Ignition Entertainment

BOOM: Unleashed (UTV Ignition) [Cancelled – PS3, Xbox 360]

BOOM: Unleashed (AKA Project Amazons) is a cancelled online multiplayer focused first / third person shooter / brawler for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, in development by UTV Ignition Games Austin (formerly True Games, which made the MMO Faxion Online) around 2010 – 2011 before their closure. While the project was never officially announced, its title was trademarked in January 2011 and rumors about its existence started appearing online.

Players could use many transforming weapons and vehicles / mechs hybrids. You could customize your character with different heads / torso / legs, choosing your weapons then join in post-apocalypse cities to hunt down other players. When using weapons there was a classic first-person view, then when riding vehicles / mechs it would change into a third person view. Vehicles could transform depending on the terrain and combat strategies, for example a bike transforming into an over-bike in water or a car becoming an anthropomorphic mech.

BOOM: Unleashed was canned just some months into development: as far as we know UTV Ignition also planned a single-player campaign, set in levels being destroyed by natural disasters. As it happened with many other cancelled games during the economic crisis of the early ‘10s, we’ll probably never see much more from this lost project.

Thanks to Dan and The_Phantom_Mask for the contribution!

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Reich: Downfall [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Reich (sometimes known as Reich: Downfall) is a cancelled FPS that was in development between 2007 and 2010 by Ignition Florida (formerly Artificial Studios), planned to be published by UTV Ignition Entertainmen for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. Other than blades and fire weapons, the main character would have had powerful telekinetic abilities, as seen in the leaked Reich Pitch Trailer and other videos, some taken from noigniton’s Youtube Channel.

The game was set in a distant future where Nazis have won the second World War and rule all around the world. Players would take control of Janus Cross, a former officer of the Reich, who associates with a sect of resistance fighters called The Chosen in order to take down the regime. The game featured a heavily modified Unreal Engine 3 which allowed large scale destructible environments as well as the use of telekinetic powers and weapons to defeat your foes, especially by using environment as a weapon.

Some features of the game were:

  • Unreal Engine 3 (modified w/ deferred lighting, physics engine was custom-made, and some other techy stuff)
  • Game was based on the idea that “Ambrosia” fueled your “psi-powers”.
  • Psi blades were blades attached to arms (think Baraka from MK3). This was eventully ditched.
  • Art direction for 6 month was to not have any curves in art. so everything was flat like boxes. Many people hated it.
  • Planned release for 10-10-10

As we can read on Develop Online, Reich was cancelled after the management executive of the studio mismanaged over $20 millions of funds that were meant to be used to finish the game:

The recent collapse of Ignition’s Florida studio, which left some 70 developers without a job, put the Reich project to a premature end.

Reich looked really promising, but sadly we’ll never be able to play it because of economic and management issues.

Before reading the details preserved below, keep in mind that every commentary by Jeremy Stieglitz (founder and project director at Artificial Studios) was made on Youtube dedicated videos, but were deleted over the years. According to Jeremy development of the game began in mid-2007 with a prototype within his company (known for Monster Madness and Cellfactor: Revolution), before taking a more concrete form in November of the same year with massive recruitment, according to many LinkedIn profiles of developers who worked on the project.

In discussion with various publishers, the studio made the decision to be acquired by the English publisher Ignition Entertainment on February 6, 2008. Following this announcement, some details about Reich (then known under the codename R6) were disclosed by Stieglitz:

“It’s using physics in a way few action games have before, the way you can interact with the environment and use the environment as a weapon.”

