RTS

Ghost Wars (Digital Reality) [PC – Cancelled]

Ghost Wars is a cancelled strategy shooter that was in development around 2004 by Digital Reality (mostly known for Imperium Galactica and Sine Mora), planned to be published in 2006 on PC by Hip Interactive. The game was quite ambitious for its genre, as you would have been able to play it as a traditional real-time strategy game or impersonate each soldier in your unit to play it as a first / third person shooter.

“Based on the Government Special Operations Group, “Ghost Wars” takes players into the clandestine and secret war against terrorism. Players take control of air, land and sea units of an Elite Special Forces group across multiple top secret missions. With the graphical quality of a first person shooter, “Ghost Wars” will offer gamers the most accurate depiction of modern day warfare to date.

Through Battlefield View, “Ghost Wars” brings the theatre of war to life. Gamers are not only tested on their strategic senses, but also on their ability to react quickly under enemy fire by directly controlling individual units. By setting up, equipping and planning troops’ activities, gamers will need to utilize state-of-the art weapons and technology to defeat terrorist networks.”

The game was also playable at E3 2005, GameSpot published some favorable comments on the demo:

“You’ll have the typical type of units, including soldiers, tanks, helicopters, and such. However, what makes Ghost Wars unique is how you control them. While you can just use the typical kind of point-and-click movement, you can also select a specific unit and zoom the camera in to take its viewpoint. If you choose a soldier, you’ll go into first person, and if you pick a vehicle, you’ll go to third person. From there, you can control that unit manually, attacking whatever you like. Soldiers can also get into parked vehicles on the field and drive them.”

“Units in the game will be upgradable in a number of ways, letting you specifically level up individual units to improve their performance on the battlefield. And you’ll need to level up, because Digital Reality is endeavoring to make the opponent AI in the game quite challenging. AI units will run for cover and hide inside buildings, meaning you’ll have to bring in your tanks and choppers to take those buildings down. And boy, can you. Though not all the deformable objects were in, the developers showed us quite a number of big-time building and vehicle explosions that looked pretty impressive.”

While Ghost Wars looked promising, Hip Interactive closed for bankruptcy in late 2005. The game was canned, with many more of their projects, such as “Call of Cthulhu: Destiny’s End” and “George Romero’s City of the Dead”.

Thanks to Dan for the contribution! 

Cthulhu: Delta Green (Flying Lab) [PC, Xbox – Cancelled]

Delta Green is a cancelled horror / strategy game in development by Flying Lab Software from 2001 to 2003. It was going to be an adaptation of the setting of the same name for the tabletop Role Playing Game “Call Of Cthulhu”, based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Even at the time Lovecraft’s novels were quite popular for video game adaptations, both released and unreleased.

Although the main Call Of Cthulhu tabletop RPG campaign takes place mostly in the 1920’s, the Delta Green setting puts players into modern times, in the shoes of agents of the fictional U.S. secret organization of the same name. Their mission is to deal with aliens and paranormal investigation, keeping their existence a secret from the public. This would be often done ruthlessly and by any means necessary, throwing conspiracy fiction into the horror formula of the Cthulhu mythos.

Flying Lab (a Seattle-based studio) was collaborating with the creators of the tabletop game, Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy and John Scott Tynes (with the latter being brought in as a member of the studio and serving as lead designer) in order to bring Delta Green to life as faithful as it could be to the source material. Whole new characters and stories were written exclusively for the video game, and apparently these ideas would end up being used in the tabletop game itself later on, as this adaptation would have been considered canon.

Although the tabletop game focuses on role-playing, the video game would translate into a strategic and tactical experience. Initially development focused on delivering an X-Com-like feel and style of control, with the player ordering a squad of agents from an isometric camera angle. One or more characters could be selected at once, given a command, and they would carry out the order. However, it was decided later in development that this approach was not enough, and the scheme was changed to a third-person camera angle, with each team member being able to be controlled directly if the player so wished, with orders given through an on-screen “playbook” and prompts. This gameplay style would probably have been similar to later strategy games such as Valkyria Chronicles, with the major difference being that Delta Green would play in real-time.

