space combat simulation

Dark Matter: The Baryon Project [PC, Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

Dark Matter: The Baryon Project is a cancelled sci-fi shooter RPG that was in development by Pixelcage, planned to be released for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. The project was quite ambitious for a rather small and obscure team, promising to offer both on-foot first-person shooting and third person spacecraft combat.

In their old – now closed – website, we can read they wanted to create a vast universe in which to freely fly around, inspired by such games as “TIE-Fighter” and “Freespace”. You would fight in space against huge spacecrafts planned to be up to 100 km (62 miles) in size – something that would be considered a massive open-world even by today’s standards (SKYRIM’s world is about 5 km wide), gigantic spaceships-worlds in which you could also break-in to continue attacking your enemies on foot.

“When playing such games in the past, I always wondered how it would be to just ram one of that bigger vessels and just “clear the bridge manually”. With today’s hardware capabilities, we now do a swing on it. – Marco Sobol, former Pixelcage developer”

If this was not enough to hype up the project, they also wrote about “graphic details up to a grade of millimeters!”, “experience speeds of up to 3000 km/h!”, “have a million polygons on your screen – in realtime!” and “can you handle hundreds of enemies?”. For sure the team had big dreams for their first project.

Thanks to an old interview with Pixelcage by Gengamers, we can read that work for the game began in 2003 with a core team of only 7 people, with plans to expand the studio to more than 40 people when they would finally find a publisher.

“Dark Matter is a first person shooter/ space shooter with some RPG elements, such as an inventory and improving skills, but without the flaws of pondering about tables and character sheets. It will feel much like a common FPS when it comes to game controls and speed, but comes with hours of dynamic scripted scenes, a non-linear storyline and state-of-the-art sound effects and music.”

Not only gameplay and huge environments would have been quite ambitious for its time, Dark Matter: The Baryon Project was also planned to have a open-ended storyline with different endings. Pixelcage wanted to have several playable characters appearing in the game and time travelling would have played an important role, featuring morphing aliens and fierce “time warriors”.

If such an immense game like this was not complex enough to develop, the team also wanted to add online multiplayer:

“We will put much efforts in the multiplayer part. There will be several deathmatch and teamplay modes, we even plan to include a mode in which you can play the single player campaign together with your friends. This is generally possible because there is more than one prime character in the game.”

It’s easy to see how Pixelcage were a passionate team with many ambitious ideas for their project, but unfortunately it seems they never found a publisher interested in funding it. In the end they had to abandon Dark Matter: The Baryon Project to work on other, simpler games such as Switchfire (published in 2006) and Jekyll & Hyde (2010), before to close down the studio.

If you know someone who worked on this game and could help us to preserve more screens, videos and details, please let us know!

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Metal Lancer [Genesis / Mega Drive – Cancelled]

Metal Lancer is a cancelled first-person space shooter that was being developed by Yuji Naka for Mega Drive / Genesis in 1990. It’s the last project on which the the legendary japanese programmer worked on before Sonic The Hedgehog (1991). As we can read from a 2016 Denfaminicogamer interview with Naka, the game’s main character was a girl who controlled a space robot. Metal Lancer would also have featured complex scaling effects similar to what the SNES could accomplish with Mode 7

metal-lancer-mega-drive-yuji-naka

Unfortunately, Naka doesn’t say in the interview why he dropped the project, though we can speculate that either he simply found the game too complex to develop on a Mega Drive or Sega just wanted him to work a more promising title like Sonic.

Thanks to Youloute for the contribution and Michele Zanetti for the japanese translation! 

NEXUS 2 / WARP [PC – Cancelled]

Nexus: The Jupiter Incident was a sci-fi RTS game developed by Hungarian-based Mithis Entertainment, published by HD Interactive on PC in 2004 (you can still buy it with the latest updates on Steam). While the game did not sell well at the time, it still gathered a cult following of fans, thanks to its different approach to strategy space battles. Soon after releasing Nexus, Mithis started the development of a sequel, but due to the descending market of strategy titles, it was conceived as an action oriented space combat game, with the ability of traveling in a vast galaxy from planet to planet. Seeing the differences from the original Nexus, HD Interactive decided that it would have been better to use a different name and the team reused the title of one of the test prototypes from their first game: WARP. The old W.A.R.P. prototype was a failed proposal for a fighter-pilot based version of the original Nexus, designed when the project was in development limbo and they tought to change its gameplay. In 2005 Mithis developed an early demo for Nexus 2 / WARP, but unfortunately the original Nexus was not selling enough and the market seemed to be too small not only for space-strategy games but for space games in general. So eventually HD decided not to risk it further and they cancelled the Nexus 2 / WARP reboot project. This was the end of the original Nexus saga by Mithis.

On August 2011 Most Wanted Entertainment (a team founded by former Mithis developers) tried to pitch another, different sequel to Nexus on the crowdfunding website GamesPlant, but without luck. In september 2012 they tried again with a campaign on Kickstarter, under the title of “Nexus 2: The Gods Awaken”, failing again to reach their goal. Everything seemed lost, but in September 2015 Nordic Games acquired the intellectual property of Nexus so we can speculate that they could resurrect this series in the future, as it already happened with the lost chapter in the Aquanox series.

Super thanks to Nordic Games for the contribution!

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10th Planet (Bethesda) [PC – Cancelled]

10th Planet was an ambitious space combat simulator in development as a co-venture between Bethesda Softworks (you know, the studio that published The Elder Scrolls series) and Centropolis Production, two names that in the mid / late ’90 meant an high value game and lots of hype. Centropolis is a film production company founded in 1985 by Roland Emmerich, behind such popular movies as Stargate and Independence Day.

Another small company named “XL Translab” was hired to create high quality cinematics for the game’s intro and the story that was handled by the same Hollywood team that produced ID4. Here’s a short teaser from the game’s auto demo:

Somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto, a planet full of aliens is waiting. In a centuries long orbit, this 10th planet is heading toward earth. Only your brilliant strategies and expert piloting can destroy the alien invaders. Based upon the Xngine, which provides a true 3D environment for real time space combat.

10th Planet was in development at least since 1995 and Bethesda acquired XL Translab in December 1997, possibly because they were impressed by the FMV they created for the game. The project was briefly shown in Next Generation magazine on February 1997, were they called it “the coolest space combat sim since TIE Fighter“. Bethesda planned to recreate space battles against large sci-fi armies and huge alien ships, similar to the ones seen in Independence Day, but unfortunately something went wrong and 10th Planet had to be cancelled.

A former Bethesda developer remember that the cinematics created by XL Translab were beautiful for their time, but costed a lot of money and made the real time game on the Xngine to look ugly in comparison :

yeah I remember sitting in the Bethesda theatre and seeing what you produced. It looked great if we were going to produce a new TV show but unfortunately it probably killed the product. How on earth were we ‘the game artists’ supposed to recreate the world you were selling. Too much time and money was wasted on this trailer.

At the moment we don’t know how much of the game was completed before the cancellation, if you worked on this lost project, please let us know!

Thanks to Sam Jones for the contribution!

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Shadow Squadron / Stellar Assault [Tech Demo – Sega 32X]

Shadow Squadron, originally called Bullet Fighter, is a Space flight simulator developed by SEGA and released for 32x in 1995. In the screens and in the video below we can see a pre-rendered tech demo of the game.

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