Sometimes games hit snags in development, and sometimes those snags turn into full-on development hell. While it’s not uncommon for games in this predicament to crash and burn, some games make it out the other side. Once they emerge, they aren’t always better for the experience. These eight games survived the process, but not all of them turned out great.
Think we forgot one? Tell us what it is in the comments!
Team Fortress 2
After the success of the original Team Fortress mod, developers Robin Walker and John Cook were hired by Valve to create a standalone sequel, Team Fortress 2. They first ported the mod to the Goldsrc engine under the name Team Fortress Classic, and dove into development on the sequel, which was planned as an expansion for Half-Life. After a showing at E3 in 1999, TF2 looked to be a modern war game with bases, vehicles, and the like. When Valve announced the transition to the Source engine was happening, TF2 fell off the radar. Seven years and three to four complete redesigns later, E3 2006 brought the [em]TF2 we know today, with all its hats, boxes, and cartoony graphics. Since then, it’s been an enormous success.
Ultima IX: Ascension
Ultima IX was actually the tenth game in the series, and work on the first draft of the game began prior to the release of Ultima VIII. Due to the poor reception that game received, the team scrapped the Ultima IX plans and started over from scratch, including a whole new plot. Then Ultima Online came along, and EA pushed Origin (the developer) to devote all their time to finishing that game. Finally, after years of work, numerous shakeups of development personnel, Richard Garriot re-taking the reins as producer, and at least four complete revisions, EA told Origin to ship Ultima IX by Christmas 1999. The game was a buggy mess, with a lackluster story that left many series fans disappointed. The game sold so poorly that EA scrapped all future plans for the Ultima series, laying it to rest when Ultima Online shut down in 2004.
At E3 2005, Remedy Entertainment, which at the time was known for its bullet-time shooter Max Payne, announced something very different: a story-based horror game. Alan Wake captured everyone’s attention and then almost completely disappeared for four years. An occasional trailer or screenshot would pop up, and then in 2010, it suddenly burst back onto the scene. In the intervening years, the game had moved from an open-world sandbox style to a much more linear affair, although collectibles still remained to give hints of what had come before. Alan Wake’s time in development hell delayed its release, but the game turned out just fine.
Silicon Knights originally planned to release Too Human on the PlayStation in 1999 as the first part of trilogy. The game retold Norse mythology in a sci-fi setting, casting you as one of the cybernetically enhanced human avatars of the Norse gods. Development moved from PS1 to Gamecube, and the game was finally released on the Xbox 360. Development of the game was not only hamstrung by the constant platform switching, but Silicon Knights claimed that it had issues with Unreal Engine 3 stemming from lack of support from Epic. Silicon Knights sued Epic over these claims, with Epic countersuing for unpaid royalties. Epic won a $4.5 million judgment, and the judge also ordered that any unsold copies of the game be destroyed (along with unsold copies of four other UE3 engine games the developer had made). Ouch.
L.A. Noire had two elements that could be to blame for its long (seven years!) development time. First, the developers meticulously re-created Los Angeles circa 1947, so much so that you could easily visit familiar locations in the city and match them up with the building that still stand. Second, they used an all-new facial capture technology to power the game’s interrogation system, which was designed to allow you to spot when suspects were lying. The game released to critical acclaim, but the effects on the studio were fatal. They also went from a PS3 exclusive to a multiplatform focus, which also necessitated a change in publishers mid-development. Amid reports of abusive management practices and poor workplace condition, the Team Bondi studio closed down in 2011.
Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 first surfaced in late 1999, and was targeted to release on the PlayStation 2. The first version of the game was such a departure from the series that Shinji Mikami convinced the team to make a new game based off the new direction (eventually it became Devil May Cry), and went back to the drawing board for RE4. The second version was directed by Hiroshi Shibata and was announced in 2002 before being scrapped as well. Another version was put forward in 2004, but it was tossed before even being announced. Finally, in 2004, Mikami returned as director, and the decision was made to change the genre from horror to action. It was finally released in January of 2005 to critical acclaim.
Daikatana’s development lasted only three years, which doesn’t seem to fit the idea of development hell. But when you consider that development was planned to be complete in just seven months, you start to understand. John Romero founded Ion Storm specifically to make this game. Immediately, the game ran into problems, as development on the Quake engine left the game behind the times graphically. The team then moved the game to the Quake 2 engine, with this move numerous others and adding development time. Unfortunately, Valve launched the GoldSrc engine in 1998, which meant that when Daikatana finally hit stores in 2000, it looked 2 years old. The game was a critical and commercial disappointment, and Ion Storm closed up for good in 2004.
Duke Nukem Forever
Probably the most well-known game to get buried in development hell is Duke Nukem Forever. Originally announced by 3D Realms in 1997, the game had a number of release dates pushed back, before 2001’s statement that it would be released, “When it’s done.” Eight years passed with little mention of the game, and many assumed it had simply been canceled. A new teaser popped up in 2007, but 3D Realms was hit with downsizing in May of 2009, and the development team for the game was lost. This resulted in Take-Two Interactive filing a lawsuit over the failure to finish development. In September 2010, it was announced that Gearbox Software would be developing the title, and the game finally released on June 2, 2011. Unfortunately, it was panned by critics and gamers alike for being a dated, disappointing game.