The similarities with X-Com wouldn’t end here, however: Delta Green was to feature a planning aspect between combat, with the player being able to recruit agents and allies as they see fit by spending resources. You could also upgrade the organization’s effectiveness through research. For example, a first encounter with a monster might have ended with the agents’ weapons being completely ineffective against it: a better tactic would be to focus on collecting a sample from the enemy and bringing it back for analysis. This would result in a squad that would now be better prepared to deal with the new threat and could come back with new weapons to deal with it. But of course, once the team returns to that area, they could be facing groups of enemies that are now more prepared to deal with them as well.

With any game built around strategy and tactics, A.I. was a very important aspect for Delta Green and Flying Lab were aware of this. One of their major focuses during development was to create an A.I. that would not frustrate players, fully capable of taking action by itself. Agents in Delta Green would be aware of their surroundings and would act with a certain degree of autonomy. They would take cover when under attack, hold their fire until their teammates were safely out of the way and coordinate their actions when carrying out an order (such as breaching a room). This would eliminate micromanagement, leaving the player to simply provide macro-tactics and decide how to approach a problem, letting the A.I. agents doing the rest.

On the horror front, Flying Lab wanted to keep the game consistent with the Cthulhu vibe. This meant keeping the actual monsters and horrors to a minimum, as they thought slaying creatures that are supposed to terrify you in large numbers only causes their impact to be heavily diminished. With this in mind, most of the enemies the player would encounter would be cultists, humans driven mad by old, demonic deities who would employ everything from conventional firearms to magic and artifacts against them.

The environments would evolve based on this philosophy as well, with early levels taking place in the easily recognizable real world (such as run-down subway stations and apartment buildings), but progressively being replaced with more bizarre and supernatural locations. The latters would include the submerged cities of the Deep Ones and even an alien base on the Moon, which would feature artificial gravity and navigation on geometrically impossible structures inspired by the works of M.C. Escher.

To help build this effective horror atmosphere, Delta Green was going to be powered by a modified LithTech Jupiter engine, developed by Monolith for their upcoming game No One Lives Forever 2. Inspired by the early looks the public got into Doom 3 and Halo 2 during the time of Delta Green’s development, Flying Lab licensed Jupiter in order to add cutting-edge lighting and character models to their game. This tech would be used for some interesting gameplay mechanics, for example a certain type of monster was able to disguise itself as a member of the team and would be completely indistinguishable from a human, with the exception of the shadow they cast. Flying Labs would also employ a bit of trickery in order to achieve high fidelity models: they took a 300.000 polygon model, created a lighting map for it, and then simplified the model back to around 3.000 polygons. By putting the original lighting map on top of this lower quality polygon map and letting pixel shaders do all the work, it would cast lighting on the geometry without it actually being there. This would create models that looked extremely detailed, but not nearly as resource intensive. Tynes would describe the results of this technique at the time as “the most realistic playable characters ever seen in a game, period.”

But the excitement was not meant to last. Flying Lab was aiming for a 2003 release for Delta Green: throughout the summer of 2002 they were in talks with several publishers in order to try to bring the game to the public. But what started off as a small PC exclusive eventually grew enough that it got in the Xbox Incubator program as well. This allowed prototypes to be easily created for the Microsoft console using standard PC tools. It seems Microsoft took an interest in Delta Green, but at some point backed out of the deal. It could be assumed that nobody else ended up picking up Delta Green for publishing unfortunately. Because of this the game never entered full production, despite the LithTech Jupiter engine allowing it to develop ahead of schedule.

At the same time Flying Lab was working on another game, Pirates Of The Burning Sea, an MMO set in the Golden Age Of Piracy that was eventually released in a beta testing state in December 2005, and officially released in 2008. From what can be pieced together, it seems Flying Lab chose to focus on their MMO after hitting trouble with Delta Green, and the game was shelved indefinitely at the beginning of 2003. Although Flying Lab hoped they could come back to the project at some point, it seems that never happened and Delta Green was never heard from again.

Flying Lab would continue to develop Pirates Of The Burning Sea for years to come, but would eventually go out of business sometime around 2012, when their publisher (Sony Online Entertainment) dropped the MMO from their catalog. Former members then founded another studio, Portalus Games, which continued maintaining the game until 2018 with a shrinking team, when they also closed doors. The game remains alive, but managed by a whole different company, Vision Online Games, with Flying Lab’s influence long gone from its virtual world.

Article by António Pedro Pinto, thanks to Majiki for the contribution!

