Stealth

Spectac (Cauldron) [Xbox 360, PS3, PC – Cancelled]

Spectac was an ambitious cancelled project that was being developed in 2004/2005 by Slovakian studio Cauldron. It was planned to be a prequel to Cauldron’s 2003 game Chaser: a futuristic First Person Shooter similar to Red Faction in tone, set in a time when humanity has successfully colonized Mars. Spectac in turn was to be set before these events, dealing with the hunt for a terrorist group threatening to unleash a viral weapon on the world, and the team tasked with putting an end to their plans.

From what we can tell, Spectac was to be a stealth-action affair, very inspired by other espionage and military-science stealth series such as Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, but played from a first-person perspective. And like in the latter franchise, the player was to make heavy use of sound and shadows for things such as masking their actions or distracting enemies, along with a strong emphasis on climbing, swimming, and other means of infiltration.

Players would have been helped by other team members, in a feature that would show some inspiration from the Rainbow Six or SWAT series. This would add a strategic element of choosing what individual skill sets would be useful in each mission and what paths they would open. This would in turn allow for greater replayability, as not only could a level play out differently depending on what team members are present, but one could also step in their shoes and play from their perspective. A sniper and a security expert/hacker, named Isis and Evac, respectively, would also be available to help the player at all times.

The engine that had powered Chaser (CloakNT) had been upgraded, and its 2.0 version allowed for many innovative features. The Havok physics engine had been integrated as well, and Cauldron was ready to take full advantage of their new technology by allowing for extensive interaction with the environment in Spectac. For example, to use a simple numeric keypad or keyboard, the player would have to physically move the character’s hand in order to press the individual buttons. The same approach would be used if they needed to swipe a keycard to open a door, or use a mouse at a computer terminal, and so on.

The hand-to-hand combat would apparently also use this system to some degree, with different techniques such as neutralizing an enemy by choking or pistol-whipping requiring active player interaction.

Graphically, the game was to take visuals to the next level as well. The geometry was now much more complex, allowing for more detailed models. In conjunction with the aforementioned first person interaction, the lighting would have offered a great deal of immersion as well, filling the levels with dynamic shadows. Spectac looked a bit like F.E.A.R. another game that became known for its rich lighting and physics interaction, developed by Monolith and released in 2005. In addition, missions in Spectact were to take place in locations heavily inspired by real-life landmarks, such as the Hoover Dam.

All of this, however, seemed to be just a little too much for Cauldron. Spectac was conceived as a possible next-gen title to be released on PC and the then-upcoming PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms, but apparently even the most powerful computers of the time were struggling to run it in 2004. Possibly for this reason, the project was eventually abandoned some time around 2005, after being deemed too ambitious, and never entering full production.

Cauldron themselves would infamously continue on to create lower budget games in a partnership with the Activision Value publishing brand, such as Soldier Of Fortune: Payback and a string of hunting-themed and war-themed First Person Shooters for the Cabela’s and History Channel brands, respectively. We know the team also worked on the cancelled Project Revolution and Seven Days, before being acquired by Bohemia Interactive in 2014 and renamed to Bohemia Interactive Slovakia.

Article by António Pedro Pinto

Thanks to Chris and Piotr for the contribution!

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Yamabushi (True Dimensions) [PC – Cancelled]

Yamabushi is a prototype for a PC stealth-game cancelled around 2001. The project was in development by True Dimensions, a portuguese team formed by Diogo Teixeira, Márcio Martins, Marco Vale, Mário Luzeiro, Tiago Sousa and Vítor Marques. Yamabushi was conceived from an original idea by Marco: their goal was to develop a game about ninjas set in feudal Japan with an accurate depiction of the era, a credible story while keeping gameplay interesting for fans of the genre.

Development started around 1999 with a small tech-demo, to demonstrate their skills. This demo was internally known as “Blood & Honour”, a name that was later changed to not be associated with the homonym political group. Setting their focus on realism True Dimensions collaborated with Gonçalo Rosa, instructor of the Bujinkan Tsuru Dojo in Carcavelos. The team asked Gonçalo to review their script, to be sure their story wouldn’t have any inaccurate information. In Yamabushi players would follow a hypothetical scenario deeply rooted in Japan’s history: it was very important to create this sense of realism, to let you believe that this story could have truly happened.

