third person shooter

Lethal Encounter [N64 – Cancelled]

An article published in the August 1998 issue of the beloved Edge Magazine is all the information that we currently possess from Lethal Encounter, developed by Digital Image Design, a British software house that had earned its place in the market with its cutting-edge PC flight simulators and training programs for the military. What could have taken Digital Image Design, the studio behind titles such as F29 Retaliator, Epic or F22 Air Dominance Fighter out of its comfort zone in the personal computer ecosystem and aim for the Nintendo 64, a Japanese console that by then had clearly lost the lead against its most direct generational rival? According to studio co-founder Martin Kenwright, interviewed in Edge, although Digital Image Design managed to have their ambitious 3 Dream engine running on the first PlayStation, the ongoing development process of the PC title EF2000 (a critically-acclaimed combat flight simulator that served as sequel to their previous game TFX) and perhaps the already crowded market that Sony’s machine amassed, made them give up on that train and instead engage with Nintendo’s 64-bit system, whose kits were already in their possession.

f22-adf-did

Back in 1989 and after having worked for two years in the British software company Rowan Games, Kenwright founded Digital Image Design together with Philip Allsopp and they quickly specialized themselves in the flight simulator genre with the launch of F29 Retaliator, while also exploring other fields, such as science-fiction with Epic or arcade with the Robocop 3 version for Amiga, Atari ST and PC. These would however constitute exceptions, as the majority of the company’s titles would remain true to their simulation roots. Even if the company, which would continue expanding until reaching the 80 in-house employees, was making a hefty profit offering their products to notorious customers such as the Royal Airforce or British Airways, they quickly determined that the videogame simulators payed better than their real life counterparts, so around 1997 they started widening their reach and quickly turned to the blooming console market.

lethal-encounter-nintendo-64

Surprising as it might have seemed back in the day, Nintendo 64 was the platform of choice of Digital Image Design’s next outing, Lethal Encounter; almost antipodal to the company’s previous work and instead presenting players with a fairly straightforward, arcade-style third person action game. We must however not forget that given the company’s background with more strategic and complex titles, it is indeed very possible that the developers had envisioned the addition of more strategic elements to the gameplay. At least we do know that Lethal Encounter was definitely not going for realism in regards to its plot, which involved an alien invasion poisoning the Earth ‘via giant terraformers laid beneath ancient historical sites such as the Incan city of Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat and the Nasca Plains’, as described by Edge in a short preview. According to the few details available, it is unlikely that the title had any resemblance to others available on the system. Nintendo 64 did amass a quite generous library of 3D action games but few of them had the player in control of a tank and consequently the most obvious comparisons could be made to BattleTanx: Global Assault or perhaps more accurately, and due to the arcade and science-fiction setting, to the Landmaster levels of Starfox 64 (known as Lylat Wars in Europe), although it seems quite unlikely that Lethal Encounter would have chosen an on-rails gameplay like Nintendo’s title instead of a free-roaming one.

At the end of 1998 however, circumstances changed drastically and Ocean Software, which had been until then the sole publisher of Digital Image Design’s titles, became Infogrames UK, completing an acquisition process that the French holding company had already started back in 1996. This situation led Infogrames to also start a takeover process upon Digital Image Design, eventually causing the departure of six key members, including co-founder Martin Kenwright. It is therefore not preposterous to assume that the studio’s delicate position, with some of their most prominent members gone led to the eventual abandon and cancellation of some of their titles under development, situation which most probably affected Lethal Encounter but did not prevent Digital Image Design from still releasing Wargasm, another PC title that broke away from the usual flight simulator genre, offering instead a complex, real-time strategy game in which the player could take control of various tank models, infantry troops and even helicopters, offering an interesting mix between action and strategy that most probably met and even exceeded the company’s original ambitions in Lethal Encounter.

The departure of Kenwright was not the last staff exodus Digital Image Design saw, with an important part of the total workforce parting ways after another sale of the British studio, this time to Rage Games and the subsequent formation of Juice Games after Rage went under in 2003. Kenwright on his side went on to form Evolution Studios, a software house which reached notorious success as one of Sony’s first European development teams with the World Rally Championship franchise for the PlayStation 2 and afterwards with the PlayStation 3 launch title turned into their own IP, MotorStorm.

Thanks to Ross Sillifant for providing these pages from Edge magazine!

