Fallout and The Outer Worlds co-creator Tim Cain has started a YouTube channel covering stories from throughout his over 30-year career in the games industry. One of the most surprising tidbits he’s shared in the week since coming online is that the company he co-founded with fellow ex-Interplay Fallout luminaries, Troika, almost made a Lord of the Rings RPG.
Cain still has footage of the demo he mocked up back in 2000. It’s on the Arcanum engine, and even boots up with that game’s main menu and shares many of its UI elements. Interestingly, it has this really gorgeous pre-rendered background art like Baldur’s Gate instead of the admittedly drab (but still charming) Fallout-style modular tiles of Arcanum. If I didn’t know better, I’d have guessed this was a prototype of Troika’s later Temple of Elemental Evil (the most D&D of all D&D games).
To hear Cain tell it, Troika was contracted to make the demo by now-defunct publisher Sierra after it acquired the rights to the LotR books (but not the movies! A very familiar-sounding situation). “Sierra liked what they saw,” Cain said in the video, “then decided to pull all the development internally. So we didn’t get to make the game.” Sierra went bust in ’02, and the LotR CRPG went the way of the Dodo or the Jess Mariano spinoff of Gilmore Girls.
Cain says the game would have followed a sort of “shadow Fellowship” clearing the way for Frodo and the gang, which to me sounds a lot like EA Redwood’s PS2 Lord of the Rings JRPG, The Third Age. Honestly this one doesn’t bum me out too much to have lost in this timeline, though it does rule to gawk at a never-before-seen, prototype Troika RPG on Arcanum’s engine, or at least it does for a freak like me.
In another video, Cain does get into a game from Earth 2 I really do wish I could have played somehow: Arcanum 2: Journey to the Centre of Arcanum, which never got past the design doc phase. As an aside: you can peep a cheeky PC Gamer Editor’s Choice medallion on the Arcanum big box Cain holds up—it’s certainly still this PC Gamer editor’s choice. Though if Troika had tried making a Source engine, first-person sequel to Arcanum, who knows if they ever would have got around to developing one of my all-time favorite games: Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines.
In yet another video from this past week, Cain reveals that the legendarily fraught development of this first person vampire RPG was almost even more ambitious: Troika proposed a multiplayer mode Cain affectionately refers to as “Counter-Bite,” where a team of vampires would square off against a team of Vampire Hunters to try and wake or stake a powerful, sleeping, elder vampire. Activision (perhaps very wisely) judged Troika had too much on its plate already, and outsourced Counter-Bite to another studio before axing VtMB’s multiplayer element entirely. All of a sudden, battle royale VtM game Bloodhunt seems so much less of an “out there” idea to me.
It’s only been like, a week, and Cain’s already blown this RPG fan’s mind several times over with these candid looks into his games’ development—and I haven’t even started the video titled “The True Purpose of Vaults in Fallout.” Cain says he’s entered a semi-retirement now, still consulting on projects with Obsidian and other developers, and his Cain on Games series is well worth watching—he’s gotta do an episode on Troika’s Fallout-like post apocalyptic RPG prototype eventually, right?
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