5 Times Development Hell ruined promising games
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
The development cycle of a video game normally progresses as follows; start developing the game, announce the game to the industry, build hype for the game, finish developing the game, release game, profit (hopefully). Unfortunately, sometimes developers get stuck working on a game for an especially long time. This is what’s known as Development Hell and it can turn a once-promising game into a massive disappointment. Here are five examples of some games that Development Hell has ruined.
1. Too Human (2008 Xbox 360)
The best way to sum up this game’s legacy is this; the developer of this game Silicon Knights is now bankrupt and copies of the game are no longer in circulation.
Too Human was intended to be the first of a Norse-themed RPG trilogy to be released on the PlayStation back in 1999. 10 years later and the game was still in development during which the game jumped across to the Nintendo GameCube in 2000 before being shelled out to Microsoft in 2005 to become an Xbox 360 exclusive.
The plot sets the players as Baldur in a sci-fi future retelling of Norse mythology that portrays the Norse gods as protectors of mankind from the armies of the trickster Loki. This being the future means everyone’s cybernetically enhanced except for Baldur who is “too human”. That last sentence sets the bar for the game’s writing slightly above Saturday morning cartoons - which doesn’t mean the story is bad - just mediocre. Aside from this, the game was criticised for poor framerate, average level design, loooong loading times, and a cliffhanger ending just to tempt fate.
None of this is rare for a game that’s been spread across 10 years and three different game consoles of varying technological levels. Indeed, if that was the end of the story Too Human would be struck from the annals of history, leaving as much impact as a wet fart in a wind tunnel. No, this game is infamous for the drama that unfolded behind the curtain. In 2007, Silicon Knights sued Epic Games over licensing of their Unreal Engine 3 (among other things).
They countersued Silicon Knights for using an unlicensed (read: stolen) version of the engine. The lawsuit was settled in 2012 with Silicon Knights having to pay Epic $4.45 million and destroy all copies of their games that used the infringing engine. Silicon Knights limped along for a couple of years before officially filing for bankruptcy in 2014, leaving any plans for a trilogy dust in the wind.
2. Crackdown 3 (2019 Windows & Xbox One)
Nine years after the release of Crackdown 2 in 2010 and after multiple delays, Crackdown 3 shipped to hearty choruses of “meh”. The game follows on 10 years after the events of Crackdown 2 as a massive terrorist attack cuts off power to the entire world. The player characters are called back into the field to stop the terrorists any way they can. Eventually, the good guys prevail because this game sticks to conventions religiously. The general consensus among critics is that it was good to see the core features from the previous game, but the overall design of the game was dated and just more of the same. In response to the criticism, nine years of development hell will do that to games. Developer Sumo Digital must have been taking some long lunches if it’s taken nine years to copy and paste exactly the same game with less features than what they advertised.
The promise year after year at press and industry events from Microsoft was that Crackdown 3 would have fully destructible environments but after some staff changes and more long lunches, it was announced that the destruction would be scaled down to only one multiplayer game mode. In the end, Microsoft just took too long to deliver a subpar early 2000’s game about twelve years too late.
The only highlight would have to be Terry Crew’s voice work in the game. Unfortunately, he must have been charging per syllable because his character is written out halfway through the game.
At time of writing, the game is $40.00 AUD on the Microsoft Store and has already been forgotten by the majority of the gaming community.
3. Daikatana (2000 Windows & Nintendo 64)
Credit: Escapist Magazine
The game best known for the infamous tagline “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch” and a contentious development cycle that was stretched over five years, Daikatana is currently available for Steam. If the description had been honest it would have read “everyone, come and check out the shitshow”.
The game was originally planned by John Romero after departing game developer id software under the company Ion Storm. Daikatana was planned to be an expansive game covering multiple time periods with period-specific weapons for each section. The entire aim of Ion Storm was to foster creative sparks for artists, letting them cater games to their creative tastes without excessive publisher interference. After revealing the game's concept in 1997, Romero announced that the game would be completed in seven months. id Software released Quake II soon after which was the cutting edge of tech at the time. Romero decided this was a must-have for Daikatana and implemented the new game engine in his development, causing further delays.
