Video game launches are mini-Christmases: small boxes containing whole new worlds of imaginary joy, as long as you ignore how they're motivated by money and made possible by people working 18-hour days. But sometimes the publishers just put a lump of coal in a sock and use it to mug you. Because with AAA development taking longer than ever, they're just desperate for the money. Which is why some game launches were worse product reveals than getting up early x-mas morning to find "Santa" in bed with mom.
The original SimCity spawned an entire genre instead of mere sequels. If we'd applied as much electricity and computing power to real city design then our postcodes would now include the closest star system and number of local sexy alien species who want to know more of this hu-man thing called "bang-ing." The only way the series could be stopped is if the makers specifically tasked a global computer network with destroying it. Which is essentially what EA did when it came time to release the long-awaited series reboot.
SimCity simulating EA simulating SimCity.
EA insisted an always-on Internet connection was a sensible security precaution. For a single-player game. The same way it's important to put condoms on your fingers before masturbating. They claimed that the connection was necessary for the game's cloud computation, despite people playing it without. It would have been more convincing if they'd said the servers were their girlfriend who went to a different school. In Atlantis. Which would still have been less of a city-related disaster.
EA required everyone who bought SimCity to connect to official EA servers and were stunned when everyone buying SimCity tried to connect to official EA servers. Those servers reacted like Skynet: destroying every fictional city and telling all the humans to go fuck themselves. The launch was a worse disaster for simulated cities than digitizing Godzilla. Millions of players discovered they'd spent $60 for a four-gigabyte text file saying "Error 37."
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"I have to kill 0.5606 of a Jedi?"
The only people not suffering problems were those hacking or pirating, meaning the security system had a negative 100 percent effectiveness rate. More than 100, in fact, as many players who'd legally paid for it went on to learn about hacking and modding just so they could play it too. Shortly afterward EA announced an exciting new "offline play" feature, aka that thing they'd claimed was completely impossible, aka "Yes, we've been calling every gamer an idiot for years; thanks for still falling for preorders."
#5. Battlecruiser 3000AD
Before Daikatana, before Duke Nukem Forever, the black hole of hype being piled up until it collapsed into suck was Battlecruiser 3000AD. A combination of desperately desirable design with an utterly unfinished game, which went together like shit and an unfinished fan -- a stinking, crap-flinging disaster that achieved nothing. Battlecruiser 3000AD promised an open sandbox universe with a massive starship, planetary adventures, crew management, and spaceship combat, all powered by neural net artificial intelligence. In 1996. It might as well have been promising a fully functional holodeck programmed with Asari and Krogans: Most of the parts required didn't even fictionally exist yet.
This screen usually worked. After that you were on your own.
Battlecruiser 3000AD went through four publishers before being released. When a game uses up more lives than the original Super Mario before anyone can even play it, it might be bad at gaming. Publisher Take-Two released the game against the wishes of visionary lead Derek Smart, because they just wanted some of their money back, please, but Smart's "vision" seemed to be "keep paying me to think of new things to put in this game instead of finishing any of the old ones." After seven years of overhyped development, it's possible he was stalling until starships actually happened so he could then claim patent infringement, confiscate one, and escape from the now utterly impossible expectations.
"Throw another hundred million on the fire; it's 2025 and we promised them
Star Citizen this year!"
Even accounting for how this was the first game rendered impossible by Moore's Law, it was an unprecedented disaster. It didn't live up to expectations in the same way a full condom doesn't graduate from college: It didn't even fail; it was just a bunch of fun ideas that didn't go anywhere because everyone involved was more interested in having fun than creating anything.
At launch, the game crashed more often than noob gamers at the controls of a real spaceship. Whole swathes of systems simply didn't work or phased through each other, which is only good science-fiction if you're writing Next Generation episodes. The launch resulted in legal action between Smart and Take-Two over breach of contract. That's as bad as a launch can go! Instead of firing something into the future, the resulting explosion didn't just destroy the project but set fire to the livelihoods of and relations between all the people who'd built it.
#4. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5
"Day one" patches prove that game discs are just a cunning plan to kill trees by wrapping them around extremely slow shurikens. Every game you buy puts you in your place by telling you to sit quietly while it calls its boss at work to finish the important things. Which is weird, because that's how many of us got into playing games in the first place.
Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/G
"It's-a me, Babysitter!"
While most games use these patches to dot the i's and cross the t's, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 stumbled up with a half-pipe-induced head wound asking to be taught the alphabet. And its first question was apparently, "How do you spell PS4?" The day one update was 7.7 gigabytes. The entire install from the game disc was only 4.6 GB. They couldn't have more clearly announced the game wasn't finished if they'd called it Tony Haw.
Tony Hawks and skateboard ramps are the only two objects in these games,
and they still couldn't sort the collision detection.
It would have been more dignified if they'd been a schoolchild and announced that the tiger had eaten their code. Except that kid would still be a better game developer than Activision, because at least the kid had a good idea, did something slightly different and better than before, and somewhere in the world there does exist a tiger that works.
Activision insist the full game was on the disc, but they also insist that they were selling players a functioning skateboarding game for $60, and that clearly wasn't true. The game was a worse application of physics than shoving Stephen Hawking into a half-pipe. Some players found it crashing so hard they had to log out and create entirely new Xbox accounts. That's failing on more levels than the game software actually has, reaching out to destroy the things supporting it. If it failed any harder, it would erase your memory of even playing it. Which at that point wouldn't be a bug but a feature.