Unfinished Business

Congruous to any ambitious, multifaceted endeavour requiring the involvement of multiple people, gaming projects often stutter, are pushed aside and restarted, or even forsaken entirely. It’s an arduous, meandering path from the development studio or bedroom to the shelves of the major software retailers so it’s no wonder that a slew of compelling titles only ever made it to preview status. Today we’ll be taking a look at some of the ones that stand out for me, and hopefully discover where they went wrong.

New Zealand studio Art Computer Software (later renamed Vision Software) were to develop a Laurel and Hardy game on behalf of CRL (Computer Rentals Limited) to coincide with the comedy duo’s 100th anniversary.

The team founded by Paul Andrews, Cameron McKechnie, Rodney Smith and Mark Sibly previously produced Sirius 7 and Sorceror’s Apprentice for the same publisher (also known as Actual Screenshots) in 1990. Not getting paid a penny for their work probably explains why the third initiative never got off the ground.

Fans of the slapstick buffoons will instead have to take solace in the existence of a licensed cream pie throwing game for the Commodore 64 published by Essex based outfit, Advance Software, in 1987.

 

 

A demo of Blork is all its developers, Scienide, have to show for their efforts to bring this intriguing underwater schmup project to market. It was cancelled midflow in 1994 and regrettably never resurrected for a more viable platform. Coder Jean Claude cites X-Out, Apidya et al as his inspiration for the two player action-packed blaster. If you’ve ever wanted to embody an armed cartoon octopus or swordfish battling against aquatic aliens, this is the shoot ’em up for you.

ACSYS: Autonomous Cybernetic System was to be an AGA/AmigaCD Turrican clone, the deft handwork of Unique Software, comprising Jorg Belger, Christian Sobotta and Marek Hron. Only a one level demo version of the slick, multi-layered shooter ever surfaced as the initiative was cancelled due to a lack of interest from prospective publishers following Commodore’s demise.

Atrophy was set to be a visually and technologically impressive AGA/CD two player shmup coded by Trevor Mensah and Frank Tout of Intersect Development. A troubled project from the outset, development lingered over the course of five years, switching publishers in the process. Atrophy transitioned into ‘Atrocity’, ultimately leading to the creation of ‘Enigma’. As the story goes, the graphics were revamped by Dan Hammonds who broke away from Intersect to form his own studio, Centillion Software, taking most of the original team along for the ride. Despite the facelift, the guts of the original title remained intact. Atrophy’s glacial evolution continued to stagnate and was eventually cut short entirely, due to infighting between those in the driving seat. A playable demo is all that ever came to fruition.

Synergy’s Tensai was shaping up to be a sort of enhanced incarnation of Rastan with a post-apocalyptic flavour, set 300 years into a dystopian future.

Behind the intriguing project was a team comprising coder, Andy Severn (&E7), and graphicians, Jon Clark, Martin Severn (Jabba) and Peter Austin.

You would have played the eponymous hero having emerged from a radioactive Holocaust as one of the ‘clean’ survivors, now imbued with telekinetic tendencies and something mysteriously referred to as ‘The Power’. Now why is that pushing the déjà vu nodules I wonder? Kicking into touch your nemesis, Arashi, leader of the not so ‘clean’ mutants, was to be your raison d’etre.

Tensai – a brooding hack ‘n’ slasher by definition, inspired by Japanese Akira films – was reputed to be complete – 8 way scrolling parallax to boot – awaiting publication by Grandslam. Nevertheless, all that was ultimately unleashed into the wild was a single level playable demo sans audio distributed via an Amiga Action cover disk in September 1993.

 

Spirilon from Zephyr Studio was intended to play like a super-charged AGA homage to Uridium. Despite the title screen suggesting it was to be published by Ocean, that’s not the case; they were among a number of companies approached by the developers, the inclusion of their logo present only to implant dreams of a potential partnership. It was deemed to be about 70% of the way to completion when cancelled due to a sea change away from the Amiga market at a time when the platform was being eclipsed by the PlayStation. A playable demo can easily be found online to allow you to get a feel for what might have been.

