Holy War is a cancelled game that was in development between 2003 and 2005 by Gamelords, a portuguese team that would later become Seed Studios. The game was produced with an in-house 3D engine and financed by Linha de Terra Studios and Norhold Investimentos.
Holy War was set in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, reproducing real world locations, weapons and people. A multiplayer mode was also planned, allowing players to choose which faction to fight for.
An early demo developed in 2005 was shown for the first time during the event “Games 2006” bearing only the minimum features necessary to get publishers’ attention – four maps (including the wall built by Israel and the Gaza Strip), part of the tutorial, some weapons and some computer-controlled characters for single player.
Filipe Pina is a developer who worked on Holy War at the time and in an e-mail interview he was able to explain some more details about its development:
“While developing the game, we were in constant contact with a Palestinian and an Israeli that helped us make everything as real as possible. The guns of the Israeli, combat equipment and everything else was faithfully recreated. The Palestinians used guns from the Russians among other things.”
The demo also provided some interesting features:
“(…) the demo used “normal maps”, real-time shadows and a day/night system. It was one of the first FPS to allow gameplay in both 1st and 3rd person. It was also possible to drive vehicles.”
The team received very good feedback from publishers praising the game’s graphics and gameplay, but the controversial theme – even if it had brought them free advertisement – provoked some fear on investors.
To quote an interview with Bruno Ribeiro (another developer who worked on the game), about a meeting with members from Take Two Interactive:
“We managed to show the game to some members of a very famous publisher. Initially they were very excited by our work, but that changed once they noticed that the theme wasn’t a generic one. They started to see characteristic elements of Israel and asked “will there be any suicide bombers?”. As soon as we said yes, they immediately said “That is going to be a problem”.”
The team was pressured to change the theme to a more generic setting – “maybe some American soldiers killing terrorists” – but publishers refused to support a videogame that represented a more realistic and delicate situation.
Gamelords considered having a digital release on PC for Holy War but without any support from publishers and having to totally finance the project themselves, they were not able to continue working on it. Despite the cancellation of their Holy War project, Gamelords learned a lot during its development and allowed them to gain a valuable work experience for their future as Seed Studios.
It’s also important to mention that the tools and technology developed by the company for Holy Wars were later reused for other projects, even outside the area of videogames.
In the gallery below you can see some sketches, renders and screenshots from the Holy Wars demo, gently provided by Filipe Pina.
Project Nano – also known as Blueprint – is a cancelled third person, open world cooperative shooter being developed by Epic Games. The project was going to become their new major IP following the popular Gears of War series, and was scheduled to be released for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. A few details about this obscure game were already leaked online in November 2013 thanks to VGLeaks but we’ve managed to gather some more info about this ambitious project thanks to an anonymous source.
Nano started development in 2008, around the same time Epic were also working on Gears of War 3. GoW3 was later released in September 2011 as an Xbox 360 exclusive title, but Nano was meant to be Epic’s “next gen” IP, a multi platform (PS4, Xbox One) series planned to be a successful trilogy. Epic put a lot of time and money in creating the Blueprint trilogy, a “noir adventure in the grim and desperate world of 2043”, but unfortunately the series was abandoned after a few prototype demos. The studio had to put Blueprint on hold in 2010 / 2011 while they were struggling to complete Gears of War 3, initially planned to be completed in early 2011 but then postponed several times. It seems that after GoW3 was shipped they continued to work on Nano for a while, albeit without success.
While Nano was never officially announced by Epic, they did show some parts of the game in their Samaritan Unreal Engine 3.5 tech demo revealed at the 2011 Game Developers Conference. Looking at Samaritan we can have a better idea of the style and graphic quality they were targeting for Nano, even if the playable prototype was still too early to look nearly as good as this tech demo.
In mid 2013 former Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski wrote a bit about the difficulties behind the development of Nano (and Samaritan) on his personal Tumblr, as reported by Kotaku:
“Q. What was that “Samaritan” demo that Epic produced a while back?
One day I’ll be able to give the full story on that. It’s really a doozy. If journalists nag Epic enough and they give the OK I’d be glad to give details.”
Cliff’s comment about Nano / Samaritan was later removed and another Epic spokesperson gave another comment about the demo:
“We don’t have anything new to say about the Samaritan demo. Really! It was a “doozy” of a learning experience – after all, it was Epic’s self-proclaimed love letter to hardware manufacturers. Samaritan shows what developers can do with Unreal Engine 3’s DirectX 11 feature set, and in terms of R&D, it helped us realize new ways to optimize Unreal Engine 4 for next-gen game development.”
We can assume that Blueprint was already in development hell at that point, but somehow Epic was still working on Nano in 2014, when they quietly announced a new IP at GDC, as reported by Polygon:
“After selling Gears of War to Microsoft earlier this year, Epic Games is building a new game and intellectual property to carry the studio forward. During the “Animation Bootcamp: Animation Prototyping for Games” panel at this year’s Game Developers Conference, lead animator Jay Hosfelt detailed the studio’s revamped design philosophies as it builds its new game without a publishing partner. No name or release timetable was given, though concept art and character models shown during the panel resembled the unnamed hero of Epic’s 2011 “Samaritan” technical demonstration.”
Even if later this was denied by Epic Games’ PR manager, we can confirm that the main character model used in the Samaritan tech demo was indeed a character from Nano (Owen) and even the street level shown in Samaritan was available in one of the early Blueprint prototypes. By reading Epic’s comments, it’s easy to see how they don’t really want to talk about what happened to Nano, so it’s not easy to gather details about its development and cancellation.
