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The French development studio Kalisto and its 2 canceled projects "Totem" and "ALPHA", 2 games planned on Dreamcast.

Kalisto's story

It began in 1996. Baptized Kalisto after the star of the Big Dipper in Greek mythology, the Bordeaux design studio designs and produces video games.

The company  focuses  on development and has its games published by major publishers : Ultimate Race Pro and Dark Earth at Microprose, Nightmare Creatures directly by Sony and the film adaptation of The Fifth Element, co-produced by Gaumont, also at Sony. The Dark Earth 2 project is launched in partnership with SquareSoft.

On Dreamcast, the French Team released 4 Wheel Thunder, in collaboration with Midway, during the summer of 2000.

Kalisto garners success : Nightmare Creatures joins the very closed circle of games that have sold more than a million copies as well as Ultimate Race Pro before it.

Christian Huaux «On Nightmare Creature Nintendo 64, the music was faster than the PS1 version, a bug was introduced there.»

To continue developing "commission titles", Kalisto opened a studio in Paris and another in Austin, Texas. These studios give birth to Jimmy Neutron and SpongeBob for Playstation 2 and Gamecube. At the same time, the company is investing in online games, which it believes represents a promising market.

The company grew and  had more than 100 employees at the end of 1997, 200 in August 1999.

«Once Kalisto sent 100 people to an E3. They all had t-shirts on which it was written "Kalisto recruits". We have memories of all the games, at the time the atmosphere was even crazier than it is today. It was a playground but with a start of seriousness.»

The delay in the schedule for the release of new generation consoles, the defection of a major client for interactive games on the Net and perhaps too optimistic management precipitated the fall of the young company then listed on the stock exchange.

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In front, David Gallardo, behind on the right, Alain Guyet and on the left Frédéric Motte. Photo taken at the end of the porting of NC1 to N64.

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The house of cards fell down definitively in the spring of 2002. Kalisto filed for bankruptcy and was placed in compulsory liquidation. Nicolas Gaume, the company's founder, will never be able to restart the machine and save Kalisto.

Vintage photo of Kalisto members

Castleween on PS2 is, in a way, the last game to be released by the Bordeaux firm.

«In Castleween PAL PS2 and GC version, if you let the game run in idle (inactive) for 3 days, your character may have moved and be dead, because it was pushed, slowly, by a very rare collision. You could also jump 1 m less because of the slowdown  during the jump because of the collision with rain and snow.»

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As we can see, the passage of the year 2000 was catastrophic for a large number of development studios, for a console manufacturer (SEGA) and for publishers such as Acclaim or Infograme.

ALPHA, an abandoned project  for PC and Dreamcast

Hélène Giraud (quote in italics from the chapter), today director and art director on films or series such as "Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants 1 and 2", had worked for Kalisto at the end of the nineties. First Lead Artist on the Playstation 1/PC game "The Fifth Element", she had joined the "ALPHA" project afterwards, on which she worked for about a year before she left.

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«When I arrived at Kalisto, at the beginning, on the Fifth Element game as an artistic consultant, I appreciated the close-knit atmosphere of the teams. The company was still small and I really liked its boss, Nicolas Gaume

After going on the stock market, Kalisto developed as many games as possible to satisfy the investors. The company went from 60 people to 200 in the space of a year! What worked in a very "family" context did not hold with such rapid developments. Legal lawsuits have now sounded the death knell for the large French company.

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«It's a pity because it was a great company with a good spirit.»

Alpha was started and restarted several times. The developers had changed the design several times. This project was chosen to target the Dreamcast's Windows CE. It was a contract that Kalisto had with Microsoft to release two games from the development studio on Windows CE.

«There had already been another abandoned visual development before I arrived»

The game was at about 20% of its development before it was cancelled. There was starting to be some testing with the character in some settings. The gameplay was still under construction. The art direction, the design was going on according to the scenario which would have required a lot of work. A board for a cutscene had been started.

«JI don't remember playing it, I just saw some tests. After a year, the project was floundering.»

The development of Alpha was chaotic. The production wanted to move too fast, like starting the design while the game script was not written while a full team was waiting for material to start.

«The mistake, it seems to me, was to set up a manufacturing team when the script and gameplay of the game were not yet perfected. It created a pressure that wasn't good for thinking normally.»

Kalisto's policy at the time was to retain employees by offering them open-ended contracts. As a result, graphic designers and programmers who finished a game were quickly rehired on a new development. This was the case for Alpha.

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Alpha Dreamcast (Unreleased).JPG

As the development of the game was not progressing and Kalisto absolutely had to release a CE game, they decided instead to port Nightmare Creature 2 PS1 to Dreamcast in order to honor the contract binding them to Microsoft.

Two programmers, in 2 or 3 months, at a rate of 12 hours per day, were able to port Nightmare Creature 2 to Sega's latest console. NC2 Windows CE Direct X was several times slower than the PS1 version.

The action of Alpha took place on an alien planet with unspoiled nature that was invaded by an industrial consortium wanting to take all the natural resources. The story is similar to that of James Cameron's film "Avatar", released in 2009.

«Our sources of inspiration were the manga Nausicaa by Miyazaki, Dune, the book "Creator of Stars" by Olaf Stapledon and the theme of man's ability to destroy nature or a planet for purely financial reasons, a very current subject.»