Inspired by games like Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid, the team went after the idea of making a stealth game. The plot unfolded around two ninjas: Kazuya and Kimiko. The first was conceived by Marco and the latter by Vítor, reusing a design from another earlier project. Yamabushi was set around the 13th century: Kazuya and Kimiko are two children from the Yamabushi family, a group despised by most people because part of them lived as thieves, ronins and killers, under the name “Yamabushi Raiders”. They grew up as normal children, even if their community was estranged by society. Unfortunately their family was attacked by samurais, as they were regarded as a threat for the safety of the locals. In that attack their parents and most of their family were killed.

Kazuya and Kimiko managed to escape and wander together through the woods for several days, until they found a small village. Seemingly deserted, the village actually belonged to a ninja clan. They welcomed the kids and trained them to become ninjas, helping them fulfilling their destiny to avenge their family.

In the end True Dimensions were not able to develop a full game out of their Yamabushi prototype, but screenshots they shared online piqued the interest of other developers and gamers, managing in a way to start-off the actual Portuguese developers community.

True Dimensions worked on other tech-demos in the early ‘00s, like TrasD (2001), Homo-Machus in Space (2002) and Illuminatu (2002). These demos served as their portfolio pieces and were determinant in making them choose the area of videogame development as their future.

I’d like to send special thanks to Marco Vale for his time and help in writing this article, to remember their lost project.

Article by Jump/Error, original version in Portuguese!

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Thieves World (Bits Studios) [N64 – Cancelled]

You might remember a game called Rogue Ops that was released on Xbox, Gamecube and Playstation 2 way back in 2003. Well, this game wasn’t always called that way. When the developper Bits Studios started the project during the Nintendo 64 era, this was called Thieves World. We are lucky enough to have a gameplay video of how the game would have looked like, right down here:

As written in the video description:

“Thieves World was a n64 game developed by bits studios in 1999. When the n64 life cycle ended development was moved to the ps2. This is a prototype of the game running on the ps2. It’s basically a mix of the n64 assets with a new main character, added “nextGen” special FX and such… the game will keep transform and later be released under the title Rogue Ops. This video was recently unearthed by a ex bits employee. The n64 rom or early ps2, gamecube or xbox build are still lost to this day.”

As the video suggests when it starts, Thieves World was a working title so it is possible that it would have had a different name had it been released on the Nintendo 64 back then. During the video, we see the female main character infiltrating what seems to be a well guarded bank. There are guards with guns, she shoots darts from afar to put them to sleep and she can also ambush them in close quarters. Thieves World had a more stealth approach to its design than Rogue Ops and this is confirmed by one of the programmers who worked at the company Bits Studios at the time.

Please read below part of a very interesting interview we had with Mr. Frederic Villain about what it was like to work for this company and the projects Bits Studios had at the time like RiQa, Muzzle Velocity (Die Hard Vendetta) and Thieves World. The full interview was published in our Unseen64 bookVideo Games You Will Never Play”.

Unseen64: What happened to RiQa and Thieves World? There is a lot of confusion about these two unreleased N64 games and we’d like to finally find out the truth. We know that they were two different projects but it seems that the released Rogue Ops took some elements from both. Is this true? Why were they cancelled and how much was done on the Nintendo 64?

Fred: “When I joined Bits Studios with other ex-employees/friends from Haiku Studios, the main focus of the studio was RiQa for N64. A very ambitious third person game with a main female character called RiQa. As far as I can remember the team had already been working on the game for a couple years. I was assigned to the project and worked on various gameplay and VFX tasks as well as the support of the infamous 64DD as the content of the game was supposed to be huge. The project had a lot of difficulties on the tech side and the team was fighting between the ambitions and the hardware/software limitations.