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Blood Tactics (Artefacts Studios) [PC – Cancelled]

Blood Tactics is a cancelled fantasy RTS that was in development by Artefacts Studios in the mid – late ‘00s. The team is mostly known for their work on such titles as Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders and Space Hulk Tactics, but it seems they were also planning this obscure project. Unfortunately Artefacts never officially announced Blood Tactics so the only proofs of its existence are a few images from an alpha demo, probably developed to pitch the project to various publishers.

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Battletech (Microprose) [PC – Cancelled]

In the late ‘90s Microprose UK was working on a Battletech real-time strategy game for PC, based on the official license by FASA Corporation. FASA’s own development team (FASA Studio) was probably still busy working on their first MechCommander video game (published in 1998), so we can assume the company asked Microprose to work on a different game in the meantime. In the end Microprose’s Battletech was cancelled, but thanks to game designer Terry Greer we know a few details about this lost project:

“Battletech (based on a license from FASA and set in the Battletech universe and with lead designer Richard Bakewell) was in relatively good shape when I started as Head of Game Design at Microprose UK, so I really had very little to do with it – apart from working on creating the cutscene scripts, and overseeing it until its untimely cancellation.

Battletech had its own engine, a basic terrain editor, and the beginnings of control mechanics. It was also very extensively documented with a detailed GDD and specification, along with lots of artwork and models – and was fully thought through (the Battletech license was owned by FASA).

The game was based around controlling a small squad of mechs (basically big power suits) with just a single operator  across a height-based map with deformable terrain. Tactics and squad formation and use were to play a large part in the gameplay.

Unfortunately the game was canned a short time later for reasons that were out of our control and which involved FASA suddenly reversing their decision to continue. I still have some artwork from the game – but can’t get the demo to run any more, it required other installed files which I no longer have.”

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Orcs: Revenge of the Ancient [PC – Cancelled]

Orcs Revenge of the Ancient is a cancelled real-time strategy / action game that was in development by Berkeley Systems around 1998 / 1999, planned to be published for PC by Sierra Entertainment. It was going to use J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings / Middle-earth settings and gaming magazines and websites at the time were quite hyped for the project and was described by IGN as being “somewhere between Pokemon, Die by the Sword, and Master of Magic”.

As we can read from its original press release:

“Sierra Studios proudly announces Orcs Revenge of the Ancient, a fantasy strategy game developed by Berkeley Systems set in the world of Middle-earth from J.R.R Tolkien’s internationally acclaimed trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Cast as an Orc chieftain who has been assigned command of an elite group of fighting Orcs by Sauron, the Dark power, your group is charged with keeping the peace between the many evil factions of his army using whatever brutal means necessary. However, two other evil powers have emerged from the past to vie with Sauron for your aid in their respective quests and you must choose your alliances carefully to survive.

Orcs Select up to four common Orcs and transform them into brutal fighting machines, each with a unique fighting style created by you. Customize your Orcs’ fighting skills through intense training in which you build the best combination of killing moves suited to your Orc. Each Orc has its own specific personality and characteristics. For example, an Orc who is prone to violent outbursts may be difficult to train but ferocious in battle. Develop your Orcs’ Statistics such as intelligence, strength and dexterity in arena and field combat and sustain these skills with training exercises.

You will command your Orcs in real time 3-D combat, choosing their armor and weapons and suggesting fighting moves. Pit the Orcs under your command against over 30 enemies before taking them online to match skills with other Orcs in multiplayer mayhem.

As the original story of Orcs Revenge of the Ancient pulls you deeper into Tolkien’s Middle-earth, you will find yourself trapped in a deadly conflict of interests between the three dark powers. Your Orcs’ survival within this violent power struggle will determine whether they are capable of self-determination or merely servants of the Darkness.

Product Features

+ Original and rich storyline based in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth
+ Open-ended gameplay
+ Customizable training and fighting
+ RPG-based skill system
+ Combo builder to create custom moves
+ Multiplayer online component”

Unfortunately the game was canned in late 1999 due to an internal reorganization, as we can read on IGN:

“What we do care about is the fact that due to this reorganization, Sierra has cancelled four of their upcoming titles including Desert Fighters and Pro Pilot Paradise (for which we shed no tears), and, more seriously, Babylon 5 and Orcs: Revenge of the Ancients. Worse news still is that the company has laid off more than 100 people who were working on those titles.”

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