In 2011 Re-Logic (an indie software house founded by Andrew Spinks) released Terraria, a 2D sandbox adventure set in a world made by blocks and biomes. The game let players to freely explore theirs worlds, dig tunnels, build buildings, crafting objects and fighting enemies.. basically it was Minecraft in 2D!
In 2015 Re-Logic and Engine Software announced they were working on a spin-off called Terraria: Otherworld, set in an alternate reality of the same universe. From the trailer we can see gameplay was similar to the original Terraria, but with new mechanics and a different graphic-style.
The game would have new items, dresses, furnitures, places and enemies, such as the Crystal Archer. Terraria: Otherworld’s developers tried to keep players’ freedom intact following a non-linear story. They retook the theme of fighting against the Corruption, but it would have been stronger than in the main game and could even corrupt other biomes such as dirt and snow. Players would have been able to build special towers to purify the lands, but these towers could be attacked by dangerous creatures and buildings had to be protected.
Their plan was to introduce more RPG and Tower Defense elements into the game, allowing players to build a defense system based on turrets and automatic weapons. They also wanted to add a level-up system for weapons, a quests system and new NPC telling the world lore.
Terraria: Otherworld was in development for 3 years before being cancelled. At first Re-Logic wanted to publish the game in 2016, but it was postponed and in 2017 Engine Software abandoned the project for unknown reasons.
Development was taken by Pipeworks, an internal team of Digital Bros Entertainment, but in 2018 Terraria: Otherworld was officially cancelled with an announce by Re-Logic. Apparently the team had a “clear vision for this game”, but they were not able to implement it into a fun game.
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.
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.
The first Crackdown was developed by Realtime Worlds, a company founded in 2002 by David Jones, former founder of DMA Design, the studio behind the Grand Theft Auto series (that later was acquired by Rockstar). This over-the-top open world game was in development for about 5 years and finally published by Microsoft as an exclusive title for their Xbox 360 in 2007. Realtime Worlds were ready to start development on a new Crackdown while they were still finishing the first one, but Microsoft were not sure about it being a profitable game (they even added a code to access the Halo 3 Beta to promote it) and were taking too much time to greenlight the second title.
After Crackdown 1 was released it became a huge success, surpassing Microsoft’s expectations. Quickly Microsoft changed their mind, wanting to publish a Crackdown sequel as soon as possible. Unfortunately at that time Realtime Worlds were too busy working on their ill-fated APB MMO and were not able to develop a new Crackdown anymore. Microsoft did not want to waste time and asked to Rare Ltd to start working on Crackdown 2.
The same team that created Kameo: Elements of Power worked on this Crackdown sequel for a few months along with other lost games as Kameo 2 and Black Widow, before Microsoft decided that Rare would have been better to create games for their Kinect add-on, boosting the casual gaming market on the Xbox 360. Crackdown 2 by Rare was then canned and the project was given to Ruffian Games, a team formed in 2008 by… former Realtime Worlds employee.
“The bottom line is that what we thought would happen is that a sequel would be done by a studio somewhere… maybe one of the internal studios, or others that they’ve worked with, and that would be the way it went forward,” […] “I think it was unfortunate that it had to be with a start-up in Dundee… it is challenging to get enough developers in one region as it is, so that was the only little big of negativity to the story.”
During an interview with Retro Gamer Magazine (issue 122) Phil Tossell, former Rare developer that contributed to the Crackdown prototype, shared some memories on the project:
“He spent several months working on an early version of Crackdown 2 and has a particular affection for Black Widow, an aborted first-person shooter featuring a spider mech and an ingenious “jump-and-gun” mechanic. […] I think we were handed a poisoned chalice,” he says, wearily. “We were being asked to make the games we’d always made for an audience that didn’t want those sort of games. The reason we did Black Widow, Crackdown and aged up Kameo was because we were trying to bridge that gap but Microsoft wouldn’t let us.”
Rare still kept a small connection with the released Crackdown 2. As written by Rare Gamer: “save data from Crackdown 2 is used to unlock the protagonist as a playable multiplayer character in Perfect Dark XBLA.”
Game Zero (later known as Project Z3796WP) is a cancelled sandbox action platformer that Zoonami has been developing from 2000 to 2002 as an exclusive game for Nintendo’s Gamecube. The project became popular in 2000 as one of the early games announced for the – at the time – new Nintendo console, when former Rare employee Martin Hollis opened his own software house. Unfortunately Game Zero was never shown to the media and it was quietly canned after about 3 years of development.