At the same time Nathanael Presson which I knew from Haiku, was working on creating a new multiplatform engine for the company. I was working on and off with him to add support for the N64 to the engine. After 6 months at Bits we presented the tech to Foo Katan (the boss of the studio) and he was sold. While the RiQa engine iteration cycle was very slow (level made in Max and long building times to get it on console), we had an Editor/Engine that allowed LDs to create levels in the Editor (using Booleans and Portals inspired from the original Unreal Editor) and allowed them to play directly on the console by a press of a button. This was the beginning of the “Thieves World” project, another third person game with a female lead (at the time Tomb Raider was an inspiration for everybody and female leads were very popular!).

Thieves World, in turn, had a lot of ups and downs. After a few more months the RiQa project was cancelled and the focus of the studio became “Thieves World”. We continued working on the engine and the gameplay of the game for several years. At some point another team in the Studio started developing Muzzle Velocity, which later on became Die Hard: Vendetta, using the same Editor/Engine and we contributed to support this team. We had some problems on the creative side on TW and we spent a lot of time iterating on the design. As the N64 life cycle reached its end the decision was made to move on to next gen and we had to upgrade the engine significantly to push the tech to benefit from next gen consoles hardware.

A lot of people left the team in the years after this reboot and at some point I was the only original member of the team left. The game was almost canned but we signed a deal with Kemco and the game was ultimately rebooted to become “Rogue Ops”. The original TW project was supposed to be a stealth, no weapon game, which created a lot of issues on gameplay side. Kemco decided to introduce more shooting and we finally got a game. TW was not inspired by other titles at the time like MGS or Splinter Cell, it was actually imagined before or at the same time as those games. But the development cycle was so long that at release time those games had long been released.”

Unseen64: Jas Austin (another former Bits Studios developer) told us that Thieves World almost became a Rare game: is true that they wanted to move development from Bits  Studios to Rare? We wonder if Thieves World could have became a Perfect Dark spin- off. After Rare and Nintendo published the original Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64,  they also wanted to release a quick sequel called “Velvet Dark” that would have been a third person action / stealth game.. maybe the two projects are related.

Fred: “Yes as far as I can remember Jason is right! While the TW game had design difficulties, Bits Studios was audited by Rare. A presentation of the game and the tech was done to Rare after several months of audit and while the tech was recognized on N64, Rare did not decide to acquire the game or the studio. They were already working on Perfect Dark at the time and some concepts in both games are similar, but this is as far as it goes regarding the history between those two games.”

As mentioned in the written interview, the reason why Thieves World didn’t happen is because the N64 had reached the end of its lifecycle and a decision was made by Bits Studios to move this project to the next generation. This meant rebuilding the game and transfer as much as possible to their new project. Thieves World was in production for a few years after RiQa was cancelled, so we can assume it got quite far in development. They did, however, experience creative hardships and spent a lot of time on the design side of the project.

During that transition, sadly most people left Bits Studios. Mr. Villain was the only member of the project who stayed until the end and saw this Thieves World come alive as Rogue Ops when finally released on the new generation of consoles in 2003.

“But I am still proud to that day, it got finally released as Rogue Ops, even if it was not a massive commercial success”

The company Bits Studios has worked on quite a good list of games before it went under in 2008. As mentioned on Wikipedia, unfortunately the parent company ‘Playwize’ sold off all assets and technologies Bits Studio had due to overall poor sales.

Article by Alex (Brub)

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On a last note, see below a Rogue Ops retro video commercial for comparison purposes. One wonders how different Thieves World would have been compared to Rogue Ops, but at least something came out of this cancellation.

 

HiTech (Illusion Softworks) [PS3, Xbox 360, PC – Cancelled]

HiTech is a cancelled action / stealth game that was planned for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC in 2006 / 2007 by Illusion Softworks (now known as 2K Czech), the team mostly known for the Hidden & Dangerous and Mafia series. The project was still in early development and without a playable prototype when it was canned. Only a concept video was created to pitch the game to publishers, but unfortunately they did not find any company interested and had to cancel it. Instead, they continued working on Mafia II, later released in 2010.

