One of the most intriguing casualties lost in the void of missed video game opportunities is a never-released exploration game from the mid-2000s from Steven Spielberg. Codenamed “LMNO,” the game was meant to feature a friendly Earthbound alien sidekick — one with special powers she'd use to help out on a cross-country road trip.
As fans may have known from previous reports and leaked footage over the years, “LMNO” never finished development, and never got far along enough to even have a proper title. But thanks to a new documentary about the history of Arkane Studios, one of the developers originally tasked with making the game, an extended new look at previously-unseen gameplay reveals a high degree of polish for a project that never saw the light of day — as well as some ambitious ideas, some from Spielberg himself, that other games at the time were just starting to incorporate.
Arkane eventually would go on to develop big-name games for Bethesda like Prey and Dishonored, and the documentary even devotes an interesting segment to the studio's involvement in a never-made Half-Life sequel. But it's especially interesting to watch Arkane's developers walk crowdfunded documentary maker Noclip through some cool new "LMNO" footage, starting around the 22:20 mark in the clip below.
Arkane’s Sebastien Mitton says that “LMNO” would have followed a plot that Spielberg had created, one apparently intended for a double treatment on the big screen. “It was Spielberg’s story,” Mitton explains:
“He had a script, and he wanted to make a movie and a game. … So the story is, I can’t remember the name of the player character, but he’s charged with getting someone out of prison, and it turns out this person [the prisoner] is an alien. She is held in a kind of FBI lab, ‘X-CAP’ I think it was called. So we manage to get her out of the prison, and we travel with her like on a road trip, very Spielberg-like, from the East Coast to the West Coast.”
Though Eve (that’s the alien) was a non-playable AI character who accompanied the main protagonist, her parkour style of running and jumping to reach inaccessible places was meant to be a big feature in the game — as was first-person combat that didn’t involve shooting firearms, something the filmmakers point out Spielberg required. At the truck stop-based level that Arkane developed, Eve definitely shows off her own unique set of moves, bending and twisting her way up walls and onto rooftops the way only an alien could.
Hand-to-hand combat in first person was still rough around the edges at the time too, as anyone who spent time with the lurchy sword swinging in even a AAA title like Oblivion (2006) can attest. But the early build shown in the clip shows Arkane was well on its way to getting the feel of fighting just right, while highlighting an engaging game environment that doesn’t lack for beauty or detail. Eve, whose communication powers are limited by the fact that she's... well, an alien, has her forehead light up when certain things pique her interest, and her facial animations even look ready for prime time — especially considering the game was never finished (just check out her “ugh!” reaction when she intrepidly tries to chug a bottle of mayonnaise).
Spielberg’s gaming partnership with publisher EA ended up yielding only one released title (Boom Blox, which hit the Nintendo Wii in 2008). But thanks to this newly-revealed footage, at least we finally have a more complete idea of the Area 51-style road trip the iconic director wanted to take us on. And who knows? Maybe Spielberg’s mysterious Americana story might one day find new life somewhere down the road. After all, stranger things have happened.