The purchase of Artificial by Ignition is due in particular to the takeover of the latter by the Indian company UTV Software Communications at the end of 2007, allowing the company to get additional funds for an extension in the AAA market. Artificial was then rebranded Ignition Florida. During the first year of development, Reich was managed by Stieglitz as Creative Director with the art director Steven Stalhberg on board. During this period, some management issues were already deplored by some anonymous developers on Spong.com (and saved on Caltrops.com/Gamerasutra), evoking poorly managed funds in the recruitment of seasoned developers as well as inexperience within the leadership and a certain immaturity, as recall by three sources:

“The blame falls all on the shoulder of Vijay Chadha CEO of Ignition who from the start put a 24 year kid named Jeremy Stieglitz in charge of the whole studio a boy barely out of college who could not even balance his check book let alone a multi-million dollar AAA game. Stieglitz spent millions on getting employees to Gainesville, Florida, paying thousands to fly them down for interviews and hiring no talents and giving them outlandish salaries. The biggest mistake of all was when Vijay Chadha, with pressure from UTV their parent company and the 60% Disney shareholders suits, wanted Ignition to present a premature slice of the game “Reich” to MICROSOFT AND SONY, the visuals werent ready nor the gameplay as it was all a mess.”

“(…) The aforementioned Jeremy was the first (manager), and while he had a vision for the game, it was a terrible one. He would constantly edit the story that the writers would come up with to insert his own stupid ideas. He couldn’t keep his hands off of any aspect of development, sometimes even editing code (which would break things for unknown reasons until the engineers found out what he had done). He had no sense of how to design a game from start to finish. He had no concept of money management — even once throwing himself a housewarming party on the company dime and spending nearly $3000 on alcohol alone.”

“(…) Jeremy needed a good right-hand man to curb his worst tendencies and let him focus on what he is good at. Instead he ended up surrounded with the incompetent, the deranged and a bunch of massive egos. Some of these egos were “untouchable” and interefered with the game’s direction. Hiring exceptionally talented artists from non-gaming backgrounds can work well (see those concept pics?) but not when they end up thinking they’re running the show and start violating every practice that’s needed to make a game dev studio function properly. This is a common theme with Reich and Wardevil.”

In the spring of 2008, a first presentation to the executives of Ignition as well as UTV, took place. The publisher’s feedback was to rework the art direction, the project is visually rebooted and new recruitment takes place. Jean-Pierre “JP” Targete succeeds to Stalhberg when the second version starts. The latter nevertheless remained within the company as an artist until October of the same year. Two Ignition ex-developers wrote :

“(…) The concept artists actually saved the game development from being ditched in a major presentation to Ignition corporate UTV in 2008. Some 8 million or more was poured into the studio at that milestone. If this did not happen many employees would probably have been canned and development stalled.”

“There were two major presentations if I remember while we were there, one was in May of 2008, there was no new 3D art based on the art-style at that time and the cinematic had some issues, and right from the source, Vijay Chadha and UTV approved extra funds based on the progression of the art style and the concept art but as always the tech and physics was always strong. This was the 2nd art reboot. Now there was another major presentation to the Ignition heads and UTV’s ceo Ronnie in September of 2008 I think which did have concept art, game play, 3D art and the Reich soldiers vs the Psi freak cutscene thats been posted etc so you might have been refering to that.”

The development of the second version continued without too many additional problems, and the game was once again briefly mentioned by the press in July 2008:

Ignition Entertainment has licensed Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 for a new FPS under development at its Florida’s studio. Described as a ‘groundbreaking’ new game, the title is a new IP for release next year which will ‘bring something fresh and exciting to one of the industry’s core genres’.

“Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 is an extremely versatile engine,” said Jeremy Stieglitz, game director and lead designer, Ignition Florida.

“So when deciding on technology for Ignition Florida’s first next-generation video game, there was no questioning that Unreal Engine 3 is the way to go.”

“Ignition Florida is pushing Unreal Engine 3 in a very exciting direction, especially in terms of environmental capabilities,” added Mark Rein, VP, Epic Games. “These guys have the chops to create some remarkable games, and we have complete faith in their technical and creative abilities.” – From MCV.

However, new twists occurred in the spring of 2009. Ignition Florida recruited the late Paul Steed, known to have worked on the first Wing Commander’s games and the first three Quake, to oversee Stieglitz in terms of leadership in addition to his own outsourcing company specialized in video game visual development (Exigent 3D). Following his arrival, Targete left the studio in April 2009 and Steed became the new art director of Reich, as stated by someone:

“The art director and artist who worked on these resigned from the company when Paul Steed and Exigent an outsource studio were brought in to help with management.”

