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The Hidden Palace is a community dedicated to the preservation of video game development media (such as prototypes, hardware, source code, artwork, and more). This website can be utilized as a catalog for the items that we and others are able to collect and share.

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Out of the Vortex (Sep 13, 1995 prototype) (5).png

Out of the Vortex (Sep 13, 1995 prototype)
Out of the Vortex (Source Code - Sep 13, 1995)

Hard Boiled (Jun 17, 1997 prototype)
Hard Boiled (Jul 25, 1997 prototype)
Hard Boiled (Aug 24, 1997 prototype)
Discuss this release on our Discord server!

Hello everyone, it’s been a little hasn’t it? Let’s change that.

(Formally) Presenting, the long lost “Out of the Vortex” for the Sega Mega Drive. This one was made possible by none other than Pipozor himself, one of the developers who worked on this never-before-seen, almost completed game for the Sega Mega Drive. For those who have been with us around the time of our New Year releases from 2022, this game might seem a little familiar. Now presented for the first time in a more complete form, it’s time to tell the tale of a game that was once never seen or heard of outside of those select few who had a chance to work on this almost complete game.

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Unreleased games can sometimes be a bit of an enigma, can’t they? Video game developers have been developing games as fast as the industry was growing as early as the 80s. For many games that had the unfortunate fate of being canceled most of the time, they would be canceled before anyone would have a chance to write a single piece of code. Sometimes game concepts are designed using simple technological demos that demonstrate the idea that the final product might be realized, only to be canceled before any meaningful development could get off the ground. Sometimes games can go through a lengthy pre-production period, followed by a long development period that might span through different iterations, only to be ultimately shelved indefinitely.

It’s not always obvious as to why some games are canceled over others. Most of the time we find that some game concepts just wouldn’t work, or the implementation of those ideas wouldn’t have made for a compelling final product. However, sometimes games are canceled due to studio closures, third-party licensing falling through, disinterest from the developers, mismanagement, or just simply running out of resources. From the outside looking in, we always assume that canceled games are a symptom of failure and are examples of things of what not to do.

Sometimes we’re even lucky enough to see and even play through most of these attempts of “what could’ve been”, something that Hidden Palace has stood to show for many years now. We live in an age of abundance, where there is seemingly no end to the vastness of prototypes of games, both released and unreleased, to study and enjoy. During the time of their potential relevancy, most unreleased games often had the luxury of media coverage and minimal recognition from the audience who may have been eager to play them. At the very least, magazines or word of mouth would make minor passing references to games by title, but sometimes these games would even have extensive media coverage, which would involve screenshots, video, and even potential developer interviews to whet the appetite of eager people waiting to get their chance to play them.

However, what about the unreleased games we never hear about at all? As part of the audience who are at the receiving end of entertainment, if there’s no mention of something anywhere, then it’s probably just as good as not even existing. Is there a case where a game that received absolutely zero media coverage or mention was in full development and nearing completion before being canceled? How could such a thing happen?

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As it turns out, “Out of the Vortex” exemplifies one such case.

Out of the Vortex and Dark Horse Comics

“Out of the Vortex” is a game that was in development for roughly a year and a half. Throughout its development, the game involved a team of around a dozen developers who worked to try and create a fun adaptation of the short-lived series of Dark Horse comics of the same name. But before we get into the game itself, let’s talk about the comic it’s based on.


Out of the Vortex Issue #1

Out of the Vortex was a short-lived series of 12 comics published monthly by Dark Horse Comics as part of their Comics’ Greatest World series beginning on September 4th, 1993. From the limited information we were able to gather about the comic, the plot revolves around a Vortex anomaly that’s being actively monitored by army personnel who are trained in dealing with mutated super-humans. Something occurs that causes the Vortex to expand beyond control. Just as humanity contemplates the beginning of an apocalypse, a mysterious being known as “The Vortex” steps out from the anomaly. The military stationed at Cinnabar Flats soon discovers that they are no match for this mysterious being. Is Vortex a friend or foe? While this conflict occurs, a group known as The Seekers, led by Sister Jeqon, is out searching for Vortex across the galaxy, looking to settle the score once and for all. Who will remain as the victor in this intergalactic conflict? And will the planet survive this seemingly never-ending battle between gods that have seemingly come from another world?

Out of the Vortex was written by John Ostrander, Neal Barrett Jr., and Michael Eury. John Ostrander is known for writing for comics such as Manhunter, Star Wars: Legacy, and Suicide Squad. Neal Barrett Jr was known for his work in writing science/historical fiction and mystery novels and sometimes worked under different pseudonyms throughout his career. Micahel Eury, who has sole writing credits for writing the 12th and final issue, is best known for Maze Agency and The Legion of Super-Heroes comic books, along with other works while employed at DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics. The drawings for each comic were provided by artists Damon Willis, Pete McDonnell, and Randy Green who were credited as pencillers for their respective issues of the comic. Damon Willis is best known for his work on the various Aliens series of comics such as Aliens: The Alien, Aliens: Crusade, and Aliens: Genocide. Pete McDonnell has an extensive history as a contractor and did work for many companies such as Sega/Activision and Galoob Toys, doing concept art and box art designs for Rad Gravity and Double Dragon, as well as comics for Dark Horse and Natural Geographic KIDS. Randy Green would go on to work for many different comic book studios, such as Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Image Comics, doing work on comics such as Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Spider-Man, Mutant X, and much more.

