Video games are the product of hundreds of people working together to achieve a single creative goal. But sometimes those people misunderstand and/or actively hate each other. Whether it's miscommunication, a lack of resources, or sheer incompetence, the development process of some games is less reminiscent of a carefully coordinated project staffed by a group of talented professionals and more akin to a high school group project 15 minutes before presentation time.
Because you're a Cracked reader, we know you have the filmography of Arnold Schwarzenegger tattooed on your back, so you're well aware that his career was equal parts brutal action flicks and family-friendly comedies. He decided to focus on his tender side shortly after the release of Last Action Hero, and that's how a game based on a movie that gleefully celebrated action cliche ended up being about as exciting as an episode of This American Life playing in a narcolepsy ward.
At least we'll always have the slavishly accurate pinball machine.
According to a developer, the game's weapons were going to be "hugely extravagant" -- rocket launchers, miniguns, Schwarzenegger's biceps -- when word came from Schwarzenegger's lawyers that they didn't want him wielding any firearms or even being too muscular. The lawyers essentially contacted the developers and said: "You know that furious pile of beef, famous for exploding people's skulls? Yeah, could you cut about 1,000 percent of his muscle mass and replace the skull explosions with, say, gentle tickling?"
So while the movie is an over-the-top spoof of the action genre that features dozens of dudes getting shot, impaled, or exploded, then shot, impaled, and exploded, the game features an average-sized guy lackadaisically punching his way to tepid victory.
Is that Full House-era Bob Saget?
And we're lucky we even got that: it reportedly took "a long time" for the developers to determine if it was OK for Schwarzenegger to even throw a punch, which makes us wonder if there's a beta version where he defeats his enemies by talking through their differences and turning them into friends.
The energy bar is how much strength you have left to hug it out.
X-Men: Destiny had the potential to be a great game, but that wasn't its ... fate. Developer Silicon Knights had the critically acclaimed Eternal Darkness on their resume, a lot of talented employees, and a big financial investment behind them. They also had Denis Dyack, who led his team with all the skill and nuance of a drunken child.
Peter Redman/National Post
"You ... you hold it by the handle, asshole."
Dyack started off by moving nearly half of his employees away from the game they were actually contracted for and onto a pet project. Then he mostly just ignored Destiny in favor of that pet project, only occasionally chiming in to rant about petty garbage like the colors of trucks in the background. Some employees left the company, and those that remained had no idea what the hell they were supposed to be doing. When the publisher, Activision, began pressuring Dyack to get his shit together, he responded by moving even more staff off the project in the hopes that making less progress would allow them to ask for an extension. Go ahead and try that at your own job, folks. Start slacking off in the break room and try to use that as justification for more time. We'll buy you a pillow and set it on the sidewalk, to cushion your fall when they hurl you out on your ass.
To be fair, Dyack himself put in a lot of hard work.
Activision won this ridiculous game of chicken by releasing a trailer with Silicon Knights' logo (and thus reputation) on it, so Dyack heroically instituted mandatory 60-hour work weeks. Somehow they managed to shit out something that vaguely resembled an X-Men game, featuring everyone's favorite mutants like, uh, Soccer Hooli-Man.
His mutation is the ability to chug a 12-pack of Milwaukee's Best and not feel shame.
And Schoolgirl Strider here:
"I will strike terror into the hearts of C-list villains and bus perverts."
There was almost no marketing. Reviewers savaged the game. It sold abysmally. The developers had to cease production, destroy all unsold copies, and delete the code because they lost a lawsuit involving their use of the game engine. X-Men: Destiny failed so hard the world actively tried to erase it from existence. But it was all worth it when that special project Dyack diverted resources to, a demo of Eternal Darkness 2, turned two hard years of work into "one two-level church interior." The first Eternal Darkness was amazing, so at least after the Destiny debacle they were finally free from distractions, allowing Dyack and his team to buckle down and, oh, they went out of business. Never mind, then.
Halo was one of the greatest alien hallway massacre simulators of all time, so Microsoft naturally demanded a bigger, better, more hallway-packed sequel. But there was a catch -- it absolutely, positively, no-excuses-short-of-an-actual-war-with-space-aliens had to be ready for Christmas 2004. The developer, Bungie, could have just tossed in a few new enemies, guns, and vehicles before calling it a day and retiring to the lounge to do coke with Ubisoft. But, drunk on their own success, they started throwing around terms like "sprawling open-ended levels" and "hundreds of enemies on-screen at once." But they might as well have said, "Your Xbox will sprout wings and fly you to the moon," because the technology available to them was equally incapable of both.
On the plus side, their "introduce a new character no one gives a shit about" technology was groundbreaking.
Now, it's one thing to throw wild ideas around internally -- that's how the creative process works. Master Chief was probably an 8-foot-tall Latina who spin-kicked her enemies to death at one point. But Bungie looked at their titanic ambitions, said: "This seems doable," and further taunted hubris by making a video to show off their wild dreams to the public.
This is the beautiful, sprawling city you approach in the video ...
It looks laughably dated now, but at the time, the demo was ground-breaking. It was beautiful, action-packed, looked like a ton of fun, and had almost no resemblance to the final product. If the video was the delicious hamburgers McDonald's shows you in their ads, the game was the limp, gray mound of sadness they actually serve you.
... and this is the barren industrial blob you approach in the game.
Nobody's criticizing Bungie for dreaming too big -- as gamers, we'd much rather have somebody aspire and fail than never aspire at all and just pump out the same crap every year with slightly different textures. But Bungie knew they couldn't deliver: they built an entirely separate graphics engine to run the demo, because there was no way their vision for Halo 2 could function on an Xbox. They built a new type of jet engine to show the public, then sold them a Honda Civic with a bigger exhaust and flames painted on the side.
