RPG

Citadel of the Black Sun [PC – Cancelled]

Citadel of the Black Sun is a cancelled RPG that was in development in 1988 / 1989 for DOS PC by Golden Goblins, a team under Rainbow Arts, a less known developer and publisher founded in 1984 in Gütersloh, Germany. At the time Golden Goblins already worked on Grand Monster Slam, some kind of fantasy themed pong game released for Amiga, Commodore 64, Atari ST and PC.

They were asked to create a new role playing game for US based SSI (Strategic Simulations Inc), a company popular at the time for their wargames and titles based on the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. Rainbow Arts was the major publisher of SSI games in Germany and the two companies grew a great relationship that led them to work together on this new fantasy project: Citadel of the Black Sun.

In late ‘80 computer RPGs were still in their early days, with some of the most popular ones being The Faery Tale Adventure (1987), Ultima V (1988), Drakkhen (1989) and Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989): the techs used to create such games left a lot to the player’s imagination, using overhead 2D sprites or some kind of clunky first person visuals. With most PCs at the time not having dedicated video cards to create more advanced graphic, it was not possible for developers to offer a vast, 3D open world to explore like today with titles such as SKYRIM, Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3.

The worlds of late ‘80 and early ‘90 Computer RPGs were made of 16 color palettes and visual tricks to give some kind of illusion of being in an immersive environment. These are the foundations from which Golden Goblins started to create their own role playing game. The team was composed of just a few developers and designers: Jurgen Dolassek (dungeon implementation), Andreas Gortz (dungeon implementation, game design, graphics), Frank Lenzer (dungeon implementation), Hartwig Nieder-Gassel (concept, game design, graphics), Heiko Schroder (programming) and Teut Widemann (concept and producer).

Previously, most SSI RPGs used turn-based group combat so Golden Goblins followed the same kind of mechanics with manual or auto-combat, EXP and a LV-UP system, but moving forward with graphics, characters customization, world interaction and controls. They implemented a “Barbie Doll System” that was shown in-game on the characters’ portraits. This displayed the different armor and weapons equipped (at that time most games just had static sprites).

The game was drawn in a full-screen isometric scrolling graphic to give the illusion of depth and multi-dimensional movements. The extensive world map could be freely explored as in modern open world RPGs and you could go anywhere you please with no barriers or story-driven limits to find new cities and hidden places to enter in. The engine changed to a different screen only when entering in towns, dungeons and combat. While these images could look simple for today’s standards, it would have been one of the best looking DOS games at the time.

Many were the interesting and innovative features planned by Teut Widemann for Citadel of the Black Sun, such as a true “Line of Sight” and window / door functions on buildings. You were able to enter all houses and to look inside if you had line of sight, by opening a door or peeking through a window. It was also possible to jump out of a window from the second floor of a building if you wanted to. Players could check wardrobes and chests to find new armor and weapons, talk to NPCs, trade items and interact with animals.

The epic storyline would follow the traditional fantasy setting, with warriors, elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs, dragons, castles and dark dungeons. On the right side of the screen there was a menu bar with all the available actions and the game was fully playable with a mouse which is something exceptional when most games at the time were keyboard control only.

When Golden Goblins and Rainbow Arts showed Citadel of the Black Sun to SSI they were blown away and immediately wanted to put it under the AD&D license, planning to use its new isometric engine for all their future RPGs. For a small, obscure German team it would have been a life-changing experience and the history of computer RPGs could have been much different, if only Citadel of the Black Sun would have not been cancelled. What happened?

Widemann shared some of his memories in a post on his blog:

“First one employee of our daughter companies we acquired called Time Warp moved into our offices as we closed down their offices. That guy wanted my job, always working to criticize mine. He said openly he wanted my job, he can do it better, and he hated RPG’s. He didn’t believe in them.

Second I fell in love with the girlfriend of my best friend Bernard. Remember? He was one of the three of us managing Rainbow Arts. She and I came together and she split from Bernard, not good when you think the three of us had to work together on a daily basis.

Story short: I left the company due to private reasons (due to my girlfriend, later my wife, we married in 1992, but she died of cancer in 2010) and that one guy took over all my projects. Within three months he split the development team, made sure SSI hated mine and the team’s guts and the project was cancelled. Remember, he hated RPG’s! The game was 70% finished.”

This was the end of an ambitious RPG by a now forgotten German team. It seems Todd Porter, their first producer at SSI during early development (before Nicholas Beliaeff took over), was such a fan of Golden Goblins’ game that when he left SSI for Origin he put many ideas and concepts from Citadel of the Black Sun into their game Knights of Legends. The remaining people at Golden Goblins then worked on “MUDS – Mean Ugly Dirty Sport” (1990, Amiga and DOS), but Rainbow Arts was later bought by Funsoft and then by THQ in 1999.

Thanks to Teut Widemann for his contribution! This article was originally published in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play”.

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Ochanoma Densetsu [SNES – Cancelled]

Ochanoma Densetsu (お茶の間伝説) is a cancelled RPG / board game hybrid that was in development for the Super Famicom (SNES) and would have been published by Information Global Service. There are basically no details about what the game was going to be like, but an advertisement announcing the game was published in an old IGS catalog.