The comic also employed several inkers such as Josef Rubenstein, Rick Magyar, Bob Downs, Monty Sheldon, and Mike Barreiro. Josef Rubenstein has inked more than a thousand comic books, such as Wolverine, Warlock, and Aquaman. Rick Magyar served as an inker for comics such as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Swamp Thing, and Vigilante but also provided art for The Question and Wasteland as well. Bob Downs also worked on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons alongside Rick but also provided work for Justice League of America and other works for DC Comics. Monty Sheldon also worked as an artist on some of the earliest Star Wars comics and contributed work on the Jabba the Hutt series of comics as well. Mike Barreiro is known for his work as an inker on works such as Hellblazer and Scarab. James Sinclair, Matt Hollingsworth, and Perry McNamee served as colorists throughout Out of the Vortex’s limited run, with Lois Buhalis and Vickie Williams as letterers, Jennie Bricker and Randy Stradley as editors, and Shawn Sturos and Teena Gores as designers. Each issue of Out of the Vortex featured a different artist for the cover art every month. Artists such as Doug Mahnke, Mike Mignola, Walter Simonson, Dave Dorman & Joe Rubinstein, Jason Pearson, Eric Shanower, Michael Golden, Vince Giarrano, Mick Zeck, Chris Warner, and Lee Weeks all provided cover art for Out of the Vortex as well as other series for various comic book studios.

While it’s not known how well Out of the Vortex did during its run, it’s clear that many talented individuals worked on the comic during its short run. Comic book properties, even back then were often catalysts to create spin-off products such as toys, movies, cartoons, and video games that were often complementary to the experience of enjoying the comics. Every studio offered a plethora of characters, settings, and stories to base a wide assortment of products and with the encouragement to expand upon each universe with the imagination of those who chose to adapt the works. For video games specifically, we have seen a wide assortment of excellent quality games based on the works of Dark Horse, DC Comics, and especially Marvel. Each comic property carried the potential to provide even more enjoyment through other product adaptations, and Out of the Vortex was of course up for grabs just like any other property.

But what studio would eventually end up taking on the task of bringing the world of Out of the Vortex to video game consoles? As it would turn out, a little-known video game company based in Paris, France was able to negotiate a licensing deal that would be the beginning of a possible adaptation of Out of the Vortex for the Sega Mega Drive.

Cryo Interactive’s History

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Cryo Interactive

Cryo Interactive Entertainment obtained the license from Dark Horse Comics to adapt Out of the Vortex as a video game. The history of Cryo Interactive Entertainment is interesting as its roots originated from ERE Informatique, one of France’s very first video game developers. Before talking about the creation of Out of the Vortex, we must dive a little bit into the history of one of France’s earliest game developers.

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ERE Informatique

ERE Informatique was founded in 1983 by Philippe Ulrich, who was one of the founding members that would form Cryo Interactive Entertainment. Since this was before the time of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Mega Drive, the company began publishing and developing games for popular home computers in Europe at the time, such as the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. In the beginning, the company hired freelance game programmers and artists and offered them royalties for their work. ERE Informatique’s first success was in Intercepteur Cobalt for the Sinclair ZX81 and ZX Spectrum, a flight simulator created by programmer Marc André Rampon. They would eventually find their first international hit with the release of Macadam Bumper, a pinball game developed by Rémi Herbulot, in 1985. However, Ere Informatique suffered from financial issues from distributors delaying payments and going into bankruptcy. ERE Informatique’s shares were eventually bought out by Infogrames during a bidding war with another company by the name of FIL. Infogrames would gain complete control of ERE Informatique in June of 1987. Under the control of Infogrames, a new development label under the company was created called Exxos, which was announced one year later in June of 1988. While the company continued to develop successful games under the Exxos label, such as Captain Blood, Purple Saturn Day, and KULT: The Temple of the Flying Saucers, key members of the company would eventually leave in 1989 due to financial and creative issues which resulted in the creation of Cryo Interactive Entertainment.

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Cryo Interactive (New logo)

Cryo Interactive was formed by former members of ERE Informatique Philippe Ulrich, Jean-Martial Lefranc, and Rémi Herbulot sometime in 1989 in Paris, France. The actual company wouldn’t be formed formally until the following year in 1990. The company’s first game was titled Extase, a single-player action strategy game for the Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS desktop computers exclusively in Europe sometime in 1990/1991. The game would mark the beginning of the company’s relationship with publisher Virgin Interactive, who became Europe’s defacto publisher for many video game software both for home consoles and personal computers. Cryo Interactive, unlike ERE Informatique, would go on to be known mostly for their adaptations of licensed properties rather than the creation of original ideas. While the company had modest success with the release of Exile, it wasn’t until the company’s next title, Dune (based on the famous Frank Herbert book), that sealed the relationship between Cryo Interactive and Virgin Interactive for the next five years and became one of CryoInteractive’s most successful and well-known title both domestically and internationally. Dune was a single-player adventure strategy game mostly based on the plot of the original novel, which provided players with a very nice rendition of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece. The game was released on the Amiga and DOS-based personal computers sometime in 1992, with a Sega CD port the following year.

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Dune for MS-DOS

Production on the video game adaptation of Dune was long and complicated, spanning back to the time David Lynch’s film adaptation was released in theaters. Martin Alper, who was the founder and president of Virgin Interactive (as well as Virgin Games in the USA), wanted to purchase the interactive adaptation rights in 1988. After the release of the film, the original production company of the film went bankrupt, and the interactive adaptation rights were no longer exclusively held by anyone. At the time, the author of the novel had also passed away, leaving even the rights to the original up in dispute. During the lapse in rights ownership, Martin was able to purchase interactive adaptation rights from Universal Pictures sometime during the spring of 1990. When Cryo Interactive was formed and a developer/publisher relationship was established between Cryo and Virgin Interactive, Philippe Ulrich met the then recently appointed director of Virgin in France Jean-Martial Lefranc, to propose a meeting with Martin Alper in July of 1990. Since Martin Alper recently purchased the interactive adaptation rights to Dune from Universal, Martin proposed the idea of adapting Dune to an interactive video game. An agreement was finalized in August 1990 before a contract was signed, and pre-production work would begin immediately afterward.