Development time grew longer and longer on the game and more and more negative press began mounting at Ion Storm’s door leading to mass staff exoduses from the company (either to another branch of the company or to different companies all together). The terrible buggy mess that players got in 2000 capped off this whole debacle as a lesson on hubris. John Romero was the golden boy, too big to fail after Doom and Quake released. This seems to have led Romero to believe he wouldn’t fail even as hostility brewed from all around him. The sad thing is that Ion Storm also developed Deus Ex - from the part of the company more focused on actually developing games rather than promoting a rock star-type of lifestyle.
The thing is, all of this negative publicity could have been silenced and led to Romero spearheading a bold new auteur-driven direction for the gaming industry. It all hinged on Daikatana not being a giant turd…
Better luck next time universe!
4. Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013 Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
A tragic lesson in managing expectations and not lying about a game’s graphical performance and technical capabilities, Aliens: Colonial Marines is the infamous game that led to the developer Gearbox and publisher Sega facing a lawsuit for false advertising.
Once the game was released in 2013 with the game being significantly downgraded from tech demos shown at previous years’ E3 conventions (which were stated as “Actual Gameplay”) people started digging and the dirty laundry came to light.
Sega brought a lawsuit to Gearbox studios over claims that the developer had been funneling funds they received from Sega from Aliens to their then in-development game Borderlands 2 as well as outsourcing the actual development of the game. Gearbox was dropped from the case and CEO Randy Pitchford refuted all the claims and took a swipe at fans and journalists over videos covering the lawsuit.
The game that released was a buggy unpolished mess that was criticised for, among other things, uninspiring gameplay, low-quality graphics, superficial thrills, and multiple technical issues including lacklustre AI (that fans fixed with a tweak to one line of code years later).
With the information we have now, it’s clear that Gearbox didn’t put their full effort into the game (because they outsourced the work) and tried to hoodwink players by misrepresenting their game’s quality in all the pre-release marketing. It taught the industry and gamers an incredibly valuable lesson… don’t ever trust pre-release marketing.
5. Duke Nukem Forever (2011 Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Okay, let’s go on a journey… it’s 1997 and Duke Nukem 3D has released a year earlier to critical praise building on previous FPS games like Doom and Wolfenstein and adding innovative features never seen before in other games.
How do you capitalise on this success? Develop a sequel of course!
So then developer 3D Realms started the development of Duke Nukem Forever in 1997. It wouldn’t be until 2011 that the game was released in the shocking state it was. 3D Realms were developing the game until 2009 when, underfunded and laying off staff in their masses, they were served a lawsuit by publisher Take Two Interactive for failing to finish developing the game. Gearbox Studios was then brought in to finish the game.
A development cycle of 14 years should mean the game is the second coming of Christ, right?
Well, the game was criticised by pretty much everyone for being terrible. Simple basic FPS gameplay that let you just turn your brain off and mindlessly gun down hordes of enemies which had already been done better by games like Painkiller released ten years earlier. The plot’s not really worth mentioning as like FPS games in the 90’s there are enemies that you need to kill and you’ve got a multitude of weapons to make sure there are no enemies left once you’re done.
The most lambasted part of the game was the character of Duke himself. He was a symbol of FPS gaming in the late 90's because he was more than a gun with a camera floating above it. However, in 14 years you think someone on either of the development teams would have thought of trying to update or bring some nuance to the character. Unfortunately, Duke is picked straight from previous games and plopped straight into 2011. Duke seems to have aged because now he can only carry two guns at a time compared to the variable cornucopia he could in the 90’s. This doesn’t seem to register with any of the developers as they demonstrate clear distaste for the then-modern FPS shooters (Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc.) in such a hypocritical fashion.
Really, the reason this game is such low quality after 14 years in the making is just that. It took 14 years to make. 14 years of innovation and technological advancements that the developers were trying to implement while still trying to make a Duke Nukem game. You could cut this game in half and count the different titles it’s aping like rings on a tree. Trying to do that just ends with the game having an identity crisis which is just what we got.
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