Smarty and the Nasty Gluttons was an action platformer being developed by a team of Finnish developers on behalf of Avesoft Finlandia with a view to a commercial release at some point between 1992 and 1994. Unfortunately, owing to the proposed publishers going bust in March 1996, the promising title never amounted to anything. While the game was abandoned at the time, in 2015 ‘Mr Spiv’ took the commendable initiative to salvage and crack the playable WIP showcase and shared it online with the community.

Despite what it says in the manual, each of the six levels can be beaten in the expected manner, rather than having to skip between them using the left mouse button. The trick is to zap the bandana-garbed reptilian enemies until they curl up into a fetal ball and then launch them like rolling boulders into their cohorts to generate keys as they meet their demise. These should be collected before they can be eaten to conclude the levels, and progress to the next dream sequence.

Premium quality music, baddies imbued with varied personalities, a two player (and even a computer assisted player) option, superpowers, and bonus levels were all in place when the project was shelved indefinitely.

Crime Inc. was to be The Warp Factory’s answer to GTA before Rockstar had even thought to ask the question. In fact, the coder, Mark Gallagher, actually took Rockstar to court to protect his IP, which he felt they had resolutely infringed upon. Rockstar eventually acquiesced, agreeing to pay him compensation… of course it was a pittance compared to what they would turn-over thanks to the rampant success of the never ending GTA franchise.

Crime Inc. was 60% of the way there, though never completed because the Amiga struggled to keep up with Mark’s imagination. Had it been fit for release, Gremlin were waiting in the wings to embrace the publishing honours.

A demo and the full story can be found on Mark’s web site, with additional details gleaned/ Failure to Launch from an interview conducted with Amiga PD.

Back in May 1991, alongside Liquid Kids, Ocean France were working on an Amiga port of Irem’s coin-op platform beat ’em up, Hammerin’ Harry. Actually this was merely the inaugural title in the Japanese franchise that spawned a whole menagerie of wacky spin-offs starring the oversized tool-wielding caricature.

Philippe Dessoly who was assigned to translate the graphics to our favourite 16-bit system confirms that this was as far as the initiative progressed. In accord with Liquid Kids and Snow Bros, what hammered the first and final nail in its coffin was Ocean UK not having first secured the obligatory license from the arcade IP holders prior to flashing the green light at their European satellite studio over the channel.

In conjunction with the arcade release in 1990, Irem developed and published their own port for the NES, followed by an exclusive Japanese SNES edition in 1993 under the moniker, ‘Ganbare Daiku no Gensan’.

Introducing ‘no name‘… catchy, eh? It’s fundamentally a Bonk/BC Kid clone that commenced assembly in April/May 1992 under the auspices of French demo scene group, Model. A colourful, multi-layered platformer in which you deploy one boxing gloved fist as a weapon rather than your noggin.

Total Exhaust by Jesper Giørtz-Behrens and Casper Bram looks as polished as any racing game that did materialise during the Amiga’s heyday. Despite probing questioning from the Amiga community, details remain sketchy, which is a shame.

A demo of Basket Island by French cracking group, Syndrome, made an appearance on the cover disk of Amiga Dream magazine in December 1996 (issue 35), accompanied by a brief preview article. It’s a cutesy arcade basketball game that was destined for a PC as well as AGA Amiga release. It was never completed so we’ll just have to be grateful for the demo and imagine what might have been.

 

 

In much the same way as Fate of Atlantis and Last Crusade were transformed into separate arcade and point and click adventure games, The Godfather from Creative Materials and US Gold was set to become an Amiga double act. Ultimately only the arcade game materialised in 1991, and it was awful; stunning graphics hamstrung by sub-par RoboCop style shooting mechanics. A woeful fate for such an epic, timeless saga. Read the book, watch the movies, and do yourself a favour by pretending the game doesn’t exist.

Having played the first entry in the series I imagine someone made US Gold an ‘offer they couldn’t refuse’… to persuade them not to commission a follow up.

 

Fans of AVGN will be acutely aware of the existence of the Nightmare on Elm Street game for the NES developed by Rare and published by *gasp* …LJN. What you may not be aware of is that Freddy Krueger was to also make his debut on the Amiga under the guise of an arcade-adventure title.