Virgin Mastertronic

Dune would be produced by Stephen Clarke-Willson, David Luehmann, and David Bishop. David Bishop initially wanted to design the game himself and began creating design documents to help propose his idea of what the game should be like to the producers working at Virgin Games in America. The Americans were not convinced by David Bishop’s proposal, and after a change of management at Virgin, the publisher threatened to cancel production on the project in late September. Because the contracts with Cryo Interactive weren’t signed yet, the company needed someone to step in to help salvage the project. Frank Herman, who founded Virgin Mastertronic with Martin Alper and Alan Sharam in 1983, decided to step in even after Martin Alper decided to distance himself from working with Cryo Interactive. Frank Herman was responsible for the success of the growth of Sega in Europe, being part of the leadership responsible for the distribution of the Sega Master System. He would go on to form Sega Europe in 1991 serving as deputy managing director alongside Nick Alexander. Despite Dune being technically canceled on paper, the project continued development in secret well into 1991.

Martin Alper wouldn’t give up on adapting Dune into a video game, however, and began working with Westwood Studios on what would eventually become Dune II, a reworked adaptation of the original Dune as a real-time strategy single-player game that would release in December of 1992 for MS-DOS based computers, and 1993 for the Sega Mega Drive and Amiga. The developers at Cryo, however, continued working on the game that they had wanted to make under the financial support of Frank Herman’s Virgin Entertainment. When Sega Europe was formed in 1991, Sega had bought Virgin Mastertronic’s European divisions resulting in the loss of Jean-Martial Lefranc as its general manager. He would be replaced by Christian Brecheteau, who immediately became interested in the Dune project. However, when an internal audit was carried out after the merger of Sega and Virgin, it was discovered that Sega did not have a license to Dune. Upon hearing of this discovery, the developers at Cryo Interactive presented what they had created at that point to Martin Alper and David Bishop. Luckily, both Martin and David were interested in what Cryo had done and reversed their decision that ‘formally’ cancel the project back in September.


Dune running on MS-DOS

The decision to formally renew production on Cryo Interactive’s version of the game came with a small catch, however. The producers requested that a demo be produced to test the American reception of the game in five weeks. To meet the deadline, Cryo decided to alter the plot to begin at a later part in the original novel’s story. Reception of the game was well received and so the game was able to move onto the pre-beta phase in October of 1991. Production would eventually wrap up in early 1992 and would be sold in stores before Westwood’s attempts with Dune II.

Dune was commercially successful internationally, selling 20,000 copies of the game during its first week. By 1997, the game would sell 300,000 copies. The success of the game could be attributed to the forward-thinking done by Philippe Ulrich, who wanted to utilize CD-ROM technology to create bigger and more expansive games. Dune became notable because it ended up being one of the first successful floppy disk games ported to utilize the CD-ROM format. Dune was also notable because it’s the one game among Cryo Interactive’s list of developed games that saw the most success and was the turning point for the studio.

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Dune for the Sega CD

Dune also marked another special occasion for Cryo Interactive, as the game would eventually become the company’s first chance at developing on a home console platform. Part of what made Dune successful was its utilization of CD-ROM technology, which allowed players to experience a more immersive game than what could be commonly found in other PC games as well as what was on home consoles at the time. At the time, Sega was working on introducing the Sega Mega CD (known as the Sega CD in the United States) to the Japanese market in 1991, with a Western release in the following year. Since Sega and Virgin’s merger to become Sega Europe, it was a no-brainer that Virgin’s latest smash hit should make an exclusive release on the latest console from Sega, who, at this time, was starting to gain a lot of market share due to the successful release of Sonic the Hedgehog and the marketing of the Sega Mega Drive. The decision to start development on the Sega CD version was agreed upon in September of 1991 between Virgin Games and Sega.

The Sega CD version of Dune combined the best of both the Amiga and MS-DOS versions of the game. The Sega CD version had the graphics of the Amiga version but contained the extra features and additions from the MS-DOS version. The Sega CD version would go on to rank in some of the top 10 lists of the greatest Sega CD games for the system and served as a potential system seller for the then-recently released console.

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Some examples of games published by Cryo Interactive

After the release of Dune on the Sega CD, Cryo Interactive began creating more games for various consoles. After the release of KGB and Gadget: Past as Future for home computers, its next console release would come in the form of MegaRace, released not only for MS-DOS-based home computers but also the Panasonic 3DO and Sega CD. While Cryo Interactive would continue to release exclusive games for personal computers, such as Commander Blood and Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure, it began developing games that would either see an exclusive release on console or a simultaneous personal computer and home console release, sometimes with an occasional release on a handheld like the Sega Game Gear. The company would go on to create games such as Dragon Lore (3DO, MD-DOS), Super Dany (SNES), Lost Eden (3DO, Macintosh, CD-i, MS-DOS), Timecop (SNES), The Raven Project (MS-DOS, PlayStation), and Cheese Cat-Astrophe starring Speedy Gonzales (Sega Genesis, Game Gear, Master System). Oddly enough, Cheese Cat-Astrophe would turn out to be significant to the development of Out of the Vortex, as not only was some of the programming code reused for the project, but it was published by Sega themselves, unlike other titles which were either published by Virgin Interactive or Mindscape.

