Update [Mon 7th Nov, 2022]: Since this piece was originally published at the end of October, we've updated it with statements from former Future Crew members about its version of "Illuminatus".
Games That Weren't is a website that diligently documents unreleased, cancelled, and prototype video games, and recently it posted a strange story about a Finnish "Elite-killer" that never was.
The story came to them via a Finnish contributor to the site called Janne Sirén, who remembered a game called Illuminatus that was reviewed as an April Fools joke for the Finnish gaming magazine Mikrobitti. The title was teased as an Elite-style trading game and even appeared in printed mail-order advertisements in later issues of MikroBitti (which led to distributors contacting the magazine asking how to get hold of it).
According to Sirén and Games That Weren't, the prank was the brainchild of Mikrobitti writer Niko Nirvi, who depicted the game as one that would build upon Elite considerably.
He told readers that it would involve strategic warfare both in space and on the surface of planets and that there would be advanced AI and multiplayer. He also claimed it was for Atari ST and was being developed by a fictional duo of German programmers called Jürgen Sternreise and Erik Dorf, though none of this was true.
Fans figured out as much later on and were disappointed when they uncovered the ruse. Luckily for Nirvi, however, social media didn't exist at this point and they didn't have to put up with people hounding them on Twitter for the deception.
As Games That Weren't and Sirén notes, the Finnish demo group Future Crew attempted to make a game based on the prank many years later, but information about this is scant. Though we were able to find this link to a SceneStream page that hints that the musician Jonne "Purple Motion" Valtonen composed a track for the end credits of the game in 1994. We reached out to various ex-Future Crew members to try and find out more and got a few responses back.
Jussi "Abyss" Laakkonen, former BBS coordinator and public relations for Future Crew, tells us:
"There were a number of ideas floating around like making a pinball game similar to Pinball Dreams, but to my recollection, nothing really moved forward beyond some exploration of ideas. Jonne (Purple Motion) and Peter (Skaven) were really fast in creating music, so I wouldn't be surprised if some of those ideas and explorations led to music or concept art."
Another former Future Crew member, programmer Mika "Trug" Tuomi, adds:
"This is the first time I've heard about it. The link points to the year 1994 and talks about doing Death Rally instead. If that is true, then that would be the early days of Remedy, not Future Crew as such. Us coders of Future Crew started working on 3D hardware with Bitboys and the others started Remedy, so maybe Illuminatus [was a Remedy project]."
Peter "Skaven" Hajba had perhaps the best memory of the game. He recalls:
"The 'Illuminatus' game project never progressed far beyond just some discussion about cool ideas ('generate everything procedurally from a seed number based on a word', just like No Man's Sky) and some text files fleshing out more ideas and specifics. Sami 'Psi' Tammilehto wrote some very bare bones basis for an engine ... but then it was all abandoned. It was more of an entertaining "what if" coffee table discussion than a real project."
We've also reached out to other former members like Tammilehto, Valtonen, and Samuli "Gore" Syvähuoko. Valtonen told us it was actually being developed for MikroBitti itself, who had commissioned the project. Tammilehto and Syvähuoko have yet to reply.
Future Crew isn't the only entity to try and make Illuminatus for real. In more recent memory, the Finnish computer magazine Skrolli released what it dubbed a playable demo of Illuminatus to tie in with its first international edition in 2016. This had nothing to do with the previous Future Crew attempt.
We recommend checking out the original story over at Games That Weren't if you want to know more. We'll also keep updating this article as we learn more.