Open World

Project Overdrive (Vistage) [PC – Cancelled]

Project Overdrive is a cancelled first person open world game that was in development since 1999 by Russian studio Vistage, to be published by Buka Entertainment in late 2000 / early 2001, many months before the release of GTA 3. Overdrive was an ambitious project, with many features that are still missing from today’s open world games, such as explorable buildings with no loading times and destructible environments, vehicles and gibs.

project overdrive: vistage buka entertainment cancelled open world game

By looking at the screenshots and video below you can notice how Project Overdrive looked great for its time, with a big city to freely explore while hijacking cars, completing missions and trying to not being arrested or killed by cops. If only finished and released before GTA 3, Overdrive could have been a huge influence for the new generation of 3D open world games and Vistage could have became the Rockstar of Russian video games.

As we can read in the original press release by Buka Entertainment:

“Behind the bright, clean surface of a modern city lurk the masterminds of crime, the ones they never catch. You are not yet one of them, though. Here you are, at the federal prison’s gates, a crumpled $20 bill in your pocket and a whole new life to build.

You’re smart, hi-tech and deadly: will you spend your days being an honest worker? Think again. There are enough high-paying jobs, and, with your underworld connections, it’s time to start climbing the crime ladder again, but remember: your reputation will always precede you.

Starting small is a wise choice: it should be easy to become a courier for the local mob. There are a whole lot of opportunities if you don’t mind getting your hands a little bloody or occasionally washing them in water that’s too hot for comfort. Become a bodyguard – or a hit man. Take orders from no one except the Boss – or work only for yourself. Save up and buy a car – or just steal one (remembering to watch out for the police – or just shoot them, if you think that’ll be easier).

Uniquely, PROJECT OVERDRIVE combines the best elements of shooters and driving games in a way that will appeal to anyone who likes movie car-chases and shoot outs, as well as hard-core gamers. It promises to release the first person shooter from the dungeon, bringing portal technology and high quality gameplay into the open where they can be appreciated properly.

This is a new kind of game that redefines the meaning of the words immersive world. Imagine a giant metropolis, several hours across, with streets full of cars and people going about their business, legal or otherwise, hundreds of buildings looming over your head and complete freedom to live your life as you see fit. Make your choices and face the consequences.

Unique 3D-engine with portal technology allows consistent frame rates while walking or driving in the streets, or inside complex buildings; no loading screens and therefore no pauses entering or exiting buildings. Intelligent reflections and shadows.

For the first time ever, real life physics and damage. Everything obeys the laws of physics with unparalleled accuracy, and this means that, just like in the real world, everything can be destroyed: cars can be twisted out of shape, windshields broken, doors torn off; humans can be maimed or reduced to a pile of body parts, furniture can be broken to pieces or burned.

Sophisticated artificial intelligence: all characters have sophisticated and realistic behavior models. Cars and pedestrians obey traffic lights and signs, intelligently following the best route to get to their destination and doing their best to avoid collisions.

Enormous city with distinct districts, for example Chinatown. Uniquely, you can enter any building in the game. The final level takes place on a separate island. Day and night cycle. Complete freedom of action; there are many different ways of finishing the game.”

Even more details can be found in the old Project Overdrive FAQ:

“You start at the bottom of a crime syndicate’s ladder and work your way upwards, hopefully right to the top. You can steal cars, kill for hire, intimidate the opposition, in the process earning money for buying weapons, equipment, cars and even fancy apartments.

Players are trying to increase their wealth and status in the criminal world by successfully completing a variety of missions. The gameplay is non-linear, however, so there is no single way of completing the game. In addition, most of the missions in the game aren’t pre-scripted, but automatically generated by the AI, and these two features should ensure great replayability. There will also be the option of selecting and playing any mission, with a free choice of weapons, out of context as an independent unit.

Most importantly, the high quality of the game’s engine, graphics and AI. The city already looks breathtaking (see screenshots), and, for the first time ever, it will be possible to enter absolutely any building in the whole city and interact with its contents, whether they are people or (smashable) furniture or whatever.

Secondly, the game’s uniquely realistic physical model should put it head and shoulders above the rest. Objects are not just a series of polygons, but real entities, which interact and deform just as they do in the real world. For example, if a grenade lands near a tree, the tree will catch fire; later, the tree might fall on top of a car and squash it. This real world complexity is unprecedented (although a few sacrifices have been made in the name of more exciting gameplay).”

