking major aspects of the game.

“I changed the storyline up at the last minute, and that’s when we brought in [voice actors] Dennis Quaid and Michael Ironside and all those guys,” he recounted. “A funny thing happens when you rewrite the story: you pay attention to everything. I was thinking, ‘Fuck, X isn’t working, Y isn’t working, I wish I could do this.'”

That was when, at seven bugs away from completion, Peschel was called into Sierra’s offices and was told that he had another year. The original steampunk theme was dropped and replaced by a grittier, darker, more desolate future. The main character was redesigned from a muscle-bound action hero to a more faceless protagonist in a full body suit, into which Peschel hopes players will project themselves.

It must be stated that TimeShift’s visuals have come a long, long way since the game was shown in demo form last year. Since that point, it went through an overhaul to bring it up to speed for Xbox 360, but Peschel noted that even then the game had a great deal of legacy geometry and textures, and did not feel up to par with modern shooters. It was not until development was revamped again and the entire visual style scrapped that the game began to look truly new.

After its release, TimeShift has received mixed to positive reviews by the press. In December 2017, VentureBeat revealed during an interview of Matthew Karch, Saber’s CEO, that a spiritual sequel called Timebender was in development:

As Saber continues to work on Quake Champions, it’s also working on other projects, most notably a follow up to its 2007 time-manipulation shooter: TimeShift. Saber hasn’t officially announced it yet, but it’s in development. It’s something of a passion project for the studio. (…) Of course, it can’t be called TimeShift 2, since Activision still owns the rights, so instead it’s a spiritual successor. It will be a new story with a new name, but the most important elements, like the time manipulation, will be returning. (…) As for the new name, nothing is set in stone, but Karch has already registered ‘Timebender’.

According to some information made available from the e-book Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology: 14th International Conference, Timebender was going to be multiplayer only. However, according to this site, it seems that the project could have been dropped as the use of the Timebender trademark entered in the status “abandonned” in November 2018.

As noted by Liqmatrix the Atari PC seven level single player beta is available at this link: https://archive.org/details/TimeShiftAtariDemosDJXavieRO

Thanks to John Paul, Liqmatrix and Gerror for the contribution!

Chronos images:

TimeShift Atari’s version Images:

Gameplay videos from the 2006 demo:

Michael Ironside’s interview:

Nick Chinlund’s interview:


They Hunger: Lost Souls [PC – Cancelled]

They Hunger: Lost Souls is a canceled horror First-Person Shooter developed by Black Widow Games, exclusively for PC, from 2004 to 2008. It is a successor of They Hunger, a mod based on Half-Life.

They Hunger: Lost Souls was officially revealed in October 2005 by its developer:

Black Widow Games announced today the development of They Hunger: Lost Souls, its first commercial PC game powered by the award-winning Half-Life 2 Source engine from Valve Software. Based upon the highly popular They Hunger mod series, the upcoming title features a completely new horror-survival adventure. In North-Eastern Europe during the early 1960’s, strange anomalies culminate with dead corpses rising from their graves. As a tourist recovering from a tragic accident, you seek shelter in an ancient monastery overrun by bloodthirsty zombies, and become involved in an escalading cascade of calamities.

“They Hunger: Lost Souls is a first-person action game planned to take full advantage of the superior graphics, physics and new gameplay possibilities provided by the new Source technology,” said designer Neil Manke. “Without the previous technical restrictions of the now seven years old Half-Life 1 engine, we have been able to produce a brand new game far more exciting and creative than any simple sequel or remake could ever be. Fans of the original series should still recognize the basic gameplay style, although this is an independent story with no previous knowledge required.”

The new game is currently 75% complete after being secretly produced for almost a year, and a release date will be announced shortly. Regarding the adoption of a commercial model for this production, Neil explained “Next generation game engines are so complex and detailed that we would never be able to invest so much time and resources for such an ambitious project any other way. Right now we are still working out the pricing and distribution options, but our goal is a low cost alternative so it can be available for just a fraction of other commercial games.”

In the same month, Neil Manke, alongside Einar Saukas, were interviewed by Gamecloud:

Gamecloud – Why did you wish to use the Source engine from Half-Life 2 as the basis for your first game?

Neil Manke – Source is the only brush-based modern 3D game engine. In practice, it means a level designer can create interesting environments using mostly brushes, and later add special models to improve specific details. Working with brushes gives me much more flexibility and opportunity to improvise with my creativity. In comparison, most other state-of-the-art engines depend upon the rather slow and involved process of developing very specific models for every stage of architecture.

