||Unreleased and currently undumped
Malice (PSX) was a PlayStation
game under development by Argonaut Games. Utilising their robust Croc platforming engine, Malice was set to be a uniquely styled action-platformer, channeling a dark, colourful-but-warped style similar to Alice in Wonderland and magical fairy tales of old. Unfortunately, Malice's development was a contributor to the eventual demise of the studio, and released as an entirely re-tooled and bland title on the PlayStation 2
years later. This is the story of the original vision of Malice, as it was developed for the PSX system.
For more information on this game and its origins and unfortunate fate as poor shovelware, do read on below.
Many thanks to the PlayStation Museum
, Argonaut themselves, PtoPOnline/Andrew Borman, and anyone else involved with publishing information related to this elusive PSX title.
Known Builds (top)
|Malice PSX Builds||Date||Status|
|Malice PSX "v1"||Unknown (Presumably 1999)||Undumped and unreleased|
|Malice PSX "v2"||Unknown, but after "v1" (Presumably 1999)||Undumped and unreleased|
Malice PSX: A History (top)
Malice started out as a unique action platformer for the PSX, slated to be released sometime in 1999/2000 by Fox Interactive. With its charming, dark artstyle and more involved gameplay than the Croc series, Argonaut had a real gem on its hands. Unfortunately, overambition, other projects, time constraints, and Fox walking out on the publishing pushed it back further and further, onto the XBOX
, and then it's eventual demise as a run-of-the-mill B-list mascot platforming title on the PlayStation 2
A game of this style would have flown off the shelves on the PSX at the time!
So, why was it cancelled exactly? Overambition, and a studio stretched too thin trying to do it all. Below is a brilliant write up by the PlayStation Museum
, detailing the issues with the Malice project that let to its eventual demise as XBOX shovelware, as well as insight into Argonaut at the time.
ENGINE LEGACY AND WORK STILL TO-BE-DONE.
The game engine was based on the CROC 2 engine and although a lot of gameplay had been put in, it would still take at least another year to nail some really big bugs, plug in the cutscenes and level-linking code.
WORLD COLLISION: Camera gets stuck
The camera had a big tendency to get stuck on scenery. It needed to be completely overhauled to work with this world. Thanks in part to the tile set approach and the lack of camera consideration when the designers created the levels, this was a big task. It is why the camera gets stuck or is over-ridden a lot in most parts of the game. This problem can still be seen in the final XBOX version.
WORLD COLLISION: “FALL OUT OF WORLD”
Due to the tile set nature, Alice can fall through the tiny gaps in the tile set if pushed. When the game migrated to XBOX, this big problem was resolved by creating solid levels not based on tile sets. It would have been a lot of testing and proofing of levels to fix this issue if it were to remain on PSX.
WORLD VARIABLES UNDEFINED
This was made worse by the fact that each level had it's own gravity setting, so Alice actually had different jump-distances. This sort of thing was soon standardised for the XBOX version.
FLAWED TEAM STRUCTURE LED TO DESIGN FRAGMENTATION
How did this lack of global vision happen? The Malice team employed a large contingent of level designers, encouraged to go off and design stuff independently - to the point where one designer soon lost sight of what the rest of the game looked like. And the poor coders soon were being asked for dozens of similar yet unique versions of the same type of game object - very inefficient. This even went as far as failing to nail down a set of global variables, like gravity and jump distance.
So this led to a sort of us-and-them mentality between the coders and the designers, the best anecdote went something like this:-
Designers wanted everything tweakable. Coders were getting sick of providing STRATS* to cover an ever-ending list of changes - especially as the other designers usually had something that already did the job, if they had bothered to talk amongst themselves.
Still the coder dutifully added it to their to-do list and soon returned a Strat the designer could use. The coders by this stage were savvy enough to add in so many variables to keep the designer happy. And so the designer went off and played with the new strat for ages, failing to ever ask what all the variables did. Shame really as only a few of these variables were ever actually plugged into something.
Oh those coders and their mind-games! Oh those designers and their inability to know what to ask for!
*Strats are game objects the designer could drop in the level editor, ranging from obstacles, lights, cameras, pickups, NPCs, enemies etc.
So how was this communication fracture resolved? In the last phase of Malice development, the game teams were setup in smaller groups, consisting of a coder, a designer and an artist together. These teams were responsible for certain levels of the game. A separate team was dedicated to global, front-end and Alice-related matters, to which all teams fed into. This stabilised the fragmentation but made the game a bit too standardised in some areas.
The PSX console by 1999 was in it’s final stage. The PlayStation 2
was out and Argonaut was already completing its last big PSX project, the glorious Alien Resurrection. This movie tie-in took 5 years to develop and come out, way after the movie release but was still a great game. However it proved to Argonaut executives that the console was at the end of its life as the returns on this great game were small.
So Malice was still in the pipeline and even though so much had been put into the game since 1998, it was still at least a whole year away from completion. Fox Interactive also pulled out of supporting Malice so Argonaut was left without a backer for this game. However, the Xbox was due to come out and Argonaut was keen to get first onto this console and ideally showcase Argonaut’s technology. So Malice transitioned from PSX to Xbox, causing the team to swell in the process. During this time, the tech also came along with the amazing Shadowcaster engine emerging from this. By 2001, Microsoft were showing off demos of Malice on Xbox and all seemed well. However, the PSX game design was tricky to re-work into a new schedule and the resulting game suffered a lot of compromise. Microsoft walked away, but Sierra came on-board – complete with Gwen Stefani and No Doubt providing voice talent to Malice’s main character.