With the help of his own company which takes care of the art direction, a third version is launched and all the work done by Targete is trashed. Stieglitz himself would say that one of the main problems in Reich’s development was “finding the good art direction” to create a dystopian futuristic universe ruled by the Nazis. Very quickly, a change of atmosphere took place within the studio, the game, meanwhile, also undergoing constant changes in terms of gameplay mechanics, game design, visual development or even scripted scene (where Stieglitz wanted to make Reich the “God of War of FPS”, Steed took more inspiration from Half-Life 2 and Duke Nukem 3D).

Many artists find themselves made redundant and replaced by others from the Exigent 3D studio. A non-playable tech demo/target render (the one with the Lincoln Memorial) was shown in closed doors at E3 2009. In the end of summer of the same year, Stieglitz left his post at Ignition Florida and Steed got his duties as the Creative Director as declared by another ex-developer wanting to stay anonymous:

“During the time I was there Paul Steed *somehow* was promoted again and again from Outsource Art Director to Studio Art Director and eventually to Creative Director over all facets of the studio, including Tech/Code and Game Design. How he managed to falsify those credentials I’ll never know. Of course while this was happening, he was still the managing owner of the outsource company producing the majority of art for the studio. When in charge, he essentially played games with the artists – where he would give them a task and the one who completed it closest to his satisfaction got to keep their job. He fired most of the artists just to fill Exigent’s work orders and make himself more money. If that isn’t a severe conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. Even poor corporate management wouldn’t allow for something like that to happen…”

During this period, many developers resigned due to his most borderline attitude (drunkenness at work and moral and physical harassment are the things that most often occur alongside unfair layoffs), but also criticize his artistic vision which displeases and is qualified as generic, in addition to some frauds. As wrote in 2015 by Cory Collins, former animator on the game:

“There were a lot of similarities with Killzone, as our outsource company basically stole their artworks and painted over them, then tried to pretend it was from them.”

Another developer wrote:

“I left not long after Steed was hired. I remember when JP and Jeremy were running the show not many people were fired and at least there seem to be progress. Don’t get me wrong it was by far a perfect but it seem to have been moving along. I feel if we would have stuck with the original direction and see it through and have completed the game much of this could have been avoided. The problem is, firing and then re-hiring and then going in a new direction is not only time consuming but a waste of money. I mean gameplay wise their were some great concepts that were created like the Statue-mech, the Psi-freak, the Reich dog. I heard Steed trashed all the hard work that had been done and started over. Looking at the pre-Steed artwork, it seems it had more continuity. What Steed provided seemed generic something you could see in a poor-man’s version of Bioshock or Fallout with no true vision.”

Development delays are piling up, deadlines are missed and developer morale sinks while at Ignition no one seems to care about what is happening. A video showing gameplay clips as well as a short multiplayer demo are still shown at the Tokyo Game Show 2009. In early 2010, however, following numerous complaints accumulated and video footage showing Steed’s behavior, the executives at Ignition make the decision to demote him of his functions and force him to work indefinitely at home. He remains nevertheless still art director but his role of project director is taken over by Richard Kidd, who had never worked in video games before. Four different ex-employees wrote and shared their personal experiences during that part of the development:

“Paul S. I don’t know too much about him, since he came on board right before I bailed. (…) I got a call a few months back from a friend at the company that told me an incredible story. The story of how Paul got himself fired. One night, an engineer was working late and when he went to leave, he found Paul drunk and passed out cold against the studio doors. When he reached down to wake him up, Paul punched him square in the face, knocking him down. As soon as corporate found out, he was fired immediately. I was then told that finding Paul in various states of drunkenness throughout the day was a common occurrence.”

(…)”Many weren’t so lucky they got verbally abused and some physically by Steed who in a drunk rage punched a programmer for no reason who was working late one evening. (…) Steed has a reputation of getting drunk at bars and fighting small weak programmers.”