Cryo Interactive continued developing many of its projects from 1993 to 1995, which proved to be their most productive years in terms of the number of games they released. Like other video game development studios, many games started production that may have gotten far along during development that we have yet to hear about, let alone see in any shape or form except for those who were able to work on them. Cryo Interactive also had many games started at the studio at this time that were fortunate enough to have gotten off the ground. One of those projects ended up being Out of the Vortex for the Sega Mega Drive.

The Mega Drive Project


Early title screen for Out of the Vortex

Cryo Interactive successfully negotiated a contract with Dark Horse Comics and was granted interactive adaptation rights to Out of the Vortex sometime in late 1993. It’s not known whether or not the idea for an Out of the Vortex video game started as an idea at Cryo or Dark Horse, however. Since the comic itself came out in September of 1993, it’s possible that negotiations began sometime around when the comic was still releasing new issues monthly. Programming began on February 8th, 1994, which likely coincides with the start of the actual production of the game. The game’s development team consisted of around eight people - one programmer, four graphic designers, one character designer, one sound/music designer, and two game designers. Despite the small development team, the crew worked together over almost two years to try and build a game from scratch for the Sega Mega Drive.


Olivier Lebourg - Producer and Project Manager on Out of the Vortex

The game’s producer and project manager at Cryo Interactive was Olivier Lebourg, who started fresh out of school to work at the company. He specialized in developing projects based on TV, film, and comic book properties as a producer/designer. His earliest known work was the graphics on a canceled Nintendo Game Boy port of Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D, in which he was credited on the SNES version that was released (coincidentally, this means that the Game Boy port was in development by Cryo Interactive as they were not involved with any of the other ports that were released). He also worked as the game designer, map designer, and product manager for Cheese Cat-Astrophe starring Speedy Gonzales for all target consoles, as well as game designer and executive producer for Hellboy: Dogs of the Night for the PlayStation and PC ports. He was also the product manager on Hard Boiled and Pax Corpus. Ironically, he moved to Oregon in 1997 to work at Dark Horse Comics which were the same publishers of the Out of the Vortex comics. He is now actively pursuing a film career and no longer works in game development.


Jean-Martial Lefranc - Manager and founder of Cryo Interactive

Jean-Martial Lefranc was one of the founders of Cryo Interactive. He was also responsible for hiring and was the boss of everyone who was part of the Out of the Vortex project. He is credited with having produced almost every title at Cryo Interactive from the day it opened to the day it closed. After Cryo Interactive closed its doors, he would go on to have a career in the production of feature films and documentaries. He became the publisher of various magazines in 2007, covering things like cinema, contemporary art, and video games. He was elected president of SAEP, a union for independent press publishers. He is currently CEO of an animated series production company called Why Not Animation & Interaction.


David “Pipozor” Saulnier - Programmer at Cryo Interactive
(photo taken around 1995-1997)

David “Pipozor” Saulnier was one of the sole programmers on the project and began working at Cryo Interactive sometime in December 1993. Besides being the programmer on the game, David also served as one of the game designers as well. Out of the Vortex was one of the first projects he worked on. He started programming at the young age of 12, around 1982. In 1987 he started gaining more experience in developing for the Atari ST and Amiga 500 by hacking and creating demos. He began developing sites for Minitel in 1991, a “videotex online service” that was a successful precursor to the World Wide Web (WWW). He traveled to Paris, France in 1992 to join the video game industry. At the time, Cryo Interactive was looking for new developers. Since there was no formal school or educational program for designing and developing video games, Cryo Interactive encouraged those who self-taught themselves to apply. The job interview entailed a technical test that involved making a beat’em up style game in one week using Motorola 68000 assembly on an Amiga. No doubt that this experience would eventually lead to him being the perfect fit for Out of the Vortex. With the help of one of his friends at the time, who was also a graphic designer, he was able to get a job as a programmer at Cryo Interactive at the age of 22. While he was there he had a chance to work on various platforms like the PC, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Sega CD, Amiga, and SNES. Confirmed credits are on games such as Virus: It Is Aware, The New Adventures of the Time Machine, and Versailles 1685, which ended up being another commercial hit for Cryo Interactive. After leaving Cryo Interactive he continued being a video game programmer until 2015. He worked for a French/Japanese company called Toka to develop games around the launch of the PlayStation 2 like Sky Surfer.

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Examples of some production sprite work on Out of the Vortex - done on Deluxe Paint.

Cryo Interactive had at least three to four graphic artists on staff to design the sprites and implement the map layouts and backgrounds. They were also responsible for handling the animation as well. All the artwork was done with Deluxe Paint, which at the time was the “Photoshop of the 90s”, a valuable program that was on every artist’s machine. Yannick Bachelard was one of the artists who worked on Out of the Vortex’s sprite art. He was also the lead artist on Pax Corpus and was behind the original concept for Hellboy: Dogs of the Night while at Cryo Interactive. Over the years, he continued as a 3D artist/modeler and level artist on games such as Beyond Good & Evil, Rayman: Raving Rabbids, ZombiU, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Breakpoint.

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Stéphane Chatellier - Artist at Cryo Interactive and one of Out of the Vortex’s game designers

Stéphane Chatellier was another artist and also a game designer. He would also go on to be the game designer on games such as Dead to Rights II, Airborne Troops: Countdown to D-Day, and Pirates: Legend of the Black Buccaneer. While at Cryo Interactive, Stéphane was also credited as a programmer on games such as The Devil Inside and Pax Corpus. It appears he no longer works in game development.