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Kanaan (Argonaut) [PC – Cancelled]

Kanaan (Argonaut) [PC – Cancelled]

Kanaan is a cancelled first / third person open world shooter that was in development by Argonaut Games in late ‘90, planned to be published in 1998 / 1999 by Ubisoft on PC. While many other lost games from Argonaut were widely known, this one seems to have been forgotten for many years, until in January 2016 Werta Oldgamesru noticed this title and posted about it in our Unseen64 FB Forum. The project was quite an interesting twist on the classic shooter genre, because of its open world environments and anthropomorphic animal enemies. As noticed by Ross Sillifant, a two-pages preview of the game was featured in Edge magazine September 1998 issue, where we can read a lot of details about its gameplay:

“Think dark tunnels, think robot enemies, think bleak future worlds. The stereotype defined by ID’s seminal Doom has been adhered to with a near-religious reverence by developers worldwide. So perhaps, it’s salient that Argonaut, a traditional console game company once strongly linked to Nintendo, should be chipping away at the genre’s mould. Argonaut first person foray is currently dubbed Kanaan, although the search for a name to replace the development tag of “Chaos” has been a protracted wrangle. While the game’s futuristic setting is nothing new, its dog-themed alien enemies are refreshingly different. Guiding lone human Gabriel Cain, the player must stop the invaders from capturing his home planet of Camrose. Cain is one of two surviving members of Camrose’s crack Chaos Squad, the other being the group’s traitorous captain deSoto. As the game progress, new plot elements are introduced, including Cain joining the underground resistance. New weapons, locations and environments will gradually be uncovered as Cain struggles to defeat the alien foe. His eventual target is the alien leader Commander Kray, who must be brought down for Cain’s final victory.

Through the careful use of tessellation techniques, Kanaan has been gifted with vast environments. […] However, the game also contains a large number of structures which can be entered, the action blending smoothly from interior to exterior. Using Kanaan’s powerful 3D engine fully, certain buildings will feature balconies, giving the player the ability to look across an area and attack enemies from a distance.

In order to move swiftly around these incredibly open areas, the player can capture and utilize a variety of vehicles. These includes jeeps, cars, trucks, speedboats, helicopters and bombers, each with their own armoury available at Cain’s disposal. […]

While Kanaan’s standard viewpoint is first person, Argonaut has strong opinions regarding character depiction, and to that end an additional third person camera is selectable. […]

Cain also has access to a sniper weapon (as seen in Goldeneye) so he can pick-off foes from a great distance by zooming in through the weapon’s sights. Traditional first person puzzle elements also emerge, along with console systems which reveal conundrums that block progress.”

A few more memories about Kanaan’s development can be found in websites of people that worked on it. Simon Grell recalls:

“Kanaan was the first game I worked on at Argonaut. I did most of the character and vehicle designs but unfortunately it was canned shortly before it was due to be released”

In an interview with Julian Alden-Salter posted in the GameOn Forum, we can read:

“I spent 5 years at Argonaut working on Hot Ice (unpublished), Alien Odyssey (unpublished), Croc, FX Fighter Turbo and Kanaan but was made redundant when the project I was producing (Kanaan) was canned.”

As the game was almost complete when cancelled and even Edge was able to try a playable demo, we hope that in the future someone could find a video or even a prototype of Kanaan that could be saved.

Thanks to Werta Oldgamesru, Maik Thiele and Ross Sillifant for the contributions! Screenshots saved from AVOC by Fabio Cristi

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Velvet Dark [N64 / GameCube – Cancelled]

Velvet Dark is a cancelled spinoff / sequel to Perfect Dark, the cult classic FPS developed by Rare Ltd and published for the Nintendo 64 in May 2000. A few months before Perfect Dark was completed, Duncan Botwood (Production Designer on GoldenEye and Level Designer on PD), Steve Malpass (Designer on PD) and possibly a few more people from the original team started to work on this new concept, that would have featured Joanna Dark’s sister: Velvet.

velvet dark: joanna's sister

The relationship between Joanna and Velvet was never fully detailed in Perfect Dark, but Velvet is a playable character in the coop and multiplayer modes, and she is also unlocked from the start to be used as a bot in single player. We can assume that early work on Velvet Dark begun in late 1999 as in january 2000 Rare filed the trademark for the title and later in february 2000 they even registered the domain name for www.velvetdark.com.

Velvet Dark would have been a third person stealth / action game and not a first person shooter as the original Perfect Dark, as Rare wanted to expand their franchise in different genres, especially when such games as Metal Gear Solid and Symphon Filter were super popular on the Playstation. At the time Nintendo wanted to publish cool third person action games for their 64 bit console, so much that in mid 1999 they announced the Tomb Raider inspired RiQa, a collaboration project with Bits Studios that unfortunately never seen the light of day. Rare were also interested in explain more about Velvet’s mystery and her backstory, other than to take advantage of their new Vicon 8 optical motion-capture system that would have been ideal to use for a realistic third person game.

