Lex Ferrum is a cancelled multiplayer hack n’ slash that was in development by YDreams and Nokia for the ill-fated N-Gage. The project was quite ambitious and original for its time, using actual geo-localization of players who communicated and competed locally via Bluetooth. The team behind the game was composed by Tiago Carita (game designer, 3D artist and animator), Pedro Lopes and António Lobo (both in charge of 2D art) and Antão Almada, Mário Franco, Hugo Abreu and Eurico Moita (programmers).
I’d like to thank Tiago Carita for the time he took to answer my questions about their lost game, and Ivan Barroso for getting us in contact. Also, special thanks to Nélio Códices who sent me all of the screenshots you can see in this article.
Lex Ferrum was in full development around 2003, green-lighted after a prototype made in two months for Nokia. The company was looking for a way to demonstrate the Bluetooth capabilities of their recently launched N-Gage, and YDreams was hired to create a new game that would use such features. Lex Ferrum would use Bluetooth to connect more than 100 players in the same area, an impressive feature that was tested during the Nokia Conference 2003 in Portugal.
Lex Ferrum told the story of a fierce battle between Moors, Nordic, and Iberian warriors for the control of Akio, a sacred realm taken by evil spirits. Players are invited to choose one of these clans, each one with three playable characters. After choosing your warrior you would immediately start fighting against near real-human players and deadly ghosts controlled by AI.
Each warrior could choose between different weapons, such as axes, swords and scimitars. During the Nokia Conference 2003 you could move around the place with your N-Gage, finding real-life Lex Ferrum Bluetooth shops decorated with weaponry and altars. When you got close to one of these shops, the game would immediately connect to them via Bluetooth and activate the corresponding place on the N-Gage screen. You could then buy new weapons, magic potions and spells, for extra help on the virtual battlefield. According to Carita, during the Nokia Conference 2003 around the venue you could also find “two medieval chapels with chanting priests, a witch with a steaming cauldron and a gunsmith doing his craft, one in each corner of the event. If you got close to one of those areas, your N-Gage Bluetooth would detect them and you could be resuscitated by the priest, buy scrolls from the witch or weapons and armour from the blacksmith.”
During battles even deaths were of extreme importance: dead characters became ghouls and to resurrect you had to take vital energy from enemies or find a real-life priest around the venue. In the end, only one name would be remembered: the last warrior remaining alive would be declared the heir to the throne of Akion, the leader of its people. With its 100-player multiplayer, Lex Ferrum was basically a local hack ‘n slash battle royal.
After each battle players would acquire gold and experience points, to be used to buy items in shops and level-up your character. If you didn’t have 100 real life friends you could also play Lex Ferrum by yourself, fighting opponents controlled by the game’s AI. This “single player mode” would have been quite useful, as technology at the time was not advanced enough for the game’s 100-player ambitions: “it was quite hard to connect more than 10 people in the same 50 m2 area using available bluetooth technology at the time. To connect 100 players would have been impossible. The team was in panic and despair when we found out our idea wasn’t technically feasible. Bluetooth could hardly see each other and it kept losing connection: it was hard to fight someone near you”.
In the end YDreams made some changes to Lex Ferrum’s code: “When there were too many N-Gages around you, Bluetooth could detect the IDs of each device, but it didn’t connect. We then used GPRS signal between cellphones and if there wasn’t any bandwidth the game would just launch an opponent controlled by AI. In this way, it looked like you were connected via BT to dozens of people”.
After the game’s presentation during the Nokia Conference 2003, YDreams in collaboration with Nokia tried to expand the game’s mechanics with more layers of combat, content, characters and missions, but unfortunately they realized it was not financially doable. The only playable version of Lex Ferrum was conceived to be used during Nokia events and with no more budget to invest into the project it had to be canned.
Thanks to Códices we can preserve some Lex Ferrum screenshots in this page: if any other concept or media shows up in the future, it will also be saved here.
Dungeon Hero is a cancelled hack & slash / dungeon simulator that was in development around 2006 – 2008 by Firefly Studios, the team mostly known for their Stronghold series. The game would have been published by Gamecock Media on PC and Xbox 360, but in October 2008 the publisher was bought by SouthPeak Games and the new managers abandoned the project.
“Their latest project is called Dungeon Hero and features as the main character a human mercenary with some combat experience and little left in the way of a moral compass. To make matters even worse, said mercenary is now employed by a pack of goblins, those little charming creatures everyone remembers from any old generic role playing game with a fantasy setting. These goblins are rather upset with another goblin tribe and the mercenary player is there to get the job of leveling goblin cities done.”
It seems Dungeon Hero would have had an comical approach to the genre, with funny situations, unexpected moments and a pinch of goblin-life simulator. As described by Wired and Destructoid (E3 2008):
“Firefly Studios’ upcoming Dungeon Hero, for the PC and the 360, will be different from other dungeon crawlers because, they say, it’s the “first dungeon-based game to realistically depict underground life.” Players will prowl through a remarkably realistic subterranean community, complete with goblin cheese merchants and troll miners.”