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By looking at the two, tiny screenshots featured in this scan it seems it could have been a multiplayer board-RPG, somehow similar to the Dokapon series. Japanese translation says it supported multiplayer mode up to 4 players at the same time, using a SNES multitap.

Maybe one day we could find more images or information still hidden away in other forgotten japanese magazines. Fingers crossed!

Thanks to Celine for the contribution! 

Cosmic System [NES / Famicom – Cancelled]

Cosmic System is a cancelled NES / Famicom Disk System sci-fi RPG that was in development sometime in the late 80s by WaveJack / Imagineer / Atlus. Only a single screenshot was published in Famimaga magazine (April issue) when developers made some kind of contest asking to the readers to send character designs that would have been used for their new game.

It seems this contest was quite a success: they received 23.141 drawings of which they selected a bunch of winners that would seen their designs remade in pixel art for the project. Something went wrong during the development and in the end Cosmic System was never released.

There are probably hundreds of lost Famicom games we’ll never seen a single screenshot of, so we can say we were already lucky with Cosmic System.

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Grafan (Emogence) [PC – Cancelled]

Grafan is a cancelled RPG supposed to be the first big project of 2003 freshly founded company EMOGENCE (Emotion-intelligence), consisting of ex Microsoft staff Herb Marselas and Chas (Charles) Boyd. Both coming from a technical background, Marselas started working for Microprose in the 90ies and made his name for blockbusters like “Age Of Mythology”, “Halo 2” and many more. Boyd on the other hand originally came from the Aeronautics Industry and later worked with different Hardware and video game companies as a mentor to help improve engine-performance.

What started out as a hobby, later became a concrete business idea:

“We were talking about the kinds of graphics and gameplay we`d like to see in games and whether we could start a studio that provides a gameplay experience that stood out from the crowd.“

Their ambitious plan was to create a PC first person action role playing game “…that delivers great gameplay and graphically surpasses any interactive entertainment experience to date“, optimistically setting a deadline to the end of the same year (2004).

Apparently the key of saving so much time was to automate the generation of content – including world building and scripting, which would be done manually by any other developer.  They though graphics would evolve so quickly, they felt like they didn’t want to lose time and deliver a game that was technically high-end and brand new as soon as possible. Unfortunately we know the game was never released and only a few interviews and a handful of screenshots remain today.

There was never any talk about why or when the game was cancelled or what happened to the studio. We can only reconstruct the game`s planned content, by closely reading statements and interviews done by IGN in 2004:

“Grafan gives the player a huge amount of character customization through class selection, skill point spending, and by equipping many of the thousands of items found in the world. There is a single player campaign as well as a random dungeon quest mode. The underlying engine is a highly sophisticated 3D random dungeon generator that utilizes a lot of advanced graphics technology, including real-time high dynamic range lighting, multiple real-time shadows, normal maps, glare, and pixel shading.“

Talking about graphics EMOGENCE were obviously visual enthusiasts, who developed an engine that was able to create “…environments on the fly and showcased high-resolution texturing“. Nvidia stated:

“The Grafan game engine’s use of high dynamic-range lighting, multiple real-time shadows, and multipass rendering techniques requires a high-performance graphics card. We’re currently working with the GeForce 6800 Ultra GPU and using pixel shader 3.0; all we can say is ‘wow’.”

It is also worth mentioning that they planned to showcase the game at the E3 2004, but by checking the list of exhibitors retrospectively, EMOGENCE never shown up.

To date Herb Marselas is working at AMD, a popular computer processor company. Chas Boyd was last seen on Max Payne and Alan Wake credits,  but after that we kinda lost track of him. By browsing different gaming-databases we can assume that he may have not been active in the gaming scene since.

Article by Niko, thanks to Dan for the contribution!

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Metro Panic (Nichibutsu RPG) [Cancelled – Game Boy]

Metro Panic is a cancelled RPG that was in development by Nichibutsu (Nihon Bussan) for Game Boy in early ‘90s. From the only screenshot found by Celine in Famitsu (Issue from 92/09/18) we can speculate it was some kind of adventure game set in subway stations?

It may have been somehow related to Nichibutsu’s Tube Panic, a 1984 shooter that seems to have been the first “3D game” (it used tubular vortex levels) developed in Japan. Or maybe they just use a similar / same title because they already own the copyright for it.

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This could have a been a lost masterpiece for the GameBoy, or just another forgotten RPG. We hope someone could find more details still hidden away in some old japanese magazines.

“Metro panic (provisional)

A thrilling and suspense chase over Tokyo’s subway! This is also a Game Boy but the title has been discontinued.

The stage is a complicated Tokyo subway.
Children who come to play from the countryside get lost on the Tokyo subway. Players act as runners or chasers. Runners find the children and get away to the target station. Chaser will help you chase it. As a rule, it seems to be something like a tag game. Of course, it seems that communication battle was also possible.

You can confirm that the actual route and station name appear in the screen picture. According to the description, it seems that there was also a mode that can actually search the subway map.

Was it a problem that Tokyo local was, I do not know if I did not get a subway permit, It is a pity that it has been discontinued for interesting content as a plan.”

Thanks to A for the contribution!