Velvet Dark render for Nintendo 64 and GameCube

Unfortunately not much was done Velvet Dark before its cancellation: a design doc and some concept arts / renders were made but in the end the project was not green lighted for full development. A photo of the cover for Velvet’s design doc was shared on Twitter by Gregg Mayle in July 2015 and it was marked with the date 30 October 2000. If our speculations are correct, the small team at Rare spent about 1 year on Velvet Dark and many gameplay elements were already detailed.

velvet dark design doc by rare ltd

From the design doc index we can read that Velvet would have use some kind of “serum” to gain new abilities, maybe something similar to the “Nectar” featured in Haze by Free Radical Design, the studio composed by a few former Rare employee. There could also have been squad-based strategy elements (probably an evolution of the bot commands used in Perfect Dark N64) and a possible GameBoy / GBA compatibility. As a spinoff and spiritual sequel to GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, multiplayer was also considered for Velvet Dark.

In August 2000 Nintendo officially announced their GameCube at Space World 2000 and one of the tech demos shown at the event was a 3D rendition of Joanna Dark, implying that a new FPS by Rare was already planned for the new console. Even if some work on Velvet Dark was undertake at least till October 2000, we can assume that the game was not developed further because they decided to switch all resources to create the new Perfect Dark Zero, a popular FPS needed to be successful in the American market. A third person action / stealth game was not Rare or Nintendo’s priority anymore. Rare’s last game for the Nintendo 64 was then Conker’s Bad Fur Day, released in March 2001.

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Metal Arms 2 [Cancelled – Xbox, PS2, GameCube]

The original Metal Arms: Glitch in the System was a third-person shooter developed by Swingin’ Ape Studios and published by Vivendi Universal and Sierra Entertainment in late 2003, for Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube. While the game did not sold a lot, it soon became a cult classic and many loved its fun gameplay in the story mode and multiplayer. The game story ended with a cliffhanger and the team did start on Metal Arms 2 soon after the first game, but unfortunately the project was stopped when they were signed to work on Starcraft Ghost for Blizzard Entertainment. StarCraft: Ghost was initially in development by Nihilistic Software, but in June 2004 they were removed from the project and Blizzard gave it to Swingin’ Ape Studios to continue.

Swingin’ Ape were just a small team and to assure quality work on such an important and hyped game as StarCraft: Ghost they had to use all of their resources and were not able to continue their Metal Arms sequel. Only a few concept art and early ideas for Metal Arms 2 were conceived before the cancellation of the game. One of the developers remember a few details on the characters that you can see in the gallery below:

  • Goliath: The next-generation Titan, designed for crushing/smashing Droids like ants.
  • Pinto (pictured here after one has been captured and repurposed by Droids): A light, fast hit-and-run buggy that can carry 4 grunts (1 driver, 1 gunner, 2 clinging desperately to the sides).
  • Commando: An elite Mil shock trooper, similar in abilities to the Droid Commando but more heavily armored.
  • Corrosive Suit: Krunk was going to turn the wrecked shell of General Corrosive into a mech suit that Glitch could jump into and use like a vehicle.”
  • ATAB: I don’t remember what it stands for, but it’s an armored Droid troop carrier. Troops can ride on top, and the shields on the legs allow them to use it for advancing cover in combat.
  • Droid Explorer: An old, battered robot that’s been off exploring Iron Star for years. For so long, in fact, that he completely missed that whole Mil/Droid war thing.
  • Droid Engineer: Mister Fixit, able to build/repair just about anything.
  • Droid Trooper: The first Droids actually designed for combat, rather than re-purposed from some other job. Fairly effective grunts.
  • Droid Commando: Elite combat troops (or at least as “elite” as Droids get). Faster, stronger, smarter, and more heavily armed than the Troopers.

While work on StarCraft: Ghost proceeded, in May 2005 Blizzard Entertainment decided to acquire Swingin’ Ape and they became part of the popular company. After a while StarCraft: Ghost was also put on indefinite hold and never completed.

Thanks to KRaZiGLiTcH and Josiah from the WeWantMetalArms2 fanpage for their contribution!

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Silent Scope Reboot [Xbox 360, PS3 – Cancelled]

The original Silent Scope was developed by Konami for arcades in 1999, with multiple console ports for Dreamcast, PS2 and Xbox. The game was an on-rail shooter in which to use a sniper rifle to hunt down terrorists, rewarding players with higher score for precise kills and making it more slow-paced than traditional light gun shooters. The game was quite popular and Konami soon developed two sequels, with “Silent Scope 2: Dark Silhouette” released in 2000 and “Silent Scope EX” in 2001.

Most people don’t know that in 2011 Konami wanted to create a reboot of the Silent Scope franchise and asked to Day 1 Studios (the team that had recently worked on F.E.A.R. 3, now known as Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore) to work on a Silent Scope third person shooter for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The idea was to make this new Silent Scope a stealth based game, as a more arcadey Metal Gear Solid: set in the near-future, this reboot would also have had sci-fi elements as the main enemy that could move so fast that he appears to teleport around.

Day 1 Studios were able to create an early prototype, with a playable demo in a shopping mall to test how the game would have been played, but in december 2011 Konami decided to cancel the project and the studio had to laid off 95% of the team. This was the end for the Silent Scope reboot.

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