Stampede on Dreamcast and PC , the Unreleased that was supposed to let us experience the life of a shepherd
Important: English correction of automatic translation in progress
The hunt for Dreamcast Unreleased games began more than 20 years ago with the demise of SEGA's late, lamented and last console, the Dreamcast. Since then, video game archivists and archaeologists have only scratched the tip of the iceberg of abandoned games from the White Queen.
Recent discoveries seem to show that the number of cancelled Dreamcast games is far greater than previously assumed. Unknown titles in advanced development were never officially announced, and could never be included in the Unreleased DC listings available to us. Stampede is one of them. An English magazine devoted an article to it in 2000...
In 2018, the Dreamcast community learned of an aborted project called Stampede, a well-kept secret for many years. Mike Tucker (thanks to him), a former IO Productions developer, took to a Facebook group to reveal, not without some nostalgia, that he had helped design the game, which would never see the light of day.
IO Productions is the company which, in conjunction with Smoking Gun, developed the soccer management simulation Giant Killer (a European Dreamcast exclusive). Today, many IO Productions members have gone on to form the independent development studio Bitmap Bureau, responsible for the excellent Homebrew Xeno Crisis. They're still a tight-knit bunch.
«We have a first working version of the game on a GD Rom Dreamcast. I know that another game programmer also has a more recent version that runs on a PC.»
Backup of the functional Dreamcast version
Penguins in the desert...
A giant hermit crab to avoid
Aren't you thinking of the movie Night at the Museum?
The origins of Stampede
Glenn Broadway (quote in italics from this article) was one of the 3 founding members of IO Productions, along with John Chasey and Andy Bain. His role was lead designer on Stampede Dreamcast/PC. The development team consisted of 3 programmers, 2 designers/artists and 3 artists. Together, they worked on the project for around a year before publisher Infogrames decided to cancel it. The studio, at its inception, comprised 5 people before expanding over the first 3 months to 9 employees, 8 of whom were assigned to Stampede.
A rare Game Design document
The valiant Farmer Blow and its animations
Iconic landscapes of the Wild West
Farmer Blow in action
«I vaguely remember that we were 3-6 months from the end of the contract when it was cancelled - but we would have needed more than that to finish the game properly, I think.»
The core members of IO Productions were previously based at SCi's studio in Southampton, England. Towards the end of 1998, SCi was planning to downsize and restructure. A few employees, feeling the wind change, began to plan their future, imagining what they could do in the months ahead. They were working on a first prototype of a turn-based game involving magic and fantastic combat. SCi's Southampton subsidiary was ready to go out of business, and was certainly not going to be able to pursue this project. It was at this time that one of the team, Andy Bain, had mooted the idea of a game based on sheep farming.
«One of the game's main programmers had created a demo of a sheep-breeding game on the Net Yaroze - a kind of independent development version of the PlayStation. He joined the team and began work on the control method.»
At SCi, developers used Silicon Graphics workstations to produce 3D graphics. The software installed included the first *particle system generators. It was easy and fun for them to see how it would be possible to move herds of animals.
«We started thinking about how this game could work, and set up a company to create the intellectual property.»
*The 3D particle system is a kind of animation with small dots often used to convey the effect of fire or smoke on screen.
When SCi Southampton closed, some employees moved to new offices in Eastleigh and formed a new development studio called IO Productions. They had already produced an animated demo on VHS tape and a first proposal document for their new production called Stampede.
«After several months of discussions with a number of publishers, we were delighted to sign an agreement with Infogrames to develop the game.»
Originally, the company had been named IO Productions with a view to turning it into a small independent satellite studio linked to the software company they were all working for at the time. However, the parent firm decided not to rehire the teams as independent developers. Following this refusal, the founding members of IO Productions decided to strike out on their own.
Jupiter and its moon IO
The abbreviation "IO" referred to one of Jupiter's moons, implying a small moon near a large planet. The initials "IO" also had connotations with the development of software such as "input/output" or the 1 and 0 of binary.
«Later, when we started creating mobile games, we created a company called iomo - (as in io mobile). Later still, our next company was called metismo (Metis being another moon of Jupiter).»
Stampede looked fantastic for the end of the second millennium. The art had been defined by Steve Wadsworth (sets), Paul Charisse (character) and Cameron Kerr (characters again). The soundtrack, composed by Paul Zimmer, dynamically reflected the action of the title. The music evolved according to the events in the game, the time limit remaining, the danger, the type of animal, the proximity of the camera, the location of enemies, etc. While this musical process is now commonplace, this was not the case in the early 2000s. The audio engine was intended to be innovative.
«Music and special effects were outsourced to a separate company. We also had management and testing in the studio (even though they were working on other things). If you include all the people involved in the game (for example, the Infogrames team), you come up with a number closer to 30 than 10.»