(…)”Hell, he seemed like a nice enough guy when I first met him, but that impression did not last long.
-He once fired a guy for taking a vacation he was approved for. For his sister’s wedding no less.
-He once fired a guy for coming in a little late on a weekend despite the guy commutes on a bicycle and was one of our better artists.
-He most certainly did have numerous pending sexual harassment claims against him.
-He would talk shit about his employees
-Most definitely got intoxicated on the premises
-Definitely got in fights, there’s been a few employees that have or have almost taken knuckle sandwiches from him both in and out of the office.
-Definitely would forget the changes that he’d have requested the day before and then go off about how you aren’t taking the work seriously.
-He’d often circumvent everyone and try to include his own laughably amateurish attempts at 3D modeling into the game.
-And then all the incredibly stupid artistic, and managerial decisions
Hell, when he was in charge, morale had hit rock bottom, people left in droves, I knew many people that quit just because of Paul and no other reason. I knew people that arranged their resignation with Human Ressources to specifically not let Paul know that they were leaving, because they were afraid of how he’d react.”

“Early this year, we almost got him fired. Almost. By that point all the complaints about Steed had finally reached some boiling point with his superiors at UTV. All the hostile workplace complaints, pending sexual harassment claims, and numerous complaints about his mismanagement of resources and personnel, had forced UTV to step in. (…)UTV insisted on interviewing the entire departments. The Wednesday prior to the Monday corporate visit, Paul, probably seeing that shit was going bad for him, got ridiculous drunk late the night on the office premises, wandered around, urinated on things, and threw up on one of the building entrances before passing out. Then reflexively sucker punched someone who tried to help him up. This was caught on security cam. He never showed up to work the next day, by that afternoon though almost everyone heard what had happened. (…) During the Monday interviews with UTV. The whole studio pretty much threw Paul under the bus. (…) However due to his conflict of interest type situation where he owned the outsourcing studio that we used, we couldn’t totally be rid of him. So instead he got knocked down about 3 positions from the top and forced to work from home indefinitely, and was replaced by Richard Kidd.”

The new management continues to stall game development and many millions of dollars have already been squandered on the project. As stated by two sources:

“Several months ago, I called a friend of mine that still worked there and asked how the game was going (post-Steed departure). He said that they had literally just been sitting around for weeks, waiting to be told what game to make. Again, waste of money.”

“(…) The project had been going downhill for a while. I’ve read it elsewhere, but it’s very true how work was constantly being thrown out and redone most often for story reasons. That wasn’t good for morale. I was hired after Steed left (corporate was actually approving new hires right up until about a month ago), and I don’t think we made any real progress the entire time I was there. As of last week, the story itself was one of the most cliched and uninspired bits I’ve ever seen, but the powers that be were so devoted to it that they were constantly sacrificing anyone’s attempts to make the game fun because it needed to fit their god-awful story. The “script” for the game was a work of bad short fiction instead of an actual plan for level progression, and nowhere in it did the writer seem to think about how anything the player did ought to actually be fun. The leaked videos of the first iteration look more fun to me than what was being worked on last week, because having that much fun didn’t fit into the story anymore.”

However, in May 2010, shortly before E3, Ignition again decides to cleanup by firing Kidd and replacing him with Scot Kramarich instead, while Steed announces his departure from the project with his outsourcing company. As two former employees wrote :

“Around 2 weeks before I left, Paul just kinda disappeared with a very white washed email about exploring other options or some crap like that. We figured at the time he either got tired of being sidelined or UTV finally found out how to can his ass.”

“I was there when UTV tried to bring back Steed again in May and everyone was leaving or talking about leaving. It was around that time Vijay Chadha the CEO of Ignition seemed to disappear from the picture. Both him and his brother who headed up US publishing didnt show up at E3. Then I heard Ajay got fired. Vijay went off sick at exactly the same time and has not been seen since. But its pretty obvious something happened there. Especially as just around then Ignition hired new managers in London. A coincidence?! But there has never been any formal announcement or anything about a change of CEO or him leaving or anything.They came over around same time and fired Kidd, just before E3. And we had been hearing through our grapevine Paul Steed was coming back and was in town. He was telling people on the team he was coming back and people started leaving or talking about leaving in droves. But instead of Steed coming back they promoted up Scot Kramarich to head the team instead. One of the guys from London told me the Ignition marketing team had categorically rejected Steed’s game concept as unsellable. So it seems some people in Ignition did know what they were doing. But sadly not the ones calling the shots. You really got to ask what kind of idiots would rehire a guy after he abuses staff and swindles money out of the company into his own pocket ?”