The project was lead by Daniel Vávra, game designer who worked at Illusion Softworks since 1998 on Hidden and Dangerous and Mafia I & II. Vávra shown the HiTech concept footage in 2007 during his presentation titled “How to make a game” and the video was later uploaded on Youtube. From what we can see in this pitch video, HiTech’s gameplay could have been similar to other action / stealth games such as Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, but in a sci-fi setting.

As we can read in the video intro:

“Year 2025. A group of terrorists sabotaged military robot tests inside Adler Group production facility. The robots went out of control and slaughtered AG staff. Terrorists provided media with video footage of this massacre. The facility has been evacuated and the nemesis team has been called in. The objective is to regain control and cover up the incident.”

Thanks to superannuation for the contribution!

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Death to Spies 3: Ghost of Moscow [PS3, Xbox 360, PC – Cancelled, Beta]

Death to Spies 3: Ghost of Moscow is the cancelled third game in the Death to Spies franchise, in developed in 2010 by Haggard Games and to be published by 1C Company on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. While the original project was never released on the 7th generation of consoles, the game was later reworked and rebranded as Alekhine’s Gun and published by Maximum Games for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on March 2016.

Previous Death to Spies chapters (Death to Spies and Death to Spies: Moment of Truth) were set during World War II and the protagonist is a member of the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH called Semyon Strogov. In Ghost of Moscow players had to use stealth to resolve different missions and kill enemies without being detected, exploring non-linear levels with multiple ways of completing objectives, somehow similar to the Hitman series.

As one member of Haggard Games explains, Death to Spies 3: Ghost of Moscow was originally canned because of internal changes at 1C Company:

“Not related to the game. It’s more of their change in business strategy. They closed almost all projects in development and all their internal studios after financial problems and focused only on distribution/publishing already finished products.”

To continue development of the title, Haggard Games ran two crowdfunding campaigns: one on Indiegogo in 2013 and another on Kickstarter in 2014. Unfortunately both campaigns failed to reach the funding goal but they were later able to collaborate with Maximum Games to continue the development of the game as Alekhine’s Gun. This new version follows the same SMERSH (now KGB) agent, Semyon Strogov, who was recruited in the CIA during the 1960’s to untangle a plot inside the United States that could spark nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The original beta version of Death to Spies 3 had two other playable characters: Olga Godunova-Lopes and Victor Kovalev. Players could switch between each character at any time during a mission. Alexegy Agamalov, lead developer of Haggard Games was able to provide more details about some the cuts and changes made on the game:

Matt Redmond: I’ve noticed from media, such as screen shots that Victor Kovalev and Olga Godunova-Lopes were to be playable. Was that removed for gameplay balance or to focus the narrative on Semyon Strogov?

Alexegy Agamalov: They were removed because of complexity. It was too much work to design/balance/playtest/focus test/etc.. And we had to cut some features to release the game in time. (After we signed with Maximum Games additional work related to consoles were added). Story also did change, some levels were redesigned to be played by Semyon only.

MR: What kind of abilities were planned for Victor and Olga?

AA: Olga was able to attract guards and other NPC’s, also climbing into some special places (such as small passages not wide enough for the men). Victor was a sniper and knife master, able to hide in shadows or grass. Semyon was able to use disguises.

MR: How was the story modified as the characters were reduced to only Semyon?

AA: Story was completely changed. First story was based mostly on Bay of Pigs invasion. We also had to change the story because rights on it belonged to our previous publisher.. Well, mostly there was gameplay feature cuts (like removing multi-characters), levels were redesigned. Two of the levels were changed from Cold War era to WW2 era (Dts1 levels remakes).

MR: Did Maximum Games decide to pick up the title as they announced plans that the company wanted to expand their publishing portfolio to more mature/adult games? Or was because of the original gameplay demo? (And how much of the game was completed before Maximum Games picked up the project?)

AA: I can’t speak for Maximum Games, but I guess it was a way for them to expand their portfolio. As for how much it was completed, on the moment of signing with MG, Death to Spies 3 was about half-way completed for features/gameplay and 70% on content (graphics/animations/sounds/etc..)

Death to Spies, Death to Spies: Moment of Truth and Alekhine’s Gun are all available on Steam.

Article by Matt Redmond