Black9, the cancelled Deus Ex inspired RPG
Black9 was a third-person action role-playing game being developed by Taldren, Inc. The game was being built using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 2 technology (referred to at the time as the Unreal Warfare engine) and was to be published by Majesco, who were looking to line up several major releases for the console market with Black9 being one of their big titles.
It was first announced on February 13th in 2003. Unfortunately due to a number of factors, the game was subsequently cancelled by the publisher the following year with Taldren, Inc closing down not soon after.
The game was originally announced for both PC and Xbox, with a PS2 version announced not long after as being slated for release sometime after the other versions of the game.
During the game’s development it was also shared that Taldren, Inc intended to release the level editor with the game, allowing users to build upon the game.
The UnrealED editor is a real pleasure to work with. The way the levels are put together is by way of these modular hardware brushes the text-mod artists produce that may be fitted together in a number of ways.
The coolest thing about this is that Epic’s level editor (plus our modifications) will ship with the game and non-artists and non-programmers will be able to quickly modify and build upon Black9.
Erik Bethke, 2003-03-03
It seems that the team responsible for the game had high hopes that the community would continue supporting the game on the PC platform long after it’s release.
Story and Environment
In 2080, nine powerful cartels known as Illuminati are engaged in a struggle for the control of mankind. Motivated by their own special interests, these manipulative Illuminati head towards a perilous endgame, and players find themselves in the role of a mercenary walking the gray line of right and wrong. Black9 is a Machiavellian world full of greediness and betrayal, and players will need to be resourceful in order to stay true to their own code.
Black9 Press Release
The game was set several decades into the future, during the year 2080 in which the world has become technologically advanced and prosperous.
The story was to revolve around the Illuminati, a society made up of 9 secretive groups that have remained in the shadows for hundreds of years until the events that were to transpire in the game.
This IGN article published in March of 2003 listed each of the groups that made up the Illuminati.
Genesis: One of the most powerful of the Illuminati groups, Genesis traces their founding back to the 19th century mathematician Charles Babbage and his experiments at creating analytical machines. The main goal of Genesis (and of all of humanity, as they see it) is the creation of an all-powerful artificial intelligence. Strangely, they see their role in creating this AI as purely temporary, reasoning that, if they do their job right, the AI will eventually be able to direct the course of its own evolution. At that point, having no need for humanity (or other forms of life, presumably), the all-powerful AI will do away with our concept of “nature” and eventually rule a galaxy full of rocks.
Zubrin: Zubrin is Genesis’ main rival both in terms of secret power and unconcealed business dealings. Ostensibly a mega-corporation with interests in robotics and aerospace, the real agenda of Zubrin is the creation of massive colony ships that will spread humanity across the galaxy. The philanthropic rationale for this expansion is that a more widely-spread population is less susceptible to extinction through accidental catastrophes. Still, Zubrin pursues its goal with blind fanaticism and would gladly exchange humanity’s freedom if it meant they could get to the stars more quickly. As Zubrin has its roots in the American military, they have the potential and the inclination to push their policies through by force if need be.
The Tea-Drinking Society: Tracing their foundation back to the second millennia BC, the Tea-Drinking Society is the oldest of the nine Illuminati groups. They are also the most secret, possessing no true “fronts” as the other societies do. Headquartered in Hong Kong, the Tea-Drinkers have reached their current level of power by controlling various Triads in China. Their 3500 years of history have enabled them to amass enormous resources, making them the second wealthiest Illuminati in existence. The Society, as its members refer to it, are dedicated towards all natural forms of life-extension carried to the extreme as a quest for complete immortality. But this benefit is not to be enjoyed by all of humanity. Rather, the Society hopes to reserve the life-extension process for a small ruling elite.
Glimmer A.G.: Embracing mercenary mercantilism above all else, the Glimmer A.G. was formed in 16th century Germany by the Krupp family. The secret society was formed to allow the Krupp family to make and sell weapons to both sides without fear of reprisal or recrimination. The profits and influence gained from these dealings have made the Glimmer A.G. the power behind the scenes across the continent of Europe. Where the other Illuminati are more far-seeing, Glimmer A.G. is content to merely profit off the agendas of others.
le Societi de Luminiere: Carrying nearly as low a profile as the Tea-Drinkers, le Societi de Luminiere is not even known to exist (except for folks who bothered to read this preview). Created in the mid-nineteenth century, this society early on recognized the power of the media. Evolving alongside the new forms of media appearing in the 20th century, this society’s influence was finally threatened by the democratic nature of the Internet. They imposed restrictions on the new technology and soon turned it to their own ends with new marketing concepts. The society’s agenda has reaped tremendous benefits enabling them to capitalize on the growing importance of advertising and become the wealthiest of all Illuminati groups. Now the society has a hand in nearly every media property on Earth – even game developers. How insidious can you get?
My Private Money DGP: The youngest of the Illuminati groups (and one of the weakest), My Private Money DGP (Darn Good Privacy) grew to power under the patronage and protection of Zubrin. Before Zurbin even entered the picture however, the founders of My Private Money DGP held “Sovereignty to the Individual” as their motto. Reasoning that the fruits of labor should be controlled directly by the laborer, many members were arrested for tax evasion and corporate fraud. Initially popular among wealthy, tech-minded individuals, My Private Money DGP came under attack from various governments until Zubrin moved them off-planet. Their removal from Earth’s political framework gives them advantages not enjoyed by their main competitors in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. As money fled the corrupt systems on Earth, governments and economies collapsed thereby furthering Zubrin’s cause.