But still the game design suffered and the tech failed to deliver on the ever-changing demands. Argonaut was also suffering poor returns on its other titles during this 02-03 period and Malice continued to be downgraded until finally Sierra pulled out too. The team was downsized to a skeleton team. Even the project lead was forced out in 2002, effectively killing the vision forever.
Argonaut had to re-coup some of the money invested. Over the next nine months up to summer 2003, the remaining team and LT Studios, the PlayStation
2 conversion team, regrouped their resources and redrafted the game into something that could ship.
The final game was a compilation of the most-complete levels tidied up a bit, bundled together in a barely cohesive plot and shipped out - bug-free but a shadow of its former self. It took a whole year to get the Gold Master and to find someone to distribute it in 2004. Six months later, Argonaut Games folded. Malice and a few other projects snuck out while the whole company poured everything into Catwoman – it was a risk that did not pay off.
Malice was the sort of game you just don’t see getting made anymore, and in fact almost did not in the end. It is easy to look back and sneer at the amateurish way the game came together, but it was something trying to be different. If Argonaut had been in better shape to keep it’s backers on-board or alternatively had enforced a more hardline policy earlier on to stabilize the design fragmentation then maybe Malice could have become a classic. Malice should have been made two years earlier and stayed on the PSX to have had a real chance, but resources were simply not in place at that time. It is such a shame and all involved lament Malice. Whoever you ask they will have a great story about that game, and a bitter memory too.
"I have lots of good memories of Malice. Mostly that it was a wildly overambitious idea.. that had a truly awesome tech demo that wowed a billion of people (that was being used to launch xbox).. but it got pulled around from Microsoft, and then from publisher to publisher and eventually, died a death and released on a "B" game label. The blame? Partly due to mismanagement on our part.. partly down to some of the team who were as creative as they were egotistical... partly due to overzealous publisher involvement - making wholesale changes that were unnecessary and unwarranted.. and partly just because it was too damn big a project to be done 'at our own risk'!
Malice definitely contributed to bringing down the company. I can't blame all our woes on one game (far from it), but it sure sucked a lot of cash out of the company (millions!) and that can't have helped."
-Jez San, former Argonaut Games CEO
Malice PSX: Synopsis (top)
In a fairy-tale forest, a boisterous young girl accidentally unleashes an ancient demon spirit; Fire incarnate. The demon posses the closest thing to it, her dog, creating a giant evil fur-ball that threatens to wreak havoc across the forest. Leaving a trail of warped and fragile reality in its wake, the new-born dog-god must be saved from itself. Our young heroine has to undo the chaos it wreaks and needs to battle through the nightmares it leaves behind it, but she has a guardian spirit and 4 petrified monks to help her. Can Alice save her beloved pet? Will she be sharp enough to save the forest from a fiery new reality? Will she prove herself able enough to be charged with power over nature... or will the dog-god's madness consume the world?
Malice is a dark and comic fairy-tale, a scary, character-based adventure for kids and adults alike. Sumptuous in its visual humor, Malice's worlds fall somewhere further down the 'Yellow brick road', round the bend from 'Alice's Wonderland' and 'Through the looking glass' darkly...
...this is a place where you'll meet those monsters that lurk in the closet, under the bed; JuJu men raise zombies from the earth, singing trees tell tales of prophesy, age'd ex super-heroes lie helpless in spiders' webs, murderous crows police the streets and pyromaniacal glow-worms set fire to each other...
You'll wield a baseball bat to 'beat' the magic out of the creatures you encounter, you'll decipher the fiendish ways of a machine ecology gone mad, and use the 4 elements to defend yourself against the tyranny of a new born dog-god and his cohorts.
Below is just a sampling of the unique game design that can be found in Malice:
The dog-god turned Alice into a cat. Obtain ingredients for the old witch to make a potion that will turn Alice human again: eyes of newt, crow feathers, and a deadly nightshade which is represented by a ninja table lamp...get it? (aye thank yew.)
A land shark patrols the fields around the siren tree. Get caught by it and it will drag Alice down beneath the brush and thrash her around.
The siren tree has a throbbing purple fungal pimple that must be popped. Traverse up the treacherous branches of the siren tree and jump down from the highest point and land on the pimple to pop it.
The gloworms have turned bad and you must knock the evil out of them before they burn you with their magic.
Use water magic to run on water.
Take a ride on a Beer Moth or a Toucan to reach hidden areas
Malice "v1" Build Information (top)
This is the earliest known build of Malice PSX, dubbed "v1" by Andrew Borman of The Strong/PtoPOnline fame.
Malice "v2" Build Information (top)
This is the latest known build of Malice PSX, dubbed "v2" by Andrew Borman of The Strong/PtoPOnline fame.
Malice "v1" Build Footage (top)
Malice "v2" Build Footage (top)
Malice PSX Playstation Museum Footage (top)
Malice PSX Concept Art (top)
Malice PSX Pictures (top)