Redwood Falls: The Canceled FPS That Would Have Made Unreal Engine 3 Shine

Its been said before, but making games commercially is hard. Like, really hard. As a product games are risky investments, require specialist knowledge to create and often need a lot of cash to develop and market. So it’s no surprise that like any other business, there are projects that never see the light of day. Many run out of funding at some point in development, others end up going through several different builds, and many more simply never get of the ground. Having games get cancelled is a fact of life, although that doesn’t stop it from sucking. Still, from this process gamers can sometimes still find tantalizing glimpses into things that could have been, but never were. In the horror space, one of the most promising projects to get axed was Redwood Falls, a cancelled Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game developed in the mid-noughties by Kuju Entertainment.

After coming across some footage of a pretty kickass demo knocking around on YouTube, which you can find at the top of this article, and we decided it’d be cool to try and learn a bit more about the story behind this game was. So saying, we caught up with Ron Ashtiani, the game’s Creative Director, to get the scoop.

What was Redwood Falls in a nutshell? How did you get involved with the project?

Redwood Falls was a survival horror FPS game that I devised with Sean Murray (now of Hello Games) and a team of awesome guys back in 2007 when we were all working at Kuju Entertainment. At the time I had unfinished business from when I’d been working on 2002’s The Thing by Computer Artworks and its cancelled sequel. I wanted to continue working in the horror genre, but this time being able to leverage the then cutting edge Unreal Engine 3.

There’d been a number of graphical and gameplay features that we couldn’t do back in 2003 on the PS2 [when working on The Thing games] but by 2007 we could. This included stuff like dynamic body transformations, with humans morphing into creatures, and dynamic body damage that would let you blow creatures apart. I was also in love with the arctic as a setting for horror due to the isolation and the contrast of blood effects on white snow. The environment would have been a key part of the gameplay and story.

What was the story of Redwood Falls?

The player was a small town police officer in Alaska. Normally a quiet place where not much went on, everything would change with a sighting of something strange in the sky crashing in the wilderness. This would have coincided with reports of animals being found mutilated and people going missing. At the start of the game, the two events would have believed to have been unrelated; the only person who’d have witnessed the crash would have been someone quite unreliable. As the story unfolded, however, we’d have taken heavy influence from the thing in John Carptenter’s film by having an alien being that utilized a host creature to survive.

As the story progressed, more and more people in the town would have either vanished or started behaving strangely, as they’d been infected. The player would have had to try and isolate the alien infection and destroy it. The government would have eventually turned up with troops, though it would out that they knew all about this phenomenon, and were bent on simply destroying the whole town and the people living there.

Can you talk about some of the gameplay features?

At the time it would have been a cutting edge FPS. The main USP would have been the creatures, which could have “burst out” from any infected human. The combat would have also had dynamic body damage, where the player could shoot big chunks off them and they would have kept moving, regenerating and even subdividing.

Another feature was that the town itself would have been a persistent world where time continually passes, so when you left an area, things may have changed when you returned.

What were some of the enemy types?

Each of the creatures would have been derived from a living host, so for example, a dog could have be infected and would have created a dog-like alien creature. This was the same for humans, and we would have had a bunch of different enemy classes, from small creatures that were more like cannon fodder to big ones that were like bosses.

The game was also going to have a multiplayer mode – what would that have involved?

We were considering a squad-like game where multiple people could play in FPS mode in the town and work together. It was basically going to be co-op with all players fighting against a CPU-controlled alien infection. We also wanted to have a mode where one player was infected and the others had to figure out who it is. The infected player’s mission would have been to try to “recruit” other, non-infected players whilst remaining undetected.

Why did Redwood Falls get cancelled?

We’d spent six months working on the prototype with a team of seven, before the studio was refocused to mobile gaming. At the time the budget needed to make a game of this graphical fidelity was very high and money was scarce in the games industry. We’d also had a lot of horror games come out at that time, like Resident Evil 5 and 6 and Dead Space, and publishers felt it was oversaturated as a genre. Mobile was just starting to take off and Kuju decided to pivot our studio to that market. At that point I left to Join Midway Games, and the other guys [who’d worked on the demo] left to form Hello Games a year after.