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.

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«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.»

Devant David Gallardo, derrière à droite, Alain Guyet et à gauche Frédéric Motte. Photo prise à la fin du portage de NC1 sur N64.

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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.

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.

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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.»

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.

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ALPHA, an aborted project  for PC and Dreamcast

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Alpha started and restarted several times. The developers had changed the design 3 times. This project which was looking for itself had been chosen to target the Windows CE   of the Dreamcast.

It was a contract that Kalisto had with Microsoft to release two games from development studio  on Windows CE.

«I don't remember what the plan was for Microsoft 's second game.»

Alpha was the name of the character. She wore blue armor, like Samus from Metroid.

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

«There is an Easter Egg in the game hidden by one of the programmers.»

Two programmers, in 2 or 3 months, working 12 hours a 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.»

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Source of the sketches/artworks: Kamel Tazit

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Totem, an aborted project  for PC, Dreamcast and PS2.

On PC, the game  was in a playable version. Three or four levels had been completed.

«For the Dreamcast, I don't know if we managed to finish the rendering.»

Totem was a   foot racing game,   a multiplayer split-screen, platform-style racing game. You have to imagine it as a Pen Pen TriIcelon or  a Mario Kart like. The player directed his companion with the third person view, from behind.

Initially, among the selectable characters, the Team working on this project had  modeled a small African, a small Indian, a Nordic etc..

The Marketing department had refused the idea of being able to embody  human beings of different ethnicities.

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

The development of the  levels was progressing quickly. The different worlds had a particular look, the art direction was special. The environments had a lot of solid colors with blue swirls or triangles in them, something from another universe!

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

The game was quite playable, but not fun at this stage of development. It would have taken time to tune and polish it to make it fun and fun 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 its marketing.

Totemtech, the graphics engine from Totem

Three programmers (DG, AG and CH), at the time, were working on  an editor for new technology on a new engine for a Dreamcast game, Totem previously explained.

«AG was the lead prog. of the Totemtech project, a prog. unbelievable. (like DG, but in a different style).»

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).

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.

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«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.

«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.»

After the abandonment of the Totem game, the technology created for this aborted project will turn into the engine which, nowadays, is still used.

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

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List of games that used Totemtech :

  • Spirits and Spells or Castleween (depending on region) on Playstation 2 and Gamecube

  • Asobo's Super Farm on Playstation 2

  • Asobo's Plague Tale

  • Flight Simulator 2020

  • Spongebob

  • Jimmy Neutron

  • Shaun White Snowboarding 1 and 2 (Wii , PSP and Playstation 2)

  • Mighty Quest For Epic Loot on PC

  • Several games from the Parisian studio BlackSheep

Thanks to Christian Huaux for his testimony