Gamecloud – What can you tell us about the back story for They Hunger: Lost Souls and how it relates to the previous They Hunger games?

Neil Manke – In the story, you are a tourist visiting North-Eastern Europe during the early 1960’s. After a dramatic, blood-curdling accident, you find yourself wandering alone in the wilderness and seek shelter in an ancient monastery. However, you soon realize things in this place of “sanctuary” are not what they should be. You then become involved in a desperate series of bone-chilling struggles to preserve your own life, and escape from this nightmarish experience.

Gamecloud – Where will the new game take place and what will the levels be like?

Neil Manke – Some of those locations have already been partially revealed in our first promotional images. Settings include: a huge ancient monastery complex comprised of many varied buildings, some clinging precariously to seaside cliffs, a zombie-infested salvage operation, an isolated farming settlement, wilderness areas with meandering river beds, lakes and waterfalls, fog shrouded swamps, and others. And there is still more to come.

Gamecloud – What new weapons can we expect to see in They Hunger: Lost Souls?

Einar Saukas – The weapons are similar to those in classic They Hunger, in the sense that they are a selection of era-relevant weapons, explosives and incendiaries. With the addition of a unique and innovative new weapon, the likes of which I can’t reveal to you, otherwise we will have to eliminate you and end this interview!

Gamecloud – What other new gameplay features will They Hunger: Lost Souls have?

Einar Saukas – There are many new gameplay features but obviously we can’t reveal much about them. For now I can only give you one example: One of the favorite features from the classic series was driving an old steam locomotive and flattening zombies with it. However, smarter zombies refuse to be such sitting ducks, so instead we decided to take advantage of realistic vehicle physics (provided by the Source engine) and give you a powerful tractor, that you can drive freely to chase the zombies down before running over them.

Gamecloud – Will this new game be episodic in nature like the previous They Hunger games?

Neil Manke – It is actually a fully independent game. However, we do have it planned as being the first game in a series. We already have a basic story outline for the sequels depending upon the reception of the first. Each game in the series is a complete story within itself, and each with an exciting and satisfying ending.

The game went into alpha in April 2006:

They Hunger: Lost Souls has now entered alpha stage. All level development is finished and refined. We are now focusing on final resources and content, which basically means integrating scripting, dialogues, additional models and animations.

However, in the following months, updates by Black Widow Games were pretty scarces. In October 2006, Saukas shared a little update about the development and told that various game models and animations were redesigned:

The game is now very close to release. From our previous screenshots, you can see the biggest issue we had was the lack of proper zombies. We were using “placeholder” models as temporary replacements for zombies during most of the development process, so we could continue working on other areas while we didn’t have enough people to model and animate new zombies. But in the last few months we were able to focus on the game pending issues, especially additional models and animations.

Our work is concentrated now on game improvements overall. There isn’t much left to do, but the game still needs lots of small details and tweaks that are very time consuming. We understand our fans are anxious to play it, but after about 2 years of development, it doesn’t make sense to rush its release now and sacrifice quality, when the game is so close to be finished. We still don’t have an official release date, but we can say it will be “very soon”.

In April 2007, an interview from Planet Half-Life clarified things a bit more:

Planet Half-Life: Ok, then … so what’s really going on?

Black Widow Games: Although we have never announced an official release date for They Hunger: Lost Souls (TH:LS), the truth is that our internal schedule had originally planned its release for end of 2006, but then we decided to delay it to implement further improvements.

It’s important to understand there’s a key difference between the original They Hunger, produced as a mod, and this new commercial game. A successful mod needs to be imaginative, very entertaining and have a good quality overall, but nobody expects a free mod to be flawless. In comparison, when someone buys a commercial game, the expectations are much higher. Players demand it to be polished in nearly every detail, and game developers have an obligation to provide this since they are getting paid to do so.

Planet Half-Life: The gaming landscape has changed, as it usually does, quite considerably in the time since we last spoke. Being big fans ourselves of zombie-themed games, our ears naturally pricked up when late last year Turtle Rock Studios announced the development of their new game, Left 4 Dead. Do you feel that you will be in direct competition with them, and what do you feel will set your game apart from theirs?

Black Widow Games: We are actually glad to have Left 4 Dead arriving around the same time as Lost Souls, because these two major titles based on the same zombie survival theme will probably attract much more attention together than each individual release.