“Firefly Studio’s Simon Bradbury wants you to know that like all of us, goblins sometimes have to take a leak. – We wanted to create a world where the enemies wouldn’t just stand around. Why is there a chest of gold there, and why is this goblin waiting for you to kill him? It doesn’t make any sense.” This is the peculiar premise behind Dungeon Hero – a believable world, where believable goblins and trolls do believable goblin and troll-like things. The game shuns the hack-and-slash genre’s clichéd dungeons populated by groups of enemies who live for nothing more than to get slaughtered at the end of a hero’s blade. In Dungeon Hero, everything has a purpose; it’s a game set in a completely fictional world that attempts to be grounded in reality.”
“The area we see at first appears to be a goblin hospital, with wounded goblins lying on cots, and others crying out in pain. Goblin doctors stitch up wounded goblin soldiers and goblin citizens. One goblin looks like he’s preparing for surgery as he readies a crude looking drill. Deeper in the trenches, we see more goblins engaging in other, more leisurely activities; one is sitting relaxing on a bench and playing a guitar.”
“As the boat moved through the canals of the city’s underground, goblins on either side went about their daily business. Firefly are trying to convince gamers that goblins (in a sense) are people, too; they’re not simply waiting in dungeons to be hacked and slashed to pieces. Based on what I saw, I’m sold — some were doing laundry, others were dumping buckets of water from the top floor of their goblin homes.”
“In the demo, we only saw what looked like a handful of moves (mostly different types of slashes), but we were told that there are over 300 different types of upgradeable moves. The skill chart we were shown looked like a map of the human nervous system; it was ridiculous enormous, with dozens of paths breaking off from dozens of paths.”
“Seven years and seven games later Firefly, having felt the effects of the 2008 credit crunch which caused funding to disappear for their ambitious hack-and-slash RPG Dungeon Hero, decided a change was needed. Working with a skeleton team of four the developer quickly prototyped, iterated and released a closed Alpha for Stronghold Kingdoms, Firefly’s first foray into free-to-play, without a publisher. Over the course of the next two years the Kingdoms player base grew from tens to hundreds of thousands. The game entered open beta in 2010 and launched on Steam in early 2012. It would remain in the Top 10 Most Popular free-to-play games on Steam for two years”
Beat Force (ビートフォース) is a cancelled hack ‘en slash that was in development by Sammy for Mega Drive. A single screenshot was published in french magazine Joypad (issue 18, March 1993) with a short description (translated with Google Translate):
“Nothing is easy when you are a great hero. AHL knows this very well, he’s always asked to save the world from debacle. […] Beat Force is a kind of futuristic Gauntlet in which you play the role of an over-armed gladiator. While the action is viewed from above, the screen moves in a multi-directional scrolling with an excellent effect.”
More images and details could be still hidden away in other Japanese magazines.
It is not the first, but one of the more memorable failures in Keiji Inafune’s growing history of cancellations and shortcomings: “Kaio: King of Pirates” was announced for the 3DS in 2011, and was planned to not only be a launch title for Nintendo’s wildly popular handheld, but also to spawn an own multimedia franchise with anime, manga and toys. The project was the first game that Comcept, Keiji Inafune’s new studio, should develop after he left Capcom. Looking for an alternative way to achieve his visions and free himself from restrictions, he decided to found Comcept and Intercept, two new game development companies to work on his own ideas and titles.
Kaio: King of Pirates was the first game to be developed by Comcept and Intercept. Marvelous had acquired the rights to fund and thus publish the game. It was planned as the first part in a trilogy of games that would recount the infamous Romance of the Three Kingdoms tale, similar to other Japanese games like Dynasty Warriors. In this case, the scenario was that of pirates, ships and sea monsters, albeit with the twist of anthropomorphic characters. The main character Sangokushi is a penguin, and in the trailer one can spot numerous other animals such as lions, snakes, parrots, cats and even dragons. There is not much else to be found on the internet: the first and only trailer with English subtitles from 2011 is everything that is left of Kaio: King of Pirates.
Gameplay was planned to be quite like the Dynasty Warriors series, with the ability to pick up and play for longer sessions without problems. This is also one of the reasons why Keiji Inafune chose the 3DS as main platform, as opposed to mobile phones. The game was announced almost around the same time that the 3DS was unveiled, and was planned for release in 2012. Later, it was delayed to 2014, before being cancelled by Marvelous in the beginning of 2015. The company stated it had lost around 3.8 million dollars (or 461 million yen) in the 4-year-period of Kaio’s development.
Keiji Inafune has since turned to crowdfunding for his newer projects, but it seems the former Mega Man-talent cannot reach the glory of his past projects: Mighty No. 9, despite being a successful Kickstarter campaign, has received rather mixed and average reviews after release in 2016. Other Comcept games are Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z from 2014 for PS3, X360 and PC, as well as the Microsoft Studios-published ReCore, which also released in 2016 for PC and Xbox One. Let’s hope Inafune’s bad luck will end soon, because his next project Red Ash: The Indelible Legend is described as the spiritual successor to the Mega Man Legends titles. Despite causing some controversies in its Kickstarter campaign, which ran when Mighty No. 9 was still in development, the game is planned for a 2017 release on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
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