Throughout the 1990s, Totally Games had one of the most accomplished track records in all of video games. The studio, releasing games for Lucasfilm and then Lucasarts, specialised in all things flight, and won acclaim for releases set both in the sky and way beyond.
They made their name on classic WW2 sims like Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe and Their Finest Hour, before really hitting the big time on a series of Star Wars titles like X-Wing, Tie Fighter and X-Wing Alliance. These weren’t just three of the best space shooters ever released, they were three of the best PC games of all time, period.
By the 2000s, though, it had all started going a bit wrong. While 2002's Star Trek: Bridge Commander was OK, their return to the Second World War in 2003 with Secret Weapons Over Normandy flopped, and after 2007's disastrous Alien Syndrome that studio shifted to releasing cheap licensed tuff before quietly fading away.
That’s the story as we know it, anyway, but today we got to add to it when Axios published a report on Knights of Decayden, a game Totally pitched first to Sony as a PS2 release, and later were working on for Microsoft for the original Xbox.
While still primarily a flight game—it was the studio’s bread and butter, after all—Knights traded X-Wings and Spitfires for a fantasy realm where players “controlled a knight on a flying seahorse and engaged in ranged combat against other knights and monsters, lance-based slow-motion jousting and diving underwater to fight sea creatures.”
Here’s a look at the game in action; note that this wasn’t anywhere near a finished product when this footage was captured, hence the framerate and other glaring shortfalls (and the fact it was called Archipelago at the time):
So what happened to the game? It was being developed on a really tight timeframe, in a situation where the Totally Games team didn’t trust the Microsoft people they were reporting to. As an example, Holland remembers that one Xbox boss “had previously managed the Excel spreadsheet program.”
On Microsoft’s side of things, there’s an interesting anecdote surrounding the game’s fate: when current Xbox boss Phil Spencer first moved to the console operation in 2001,“The first assignment he had when he joined the Xbox gaming team was to ‘cancel Larry Holland’s game’.”
The cancellation wasn’t terminal at the time. Totally would go on to release a few more games before making the shift away from traditional games development in 2008. Holland says he found the game’s demise to be “demoralizing,” but also something where “I learned a lot about what to attempt and what not to in terms of sort of risk-taking and at least balancing the risk-taking with the schedule.”
You can read the full report over on Axios, which you should, because it’s got loads of other little bits of trivia about both this game and Totally Games itself.