Saints Row: The Cooler is a cancelled fighting game, which was in development for the Xbox 360 and PS3. It was being created by Heavy Iron Studios in Los Angeles and was funded by THQ.
“It was a brawler game. Go to a bar, pick a fight, smash a bottle over someone’s head” – Former Heavy Iron Studios artist
Work began on the title in March 2010 at developer, Heavy Iron. In partnership with THQ, the company sought to create the first Saints Row game controlled entirely by motion; a ploy to capitalise on the rising industry trend at the time.
Two versions of the game were planned initially: an Xbox 360 game using Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral and a PS3 port with Playstation Move support. The Xbox 360 was the lead development platform for The Cooler, as the team’s creative focus was very much on Kinect.
A team of around 40 people were put on the project, while the rest of the studio was occupied with another Kinect-centric project for Disney called ‘E-Ticket’.
We were able to get in touch with several people, a mix of both former and current employees at the developer, who shared some details with us on the game’s lifecycle. According to these sources, the title was a brawler set in the Saint’s Row universe and was, in contrast with the rest of the series, not an open world game.
“It was a ton of fun to work on because we got to use the original Saint’s Row locales as concept art, basically, and give them a redesign and a highly upgraded art treatment (since Saint’s Row was open world and our game was not, we could afford to devote more time and engine resources to artwork)”
Kinect lap dancing
Despite it ditching the free roaming traditions of the previous games, The Cooler apparently offered a myriad of activities to experience. Its main premise was of motion-controlled fighting in various parts of the Saints Row universe, but players would have also been able to compete in poker tournaments and other miscellaneous mini-games.
Saints Row: Money Shot was an action/adventure game scheduled to be released on the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network sometime in late 2011. It was never officially announced by THQ or Volition, but it was leaked to the web in August 2011. From the existing screenshots and video, we can see that it was going to be some kind of on-rails game where you have to control a bullet in slow-motion through various obstacles before finally hitting your target. Here’s its official description from the leaked XBLA entry.
You are Cypher, a deadly assassin in the world of Saints Row, and you hunt the most elusive targets with the most sophisticated weaponry that Ultor has to offer. How sophisticated? You have the ability to control the path of your bullet to such a degree that you can weave through the hallway of an apartment complex, steer through the legs of a hooker, and even snake your way through a moving train! Avoid striking solid objects and unintended bystanders and make sure you hit your mark!
Within a week of its leaking, Kotaku discovered that the Australian Classification Board had rated Saints Row: Money Shot already, hinting that it was possibly close to release at this point.
In an interview with Worthplaying.com, former THQ boss Danny Bilson stated that Saints Row: Money Shot was still not shelved and that it would possibly be released on the PSN instead as a free game.
On the XBLA, the game would have cost 800 Microsoft Points, and it appears that playing through it would earn you unlockable items for Saints Row: The Third. These items would later be released as a DLC pack called the “Money Shot Pack,” which contained the gun and suit seen in the game as well as a new hover bike, but the “Money Shot” game itself was never included and was officially considered cancelled by this point. Here is some leaked footage of the game from a Czech gaming site.
inSANE is a cancelled survival horror game that was development from 2010 by Volition in collaboration with film director Guillermo del Toro and to be published by THQ for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. The game was intended to be the first installment of a planned trilogy of Insane games, but in August 2012 THQ announced the cancellation of Insane with the intellectual property rights transferring to del Toro. It’s currently unknown if del Toro will try to find some other developer and publisher to continue the development of this project.
The Avengers is a cancelled first person co-op beat ‘em up game that was planned to be released alongside the 2012 superhero movie of the same name. The project was under development at THQ Studio Australia (Studio Oz) until THQ decided to close it. It was being worked on for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC; with further plans for a Wii U release.
Pre-production on the Avengers video game began in August 2010 at the Brisbane-based, THQ Studio Australia with approximately 80 employees working on it. During the first months of preliminary development, it was originally being planned as a third person game.
An Avengers movie – with Skrulls?
When details of the project began to leak online in September 2011, there was a number of claims and rumors from various sites that the game was in some way connected to Marvel Studios’ Avengers movie, which was to be released the following year. Concept art was soon uncovered depicting the heroes facing down the Skrulls, an alien race from the Marvel comics. This lead some to believe that the upcoming film would also feature Skrulls, through the assumption that the game was directly tied into it. Jeremy Love, an artist who worked on the title for THQ was adamant that this was never the case:
“[It was] totally unrelated to the film. We were given early film art to use as reference for certain things but that’s about it.”