The Black Dragons: Though not as ancient as The Tea-Drinking Society, The Black Dragons are still among the oldest of Illuminati. A known-crime syndicate, their connection with Asian triads put them at odds with the Tea-Drinkers. But where The Tea-Drinking Society uses crime and wealth to their own ends, The Black Dragons are purely-profit minded. Let other groups colonize space, they reason; there will be crime enough wherever humanity goes. Now in control of the triads and Yakuza, the right-wing operations of The Black Dragons put them in command of nearly every form of vice on the planet.
EarthNOW!: In the centuries before the arrival of Christianity, seven druid tribes banded together for mutual interest. This council managed to stave off the extinction of species and habitats throughout the Medieval and Industrial Ages. When the environmental crisis reached a head in the 20th century, many nations realized the damage their current lifestyle was wreaking on the world’s non-renewable resources. Still, as the prevailing power structures required the support of either the resources or the lifestyles they made possible, little was done to ease the damage being done to the environment. Radical environmentalists banded together under the name EarthNOW! reasoning that the perceived self-interest of corporations would make their own surrender of their environmentally-damaging policies unlikely. In response, EarthNOW! embraced a policy of eco-terrorism and began dismantling corporations around the world.
The New World Order: Originally known as the Knights Templar, The New World Order has allied itself with the old power groups who suddenly found themselves adrift after Zubrin and My Private Money DGP helped collapse the existing power structures on Earth. After the collapse, the Templars came out of hiding bringing with them a vast fortune and new opportunities for the now defunct earth governments. Being on the losing end of the battle has given The New World Order a fatalistic outlook that makes them willing to leverage their considerable military and financial resources in dangerous last-ditch efforts. Initially hoping to seize power by providing mercenary might to the other Illuminati, the forces of The New World Order have been sent on a series of suicide missions by the other Illuminati groups.
Each of these groups would have their own missions for you which would aid them in their own plans. As the player completed missions for each of them, the groups could be turned against one another giving the player an opportunity to make more money, likely something that was heavily incorporated into the story-line of the game.
During the course of the game, the player would have travelled to two planets, Earth and Mars, as well as the Moon and a secret base on an asteroid. Each area the player visited would feature a number of different missions the player was to be involved in, each taking place in a number of different locations, though it’s not clear if the game was going to feature a linear progression or allow a limited form of free-roaming.
In an early preview for the game, it was stated that in total, the game was going to feature at least 15 missions - the length of these missions was never specified however and it’s not clear whether the game was ever to feature any side-quests or other tasks the player could perform.
The game was to feature multiple characters for the player to choose from, with each featuring different abilities and stats.
As mentioned earlier, the game was intended to be a third-person action role-playing game, allowing the player to use both ranged and melee combat.
Compared to some other role-playing games, such as Deus Ex, the game featured quite a basic set of traits that would level up as the player advanced through the game; Strength, Agility, Dexterity and Constitution.
When starting the game, players would be given the choice between four different characters; the different body types that each of these characters had would determine their initial stats before they began playing the game.
Of the four characters, Sahara, Jake, Alyssa and Groober, it unfortunately appears that Alyssa was never shown in any subsequent media released for the game.
Below is a list of the characters the player had to choose from, including what may have been their initial stats according to some media of the game.
- Sahara (Human/Female) (S:20, A:30, D:30, C:20)
- Jake (Human/Male) (S:25, A:25, D:25, C:25)
- Alyssa (Elfin/Female)
- Groober (Juggernaut/Male) (S:40, A:25, D:15, C:30)
Conceptual art displaying Groober
While each character had a default name, the player could change their selected character’s name to anything of their preference.
As far as I’m aware, no back stories for the characters that were to be available in the game, were ever discussed or shared by the development team publicly but it’s very possible each character would have had their own story to further back their unique designs and personality - though that’s complete speculation on my part.
It was shared that as the players progressed through the game, their character’s appearance would change. It appears that this can be seen in some screenshots of the game though looks to be mostly limited to a colour change. It’s also unclear if this colour change occurred between locations or when the player increased their character’s abilities.
Both competitive and cooperative play were on the table for all platforms during the game’s development. It doesn’t appear these modes were ever publicly demonstrated to any capacity, so it’s unclear how far along these features were before the game was cancelled.
According to Erik Bethke, the game was to feature multiple competitive modes, such as Capture the Flag and a Capture and Hold, with the latter inspired by DICE’s Battlefield 1942.
[…] Capture and hold mechanics as well as capture the flag mechanics set in Black9 settings such as high-rise buildings, lunar parks, canyons on Mars, and a few more special places!
Erik Bethke, 2003-03-02
The game was to feature a number of vehicles in the game which could be driven by the player, however the details for these were unfortunately quite vague as it’s likely the team were continually developing the idea and exploring the possibilities.
One vehicle the game was to include was a wing-pack that would allow the player to fly around the map. It doesn’t appear it was revealed whether or not players started with this, however it’s featured in a number of screenshots.
Issues involving their publisher, Majesco, resulted in the game’s early demise. A fantastic article is available here which explains exactly what happened up to the closure of Taldren, Inc.
According to developers involved in the project, the game was pretty far along before it’s cancellation with one developer I spoke with sharing that it was playable from start to end, though in a very unpolished state.
Because of the pressures that Majesco pressed on the development team, later sections of the game ended up making heavy use of BSP geometry rather than detailed static models, giving some sections a shoe-box appearance.
- TalonBrave.info dump
- (GameZone) Majesco Unveils E3 Line-up
- (GameSpot) Black9
- Black9 Pre-Production Trailer