Stealth

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

 

Klepto [N64 – Cancelled]

Klepto is a cancelled action platformer / adventure / stealth game in development by Utopia Technologies / Sandbox Studios between 1998 and 2000, with a planned release on the Nintendo 64. The team was formed in 1993 and was composed of such talented developers and artists as Atman Binstock, Gary Corriveau, Matthew Moss, Rich Geldreich, Steve Bergenholtz and Robert Jaeger. In the early ’80s, Robert designed and programmed the classic platform game Montezuma’s Revenge (Atari). Utopia Technologies then released Montezuma’s Return in 1998, a 3D sequel to the classic predecessor, which was originally planned for N64 but released only on PC.

It seems that Utopia Technologies was one of the few studios that could use their own microcode to develop games for the N64, a privilege given by Nintendo that was shared only with Rare Ltd, Boss Games (World Driver Championship) and Factor 5 (Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, Battle for Naboo).

klepto-Nintendo-64-Utopia-Technologies-Sandbox-Studios-01

Unfortunately, we never did see what Utopia Technologies could achieve on Nintendo’s console. After the N64 Montezuma’s Return was cancelled and the PC version completed instead, Atman, Gary, and Matthew started working on a brand-new project called “Klepto”. As recalled by Atman:

“Inspired by Umihara Kawase, I set about creating a 3D third person grappling hook game. The idea was that you played a cat burglar-type in a Sci-Fi world. Each mission was designed to be playable in several ways, i.e. you could sneak in and steal the target item and if you were really good, you could sneak out without being detected. However, taking the loot would likely set off alarms and you’d have to fight your way out. Or, if you preferred, you could try fighting your way in and out.

The experience was designed to be as nerve-wracking as possible: the player was allowed as much practice as they wanted in a simulator environment based on incomplete knowledge (one idea was to allow recon missions to fill in pieces of the mission simulator), but only one shot at actually performing the mission for real, with large meta-game rewards/penalties.

The core dynamics were about using a physics-based grappling hook (as opposed to the shoot-zip or stiff fake-swinging types) to move around and manipulate a physics-based environment. The stretchy rope enabled the excellent and deep player-skill rubber-banding movements from Umihara Kawase, with some additions like slip-walls where the grappling hook could freely slide in one direction.

But more than just a fun method of getting around, the grappling hook’s stretchy rope provided an indirect yet high-fidelity way to interact with objects and enemies – the player could reel in/let out rope, or move themselves to change the rope’s tension. You could shoot out and attach to the foot of guard standing on a ledge, then reel-in while moving back to yank him off the edge. Or you could gently drag a crate of something fragile (and likely explosive) to the edge of a shaft way, then gently lower it to the bottom. There were a number of tools that were added on top of the vanilla grappling hook. In order to fight the entropy of all objects ending up at the bottom of a level, you could attach rapid-inflate balloons to an item (or enemy).

The player could also shoot a spring, one end at a time, allowing you to attach any two things in sight, like an enemy to a bomb crate. And the general purpose “pipe tool” ended up being a flamethrower, which was useful for cutting springs, detonating bombs, and torturing bound-up (by springs) enemies into dropping keycards.”

The team developed a playable prototype for Klepto and they displayed it at E3 1999 where several parties expressed interest in publishing the game, including Nintendo. As recalled by Gary:

“There were a decent number of prototype levels that I built showcasing the various mechanics. The environments were simple, but we had some really nice interaction driven animations on the characters thanks to Atman’s hard work. The rope itself was also very cool. He connected a string of rigid cubes with springs and then skinned the whole thing. The player could then control the tension of the rope, by loosening and tightening the springs on demand.

We had some nice mechanics going on. You could shoot your bungee-cord grappling hook and swing around the environments, or hook onto enemies and so forth. You could attach rockets to your hook and smash enemies around the level with it.”

As the N64’s life cycle was coming to an end, no party decided to commit to Klepto and it was left without a publisher. When Utopia Technologies presented the game to Nintendo, they seemed to like it and encouraged them to consider bringing it to GameCube, but that wasn’t possible for their small team budget.

Sometime after Montezuma’s Return was published in 1998, Robert Jaeger left Utopia Technologies and the remaining team members changed their name to “Sandbox Studios”. They then released such games as Dinosaur for Dreamcast and Shrek for the original Xbox. In 2001 the company was acquired by Digital Illusions CE and renamed “Digital Illusions Canada”, but later closed in 2006 when DI was acquired by Electronic Arts.

We managed to contact a few people who worked at Utopia Technologies / Sandbox Studios, but sadly it seems that only some early Klepto concept arts were preserved by the studio. We still hope that one day someone could find some screenshots, videos, or even a playable prototype from the game that could be saved and added to the unseen history of video games. Although it’s unlikely, it’s never impossible.

Thanks to Rich, Gary and Maik for their contributions!

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