Martin started working at Rare in 1993 when he was hired to work as a programmer on Killer Instinct. After KI was completed he found out that Nintendo was about to acquire the license to develop a game based on the new James Bond movie – at the time still without an official name. It seems that Rare’s founders Tim and Chris Stamper were initially not sure about working on a James Bond tie-in, but Martin successfully offered himself to direct the project. In 1997 Goldeneye 007 was released for Nintendo 64, becoming one of the most popular titles ever produced for the console.
A game more different than the others
After Goldeneye, the same team started working on Perfect Dark, but in 1998 Martin left Rare with the project still unfinished. He wanted to explore the world and to work on something more exciting and original than a sequel. As we can read from an interview with Gamasutra in 2007:
Gamasutra: Why didn’t you do another Bond game?
Martin Hollis: We were offered the sequel. The rest of the team were keen, and in one respect, out of all of them, I was the one most likely to say, ‘Yes’ because I loved Bond. But I was able to say, ‘No’ in a second. A lot of the high level decisions on Perfect Dark were made to try and be different to GoldenEye but still reuse some expertise and engine. Really though, I needed to work on a game more different than Perfect Dark for it to be interesting.
After leaving Rare, initially Martin traveled to South East Asia for half a year and then went to America to collaborate with Nintendo Technology Division. They were busy working on the new “Project Dolphin” 128 bit console, only later renamed as GameCube. As he still wanted to work on innovative games, in 1999 Martin went back to Cambridge, United Kingdom, to set up an experimental indie studio, named Zoonami Ltd. The original Zoonami team was composed just of a few people: Martin Hollis, David Jones, Edward Sludden, Gareth Rees, Paul Hankin and Richard Tucker. Zoonami soon created their first concept, an interesting and mysterious game that was internally nicknamed as “Game Zero”.
An exclusive game for Gamecube
Thanks to Martin’s good relationship with Nintendo, Zoonami signed a collaboration with them to develop this concept into an original GameCube exclusive title. As soon as gaming websites and magazines found out about the deal, rumors started to circulate about a possible new GameCube first person shooter, authored by the lead director of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. That was so far away from the truth.
Probably most journalist did not know the main reason why Martin decided to left Rare in 1998, or they would have easily debunked such rumors. Zoonami wanted to create something original, not just duplicate Goldeneye. To give their fans some hints about what they were really working on, the team published a curious “censored pitch letter” on their official website in 2002, with a short description:
“We are currently working on a game, but we’re not at liberty to reveal very much about it yet. You might want to check out some of the unfounded rumours about it. Meanwhile here is the project proposal, from our files”
There are some key concepts that should be noted in this image: esoteric taste, small planet, telescope, device. After this letter, nothing more was announced about Game Zero, no screens or videos were ever released and Zoonami has gone quiet for a few years. Then in 2004 they announced another pitch named “Funkydilla”, an original one-button music game – that unfortunately never found a viable publisher.
In July 2004 they updated their Website posting a placeholder image with a “spy-themed” desk, showing a gun, a pair of glasses, a briefcase and some top-secret documents. This rendering fueled rumors about Game Zero being a new espionage or hitman-themed FPS for GameCube, but both the press and gamers did not know that the project was already been canned since 2 years at that point.
Zoonami disappeared again until 2006, when they finally released their first commercial game, Zendoku, for Nintendo DS and PSP. The studio only released 2 other games before closing down in 2010: Go! Puzzle for PSN and Bonsai Barber for WiiWare, both in 2009.
Game Zero, finally unveiled
What exactly was Game Zero, how would have it been played and why was it cancelled? The main cause for its cancellation was that the concept they were trying to develop was too complex for its time, due to technical and marketing reasons. Game Zero would have been an original sandbox action platformer set in destructable voxel levels: players would have been able to mine rocks and terrains, gaining items and resources to build new structures.
Does it sound a bit like Minecraft? We asked to Martin if Game Zero could have been a sort of ancestor for Notch’s popular sandbox game:
“Ancestor isn’t quite the right word. After all I believe nobody connected to Zach of Zachtronics (Infiniminer) and to Notch of Mojang saw any part of GameZero. There’s a connection. Minecraft has created its precursors.”