Laurent Ledru - Artist at Cryo Interactive

Laurent Ledru was another artist who worked on Out of the Vortex alongside Yannick Bachelard and Stéphane Chatellier. A good friend of David Saulnier, Laurent started around the same time as David as a sprite artist at Cryo Interactive. While at Cryo, he was an artist on games such as Pax Corpus and Dreams and was one of the lead artists on Hard Boiled and Virus: It Is Aware. Alongside Yannick Bachelard he was also behind the original concept for Hellboy: Dogs of the Night and was even a 3D modeling artist for various games as well. After working at Cryo Interactive, he moved to Los Angeles to begin a career in filmmaking. David, Laurent, and Stéphane were all born in Le Mans and were close friends even as students. They all came to Paris to start their dream careers in game development.


Stéphane Levallois - Character Designer at Cryo Interactive

Stéphane Levallois worked on Out of the Vortex as the game’s character designer, hand drawing the characters and enemies for the game before they were translated into sprites by the graphics artists. Stéphane would draw each character's pose in a frame of animation on paper, then they would be scanned and reworked by the graphics artists one by one. Stéphane worked as an art director and provided artwork designs for various games over the years like Cold Fear, Jekyll & Hyde, and the Sacred Amulet. Stéphane is currently an independent illustrator and artist who also works on feature films.

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More examples of some production sprite work on Out of the Vortex


David de Gruttola…?

Last but certainly not least, the music and sound design was supplied by “David de Gruttola” from Totem Interactive. Unlike the other names provided by the staff credits list, one would presume that this is a pen name and not the actual full name of someone. The credit also states a name for another company, which implies that this particular credit is for a 3rd party developer. At the time, Cryo Interactive would sometimes outsource some work to other studios or developers, and sometimes “David de Gruttola” would be credited instead of someone who worked in-house at Cryo Interactive. David de Gruttola has had credits in games such as Super Dany, the unreleased Sega CD port of Timecop, Cheese Cat-Astrophe starring Speedy Gonzales, Hardline, and Versailles 1685. The name “David de Gruttola” would seemingly vanish sometime after 1998, as if this person had quit video game development. However, as it would turn out, this person continued working in the video game industry for many years under a different name.

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David Cage

David Cage, who is the actual person behind “David de Gruttola”, is a very prominent figure in the video game industry. He is best known for his directorial works, such as Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human, Heavy Rain, and Indigo Prophecy under Quantic Dream. What people aren’t aware of is that David Cage got his start in the video game industry as a music composer and sound designer. He provided contracting work under his company Totem Interactive (established sometime in 1993), with Cryo Interactive being one of his recurring customers. While David has taken up the task of being more hands-on in every aspect of game development through his work at Quantic Dream, he still sometimes contributes music to his games from time to time, such as the opening sequence to Detroit: Become Human.

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Snippet from the technical design document

Out of the Vortex was always designed from the beginning to be in the style of a game from the beat ‘em up genre, like Final Fight and Golden Axe. The team drew most of their inspiration from the Streets of Rage/Bare Knuckle games on the Sega Mega Drive and attempted to capture not just the gameplay but some of the graphic design of those games as well. Before the game started development, David Saulnier’s first task on the game possibly started before he was even hired during the creation of the beat ‘em up demo he did on an Amiga during the interview process. From there, David began writing the code in February of 1994 using the experience he had gained during the interview process. A few months later in July, a formal technical design review went over various aspects that had to be considered when programming the game - like how many hit points went to every enemy, how the VRAM would be partitioned to store the different sprites and background layers, how many blocks would be allocated per sprite that can be stored in RAM, the RAM layout, and how much storage would be needed to fit everything onto the cart. As the sole programmer on the game, he was responsible for programming the animation systems, the enemy logic, and resource management, all on his own using an MS-DOS computer to write the code and an ICE programmer for testing. He was also responsible for the entire design of the game from a programming perspective, giving him a lot of freedom on what to implement and how to implement certain things in the game.


Snippet from the technical design document

The game features four different playable characters with their special movements and statistics. Cutscenes before the stage begins and before the boss fights with dialog are used to help tell a story. The game would’ve featured over 40 different maps with a diverse set of locations, from deserts, casinos, cities, the underground, and eventually to inside the Vortex itself (the last stage of the game). The game seems to have had support for branching paths to give each gameplay run a different experience based on choices made during gameplay. From a technical standpoint, the game shoots to aim for a constant 60fps wherever possible while trying to display as many enemies and objects on the screen at once. The game utilizes RNC compression or a variant of it, which was a popular compression format utilized in many different systems at the time. One flaw with the game is that the sound driver runs on the Motorola 68000, which is where all the game logic is executed, rather than the Zilog 80 (Z80) processor. As a result, the music can slow down when the game slows down, causing the music to play at an inconsistent tempo. It seems that voice samples were planned at some point but were never implemented.

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Working with the Out of the Vortex IP meant having to work closely with Dark Horse Comics, who were the rights holders. Out of the Vortex started development around the time games like Mortal Kombat were gaining popularity due to the inclusion of over-the-top violence during gameplay. Out of the Vortex initially wanted to include red blood in more places to capitalize on the trend, and there existed a version that had a lot more violence in it. During development, however, Dark Horse had requested that the blood had to be reduced or recolored. This is evidenced in the source code for the game, as there was a significant turn during development that warranted the code base to be referred to as “Vortex2”. Cryo Interactive wanted to hide the red blood and gorier combat shots behind a cheat code, but as far as we know, no code was implemented. Other than the violence, the only other confirmed request that Dark Horse made was to respect the original design of the characters from the comics.

