Ah, “development hell” is such a pleasant-sounding phrase, isn’t it? In my mind’s eye, I imagine some corporate devil ruling over the poor decrepit developers through fear and endless bloody torture. Oh wait, I think I just described EA. Oops. Anyway, development hell is something that is quite common in media since so many different things can go wrong during production that can massively hold back a project. A lot of it is boring bureaucracy such as the IPs getting bounced around different developers, publishers going bankrupt or sometimes the game’s first iterations are just too much of a disaster.
In gaming’s history, we’ve had some pretty high profile titles that got stuck in this hellish state and while some of them did get released, they were often not worth the colossal wait time. So let’s go back a bit and look at some of these games that were stuck in development hades, but did manage to get their time in the sun for better or worse.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
- Announced: 2001
- Released: 2013
Back in 2001, when I was but eight years old, Aliens: Colonial Marines was a game that was supposed to be developed by Check Six Games and would be this awesome Aliens themed shooter. Unfortunately, the project got the axe and the IP was sold off to SEGA who put Gearbox Software up to the task of developing it. This happened in 2006 and through mismanagement or just plain stupidity, everything just went horribly wrong. The game released in 2013 and it was just an insulting attempt that was buggy, unfun, ugly and was also fraudulent.
The game’s demos made it look quite awesome and something that might be worthy of the franchise, but when the game finally released, it was like if your hot blonde Tinder date turned out to be a drunk giraffe. The game reviewed terribly and faded into relative obscurity and its only legacy is the bad taste it left in people’s mouths. Unfortunately, this is also not the only time Gearbox Software is on this list. I think you know where I’m going.
Duke Nukem Forever
- Announced: 1997
- Released: 2011
Duke Nukem Forever was a myth to me when I grew up. I’ve always heard whispers of this game and it was held with the same regard as Half-Life 3. The reason why the game took so garishly long to develop comes down to 3D Realms taking their sweet time with it, changing engines midway through and then ultimately going bankrupt, scrapping the game entirely. The rights to the franchise were then obviously sold off and our old friend Gearbox Software picked it up. If Gearbox didn’t make Borderlands, I’m sure they’d be burned to the ground by now.
The game had a measly 2 years of development and the end result was one big, giant pile of offensive bulltwaddle. Horrible gameplay, “jokes” that were better served as torture devices and walls made out of breasts that you could slap. It was just a giant mess and a complete mockery of the Duke Nukem character. I played and finished this game and it’s probably in my top 10 biggest regrets of my life which is quite the accomplishment because I have a lot of those.
Final Fantasy XV
- Announced: 2006
- Released: 2016
Finally, something positive and wasn’t made by Gearbox. Final Fantasy XV originally started its life as Final Fantasy Versus XIII which was an offshoot of their main numbered franchise. We got some flashy trailers in 2006, but then it was just crickets for the longest time. The game then took an entire life of its own and deviated from the FFXIII family to become its own adventure and would be retitled to Final Fantasy XV.
The end result was quite the spectacle in 2017 and it even nabbed my Game of the Year nomination and even won our site’s award. It was something distinctly different from other Final Fantasy titles and the whole road trip with the boys idea was quite beautifully handled. There were some holes in the game where some content was simply missing or not really fleshed out enough, but Square Enix really hammered away at its post-launch support. If you get the complete edition of Final Fantasy XV, you’ll have quite the nice road trip ahead of you. Yay, a happy ending.
The Last Guardian
- Announced: 2007
- Released: 2016
This was another mythical game to me, but this time I had some personal stakes in it. Team Ico captured my heart and hugged it tightly with Shadow of the Colossus which I credit for turning me into a massive gaming snob that would scoff at plebian shooting games in favour of true art. When I heard of their next game, The Last Guardian, my ears instantly perked up. A game with a little boy and a giant bird-dog creature? If there’s a recipe for tears, this is about as close as we’d get.
However, creative differences and internal kerfuffles made this game stay in development long enough that it skipped over an entire generation of consoles. Originally the game was supposed to launch on PS3, but it was then planned for the PS4. Every E3, we would have a running joke that they would finally reveal The Last Guardian and it was a joke because nobody really expected it to happen. Lo and behold in 2015 on Sony’s E3 stage, it became a joke no longer.
The result was pretty much exactly as you expected it to be. Very emotional, very surreal and something quite unlike everything else. It was sometimes a mission to get your big bird dog to obey and be a good boy, but the emotional connection you build with the big doofus was enough to make the black tar where my heart is supposed to be feel a little bit warmer.
Resident Evil 4
- Announced: 1999
- Released: 2005
Written by Dawid since he knew a lot more than I did:
Oh boy, where to start? Resident Evil 4 is proof that not all development hell projects turn into disasters. In fact, we got two great games out of it. The first version of Resident Evil 4 started way back in 1999 with Hideki Kamiya at the helm, who directed Resident Evil 2 before that. He wanted a ‘cool’ game and that “Resident Evil 4” turned into what you now know as Devil May Cry. Shinji Mikami believed that it went too far off the path of the Resi recipe, but liked what Kamiya had created.
We then got what is known as the ‘fog version’ that got cancelled 40% into development, followed by the ‘hook man version’ (see the footage below) and lastly the ‘hallucination version’ that got scrapped quite early into development. What ultimately happened is that Shinji Mikami decided that he should direct the game again and created the Resident Evil 4 game we all love today. It launched in 2005 after six years of development and four iterations, before they decided on the final version.
This is an abbreviated version of the whole tale, but if you want to find out some more, you can head over here.
Development hell can be a scary place and a lot of games often don’t come out of there alive. It’s the natural evolution of entertainment, sometimes something just doesn’t work out and it’s not meant to be. The games on this list managed to overcome it and it teaches us that you should never just give up and call it a day when things get tough. Well, maybe if you’re Gearbox, but let’s not start up that rant again.