In early october 2015 Martin even discussed about the similarities between Game Zero and Minecraft at the “[Select/Start] PLAY” event at Viborg, Denmark, during his talk titled “How to Succeed at Designing GoldenEye. How to Fail at Designing Minecraft“. Unfortunately the destruction and building of voxels in Game Zero were too RAM-intensive to be suitable for consoles or PCs hardwares at the time. Zoonami did not want to continue working on something that was not keeping pace with their plans. The console gaming market was also one of their concerns as the most popular GameCube titles in 2002 were examples of traditional gameplay experiences (Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness, Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime and Star Fox Adventures) in contrast with the sandbox, open-ended gameplay design planned for Game Zero. In 3 years Zoonami did many experiments and created a playable prototype, but in the end they decided to cancel its development: it was not the right game and not the right market.
“At the time we stopped the project, we had developed a handful of levels with something of a platformer feel. The avatar and vehicles had antigravity movement mainly constrained to the ground, and the player discovered their goals were to navigate, to rescue a few characters from the level, and to collect items partly from the rock. The levels were fairly tightly circumscribed in space, much more like Mario 64 than an open world game.”
As it happened with Perfect Dark, Game Zero’s protagonist would have been a female character. But this time the game was set in a fantasy alien planet inhabited by strange yellow creatures. Players would have been able to explore different areas of the planet using vehicles and laser guns, in a cartoony graphic style created with simple voxel geometries. As they wrote in Zoonami’s original company profile:
“We know that the key element of a video game is fun. The most important thing for a game is not the number of features or objects or weapons or levels, or the special effects, not story, not sound, not graphics, not even characterization. All these are important and crucial to success, but subordinate to fun. We think it is important to provide new experiences for the player. Old games don’t get played much, not because they are bad games, but because they are old. To fulfil the player’s desire for variety we strive for creativity and originality.”
Unfortunately players never had a chance to have fun with Game Zero on GameCube and the project was later forgotten with the release of the new Wii console. When asked if it wasn’t “a bit depressing only to have released one game in seven years” in that same Gamasutra interview from 2007, Martin replied:
“If some of your projects don’t fail, that’s evidence you’re not taking chances. We are taking chances and a lot of our projects end up being cancelled or put on the shelf. I make the decision in most cases. Not every daring idea can be bought to fruition. […] This sort of thing happens in movies and TV all the time, although they don’t call it research. For every movie that comes out, there are hundreds of scripts. There’s a lot of work goes on behind the scenes that no one ever hears about.”
Although Game Zero was never released, we are happy we had the chance to hear a bit more about this interesting lost project and we could take a look at a few images of the unfinished prototype. Today Martin Hollis is still working on experimental concepts, as in 2013 when he designed an interactive project called “Aim for Love“, available to be played during GameCity festival of that year. Using cameras and big screens set in Nottingham’s Market Square, people from the crowd could play by “aiming” at other people and interacting with each other, in a strange mix between an alternative reality game and a social experiment.
Thanks a lot to Martin Hollis for his help to preserve more info and images from this lost project in the Unseen64 archive.
Saints Row: Money Shot was an action/adventure game scheduled to be released on the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network sometime in late 2011. It was never officially announced by THQ or Volition, but it was leaked to the web in August 2011. From the existing screenshots and video, we can see that it was going to be some kind of on-rails game where you have to control a bullet in slow-motion through various obstacles before finally hitting your target. Here’s its official description from the leaked XBLA entry.
You are Cypher, a deadly assassin in the world of Saints Row, and you hunt the most elusive targets with the most sophisticated weaponry that Ultor has to offer. How sophisticated? You have the ability to control the path of your bullet to such a degree that you can weave through the hallway of an apartment complex, steer through the legs of a hooker, and even snake your way through a moving train! Avoid striking solid objects and unintended bystanders and make sure you hit your mark!
Within a week of its leaking, Kotaku discovered that the Australian Classification Board had rated Saints Row: Money Shot already, hinting that it was possibly close to release at this point.
In an interview with Worthplaying.com, former THQ boss Danny Bilson stated that Saints Row: Money Shot was still not shelved and that it would possibly be released on the PSN instead as a free game.
On the XBLA, the game would have cost 800 Microsoft Points, and it appears that playing through it would earn you unlockable items for Saints Row: The Third. These items would later be released as a DLC pack called the “Money Shot Pack,” which contained the gun and suit seen in the game as well as a new hover bike, but the “Money Shot” game itself was never included and was officially considered cancelled by this point. Here is some leaked footage of the game from a Czech gaming site.