Unlike Dark Horse Comics, Sega had little involvement during the game’s production. Sega never made comments or suggestions as to how the game was meant to be developed. Outside of preparing a technical review design document possibly to help aid in the eventual quality assurance testing and lot checking process, Sega didn’t place any constraints on the development team at any point during the game’s production.

The Fall of Cryo Interactive


Game Over screen from Out of the Vortex

Near the end of development on the original Mega Drive version of the game, or no more than a year after its cancellation in 1996, a PC port was in development as well. At the time when development on the PC ceased, the game was more or less a carbon copy of the progress that was made on the Mega Drive version. Since the original Mega Drive version was written in 68000 assembler, the game’s code had to be rewritten from scratch into C. The port was playable at some point, and some source code of it remains, but all of the source code as well as a playable build appears to be lost as of the time of writing this article. An arcade version was planned for release with a company called Betson Enterprises, but the plan fell through after negotiations weren’t successful.

Despite the game having been almost 95% complete, the Mega Drive version of the game would eventually be canceled sometime in September 1995. The reason for the game’s cancellation is still unknown, unfortunately, but it could’ve been due to several factors. It’s possible that the game was going over budget due to the somewhat lengthy development cycle. It could be that the licensor wasn’t interested in pursuing a release anymore since, at the time of the game’s cancellation, the comic was no longer in monthly circulation. Aside from bugs in the game’s completely custom audio driver, some missing sound effects, and the occasional crashes - the game is essentially complete. All of the game’s bosses and stages are implemented, and the game even has the staff credits displayed upon beating the last boss. In comparison to the prototype we released a few years ago, the game has both music and sound, a title screen, and even cutscenes as well. According to David Saulnier, he would’ve liked to have improved the round scrolling effects during the Vortex boss fight and tried to reach the maximum potential of the Mega Drive.

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Cryo Interactive Crew (Around 1993-1996)

There’s no doubt that Out of the Vortex had many talented people working on it. Cryo Interactive was a very relaxing place for many people to work at. It housed three floors of space for developmental staff to work on a wide assortment of projects. Cryo provided all the necessary official development kits and good machines for developing games. Not only did Cryo house a large server room that was used to generate the 3D images you see in games like MegaRace, they even had a room for doing in-house rotoscoping and motion capture.

Despite having to cancel Out of the Vortex, Cryo Interactive continued to do well throughout the rest of its years. After 1996, Cryo no longer needed to publish games in Europe under Virgin Interactive and decided to start self-publishing their games instead, allowing them to circumvent the need to cater to the demands of another company just to get a game out the door. However, while they were able to sell most of their games within the European market, the lack of proper worldwide distribution prevented them from turning more profit from every game they released. Cryo Interactive attempted to set up a subsidiary in the US to aid in marketing and distribution and was even considering expanding to Japan.

Cryo Interactive did eventually open a studio in Portland, Oregon called Cryo Studios North America. Ironically, the studio formed from a joint venture between Cryo Interactive and Dark Horse Comics, the publishers of Out of the Vortex, who also happened to be stationed in Milwaukie, Oregon. Cryo would end up purchasing Dark Horse’s shares in the company and renaming the subsidiary to Cryo Studios. The studio continued to produce mostly adaptations of licensed properties such as Aeon Flux and Hellboy. While the studio would sometimes see success in games like Versailles 1685, it often couldn’t turn a substantial profit due to not being able to capture the desirable North American market. Cryo Interactive would attempt to publish one more smash hit with “Frank Herbet’s Dune” developed with Widescreen Games, a game that would only be released in Europe on the PlayStation 2 and the PC in North America. However, by this point, the studio was already suffering from financial problems, and the game didn’t sell nearly as well as they had anticipated, given their earlier success with the CD-ROM release of Dune from almost a decade prior.

The studio was not able to find creditors to keep the studio from going under, and so by July 2002, the studio was forced to file for insolvency which reduced its workforce by nearly 80%. One by one, each subsidiary of Cryo Interactive shut down, leaving any games that were in production canceled. By October of the same year, the company began liquidating assets and was eventually absorbed by DreamCatcher Interactive to form DreamCatcher Europe. Little by little, pieces of Cryo Interactive would be absorbed into other companies, such as its intellectual property and technology, until the Cryo Interactive name became nothing more than a memory.


It’s never fun when a company that had a chance at success bringing great products shuts down, especially in any entertainment industry. A lot of the talent that became part of Cryo Interactive stayed with the company until the very end. However, at the very least most of its former workers moved on to have great careers in other areas of the entertainment industry, like art and film. Unfortunately, all of the work that everyone did at Cryo Interactive was possibly cast to the winds, even for the released games. There were many projects that Cryo Interactive did that could’ve had a chance at success if it weren’t for the problems that occurred when trying to tap into international markets. Games like Dune for MS-DOS were the rare exceptions for the company that allowed the company to earn a profit. But games like Out of the Vortex, which never had any coverage in the media and was never seen by anyone except Cryo Interactive and a select few from Sega and Dark Horse Comics, was one of many projects that were far along only to be unceremoniously canceled.

The sad fact of life is that many games have suffered the same fate, and we might not ever know the names of every single one. Despite the intensive work that goes into games, it was surprising that in our research, none of the people involved with the project ever publicly acknowledged having worked on Out of the Vortex for the Mega Drive. With Cryo Interactive’s closure and the dissolution of its staff, any secrets of such projects as Out of the Vortex would be cast into the winds, fading into nonexistence for a possible indefinite amount of time…



A mysterious PCB

…until roughly 26 years later!

