strategy

Blue Vault (Elixir Studios) [PC – Cancelled]

Blue Vault is a cancelled sci-fi strategy game similar to Syndicate / X-Com, that was in development in 2004 by Elixir Studios, the team lead by Demis Hassabis, a skilled programmer who co-created Theme Park and worked with Peter Molyneux during their Bullfrog and Lionhead days. Players would take the role of a secret team of agents with the mission of stopping aliens from invading our planet, while hiding their existence from the population.

At the time Elixir Studios had released two interesting but ill-fated games: “Republic: The Revolution” (2003) and “Evil Genius” (2004). Blue Vault would have been their third project, offering players more than 30 missions to resolve using strategy combat, managing the squad’s finance, keeping up the team morale and upgrading their skills. During missions civilians must have been protected but at the same time you had to not let them know what was really happening. As we can read from IGN:

“Blue Vault’s strategy element involves the usual research, resource-gathering, unit recruitment and skill advancement, but the team is going into a lot of detail that’ll be “almost to an RPG level” according to Sutherland. There’ll be 40 unique unit characters, each with their own features, toolset, stats and hopefully, voice. “X-COM missions were quite similar with very little characterization. We want to push the character element further, so you really care about your teams. Imagine each Blue Vault operative shouting orders or screaming in agony with a different voice.”

Some more details were published in PC Zone Magazine (issue 141, May 2004):

“[…] tension is the crux of the gameplay, so  even if you manage to deal successfully  with an interplanetary nuisance, if you  scare the bejesus out of too many people  – what Elixir is calling ‘culture shock’ –  you’ll fail the mission

Ops are your standard tactical soldier,  whereas Indigo Ops are your elite  troopers that utilise alien technology.  Obviously, the latter are more adept at  dealing with space tourists, but you have  to be careful not to freak out bystanders,  who will notice their strange uniforms and  hybrid weaponry.

Engineers, on the other hand, repair  stuff, allow you to recover valuable alien  artefacts, hijack cars to build barricades  and also reinforce any cover-up with  visible evidence, such as releasing  weather balloons to explain that bizarre  ‘meteorological event’ annoyingly  witnessed by dozens of people.

Finally, there are your Conspirators –  the ‘Men in Blue’ who’re crucial for crowd  control and ensuring that you protect the  populace from mass panic caused by first  contact. This is where Elixir’s ‘stimuli system’, also used to a certain extent in  Republic, comes into play, where  individual Al-controlled characters react  to things they see and hear. So, if a member of the public has a  glimpse of alien technology, for example,  or is confronted by a Blue Vault soldier  pointing a gun at them, they’ll become  fearful, but this will soon recede if you  manage to tell them to move out of the  danger zone. However, if the person is  left in the vicinity of an alien visitor, they  will go into culture shock, meaning they’re  so scared and irrational that they  become a danger to themselves. In this  case, you quickly have to use your  Conspirators’ special persuasive powers  to calm people down, or you’ll quickly fail  your objectives. Up to 1,000 people can be rendered on screen, with up to 3,000 polygons each.

Blue Vault has a total of six alien races  and 15 different model types with  emergent behavior, so it’s extremely  important how you deal with the  combat and containment of these  creatures. “If you get it wrong, say a  friendly alien race comes along and you  decide to blow them back to the Stone  Age, the next time they appear, they’ll be  aggressive,” says Hewitt,  “take the time to find out about them, work with them, then next time  they’ll be more helpful.” Elixir is working towards a total of  more than 30 scripted missions, ranging  from rescuing and escorting a stranded  alien so it can repair its vehicle and  launch, to a spaceship full of warlike  alien convicts that crashes in a  downtown leisure zone on a  Saturday night. There’ll also be  random spanners in the  works, such as an  epidemic of  intergalactic  spores that bury  themselves in  human skin.”

Unfortunately in 2005 Elixir Studios was faced with serious financial problems. Their publisher abandoned Blue Vault, possibly because Republic and Evil Genius did not sell as expected. It seems the team tried to pitch the game to other publisher, possibly using a possible “Men in Black” license, but without any luck. With no money to keep the studio alive, Elixir had to close down: Blue Vault and all of their other planned projects (Republic Dawn: The Chronicles of the Seven , Evil Genius 2) were canned and lost forever.

Thanks to Ross Sillifant and Josef for the contribution!

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Shinbatsu (Gainax) [Sega Saturn – Cancelled]

Shinbatsu (神罰, Divine Punishment) is a cancelled strategy / simulation game that was in development for the Sega Saturn around 1995. The project was being produced by popular animation studio Gainax, just a few months before the first original run of their cult-series: Evangelion.

Shinbatsu-Divine-Punishment-Gainax-Sega-Saturn-Cancelled

Character design for Shinbatsu was done by Kenji Tsuruta, mostly known for his Spirit of Wonder manga. Unfortunately we don’t have much more details about this lost game, but VGDensetsu found a page with a few screenshots and a short preview in Sega Saturn Magazine (March 1, 1995).

If you can read Japanese and could write a short summary of what they wrote about this game, please leave a comment below!

Shinbatsu-Divine-Punishment-Gainax-Sega-Saturn-Cancelled-Magazine 

Geopolitic Shima ni Okeru Kokka Kobo Ron [NES / Famicom – Cancelled]

Irem developed and published many games for the NES / Famicom, such as Holy Diver, Hammerin’ Harry and Deadly Towers. They also had many projects that were never released, and this “Geopolitic Shima ni Okeru Kokka Kobo Ron” is one of them.