Unfortunately Vistage had some problems during development and in January 2001 Project Overdrive was put on hold by Buka Entertainment, and never completed:

“It was not easy to us to make this decision, as a great effort had been put forth to the development of the game. The originality of the design had attracted attention of many gamers both inside and outside Russia. Quite a few people had expected the game to be released at the beginning of 2001, hoping it to become a hit. But, when the game went alpha, it became clear to us, that the final version would not meet our and our users’ expectations. And as we would not like to disappoint our users, we made the decision to put the project on hold.”

Thanks to a Russian gaming journalist a playable prototype of the game was saved and preserved online, you can download it from mirrors at 3D Shooter Legends and The Iso Zone. As wrote by Talonbrave, in this prototype you can find many of the promised features that would have been expanded if only the game would have been completed:

“The game is actually quite complex; supposedly it’s playable from the first mission to the end, vehicles have per-vertex deformation, a lot of elements within the environment are destructible, characters use inverse kinematics for some interesting results, cars have a limited amount of petrol and need to be filled up, there’s a trading system in the game, you can customize your character, there’s supposedly support for multiplayer, shadow mapping, a completely dynamic lighting system that supported day and night cycles, it appears there were also multiple locations such as an island, there are no loading screens as the game attempts to stream in content during gameplay and seems to feature fairly complex AI for the time.“

Thanks to Svyatoslav for the contribution!

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Grand Theft Auto [Nintendo 64 – Cancelled]

A Nintendo 64 port of the original Grand Theft Auto was planned by DMA Design (along with a Sega Saturn version), but unfortunately the game was never released. A few previews of GTA 64 were published in websites such as IGN, revealing some more details about this port:

“Rockstar isn’t releasing much on the Nintendo 64 version of Grand Theft Auto, except to say that it’s not the sequel or an add-on pack. IGN64 has learned that the game, though essentially a port of the PlayStation original, will feature significant additions in the vein of souped-up graphics and added levels and characteristics. “

While websites never shown any official screenshot for the N64 version, a few alleged images were published by some magazines in Spain and Italy, showing “blurred” textures / 3D graphics for the environments that really looks like something a Nintendo 64 could do. Here is one of these articles, found by Luchi in Spanish N64 Magazine (issue 19, july 1999):

GTA Nintendo 64 cancelled

Unfortunately without any official statement it’s hard to say if these screenshots are really from the cancelled GTA 64, but it’s interesting to notice that in the official  design document for Grand Theft Auto (at the time titled “Race ’n’ Chase”) the game was indeed planned to be released on the “Ultra 64”.

 

Avenida dos Aliados [Demo / Cancelled – PS2, PC, Xbox]

Avenida Dos Aliados (named after a famous avenue in Portugal) is a small demo developed by Portuguese team Gamelords (later renamed Seed Studios), created as a pitch to potential investors for the development of a full open-world adventure game in the style of Grand Theft Auto, using the UEFA Euro 2004 football competition license.

Since Gamelords formed in 2000 they always tried to impress publishers with their tech demos (Survivors, Room), to show off their skills and have a chance to develop their first, full game. Thanks to their efforts and great demos, in 2002 they managed to schedule three business meetings with different publishers, although only one of them (with Linha de Terra Studios) was successful.

As in 2004 the UEFA Euro 2004 football competition was to be held in Portugal, Linha de Terra Studios commissioned them this Avenida Dos Aliados demo to show it to different investors, trying to secure the Euro 2004 license with something more original than a classic football / soccer game.

Thanks to Linha de Terra Studios’ investment Gamelords worked on the demo for three months, improving their 3D engine, adding better animations, physics for vehicles and a new lighting system, among others details.

As the final version of this demo they had a faithful reproduction of Avenida dos Aliados (in Oporto, Portugal) in 3D, and just like in GTA it was possible to explore the avenue, get inside a car and drive around. This demo was quite good for its time, with several details adding to the realism such as pigeons that flew away when player passed by.

Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly) the Euro 2004 license was later bought by Electronic Arts to create one of their football / soccer games and as such, without the investment needed to keep on the development of a full game, the team had to cancel this project.

After the Avenida Dos Aliados demo Gamelords started working on “Holy War”, another lost game which story has already been told in this website. Below you can see some screenshots from the Avenida Dos Aliados demo, kindly provided by one of the developers, Filipe Pina.

Article by Jump/Error, original version in Portuguese on the Videogame PT Blog!