As a matter of fact, the zombie genre is about all these titles have in common. L4D is a fast paced, adrenaline driven, pure action game focused on cooperation, where players have to always stick together to protect each other. If a player runs low on ammo, gets lost from his friends and surrounded by zombies, it’s game over for him… but that’s when Lost Souls begins.

Just like the original They Hunger series, Lost Souls is a horror game, where the player is expected to feel lonely, defenseless, and completely surrounded by zombies. Of course there’s also plenty of zombie killing as the player gradually finds out how to defend himself, but this is just part of the gameplay along with exploration, puzzle solving and story telling.

With L4D and Lost Souls based on opposite premises, there’s no possible comparison between these titles.

Planet Half-Life: Do you expect Lost Souls series to have more than three installments, or will this be a trilogy?

Black Widow Games: Lost Souls is the first chronicle and it’s composed of two episodes. The initial episode works as a “prelude” to the entire series, introducing all the story elements, a wide range of weapons, some of the key characters and all kinds of zombies. It has the player looking for shelter at an ancient monastery, where he can gradually learn basic zombie survival principles and the subtle art of killing the dead, all the while discovering some of the mystery about their origins. The following episode will introduce less conventional weapons and focus on exploring the surrounding areas, as well as revisiting the monastery.

The prelude episode will be released this year, and the next one just a few months later. In fact, we have already produced most of the second episode, but since there was too much content to be beta-tested and improved, we decided to focus our efforts to finish the initial episode earlier and release it in advance, instead of holding the game release until the entire chronicle was ready.

After that, unfortunately, everything went silent for Black Widow Games and They Hunger: Lost Souls. The game was mentionned on two issues from PC Gamer, the first one in August 2007, and the second one, a two pages preview, in March 2008. This was the latest news regarding the game before totally vanishing for an entire decade.

The rest of the story is a little weirder. In January 2015, a thread dedicated to the game on the Mapcore forum revealed some messages from one of the ex-developers, Teddy Bergsman Lind, on the project:

I was part of the team for a few years up until 2007/2008. At that time the game was about 60% finished, with 5-6 segments more or less done (the levels were huge). It should be stated Neil truly did a great job on the levels. I should still have the game anno 2008 on an old computer in a storage somewhere.

Everyone on the team, Neil and Einar included, pitched in in their spare time, and given the AAA scope of the project it was likely tricky business to sustain. Einar used to dream about starting up an actual dev studio to produce the game, and should there have been financial means I think it would have happened. Had Kickstarter been a thing back then, who knows. Our conversations eventually faded sometime in 2009; at that time to my knowledge the project was still alive, but I doubt it still is, at least as a commercial product.

I spoke with Einar for a while last night; he and Neil lost contact with each other years ago and have not been able to get back in touch since. There were some speculation Neil has been in bad health for a while. However, a few months ago Neil tried contacting Einar again. They weren’t able to get back in touch afterwards, so that’s the latest info there is. As far as project status goes though, it’s not cancelled. I think both of them are keen on getting back on track even after all these years.

In May 2019, builds coming from alpha and beta versions were leaked on ModDB.

To date, nothing has ever really been revealed about what happened during the development of They Hunger: Lost Souls. Through the various developer interviews, we can understand that Black Widow Games wanted to be perfect in the design of its first commercial game. Were the rumors that circulated about Neil Manke’s health true? Out of respect for Neil, Einar, and the rest of the Black Widow Games team, it’s perhaps best not wanting to know about it, and be grateful to have gotten, years later, the playable builds of They Hunger: Lost Souls, in order to appreciate their work.


Full playthrough of the 2006 alpha:

Full Playthrough of the 2008 alpha:

Images before the redesign:

Images after the redesign

Zombies : The Awakening (Krysalide) [PC/XBOX/PS2 – Cancelled]

Zombies : The Awakening is a canceled survival-horror first-person shooter developed by Krysalide for the PC, Playstation 2 and Xbox around 2003-2004 for a release planned in the beginning of 2005.

Using the Unreal Engine 2, Zombies : The Awakening was the first game from a small team composed of 15 people. Few is known about the game itself apart from the official announcement on the old website that we can now find everywhere on the Internet:

“Mix of FPS and survival/horror. Balance between action and adventure to offer a varied experience to the player.

Interactive use of the surroundings in order to survive in the besieged town : find objects to block paths, use electricity or gaz to forge a path to freedom. Find food and medication to save your skin and that of other survivors.