The Stampede engine (programmed by James Sharman, now at Climax) was pretty much finished and technically mature. The IO Productions team had modeled a handful of the game's levels. In reality, there was still a long way to go to bring it to market. The gameplay needed a great deal of refinement and fine-tuning. The game ran very well on a Dreamcast console.
«I just realized that there was another programmer (who didn't work in our office) who was responsible for the 3D engine (the integrated shadows were impressive and it ran very smoothly).»
Stampede the game
The aim of the game was to use and give instructions (stop, bark, sit, etc.) to the faithful canine companion to bring sheep, and later other exotic animals, into an enclosure and prevent them from leaving, all within a given time limit. Each type of animal had its own set of characteristics: speed, intelligence, tendency to gather, weight, ferocity etc...
The enclosure may be too small
The player interface was similar to that of Zelda Ocarina of Time. A voice-control feature using the Dreamcast's Microphone accessory was even envisaged, such as whistling commands to the dog.
«I created the interface based on Zelda. We wanted the game to have the look and feel of a Nintendo game (even though it was developed for the Dreamcast).»
While the idea of a simple shepherding game was fun, it soon proved its limitations. To make it more attractive, IO Productions had to broaden the concept and the world of Stampede. A storyline was to be included in the title.
Sheep obeys order to sit down
«It's important to note that while sheep farming was a highly specialized hobby - limited to sheep breeders in the UK - the discipline was widely recognized by the public thanks to a famous TV show called One Man And His Dog. This program broadcast sheepdog competitions, the competitive version of the tradition of sheep herding by dog.»
Video from One Man And His Dog
The story followed the adventures of Glendal resident Farmer Blow and his dog Shep. They were called upon to travel the world to round up and find animals that had strayed into environments inhospitable to them (penguins in the desert, elephants in the Grand Canyon etc.). The animals had been displaced from their natural habitats. The game didn't take itself too seriously, with a humorous approach. The hero had to re-establish a certain order in a world turned upside down by the Machiavellian plans of a dark individual.
«Your aim was to collect all the animals that had been placed in the wrong environment. As the levels progressed, the story of what was happening was revealed.»
With its colorful cartoon graphics, Stampede would take players on a trip and put them to the test in some fifty levels set in a variety of locations, including the English countryside, an island paradise with a volcano, Egypt and its desert, not forgetting its pyramids, the Arctic, the Grand Canyon and the Wild West.
«The original idea was that aliens would teleport animals around the world, then teleport the farmer there and force him to round them up, but things changed because we built an airport level (a hub) for the player to choose his missions. I can't remember exactly how the story evolved.»
What would Farmer Blow do without his faithful dog Shep?
An elephant can fall a lot
Some backgrounds from Stampede maps (preparatory work with Photoshop by Steve Wadsworth)
The levels were all built with unique features, configurations and animations. These ranged from polar bears throwing snowballs, buses cruising down roads, a flock of bats obscuring the view, water gushing from a geyser, tornadoes taking shape in the middle of nowhere. A flame-breathing dragon was even in the offing!
Ideas for level configurations in sketches
The French publisher had never really known what Stampede was. The game's concept didn't fit into any predefined genre (sport, action, puzzle). It was difficult for Infogrames to sell and promote the game. The title regularly changed conceptual direction.
At the request of the company responsible for publishing and distributing Stampede, the development team had to give their baby a new look. The shepherd character was redesigned as a pretty Eskimo girl, while the dog was replaced by a popular baby bear. Other redesign tests featured an alien and his robot sidekick as the game's new heroes. These ideas would have taken the game down a more abstract path, bringing it closer to Nintendo's Pikmin, which would be launched a few years later.
Beware of snowball-throwing polar bears
«The publisher decided they didn't even like the farmer and the dog and wanted to change the story completely.»
The final months of the title's development had been arduous, and Infogrames' producers had tried everything in their power to ensure the project's continuation, but to no avail. Despite having invested heavily in Stampede, Infogrames finally took the terrible decision to cancel Stampede, explaining that it was in competition with another of their games, "Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf" (note that the latter has different titles in various countries).
A cow-sphinx, the developers' sense of humor
Who knows, maybe one day we'll have the chance to try out Stampede, either on Dreamcast or, why not, via a reboot of the game on new-generation consoles. Last we heard, former members of IO Productions were looking into making the game legally available.
I'd like to thank Glenn Broadway: for his availability, his kindness, for taking the time to answer my questions, for sharing photos of his Game Design document and even more. His testimony gives us a better understanding of what Stampede was to become.
I'd like to thank the whole team involved in the Stampede project (Mobygames).
Special thanks to:
Vince for the English correction of the text of the article.
Dans mes recherches aux Unreleased, j'ai eu l'occasion d'interviewer certains développeurs. J'en ai profité pour consacré des article à propos de ces jeux annulés avec des informations inédites :