Jason Kaehler is the new art director and a fourth and final visual reboot is underway, recycling many assets from the third version in order to accelerate the development of the game and reduce development costs as much as possible, several previously fired artists find themselves again engaged within the studio, as three different sources said:

“The game went through several art directors and 3 game directors (hence, 3 reboots)”

“The Executive Producer was doing good stuff and brought in good people to try and save this thing. We did have to reboot, but it was for the best. We were actually making a game finally. It’s not their fault the dick-heads before them Jeremy/Steed/Kidd pissed away cash.”

“The sad thing is, after rebooting at the end of May ’10 and fixing all the mistakes previous management had made to where they could actually finish the game and ship Q3’11, management dropped the ball in a huge way. They put a hiring freeze in place to keep the studio from hiring the essential artists needed to complete the game (you know, the ones Paul Steed fired?), and yet complained about the art quality (which was primarily Paul Steed’s previous art as placeholder). The team had 3 levels finished with gameplay, waiting for art which couldn’t be delivered do to the freeze, and 3 more in production during the studio closure. The management that the studio received in the last few months did a great job of cleaning up and getting schedules in place (another failing of Paul Steed) and we caught by surprise just as much as the rest of the studio because everyone was on their way to finishing a good (if not great) game.”

By the way, the story of the game is slightly modified: this last version saw the whole concept of the sect of the Chosen as well as the character of Janus Cross being ditched. Instead, you played as Grimm, a former veteran soldier, who found himself left for dead after the reich attempted to do experiments on him, leaving him with telekinetic powers in the process. He is then recovered by the Resistance, with on board, the character of Morgan, leader of the latter (and probably the love interest of the main character – see the Zeppelin Attack mission script by Travis Greene for more information).

It will be too little too late for them, however; in Fall 2010, a demo of the game was apparently shown and collected a rating of 5.0/10 while the publisher expected a rating of 8.5/10 according to Gamesindustry. Ignition takes the decision to close Ignition Florida, laying off 70 developers in total and cancelling once and for all Reich on November 3, 2010. In the end, it’s 3 years of development, 4 different versions and 23 millions dollars of budget which were invested in Reich. Several assets and some tech ideas were to be reused for another FPS from Ignition, BOOM: Unleashed, which will also be canceled in 2011 for other reasons, as implied by a former Reich’s developer:

“Whatever hope Ignition had of making that money back is gone now. Instead of launching a AAA title, they’ll swallow that loss and release a cheap digital download.”

And later stated by Jim Sterling himself while he was still working for Destructoid:

“According to Shane Bettenhausen, the form that Reich originally took “isn’t there anymore.” Whether this means it’s changed genre, altered its sexy, over-the-top themes, or something else, remains to be seen. The studio working on it merged with a browser-based free-to-play dev called True Games.”

That same politic would be applicate by the company for Wardevil, becoming Project Kane, a slightly less ambitious title set to be released for console’s digital platforms, following the success of Blacklight : Tango Down.

In the end, the chaotic development and cancellation of Reich is due to inexperience. The development studio had never worked on AAA games before, same thing for the publisher, quite modest in its previous productions, which had suddenly decided this change of market without knowing what it required. Interestingly, many of the people who worked on the game were on their first try for a AAA game at this time, it was even, for others, their first game at all in the industry. As five ex-developers concluded on why it failed:

“Jeremy didn’t need a “right hand man” because he had two left hands and was pretty much crippled by his lack of managerial skills, he needed experience working under someone who knew how to direct a AAA game, unfortunately he didn’t have that and Paul Steed wasn’t the answer. Jeremy’s a brilliant guy and an awesome programmer and I think with some time he will develop into a decent game director but at that time he was not ready.”