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Ride to Hell: Retribution [Beta – Xbox 360, PS3, PC]

Ride to Hell: Retribution is a low-rated action game developed by Eutechnyx and Deep Silver Vienna, released in 2013 for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC: the game is a linear, buggy, and occasionally tasteless mess. When it was originally announced in late 2008 as Ride to Hell it was meant to be an true open world adventure taking place in 1960’s California, with influences coming from Biker films. The game was planned to be published in 2009 and formally shown off as the cover story for the January 2009 issue of Play magazine.

As we can read in the first press release:

“Action loaded from the very start with free roaming environments, players can immerse themselves in the liberty and freedom of riding full throttle with their gang on a multitude of different vehicles through the dusty flats of Western America. Protecting their turf, their brothers and their machines from rival gangs is just a taste of what this epic game will involve.

‘Ride to Hell’ is not for the faint hearted; it’s aimed heavily at the player who wants to become fully involved in the original West Coast biker culture. With its hard drinking, bare knuckle environment, this is as close to the action as you can get.

In a movie style production model, the internal Deep Silver studio is teaming up with leading creative companies such as Eutechnyx, Perspective Studios, and others, to bring the authentic and massive game world of ‘Ride to Hell’ to life.”

The keyword to describe the original “beta” game was “free”: freedom to explore the world as you please with your bike. The team’s goals were to create a vast experience, a sandbox world with incredibly high details. Your motorcycle was just as important: it would be used to move around the map, earn respect from other NPC bikers and to show your power. You could have been able to customize your own motorcycle to recreate nearly anyone you’d find in real life.

You would take control of a man named Ray, a Vietnam War veteran returning home to find his world changed. He would soon join a Biker Gang named Devil’s Hand: this would start the game’s adventure, with the mission to earn respect for the gang, to make it grow and heighten your reputation as one of the best bikers. This had effects on gameplay and on the game’s NPCs, with other bikers following you as a posse, drivers being weary about you and Police trying to arrest your gang. All depending on how you would play.

Sex, drugs, rock and roll: these all would find a place in Ride to Hell.  Allegedly, over 300 licensed songs were to be featured in the game, fitting each mood, from Blues, Country, to Hard Rock. Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf was even featured in the reveal trailer. In the original beta version of Ride to Hell you could deliver mushrooms to a chef to cook them and eating the wrong one would cause a psychedelic reaction. You could have been able to help a doctor bring special medicine to an outskirts Hippy Joint, work on a porn movie-set to earn a camera you could use to blackmail a sheriff found with a prostitute. These are a few examples of the sandbox mechanics were planned for the original version of the game.

Unfortunately development of Ride to Hell was not going well and the title would be cancelled in 2010, along with the closure of the Deep Silver Vienna team. The game would reappear in early 2013 with only Eutechnyx to develop it, losing most of its original open world and sandbox mechanics. The beta main protagonist Ray was replaced by Jake Conway, a  Vietnam War veteran on a quest for revenge after his brother was murdered by the Devil’s Hand, now a rival gang.

In the end Ride to Hell: Retribution was published in 2013 by Deep Silver, a Xbox Live Arcade / PSN game titled Ride to Hell: Route 666 and a mobile game titled Ride to Hell: Beatdown were also planned, but due to the highly negative reception of the main game both titles were later cancelled.

Article by Nicolas Dunai

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The Outsider [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3]

The story behind The Outsider is closely linked to David Braben, a prolific game designer, recognized as one of the most influential figures in the industry, and to the company he founded, Frontier Developments. Braben started actively working in video game development in the early eighties while still being an undergraduate at Cambridge University and delivered his first title Elite in 1984, in a joint effort with fellow university colleague Ian Bell.

Elite was published by British software house Acornsoft, which mostly specialized itself in developing educational applications for the BBC Micro and the Acorn Electron, released in 1981 and 1983 respectively for the UK market by the now defunct Acorn Computers Ltd, also based in Cambridge.

Elite was revolutionary in several regards. For one, its deep mechanics and open ended nature, a revolutionary approach in a time when games used to be intense experiences set to just take some minutes of the player’s time. But it also became widely recognized for the technology running behind, being the first title to include hidden line removal in its tridimensional engine, a crucial first step in the transition between the primitive 3D wireframes and into what the more complex rendering engines would be capable of doing in the upcoming years and decades.

