From the pages of the past! Vaporware horror from yesteryear – Hellraiser

Hellraiser ad 1991

Color Dreams wanted to bring gory horror and flesh-rending nightmare of Hellraiser to the NES. Pinhead might have been proud of the sights that they could have shown.

In digging around for more scary games to celebrate the scares with this month, I was surprised to find out that there was actually going to be a game based on the movie, Hellraiser, way back in 1991 when the ad above came out. Or rather, a game that was promised to be “coming soon.”

Color Dreams was an unusual company in being one of those rare game developers who made unlicensed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System — much like what American Game Cartridges did as a subsidiary of Sharedata for Chiller on the NES. According to Martin Nielsen’s three-part writeup on the company over at NESWorld, the reason they could make unlicensed games was “Because we could” according to one of its its founder, Dan Lawton.

That, and in an eye opening account of Nintendo’s business practices, it was also due to the brutally draconian licensing fees and publishing requirements. Lawton goes to to explain that with an up-front cost of “$11 for  each game cartridge, a minimum purchase quantity and 6 months to deliver,” it didn’t make much financial sense for them if they could produce the carts for a low price and make “100” of those in only “2 days.”

Hellraiser was one of those ideas that seemed bizarre from the outset and contributed to its eventual demise as vaporware. After all, this is Nintendo’s system that we’re talking about and the House that Mario built projected its family friendly image through much of the harmless fantasy delivered by its games. Hellraiser seemed like an extremely unlikely title to do well on a system better known for far less gorier fare.

But Color Dreams’ Lawton loved the movie and did what he could to make the game a reality. One of those ideas became known as the “Super Cartridge” which would boast its own processing power (thanks to a Z80 chip) to take some of the overhead off of the NES, and manipulate the cart’s memory allowing the game to create special effects such as zooming-in and animated backgrounds without slowdown. This was cutting edge stuff.

Unfortunately, nothing came of the game or of the technology. Both quietly disappeared into the abyss of vaporware for a variety of reasons such as what I touched on above. The estimated costs of producing the cartridge and the chilling effect that their own unlicensed games had on retailers eager to avoid upsetting their own relationships with Nintendo also soured prospects for the game’s success.

It also explains why I didn’t see many stores carrying Color Dreams’ titles. Today, Color Dreams is no more although the Christian-based gaming company they had also created, Wisdom Tree, is still chugging along having continued Color Dreams’ tradition of unlicensed games such as the only unlicensed SNES game released to commercial sale, Super 3D Noah’s Ark. Though they’ve left those days behind, they’re still at it on PCs.

Hellraiser fans over at Hellraiser: The Hellbound Web have also collected as much information as they could find on the vaporware titles that would have dropped players into the strange mythos of the horror series including the NES Hellraiser. Apparently, other games were also attempted — none of which made it out aside from a few screen captures. Or ads like the one above.

3 responses to “From the pages of the past! Vaporware horror from yesteryear – Hellraiser

  1. Pingback: From the pages of the past, ads of yesteryear – Pitfall II: Lost Caverns « World 1-1·

    • I wanted to play it, too! Maybe someday someone will make a game around the Hellraiser license.

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