Beware the contamination… zombies attacks will slowly turn you into one of them… See your body changing, becoming slow and clumsy, but also more resistant to bullets and other attacks. But will you find a cure in time ? Find medikits, ingredients to a serum and use the sickness to your advantage.

Find other survivors. Each will bring new skills in medication, combat, electronics… and each one will have a different personnality and weaponry.

When ammo is sparse, use other mayhem devices : electric drill, molotov cocktail, and many more…

Half of the city is plunged in darkness. If you want to avoid surprises, find reliable light sources.

20 hours of intense gameplay, 11 levels to test your survival instincts, 20 weapons and 12 sidekicks.

Various and dangerous enemies, with different behaviors and intelligence. Hordes of living dead, squad based military, zombies, and bikers from hell ready to plunder town…”

On December 2003, a developer from Krysalide was interviewed by Ownt and shared more about the game:

“Zombies is a first-person shooter created to replicate the vibe of Resident Evil while offering the freedom of movement of a first-person game. Krysalide hopes to avoid the heavyweight competition of FPS by standing out for the gameplay peculiar to any good survival horror game.

The game will last about 15 hours and will be a series of missions and puzzles placed on a linear frame. Each mission will allow you to meet a new secondary character with his own weapon and special skills.

The project is ambitious, especially since it is planned to integrate into the game a substantial multiplayer part that the developer of Krysalide compares to Counter Strike with zombies in the center and on each side of the character classes (bikers, soldiers, police officers, survivors).”

However, after some gameplay was revealed initially on February 2004, the game vanished before French website NoFrag was informed from the CEO of Krysalide himself, Loïc Barrier, that it was definitely canceled due to lack of publishers interested in the project:

It’s been a year since we last talked about Zombies: The Awakening, and for a good reason: today I had confirmation from Loïc Barrier, the boss of Krysalide, that the game will never be released. It was canceled, apparently a while ago, when Krysalide realized that no publisher would accept the project as the developer had designed it.

We can speculate that it was too ambitious for a first game from a small team of 15 people that had never made before their own game.

After the cancellation of Zombies : The Awakening, Krysalide would still work as an outsource company on various projects made by French developers such as The Crew and Dishonored 2 before disappearing.



Terra : Formations (Starcave Entertainment) [X360/PS3/PC – Cancelled]

Terra : Formations is a canceled first-person shooter with real-time strategy elements developed by Cellien Studios, a two men team subdivision of game company Star Cave Studios, for PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 systems, from 2004 to 2017.

The game was first revealed in the beginning of 2005 by Cellien as a multiplayer FPS using the Torque Engine:

“We at Cellien Studios are developing a game on the Torque game Engine from www.garagegames.com. Terra: Formations is a Sci-Fi FPS game that will be played online much like Unreal Tournament style. The project website is www.terrathegame.com and our studio website is www.cellienstudios.com. So far our studio only consists of two people but for a two man team and only 5 months of development I feel confident that we will be able to release a demo in the coming months so keep an eye out.”

After a year of silence, Gamesindustry announced Terra : Formations, now headed by Star Cave Studios:

“Irish Star Cave Studios Limited proudly announces the development of its first “AAA” title and first multiplatform game, Terra: Formations! In Terra: Formations, players have the freedom to select their preferred style of game play, ranging from high action First Person Shooter (FPS) to more strategic Real-Time Strategy (RTS) in a ranking system set up much like a Role-Playing Game (RPG)! It’s the clash of the titans when it comes to game genres; FPS, RTS and RPG – all tied together in this awesome looking fast-paced, action packed, futuristic Massive Multimedia Online Game (MMOG), also featuring single-player options and adventure elements!

By the year 2157, mankind had depleted the resources of planet earth with his lust for power, technological advancements and greed. Ironically, the very machines that played a role in mankind’s irrevocable position were the only chance of survival! After several years of uncertainty, hope was reborn with the efforts of the Global Military Alliance to Terraform one of earth’s celestial neighbours, Jupiter’s moon called “Europa”. It wasn’t until the excavation of the satellite’s icy crust that mankind learned the truth; he was not alone and something, somewhere, was waiting, watching, learning and preparing for battle!

As a player in Terra: Formations, you join the ranks of an elite military force with the objective of reshaping the environments of inhospitable worlds, experience the evolution of a developing planet, and take command to become humanities only hope for survival in an epic struggle for control of the solar system.