 

It’s unlikely that the same developers were donning his formidable bladed gloves in preparation, however. No-one seems to know who was the driving force behind it or why the Nightmare never became a reality, although I’d hazard a guess that the person guarding the cheque book decided they’d rather not have to deal with the Mary Whitehouse brigade.

Nightmare on Elm Street’s trip to Amigaland was put on ice indefinitely in February 1990. That said, a top-down action game did transpire for the C64 and DOS platforms a year earlier in 1989 courtesy of Westwood Associates and Monarch Development. Perhaps they also had the license to produce the Amiga revision.

Graftgold’s curiously titled ‘Tanky Too’ – a two player game in which you allocate the control of movement and turret between yourself and a friend in a second world war setting – failed to roll out of the munitions factory having first been announced in 1993. Not under that name anyway; in 1995 it received a futuristic makeover, morphing into ‘Virocop’, previously known as ‘Virus Alert’.

So not really a lost game after all then. What a naughty tease-merchant I am. Technically I resurrected that one all by myself in the space of two seconds. It’s OK, it was my pleasure.

The same thing happened with Millennium’s ‘Beast Balls’ – the working title for Brutal Sports Football. I can’t imagine why they felt the need to change that one. Another proposed title for the futuristic bloodthirsty American football game was ‘Psycho Ball’. Perhaps that was dropped because Norman Bates felt it might tarnish his unblemished reputation.

…and finally, in an alternate universe the first Monkey Island entry in the series – the secretive one – was to be known as ‘The Legend of Monkey Island’.

Work began on ‘Pussies Galore‘ in May 1994 with an ETA of April 1995… not a hint of double entendre was ever alluded to of course, that would be preposterous. It was to be a four world, cutesy, shooty platformer starring a feline protagonist / Failure to Launch- known as Boris, boyfriend of Doris – tasked with foiling the dastardly master plan of Evil Eric who intends to kidnap every last kitten on the planet in a fit of jealous rage sparked by the contrast between their youthfulness and his steady descent into decrepitude.

Rather than coax them into a butterfly net with the irresistible lure of a ball of wool or squeaky mouse, his Royal Loathsomeness releases a boobytapped rock CD containing evil incantations recorded backwards. When played, the voodoo frisbees suck the ickle, adorably, baby puddy tats through their spindle holes into an alternate dimension.

Some levels would have entailed rescuing the kittens and leading them to safety via their own personal escape routes, while others were to be purely reconnaissance missions revolving around locating missing objects. Sometimes you’d only be required to root out the exit, yet more convoluted tasks would incorporate deploying the liberated moggies to perform feats that you yourself would be incapable of, for instance, due to your size.

Honor Blackman was never linked with the forsaken project. Just to dispel any rumours. 😐

Pussies Galore was the brainchild of coder, Andy Coates, and graphician, Matt Bell, of Amber Developments who successfully pitched the concept to Team 17’s co-founder, Martyn Brown, at an Amiga show. Speaking of whom, Martyn explains the reason it was neutered well before hitting the high street thusly…

“A platform game featuring kittens to rescue. Looked good initially but a combination of Amiga AGA (advanced graphics architecture chipset) only when the market was saying ‘doom’ and nothing hugely to celebrate about it, meant we ended up culling it. We never enjoyed culling anything to be fair and it was around this time, early to mid 90s when dev costs, marketing and things became a lot more serious and ‘grown up’ than they had been when we first began, somewhat naively.”

– Martyn’s blog (30th March 2007)

“Jeez, for some reason I’ve been trawling around the internet, looking at the past.

Anyway, I was gutted at the time when Pussies Galore was cancelled; maybe angry at the time… But when I think about it, T17 had no choice at the time to cancel those projects on the Amiga – the market was dying out.

I agree with Martyn’s point of view on this. That was a real rough period for the industry at the time; I struggled for a couple of years but like anything else things work out in the end.

And now I live in Australia, still in the games industry, working on mobile/handheld platforms, and part owner of a development studio…

I’d like to say one thing, when T17 cancelled the project, we were treated very well, and were basically paid off – I’ll tell you one thing, that will never happen in the industry now. Anyway Martyn, thanks for doing that.”