Back in 2021, Frank Cifaldi from the Video Game History Foundation (VGHF) connected us with an anonymous person who kept various prototypes of mostly Infogrames titles. A lot of those games ended up either very early or seemed completely unreleased. Out of all the titles that were part of the lot, there was one mysterious PCB that contained four socketed EPROMs, with just one sticker covering the window of the top leftmost EPROM. On the sticker were the words “Vortex 10-7”, which usually denote a partial title and imply a possible date. If it came from Europe, is the date July 10th or October 7th? What year is this from? The PCB is nonstandard (meaning it was manufactured by a third party and not Sega themselves) and utilizes no dip switches or support for SRAM. At a glance, it could easily be mistaken as a PCB for some other system. “What could this be?” we wondered before we looked at the ROM. When we loaded up the game in an emulator, we were extremely impressed with what we saw.

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Upon boot, we were immediately greeted with a character select screen. “Who are these characters?” we asked as we glanced through each one. None of the characters have a name printed anywhere, and besides the statistics on the screen, there are no biographies or other menus besides a level select immediately after selecting a character. The names of most of the locations are generic, with only some terms like “Nanotechno” and “Golden City” to go by for identification. When we got into the game proper, we were presented with a very competent beat 'em-up that was almost completely playable. Enemies come in waves at the proper times, every hit you and the enemy make lands, and there seems to be a never-ending stream of levels and things to see. And it plays like Streets of Rage too! Outside of the lack of audio, nothing seems necessarily unfinished. You can get to what appears to be a final boss, but upon beating them there’s no credits screen.

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“What the hell is this game?” we thought as we played more and more of it. We immediately thought it had to have been an early prototype of something released, as there was no way a game in this state couldn’t at least have had a release on some console. Assuming the word “Vortex” is part of the game’s title, we searched through all of our ROM sets for an instance and couldn’t find a single thing that came close, especially for the Mega Drive. There had to be some clue as to what it is, and more importantly, who made it, right?


Internal ROM header of the cart-based prototype

So we dug a little more into things and started looking at the ROM itself. There are virtually no strings anywhere to be found in the ROM itself except for what’s written in the header. The ROM header gives us a title - “OUT OF THE VORTEX”. Finally, a name! But what’s the significance of ©TANG? NOV.1993? But the PCB is from 1994! The product code isn’t specified, so there’s nothing to connect it to a released game in the Mega Drive library. And who is this “Pipozor”? Trying to search for the title gave us a listing for a relatively obscure comic, could this game be based on the comic? Mentions of “Gold City” appear in some descriptions of the comic, so it appears so? Searching up “Pipozor” turned up nothing, and searching through our sets turned up nothing in other games that might’ve used the same name somewhere. For all we knew, this game could’ve been developed in Japan. It certainly almost looks and plays like it! So who developed this game anyway?

We needed to dig a little deeper…


Using IDA Pro to help disassemble the ROM

If you remember our extensive write-up on Street Fighter II: Champion Edition for the Sega Mega Drive back when it was discovered, we faced a similar situation where the identity of the developers who made the game wasn’t explicitly made anywhere in the game itself. To recap, many game developers, even to this day, will reuse code from other projects or create their libraries of functions and modules, and it wasn’t any different back then, either. If we were going to figure out the developers behind the game, we needed to look at specific code reuse for things that might’ve been repurposed for other games by the same developer. Since the game has no sound driver to speak of and possibly used a very common graphics compression algorithm, we had to look for things that might’ve been specific to the developer - like animation routines or memory management. We did some light debugging and were able to determine some of the routines used for animation. The key is to find a series of routines that mostly play with specific registers but don’t try to utilize any offset or address in ROM (and RAM if you can). You can use these series of instructions as a byte sequence which you can utilize to find the same byte pattern in other games. The longer the sequence, the more specific your results can be. When we took the byte code that represented a certain subroutine from the Out of the Vortex ROM, we discovered only one other hit in a sea of Mega Drive games…

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This game again!?

That’s right, out of all the Mega Drive games in the entire library, searching with the byte pattern we chose gave us this one lone game by Cryo Interactive. Because the lot of prototypes consisted of Infogrames games which was a company that was based in France, this seemed more likely. Finally, we have at least one association for this game. But what about this “Pipozor”?

Searching for Pipozor was still relatively difficult, but knowing the potential company behind the making of the game led us to find a more solid connection with the name. In the end, we discovered that Pipozor used to own a website that is no longer in operation, and that website was operated by David Saulnier, a programmer for Cryo Interactive. Boom!

But unfortunately, the identity behind the other people who worked on the game would remain a mystery. Since no staff credits were implemented in the ROM and there were no other plain text strings suggesting specific people, Pipozor and Cryo Interactive were the only two pieces we could identify for the game aside from the source material the game was based on. Nonetheless, we had a great thing to showcase on our hands, and we went ahead with its release for the New Year 2022 release over two years ago.

And that would be it for most of our releases. We did a stream, a long play YouTube video, and wrote an article for what we had and moved on.

But little did we know that Pipozor was watching!

Pipozor got in contact with us through our Discord server and was impressed that anyone besides him had a copy of the game, as the game had only really been seen and developed internally, and word about its existence never really reached the public via the media at the time while it was in development. He suspected that the cart that we had access to might’ve originated from testing in the United States, but we’re not entirely sure of its origins as it was included with a bunch of things from Infogrames’ earlier days. Since he was the sole programmer and one of the game designers on the original, he kept quite a few things from the production of the game - including the source code!