Four classes of characters offer different insight to the chaotic world, each providing a unique blend of interaction. The Soldier faction allows for adrenaline pumping action that players have come to expect from traditional FPS games. As a member of the Engineer class, the player becomes the key element in the development of the environment by constructing and repairing mankind’s lifeline to the world. The Researcher class explores the evolution of the world to enhance society’s tools and develop new technology, and finally the player can opt to take command of the action from the perspective of the Commander class to bring order to an uncertain future, tying RTS elements into Terra: Formations.

Star Cave Studios Limited is a privately owned game development studio based in Ireland, and the cream of Irish developers! Founded in June 2004 by industry veteran Keith Killilea, CEO, its focus is to create state-of-the-art computer games targeted not only at the PC platform, but also the next generation gaming consoles! During the course of 2005, Star Cave Studios Limited acquired Cellien Studios, based in Austin Texas, and Single Cell Games, based in Australia, and has now become the leader of Irish game development!”

After that announce, however, the game was put on-hold indefinitely, before surprisingly coming back from the dead in September 2012 on platforms such as Steam Greenlight and Indiegogo, using this time the Unreal Engine 3:

“In Terra: Formations, players have the freedom to select their preferred style of game play, ranging from intense action First-Person Shooter to more strategic RTS planning in an online multi-player universe.”

The key concepts of Terra can be summarized by the conflicting species, player classes, life forms, technology, locations, and gameplay that are designed to make a genre hybrid, player driven world possible.”

Terra: Formations main features:

Rich, highly detailed, atmospheric and wonderful alien enviroments

Changing environments reflecting your terraforming progress, becoming more habitable and supportive of your species requirements. Tug of War gameplay.

Permanent changes in environments – terraforming levels will remember your changes.

Groundbreaking genre crossing gameplay, combining First Person Shooter with Real-Time Strategy.

Highly detailed player characters, with customizable appearances

RTS online gameplay where you give real players control commands.

Advanced AI Droids for FPS defending & RTS resource play.

4 distinct classes of characters; Soldier (FPS), Commander (RTS), Builder (FPS+RTS), and Medic (FPS).

Hi Tech Weaponry & Several Ground / Air Vehicles

Commander Special Attacks such as air-strikes, cloaking, superweapons.

Aliens have the ability to turn Humans by infestation into fellow Aliens.

Global online points & stats system.

Open Mod System allowing map makers to create new worlds.

“The game was announced back in 2006 for all major platforms from PC to Consoles and the screenshots you see in the Gallery tab at the top of this page is the playable demo from back then! We spared no expense to create “AAA” class graphics, code, game-play and pulled all-nighters with barely no lives at all. To develop the whole game we needed a publisher and in the end Terra needed to be put on hold – until now!

On the Indiegogo page, we could read further details on the company and some ideas behind that game:

“Based on our funding target, we would expect to nail the deadline for Beta Release in late 2013. We know exactly what we are doing, and as Terra has been many years in the making, we are confident in our deadlines! We will keep you in the loop with our development at all times, and give you a look into the process and progress we are making.”

“Example of how amazing Terra will be, your playing on the multi-player level and the world around not just changes due to the terra-forming but stays changed even when you return later to it! We want to bring you an experience of game-play not done before and a dynamic living world you would expect to be on.”

Unfortunately, the crowdfunding campaign wasn’t a success, the game only collected 75$ on a fixed goal of 175,000. After this failed campaign, Terra : Formations disappeared again, but attended a third comeback, this time in the beginning of 2014. Rebranded as T.E.R.R.A. and using Unity as new engine, the project was slightly different about what was initially planned from it’s former form and was, once again, put on Steam Greenlight:

We are an small team of 4 so far working on this title but if we are funded we can bring in extra help from our peers to bring the game to an completion stage. For the past few years the game evolved from it’s concept of different demo versions towards today, believe me we have had plenty of time to do trial & error on blending the genre’s! We ended up with the finish concept after all of this to what it is now, so much had changed we changed the name to the current form to represent this.”

The developers managed to release it in Early Access around Spring 2016, but in April 2017, as we could read on the comments section, Starcave decided to rebuild the game to it’s core in order to get significant improvements:

“There was a break in the development, where we were reviewing everything of the Early Access release build and have decided to rebuild the core to make better improvements for between EA to Full release to be as smooth as possible. More updates will appear as soon.”

It will never materialize and, since then, Starcave disappeared from the picture alongside T.E.R.R.A. which isn’t playable anymore.