“The problem was that Ignition took a great, small independent outfit and decided to immediately grow them into a big-money AAA studio without stopping to think that it might not be a good idea. (…) Having seen the way people were relocated to Florida then hit with pay cuts, changes of responsibility etc. it’s no wonder morale was shot. There isn’t a team in the world that could have “risen above” the crap that was going on there. I left Ignition not long after the move to the new building in Gainesville. I was tired of all the lies, egotism and rank incompetence and the effect that was having on a team that had a great kernel of talented devs. Since then it’s just been one more sick/hilarious story after another.”

“This comes as no surprise. It’s been a couple years since I left Ignition Florida behind, and the friends I have that still worked there when the studio was shut down had nothing but horror stories throughout Reich’s development. Laying off/firing talented and seasoned developers, and hiring untalented ones to replace them at lower salaries to cut costs. Result: the game was redesigned from scratch 3 times (maybe more), after millions had already been dumped into each iteration. (…) In the end, nothing went right. Nothing. There were some very talented guys there at various stages of the first iteration, which I was a part of, but things went to s**t incredibly quickly when we realized our game director had no idea how to direct a game.”

“(…) Ignition and it’s investors are chumps who don’t know a thing about business, let alone game design. (…)I suppose one wonders why Ignition continued to put so much faith in Paul… it’s because Paul never delivered a game. He would deliver a movie to corporate every single time because the game was unplayable, unpredictable, and scripted/edited movies are great for pretend time with the executives who know nothing about what real game development looks like.”

“(…) Basically all iterations of the game suffered because of one main reason:The corporate heads at Ignition didn’t know how to control nor run a US based game studio. They made some seriously bad choices in managers and directors down the line.”

Today, some key Reich’s developers work within Studio Wildcard, well known for Ark: Survival Evolved and its sequel. There are at least 10 ex-developers in the company, including Jeremy Stieglitz and Richard Kidd. Still according to Cory Collins, many of Reich’s scriptwriting, visual and gameplay ideas made their way to the game Wolfenstein: The New Order, and potentially its sequels (small fact : developper Carsten Rojahn worked on both game as a sound designer, but not on the sequels).

Article by Dan

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WarDevil [X360 PS3 – Cancelled]

WarDevil: Enigma (aka WarDevil: Unleash The Beast Within) is a cancelled action game that was in development for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, from 2004 to 2010 by Digi-Guys (Ignition London), a subsidiary of Ignition Entertainment. The studio started to work on this project as a tech demo for the “Xbox 2” console, but after almost 6 years and a lot of money spent, they were closed down, 30  staff have been laid off and WarDevil was officially canned. It seems that apart from the awesome graphic engine, there was not much in a playable state.

Digi-Guys created an early prototype of the game on the original Xbox, as we can read in an article by Edge:

Some more about that Xbox demo, first, as it casts Whitehurst’s rhetoric in a substantially different light. It was developed in 2005, when you’d expect all eyes to be on Xbox 360. Such is the nature of Digi-Guys’ new pipeline, though – designed as it is to render Hollywood-grade visuals at true 1080p, at an unbroken 60 frames per second, using just one core of a modern console CPU – that the demo would have to do much more with much less to be a valid proof of concept. […]

The background for this one is a visit by Sony reps in October 2005, by which time Whitehurst had built the kind of HD studio that was still having to be described to most developers. They saw the Xbox demo – and remember, this is the same year that Doom 3 struggled its way on to the same console – and were suitably impressed. “They said: ‘Here’s some devkits. Let’s see what you can do’. So we got a very quick build running, then there was this whole shebang for the E3 2006 [PS3] launch, with everyone having to submit what they were doing.” […]

The demo is essentially a short section of gameplay and introductory cutscene in which the WarDevil, an ‘ultimate killing machine that can make 10,000 men lay down their arms’, shows his stuff against the troops of his nemesis, The General, using a God Of War-style mix of blade attacks, martial arts and supernatural powers.[…]

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