A sample of the source code

The source code that came to us seemed like a complete copy of whatever progress occurred by September 13th, 1995. Among the files were also applications used to master EPROMs and debugging, as well as partial source code for the proposed PC port of the game. At first, we wanted to see if we could try and compile the code to get the latest version in ROM format. We encountered our first hurdle when we realized that the version of SNASM68K that was in use seemed to rely on having a SCSI connection present while running in DOS’ real mode, even when trying to compile the binary. We worked on trying to get the source code to compile, but we weren’t able to figure it out. We tried using it on Windows, in DOS, and even on an emulated 486 machine, but apart from the issues of running the included SNASM68K, there seemed to be some issues with getting it to accept the mnemonics in the source code itself. It’s possible that the source code can compile but it requires a very specific setup to assemble and link everything.


Attempting to compile from source code

However, not all hope was lost, as a .CPE file was present at the root directory where all the source code is kept. Depending on the system, a .CPE file can sometimes be a version of an actual ROM file with additional opcodes used by a PSY-Q developers kit. These files contain additional opcodes that exist on top of or interwoven with the rest of the ROM’s actual code and data to provide for easy debugging with an external monitor over a SCSI connection. When PSY-Q was first introduced, the file format for these ROMs wasn’t as sophisticated and was pretty much different in header only, with the rest of the ROMs data left intact. However, the one lone .CPE file in Out of the Vortex’s source code proved to be problematic as it was a much later version of the file format and contained additional opcodes that had to be figured out.


Debugging the game in Exodus Emulator

We began looking into the .CPE file. The .CPE ROM will begin by pushing data into RAM that is meant to be executed at start-up. This is stored at the start of the 68k RAM at FFFF0000. RAM values are stored in little-endian, even though the 68k is a big-endian CPU. The VBLANK routines often refer back to the code that’s loaded in RAM. If the VBLANK routine is triggered normally in the .CPE, would invoke a TRAP instruction. The .CPE ROM will also set the service register (SR) to #2700 (which disables VBLANK and any interrupts), where it should be #2000 like in an actual Mega Drive game. This could potentially mean that other parts of the ROM frequently read back to this particular region in memory, which is something a normal ROM wouldn’t do. Luckily, since we have a copy of the older build that originated from a cart, we were able to see the differences between how the two ROMs functioned with the added PSY-Q functionality. Combined with debugging both the original ROM and the .CPE with Exodus as well as having the source code on hand, we were able to determine the areas where the compiler would add different instructions and data if a flag was set to compile the information needed for the PSY-Q dev kit. Effectively, you’d be trying to undo the changes in the .CPE file to the non-debugging variants from the source code.

After spending a few hours we were able to patch out all the added instructions and opcodes and were able to revert the .CPE file back into a working ROM! For the first time in almost 30 years, Out of the Vortex’s possible last build has been made playable once more!


After almost 30 years, we finally get to see the credits behind Out of the Vortex


We’ve done a lot over the years, but out of everything we ever did we will always find immense enjoyment in uncovering something that otherwise would have been completely forgotten that people can now appreciate. While not every game can be the absolute best, every game that is and isn’t released is worked on by a group of talented people who, for a very short time, come together to make something to the best of their abilities. Whether it’s a localization that never gets released or a video game that never got past the conceptual stages, every game has a chance to be appreciated by people who might’ve been able to enjoy them for what they are. Showcasing the things that go unreleased is a reminder that while not every unreleased game can have as much appeal as a finished game, it’s a reminder of the potential of what could’ve been. Out of the Vortex feels like a game with a lot of promises delivered, and would’ve been a game that many people might have enjoyed. While the developers 30 years ago didn’t have this luxury, we hope that by showing the game today we hope that there might be those out there who might be able to appreciate it not just for what it could’ve been but also for something that it already is.

Before we finally end this long piece (it’s been a while, huh?), we owe a HUGE thanks to Pipozor for his work on the original game and for sharing the resources needed to get both the game and this article ready (sorry it took so long). Without him, we would’ve been aimless and would never have known about the history behind this game, the people who worked on it, and the studio that made it happen. We’d also like to thank dillydylan for getting the ball rolling and reaching out to Pipozor that made all of this possible! We’d like to also thank Frank Cifaldi and the original anonymous donor of the original dump of the old cart that started it all, as without that, no one would’ve ever known about this awesome little game. We’d like to thank Master Emerald for creating the awesome transparent render of the Out of the Vortex logo, as nothing existed for us to use for this article! Last but not least, we’d like to give a special shoutout to all the original developers who went into the creation of not just the game but also the comics and Cryo Interactive that made everything come together. While your game may not have ever seen the light of day, we hope that this was a good show of your efforts in what could’ve been a great game.

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But wait! Before we go, we do have one little surprise for you. Since we were working with Pipozor to get this out to you, he also gave us a little bonus that we can release as well. Presenting not one, not two, but three builds of the unreleased Sega Saturn port of Cryo Interactive’s Hard Boiled! A mix of hovercar racing with some shoot-em-up style gameplay, this game was canceled for unknown reasons even though it was mostly complete. The game did come out on the PlayStation, but possibly due to the failing popularity of the Sega Saturn, the game was shelved and never released. Aside from Atlantis: The Lost Tales, this would’ve been the only other Sega Saturn game that Cryo Interactive developed. Have fun, Sega Saturn fans!

Until next time! Have a safe and happy summer!

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Thanks for contributing!