"Except for this very claim! Paradox, suckers!"
The 18 months between the demo and the release date was mostly spent slashing feature after feature while they desperately tried to put a functional game together. Twenty-five story missions became 10, oodles of multiplayer features became a handful -- Bungie had a whiteboard detailing everything that was cut, and they ran out of room on the board.
We could've had gator dobermans! We're not entirely sure we want gator dobermans, but we could've had them!
With time running short, Bungie still somehow managed to cobble together a universally acclaimed game. That's just how damn good they are. The only major criticism of the game was its abrupt ending, which was like A New Hope cutting to black right as the rebels approached the Death Star. The whole game felt like a safe sequel -- Halo but bigger -- which is exactly what they tried so hard to avoid in the first place. So the lesson here, obviously, is "never try."
Trendy Entertainment was responsible for the modest indie hit Dungeon Defenders, possibly named because president Jeremy Stieglitz apparently runs some sort of hellish gulag for his own employees. In addition to requiring 10- to 12-hour workdays, six or seven days a week -- one employee didn't ask for time off to attend a cousin's funeral because they were so afraid of getting fired for it -- Stieglitz made most of his business decisions seemingly based on consultations with his No Girls Allowed Club. It's hardly surprising that his company tended to hire men instead of women, or that they paid men more than women with similar if not superior experience -- but even when women were hired, according to his employees, Stieglitz treated their presence like a nervous nerd at a junior high school dance. He wouldn't look at women when talking to them, and he would often stand outside the room and shout instructions as though a cootie quarantine were in effect.
Florida Technology Journal
"Now, that's an exagger- wait, is that a woman behind the camera? *hiss*"
Stieglitz would also go into uncomfortable detail about how he wanted to sex up a character in the sequel, using terms like "hip-leg factor" and "thong-ness" that are rarely seen outside of a Sisqo song or a sex offender's criminal trial. "It'd also be nice if the ass was attractive," Stieglitz wrote of an underage android character. Keep in mind this was the art style he wanted sexualized:
You could add up all their ages and it'd still be illegal in most states.
Like most bosses, Stieglitz seemed to struggle with the concept of satire. An artist on the project made a joke piece of ridiculously oversexed concept art. Stieglitz saw it and promptly released it as marketing material, presumably while pumping his ... fist.
Nothing gets a gamer going like sexy-elf pooping face.
When information about these working conditions was released, Stieglitz was forced to "change roles in a significant way." He stepped down from supervising the staff of Dungeon Defenders II, presumably to focus on his pet project instead -- Sexy Child-like Android Offenders.
Rhode Island was hit hard by the 2008 recession, and in response they established a fund to encourage investment. The creators intended it to be used to make sensible decisions, such as buying new factory equipment and creating educational incentives. Instead, they did the opposite of both of those things and issued $75 million in bonds to a former Red Sox pitcher so he could build an elaborate fantasy world.
And maybe design a video game or two.
When former star athlete Curt Schilling and Rhode Island's leadership came up with the idea of moving his fledgling game studio (which had yet to produce a game) to the state, they told him it sounded like an outstanding idea with absolutely no downsides whatsoever, because he threw balls really good, you guys. The state's own financial advisers warned that for Schilling's company to be economically viable it would need to release a blockbuster every two years -- a ludicrously optimistic goal even for established companies. Those negative Nancys clearly just didn't recognize the connection between having a lifetime ERA of 3.46 and the ability to manage millions of taxpayer dollars responsibly.
The company, 38 Studios, seemed like it was doing everything right. They gave their staff strong salaries and excellent medical benefits. Acclaimed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore was brought in to craft backstory that sprawled over 10,000 years, and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane was brought in to draw the art. That all sounds pretty great -- supposing that money was no issue. But sometimes, even if you close your eyes, plug your ears, and yell at the top of your lungs to drown out the sound of your wallet screaming, money is still a big damn issue.
Let's play a fun game called Guess Which One Is Todd McFarlane.
38 Studios was spending millions a month with the ultimate goal of developing the next World of Warcraft. But they knew there would have to be some revenue while their mega-game was being built, so they released Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to reap some quick funds. It's actually a pretty good game. By most standards, a debut title with solid reviews and 1.5 million in sales would be a major success story for a new game company. But it was just a drop in the massive bucket that 38 Studios was vomiting money into. Schilling asked for millions more in additional tax benefits; the new governor responded by calling 38 Studios the worst investment Rhode Island had ever made.
"Aw, come on, Rhode Island used to be a slave state."
Slowly, the Rhode Island government realized that they had been seduced by whimsical tales of the Fae Folk. Then they came to the even starker realization that you can't take out a mortgage on a really bitchin' drawing of a dragon. 38 Studios went out of business with $150 million in debt, Rhode Island got only $4.4 million back from its investment, Schilling lost his personal fortune, his employees found themselves out on their asses, and McFarlane disappeared in a cloud of sulfurous smoke, until such time as another mortal is foolish enough to strike a bargain with him.
Steve Athens creates TV Tropes pages obsessively to put decades of useless knowledge to use. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gavin discovered the Wikipedia page for Maine mentions lobsters six times and Stephen King nine times. He has a Twitter: @gavinjamieson. Ian Ury is Pip Ury's twin brother and likes to write for Cracked and stuff. If you wanna comment, drop him an email at IanMartinUry@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
For more travesties of gaming, check out The 6 Most Retarded Gaming Consoles Ever Released and The 5 Worst Marketing Failures in the History of Video Games.
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