Alpha was the name of the title's heroine dressed in blue armour, like Samus from Metroid. She was part of the consortium but after being contacted by the "spirit" of the planet, a change took place in her. She rebelled and wanted only one thing, to save the "planet" before it was too late !

«Initiating meetings with the forces of the planet helped her to accomplish her mission.»

It was an action adventure RPG planned in an open world in which the character evolved as he went along (armour, various weapons etc). Was it going to be like "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind" in a version and vision mixing heroic fantasy and science fiction ?

In the absence of a video and a playable prototype, these few Artworks allow us to project ourselves into what could and should have been. They give us a glimpse of Alpha's artistic direction and what it would look like.

For example, I imagine that the heroine was going to go through a forest with an industrial complex in the middle that was polluting the water. There she would meet some kind of fairies or elves. This vast green area certainly had a lot of strange animals in it.

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Alpha Dreamcast PC.JPG
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A desert zone covered perhaps a region of the planet with why not a rocky zone, a large Canyon strewn with natural caves in one of which Alpha had to fight a boss not far from reminding Onix, the Pokemon of Nintendo.

Unreleased Dreamcast and PC Alpha.JPG

Other visuals remind me of the comic book-inspired film "Obvilion" starring Tome Cruise and Morgan Freeman. It was shown in theatres in 2013.

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Kalisto Unreleased Alpha.JPG
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Kalisto never made the Alpha project official on Dreamcast and PC. Going through the numerous magazines from the late 90s and early 2000s, no article mentions it. As for Kyskrew, this forgotten Unreleased was not documented until now!

Source for part of the sketches/artworks: Kamel Tazit:

Source of the other part of the Artworks : Hélène Giraud

Source of the only photo of Alpha in game (test ?) : "Optimizing Dreamcast Microsoft Direct3D Performance" document

Totem, an abandoned project  for PC, Dreamcast and PS2

Christian Huaux (quote in italics from the chapter), currently an R&D engineer at Eidos Sherbrooke, had been one of Kalisto's employees. With two other programmers (DG and AG), they had the mission to make an editor for a new technology on a new engine for a Dreamcast and PC game called Totem. A Playstation 2 version was also considered.

«Fun fact, I still work with one of the guys from TTK (the name of the technology that came out of Totem). He's my boss like he was back then. We've known each other for 27 years..»

Normally, at Kalisto, there was  only one engine made by R&D, 50 people separated into 2 teams of 25. On one side, there was the Platform K serving as HAL (Hardware Abstraction Level) (container, object base, manipulation base, renderer, material, mesh importer, texture importer, source control etc). On the other side, there was KERA which was more game editor oriented (pathfinding, behavior tree, etc).

«AG was the lead programmer of the Totemtech project, an incredible programmer (like DG, but in a different style)»

For Totem, the three programmers had decided not to use the official Kalisto "tech". It was, however, going to be related to KERA or PFK in some way. Totem was intended to be generic and modular.

«TotemTech has an editor on one side and a runtime on the other. The only thing they have in common is that one can read edit files and the other can read and write them.»

For  Totemtech,  the focus was on the iteration time between changing something in the editor and appearing in game.

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«In Steep, Eagle Flight or Ghost Recon, we sometimes talked about more than 28 hours.»

A change in the engine does not break the editor and vice versa.

«You can't imagine the hundreds of hours wasted on all projects using engines that are also the editor.»

Logo of Totem (TTK)

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On the PC, there was a playable version of Totem. Between three and four levels had been made

Rare and unique photo of Totem

For the Dreamcast, I don't know if we managed to finish the rendering. I was still working on the project when we switched from the Dreamcast to the Playstation 2 as the target console.»

Totem was a running game, a split-screen multiplayer obstacle course platformer.  You have to imagine it as a Pen Pen TriIcelon or Mario Kart. The player controlled his companion with a third-person view, from behind.

Totem Dreamcast (Unreleased).png

At the beginning of the project, among the selectable characters, the team working on this game had planned to be able to play a small African humanoid, a small Indian, a Nordic...

The marketing department had rejected the idea of playing people of different ethnic groups.

Following this categorical refusal, the developers opted for cute little aliens called Zouna, Pouny etc..

The development of the levels was going fast. The different worlds had a special look, the art direction was very special. The environments had a lot of flat colours with blue spirals or triangles in them, something from another universe!

«One of the programmers considered the sets to be built with bathroom tiles.»

Vintage photo of Kalisto members

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The game was playable, but not fun at this stage of development. It would have taken some time to adjust and polish it to make it fun and enjoyable to play.

After its cancellation on PS2, Totem should have benefited from another 8 to 10 months of work in order to have a finished product for the market.

«The engine produced for the game was very good so Kalisto kept it under the TotemTech name.»

The technology created for this abandoned project will be transformed into an engine that is still used today on games such as: Fligth Simulator 2020, SpongeBob, SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron, Castleween (Spirits and Spells), Super Farm, Plague Tale, Shaund White Snowboard 1 and 2, Mighty Quest For Epic Loot and several games from the Parisian studio BlackSheep.

I would like to thank Hélène Giraud and Christian Haux: for their availability, their kindness, for taking the time to answer my questions, and for sharing their archives (photos, illustrations, and even more. Their stories and archives allow us to go back in time to the development of Alpha and Totem !

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