After the success of Elite, Braben delivered Zarch for the Acorn Archimedes, another family of home computers and the first general-purpose line produced by Acorn. Zarch would be subsequently ported to other contemporary systems under the name of Virus. It was just after this that Braben started work on the long-anticipated sequel to his awarded title Elite, named Frontier: Elite II, as well as foundation of his own game development studio, Frontier Developments Ltd, company which still nowadays operates with Braben as its CEO.

Frontier-Developments-Elite-2

After publishing yet another entry in the Elite series, called Frontier: First Encounters and a sequel to Virus for the PlayStation, titled V2000, Frontier was keeping a steady flow of own-produced games covering different genres and platforms. From several expansions of the Rollercoaster Tycoon main series to A Dog’s Life for PlayStation 2 and two entries in the Wallace and Gromit game series, among others.

However, the title discussed here was anticipated to be the most ambitious project Frontier had worked in so far. Announced in the E3 2005 in Los Angeles, The Outsider was an action thriller with strong sandbox roots set to take place in the city of Washington DC and some nearby real world locations, such as the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Joint Base Andrews, and the Newport News Shipbuilding, where panic and martial law has taken over after the Air Force One has been shot down. The main character, CIA operative John Jameson has been wrongly pinned with the crime and must explore the city as a fugitive, fighting back when necessary and finding the clues to clear his name; all while running away and – ideally – keeping a low profile towards police and army forces.

The game’s plot was to be heavily motivated by the fear of terrorist attacks present back then in the occidental society and was said to reflect how a single man could feel and behave after being cornered and seemingly having lost everything in life. It definitely reminds of other widely popular action thriller films and TV shows of the time, such as 24, Prison Break or the Jason Bourne series. But more on that last one later…

Just looking at the available screenshots and trailers gives the impression that the game was meant to be yet another sandbox / open world game where the player must navigate the city and fulfill a – mostly linear – set of missions; all while blowing up facilities or driving some vehicles in the process. However, Frontier’s ambitions with this game were going far beyond this. As the tagline on the British developer’s website explicitly says “(…) The Outsider stimulates characters’ motivations in an immersive, dynamic world and storyline. This gives the player genuine freedom to change the story outcomes in a way not seen before.”

The aim was to bring something closer to Elite’s openness into a different genre and offer the player a range of opportunities to explore and discover. For example, the player’s choice between a stealthy and a more brutal interaction with the environment would have led to different consequences in the story’s progress and point it into different directions. Even in-game dialogs were influenced by this pursuit of freedom, with a quite generous range of answers to choose from in conversations with NPCs, allowing the player to get different reactions from them or again, conduct the plot in different directions.

Unfortunately, the development process of The Outsider underwent some ups and downs that led to the eventual abandon it suffered, after reportedly three years of preproduction work and another two of actual development work had been invested on it. The original publisher, Codemasters dropped its support with the title very advanced in development, which caused the dismissal of around 30 Frontier employees and rendered the company unable to cope with the enormous development costs. The exact reason as to why Codemasters would suddenly drop financial support for a title almost close to completion seems to lie in an internal change of policies and realignment of priorities after purchase of the English developer and distributor by the Indian entertainment conglomerate Reliance Entertainment.

At least on paper, The Outsider was a very promising idea and this woke up the interest of Electronic Arts, company that noticed the resemblance between the game and the Jason Bourne franchise and proposed a reworking of the title to accommodate it in the Bourne universe, as from a market perspective it was safer to bet on well-known intellectual IPs rather than risking a lukewarm reaction with a new one. Sadly, this new iteration of the game did not go forward as negotiations did not fully fructify between both companies.

The Outsider has never been seen again since then, although Braben himself had stated back in 2011 that the game had been abandoned but not cancelled. A few years passed and Frontier kept themselves busy in the meantime with a hefty variety of titles, including new entries in the Roller Coaster Tycoon series, several Kinect games or the beloved Lost Winds and its sequel for Wii.

The latest first-hand information on the game came from Braben himself in declarations to Eurogamer during the Gamescom in 2014, where he stated that “it was stopped,” and “it probably is gone for good.” Considering how much The Outsider was aiming to revolutionize the story telling in games and just try to stick out from the rest of sandbox and action games, it is indeed a pity that we never got to experience David Braben and Frontier’s unique way of interactive storytelling by ourselves.

In 2014 Frontier Developments released Elite: Dangerous, the latest chapter in Braben’s space adventure series, developed thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The game has sold almost 2 million units in 2016 and while Frontier Developments seems to keeping up their promises with Elite, we’ll still miss what could have been with The Outsider.

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