Even if it’s not directly related to Nano (as far as we know), it could be useful to also show what Epic were able to achieve with their Infiltrator tech demo shown at the GDC 2013:
By looking at this footage we can imagine how playing Nano could have looked like in Unreal Engine 4 if only it could have been completed. Unfortunately it seems that only a series of early prototypes were created for Nano, before it was finally cancelled or at least completely changed into a different project still to be announced.
It’s interesting to notice that these Nano prototypes have plenty of music from The Dark Knight movie that was released in 2008, as well as some from Transformers. The few songs used were “A Dark Knight – Hans Zimmer”, “I’m Not a Hero – Hans Zimmer”, “Aggressive Expansion – Hans Zimmer”, as well as “Arrival To Earth – Transformers Score”. Temporary music of course but gives you a glimpse of the type of music they were trying to achieve for the game. Another great example of them working on the project in 2010 was the Toronto G20 summit, as they used a few pictures of Toronto Police cars being destroyed as well as some of the riots that took place as temporary UI assets and inspirations.
The game was still pretty early in development at this time but they keep working on it for a few years. All gameplay levels in the Nano prototype are just grey-boxes, there are a few “art levels” such as the Samaritan demo area for example, with a more finalized graphic style, but they just didn’t go that far in at that point to apply more details to any of the levels.
The Blueprint trilogy would have revolved around a tyrant government, with the main protagonists belonging to the resistance trying to defeat them. They would partnered with an intelligent AI system which is on their eyes, cleverly named “IRIS” (Internal Retinal Information System). IRIS was the in-eye implant system that enhances the protagonists’ vision systems. It would inform them about the world, characters, data from raw in-game exposition, mission objectives and combat potential within individual fights: it was basically the game’s HUD provided via a story mechanism.
Nano was set in the near future (2043) in an open world resembling the DC and New York area, where Nanotech chips have been installed into people’s necks as form of ID and several other things. The company providing this technology to the government was called MetaCorp. They provide the government an extreme arsenal of droids that patrol the streets along with peace keepers. Examples of their technology are the barricades on some streets, giant flying droids called BullRam and Springers as well as smaller ones called TechTick. Players would join the resistance to try to take down MetaCorp and the government through various means.
In this near future dystopian New York a pair of nanotech-enhanced dissidents would search for answers and revenge as they unravel the mystery of their missing family members only to spark a revolution against the totalitarian regime. The two main playable characters were Lyrik and Owen: early in the game both would acquire Nanotech powers, a Handforge (some kind of “3D Microprinter” which lets them use nanotechnology construction technology to recreate 3D objects when needed) and the IRIS Augmented Reality Systems. Thanks to Nanotech they would improve their strength, stamina and receive amazing abilities such as phasing through gates, fences, doors, etc. With the Nanotech, you could ground pound and survive heights anyone would die from and abilities to hookshot to higher places.
Lyrik and Owen are not initially members of the rebel faction: once they join, they must earn the trust of the group and would eventually rise up the ranks to be respected “captains” of rebel operations.
Other than what was already leaked online thanks to VGLeaks, we were able to gather a few more details about the two protagonists. Owen Mackinnon was meant to be a cool-headed antihero, smarter than most, trusts few, likes fewer. Haunted by his past, Owen sees the events in DC as an opportunity to get out of debt and forget the problems in his life. His story arc would have been one of redemption and acceptance, as he comes to understand it’s ok to rely on other people, and to be relied upon. Lyrik Syverson was instead meant to be the driven idealist. She begins her story searching for family members taken from her. Intense and focussed, her personal story becomes a political one as she fights against the system – and starts winning. In the eyes of the government and MetaCorp, Lyrik is a very dangerous individual: her goal is to make the world right at any cost, and to kick the security forces out of DC.
The two main protagonists had mostly the same abilities, except Lyrik had a staff for combat and Owen a knife / swords. Both can use guns and the same abilities shown in the Samaritan demo. The game was meant to be an open world stealth game with Nanotech powers, somehow similar to titles like Infamous, Crackdown, Prototype and a bit of Assassin’s Creed. The missions would progress pretty much like in GTA: the difference is that you would have been able to hide in the crowd like Assassin’s Creed. Just like GTA, doing “illegal” actions would increase your police level called “Threat Level”.
Combat in Nano was a mix between first person and third person shooting, plus beat-em-up with energy swords and an extremely interesting way to get around the city by hacking flying cars, using energy beams to climb walls and buildings, jumping around on poles and riding energy cables. You could also use stealth to resolve missions if you wish to take that route instead. Players would have a bunch of weapons at their disposal, such as LMGs, rockets, grenade launchers, assault rifles, pistols, swords and many more. You would be able to upgrade weapons as well as your abilities, plus learning new ones or purchase blueprints for new abilities at Shops. Just like the Gears of War series, Nano was meant to be fully playable in coop, with a possible multiplayer deathmatch mode too.
We’ll never know exactly what happened to Nano, but Epic Games’s expectations for their Blueprint trilogy were very high, targeting 5+ million sales worldwide for the first chapter with an expected release in 2015, and expecting the game to win many GOTY awards for that year. The studio also wanted to create their own version of Rockstar Social Club / Battle.net to be somehow used with Blueprint, as well as some kind of mobile app for the game to be able that lets players connect to social media. We can speculate that this part of the project turned into Epic Launcher for UE4.
While there are not official reasons why the Blueprint project was never completed, it’s possible that Cliff Bleszinski’s departure from Epic in October 2012 could have put the last nail in the coffin for the game. Former Epic Games president Mike Capps also retired from the company in December 2012, just a few months after a Chinese company acquired most of their share capital. We can speculate that this sudden change of management and leaving staffers could have been fatal for an ambitious and risky project as the Blueprint trilogy, in which Epic already invested a lot of resources.
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.
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.
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!
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 Grellrecalls:
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.