He continued, elaborating on possible sources of the confusion:
“Some toys were released before the film which were based on designs we had done for the game. People naturally jumped on that and drew their own conclusions. When the game was cancelled, some footage and art was leaked which also fueled speculation that the Skrull race would feature in the upcoming film.”
Come Midnight was a game in development at People Can Fly from 2004 to 2006 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, with an intended release date of 2007. With a genre that is hard to define, according to the developer’s former leader Adrian Chmielarz, the game would have been a mixture of Adventure, Action and Survival Horror with heavy 1940’s noir and supernatural themes, something akin to a mixture of later games such as L.A. Noire and Uncharted.
The idea behind Come Midnight, a “dream project” for Chmielarz, was born right after development on the First Person Shooter Painkiller ended. Painkiller had been successful, but because of contractual details it had brought little money into People Can Fly. According to Chmielarz:
“Painkiller didn’t make us rich. It was made for a flat fee, an embarrassingly low one compared to what a production of this quality usually costs. We never saw any royalties, despite the game’s success and countless sequels and remakes. But we did manage to save some money. (…) So we moved to a new place, and started working on a new project.”
He goes on to reveal some details:
“An action-adventure pulp that mixed the worlds of Raymond Chandler and H.P. Lovecraft. A story about a private detective able to communicate with the dead. (…) After a few months, we thought we had enough material to start shopping the game around.”
The game would focus on a private investigator named Mike Elroy, who had temporarily died at some point and managed to come back – this time with the ability to see into the afterlife, with a major mechanic of the game being the ability to see the last few seconds of someone’s life by touching their corpse.
In 2004 People Can Fly put together a tech demo for Come Midnight, and invited all the major publishers to their studio in Poland to take a look at what they had been working on. Most of the reactions seemed to be positive at the time but after this showing, the studio waited in vain for a call from at least one of the publishers:
“Nobody was getting back to us. We were running out of money, and it was time to panic.”
“Through the grapevine we learned that even though people liked the game, they were scared of investing into an action-adventure, and, more importantly, they expected a shooter from us. Come Midnight was dead.”
Disillusioned, and to keep afloat, People Can Fly started work on a shooter called “Ravenwolf”, another title that would end up never seeing the light of day. It was somewhat of a spiritual successor to Painkiller and with a heavier emphasis on the storyline than its predecessor. The studio put together a demo for the game in a few short months, and sent it out to publishers. People Can Fly was back in business:
“We worked our asses off on a demo for a couple of months, and sent it out. The phones started ringing. Ravenwolf was about to happen, the studio was about to be saved.”
But during the development of Ravenwolf, something unexpected happened. While the guys from People Can Fly were at a convention, they were suddenly approached by a man who introduced himself as a representative from THQ and claimed he had been wanting to contact the studio. They asked if it had something to do with their current project, but the reply was about to fill the small Polish studio with hope for a better one: THQ wanted to make Come Midnight.
The studio was reinvigorated, and for the next two years worked harder than ever. By 2006, the game was well into production, with the whole game designed on paper, and a lot of the assets completed. Chmielarz claims that in about two years’ time, Come Midnight would have been finished.
However, THQ had other plans. In 2006, the publisher simply pulled the plug on the project, and apparently cut all contact with People Can Fly. Although an official reason has never been given, Adrian Chmielarz believes that it had something to do with the company pulling out of development in Europe and wanting only one project left for release from that territory.
“Rumour was that THQ was getting out of the development in Europe and they were killing European projects left and right. Supposedly, it was between us and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. They chose the latter, and, to be fair, that was probably the right choice. Still, they acted awful throughout the whole ordeal.”
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl, developed by the Ukranian company GSC Game World, was almost completed, while Come Midnight was only a third of the way in development, and eventually saw a release in 2007 after being in development hell for over half a decade.
The cancelation of Come Midnight left People Can Fly in a bad financial situation. Now with no game left to work on and with little money left, they acquired a license to the Unreal Engine hoping to recapture their Painkiller magic with a new shooter. The prototype that followed impressed Epic Games themselves, who bought a majority share of the company in 2007 and eventually fully acquired it in 2012, and the prototype would go on to evolve into 2013’s Bulletstorm.
Adrian Chmielarz had left Polish developer he co-founded by the time Bulletstorm was released. He formed his own studio, The Astronauts, with some of the former developers on Come Midnight and still hopes to revisit the noir stylings of their cancelled project one day.
However, the rights to the game are now owned by THQ Nordic, the new name Nordic Games adopted when they acquired most of THQ’s properties after the company’s bankrupcy, and getting the Come Midnight name back at this point in time seems unlikely.
“Realistically, it’s never gonna happen. I still want to go back to pulp noir in the future, though, but that’s a whole different story for another time.”
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