– Andy Coates (12th February 2009), a comment posted in response to Martyn’s article

“Pussies was canned since it wasn’t a great game (just like ‘King Of Thieves’). Both were due to be self-published (i.e. by Team17). By 1996 the market had changed a lot and Amiga titles had to have good marketing and be great to sell well.”

– Martyn Brown, now defunct Team 17 forums (15th October 2006)

Blaze by Keith Bugeja is – or would have been if it had been finished back in 1993 – the closest we’d ever get to playing Sonic on the Amiga… and on a stock A500 at that! A two level demo was unveiled in 2015 incorporating Sonic’s trademark speed-looping and other insignia, revealing that it was to be published by Warp Software.

If you speak game dev-ese you’ll enjoy the following technical explanation from its author:-

“I perfectly agree. The engine in Blaze is certainly nothing out of this world. The game uses a 32 colour (5-bitplane) palette for the foreground (water reflection simply reverses memory fetching and applies a bluish tint to the palette using the copper). The moon and background are actually made up of 3-colour hardware sprites (plus transparent) and a copper list, as somebody above mentioned already. This means they come almost for free, performance-wise.

The screen is redrawn every frame, from 32×32 pixel blocks; there is no actual scrolling. This allows fully animated blocks without additional penalty and also means that blitter objects (Bobs?) need not save and restore the background. Per-cell flags determine whether a block is drawn behind the player character (without the use of a mask), or in front of it, in which case a mask is applied to scissor the tile. The collectibles are actual map tiles, not ‘sprites’.

Many Amiga platform games seemed to shun complex surfaces with steep inclines (>45 degrees), the reason probably being that the vertical position of a player when ‘in a tile’ was a function of horizontal offset from the origin of the tile, which doesn’t work well for steeper inclines. At least that was my conjecture. At the time, I thought the greatest challenge was getting the feel – as in dynamics – of Sonic the Hedgehog right. The game was basically written during the school summer holidays (I was still in 4th or 5th form, I believe), and a lot of the learning I did as I went along. I have made the source (the bulk of it, anyway) available as a pastebin here, (blog post) just before my A1200 gave up the ghost. The tools I used to design the level maps are unfortunately still on floppies, as are the assets and graphics of other levels I had drawn but never included with the demo.”

Of course there was no way this one would have appeared on Electronics Boutique’s shelves even if Keith had finished it at the time. Sega would have sued the pants off him, and likely exterminated anyone who had even clapped eyes on it to protect their precious too-cool-for-school spikey IP.

Gamer by Oracle Design (Shane Stevens & Steven Spagnolo) is another Sonic clone that failed to get off the starting blocks. The team responsible went on to become Twiitch (with a double i) in 2010, and were subsequently acquired by GREE in 2015. And that’s the extent of my vast knowledge of that one. No really, I’m happy to help.

Halloween Nightmare by one-time EAB forum regular, Cammy, (working with the Underground Arcade team) is a charming platformer featuring a cutesy witch as the protagonist. It remains in the very early stages of development and has unfortunately had to be put on the back burner for the time being so rescuing those petrified kids will have to wait.

Nuxelia is a sleek, atmospheric fantasy themed platformer by Erik Gustavsson and Andreas Paleologos that really captured gamers’ attention when the lid was first lifted on the ill-fated project. Erik cites the primary influences that engendered his AGA sword and sorcery hack ’em up as Wonderboy 3 – The Dragon’s Trap, Zelda 2 and the Super Mario series. A playable demo has been available from Aminet since 1999.

Solid Snake: The Atomic Run is an infuriatingly tricky, forced scroll run ‘n’ gun demo, one of the more striking Turrican clones you’ll encounter amidst an extremely crowded genre. It was produced by the Half Brains Team, which is very apt given that’s the way you could end up if you play it for too long!

In the spirit of unfinished symphonies, let’s draw an end to this rundown of Games That Weren’t with…

One thought on “Unfinished Business

  • November 17, 2017 at 10:42 am
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    Cool article, some of those unreleased games have lot of potential and have high quality. It is sad that they were not finished.

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