This is a really obscure and forgotten strategy / simulation game planned for the Famicom, and only a couple of images were found in a japanese magazine by Youlute.

Geopolitic-Shima-ni-Okeru-Kokka-Kobo-Ron-Irem-Famicom

It seems players would have been able to plan their war against enemy armies, to control the whole world. As it happens with old, cancelled 8 bit games, we don’t know much more about this one: at least we can now remember its existence. Maybe one day someone could find a prototype and share it with the world. 

Dagoth Tactics (Moor Zoological Gardens) [PC, Xbox 360 – Cancelled]

Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens was an impressive GeForce tech demo created in 1997 / 1998 by The Whole Experience (WXP), a small development team base in Seattle. In this demo you could move around a fantasy setting, inhabited by strange creatures:

“Creative Labs will ship their ‘3D Blaster Annihilator‘ with WXP’s technology demo “Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens”. This demo is using the engine of WXP’s upcoming fantasy action title ‘Experience’ and it’s the first independent application that is using GeForce’s T&L-engine. The demo is not a real game, but you can walk around and explore the beautiful scenery that soothes your mind by looking at it. I have to say that I never saw a game-demo as impressive and as beautiful at the same time, but some of you might be very disappointed about the complete lack of blood and violence.”

Another Geforce tech demo in the same Dagoth Moor settings was later released in 1999 under the title “Isle of Morg”:

“Isle of Morg is a technology demo that integrates the features found in GeForce2 GTS with typical gameplay mechanics such as physics and collision detection, as well as special effects including particle systems, dynamic water, environment mapping, per-pixel shaders, and dynamic lighting. It’s a great example of what is possible in today’s games.”

Thanks to the success of their tech demos WXP were able to work on a few commercial games for various publishers, with titles such as Lord of the Rings and Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball. The team wanted to create their own original game “Experience” since 1997, but between contract works and difficulties in finding a publisher for their own IP, they had to keep it as a side-project until many years later.  In 2002 / 2003 they also worked on “The Guardian“, a cancelled adventure game to be published by Capital Entertainment Group for the original Xbox.

In 2007 they developed a pitch demo for a new strategy game based on their Dagoth Moor settings. This game was titled “Dagoth Tactics”, planned to be released on PC and Xbox 360. There are no other details available about Dagoth Tactics: by looking a the few images available we can assume it would have been a classic strategy game with Hex-Grid movements.

In the end Dagoth Tactics was never completed and it was cancelled in favor of a FPS set in the same fantasy settings. Initially titled “Exod Intervention” WXP’s original first person shooter was then released in 2011 as Xotic on Steam and Xbox 360. Unfortunately it seems the game did not sell enough to keep the team alive, and WXP was soon disbanded. We probably will never get another game set in the Dagoth Moor Zoological Gardens.

  

Shining Star [GBA – Cancelled]

Shining Star is a cancelled strategy game once in development for Game Boy Advance by Eworks Studios, conceived from an original idea by British producer Faraz Ansari, former leader of the now-closed studio Storm Entertainment.

In this military shooter players would  control “Kool Shen”, a silent “one man army” with a dry sense of humor. Eworks Studios started working on Shining Star in 2005, planning to build a “proof of concept” to be presented to investors. Concept art was initially created by Bruno Covachã and Marco Vale, but later Tiago Pimentel became the main character designer for the project. Marco Leal was hired for a month to create sprites, while Vale was responsible for their animations.

A playable prototype was developed by Eworks, a short demo in which you start in a deserted village in a south American jungle, and have to fight against your enemies using a shotgun, a pistol and some grenades. A few areas were available and in each level players would face different challenges in some sort of a maze, using obstacles in their favor to defeat enemy soldiers.

Two support characters would help players in their missions and explain the main goals. One of them was named “Shurk’n”, a war hero colonel with a very aggressive personality who would frequently lose control. The second character was named “Dragon Ash”, a woman commander who would give positive reinforcement and more confidence to players in a way that would be the opposite of the colonel’s.

According to the design document they wanted to develop an original and complex artificial intelligence to control the game’s enemies. An interesting concept of “action-reaction” was fully implemented in Shining Star’s prototype to make enemies to react to players’ movement and strategies. These enemies would following a “playbook”, a kind of database of different reactions (like throwing a grenade, moving, covering and so on) specific to each map that would be activated in a way that would simulate a tactical action against the player.

Artworks for the game were heavily inspired by Metal Slug, while Riviera was quoted as a reference for menus and graphics interface. Advance Wars was also a strong inspiration for the team, mainly for how dialogs and characters would have been shown.

Development of the prototype was filled with communication problems between the producer and the team. If this was not enough, the GBA was already at the end of its life-cycle, the Nintendo DS was already released but they were not able to get a dev-kit for the new console. Eworks Studios were able to complete their playable prototype, and to deliver it to the game’s producer.

Unfortunately they never found a publisher interested in their game and in the end the project was canned. Later Eworks Studios thought to rework Shining Star into a 3D game to be released on digital download, but it never happened.

In the gallery below you can see some concept art by Tiago Pimentel, concepts and pixel art by Marco Vale and also a few screenshots of a very early prototype also provided by Vale. Thanks to their time and help we were able to preserve these details, to remember the existence of this game that will never be.

If you know someone who knows what happened to Faraz Ansari, Storm Entertainment or the whereabouts of the playable Shining Star prototype please let us know!

Article by Jump/Error, original version in Portuguese on the Videogame PT Blog!

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