6 Video Games That Failed Before You Pressed Start
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."
"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."
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.
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.
"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.
Final Fantasy XIV
Making a joke about the 14th Final Fantasy not being a final version is too broken and lazy to even write in words. Square Enix wrote it in code and sold it to millions. Final Fantasy players were more disappointed with the game than a Final Fantasy character trying to use real hair gel.
"My hair also receives short-wave radio and can open any kind of bottle."
The game was an accidental parody of its own genre. Every system was so incomplete, broken, or boring that the only reason to keep playing was to keep increasing your level. Sitting at a calculator typing "+1" would have provided exactly the same gameplay experience with far fewer crashes. Within three months, the game's producer and director had been publicly booted from the project, with producer Hiromichi Tanaka claiming full public responsibility for the failure. The only reason they didn't livestream themselves committing seppuku is that it's impossible to reverse a Final Fantasy sword without at least three cargo cranes and warning nearby aircraft.
Square Enix tried to fix the game for two full years. They extended the trial period twice, begging people to play for free. Entire consoles were abandoned, because releasing new versions of the game would be like releasing fresh shits in the dock of your public obscenity trial. The only reason they didn't abandon it entirely was that the game had done potentially terminal damage to the brand. This launch achieved what over a dozen dragons and angry gods couldn't, threatening to make this the actual Final Fantasy. Square Enix finally surrendered with a final update that crashed the moon into the virtual world, releasing the Primal Dragon Bahamut, thereby triggering the Seventh Umbral Calamity.
"OK, this might not be a good thing."
Which was pretty much what was happening to their reputation. They went back to start making the game all over again with an entirely new team and the president of Square Enix pledging to take personal responsibility. Finally, in August 2013, they released Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, aka FF14: We're Really Really Really Sorry. The game's plot was almost a direct representation of the brand, with players working to rebuild the world after the utter devastation wrought by the previous title.
In the most tragic launch disaster in gaming history, Deep Silver got the badly broken and incomplete console conversion experience despite having actually finished the game. In what we can only hope was a comical farce routine involving a developer getting oral sex to celebrate the release and so clicking the wrong file -- so that at least one person was enjoying the otherwise utterly pointless fuck-up that released incomplete design material -- they accidentally released an incomplete developer build instead of the finished game. It's accidentally sending a Twitter draft scaled up to millions of characters and dollars.
The incomplete developer version included noclip, which lets you fly through obstacles and quickly see the entire map. So either it was a mistake or the only zombie game where the hero is different because they're also dead but became a ghost. Other chunks of the all-too-accessible PC code revealed snippets like "< X b o x L i v e S u b m i s s i o n P r o j e c t V e r s i o n >" -- which, for those who don't speak computer, translates to "Let's just give those PC nerds a quick copy of the console stuff. They love that."
A PC gamer calmly discussing the merits of consoles.
Even though it's the most easily fixed of errors, and they did fix it, it's still one of the worst for the sheer level of damage for such a simple mis-click. They sent everyone who ever liked them their private porn folder instead of the completed project: No matter how quickly you correct the error, all the documented evidence of how you like to screw things is out there forever.
Batman: Arkham Knight
The PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight was the worst Batman-related entertainment disaster since the Waynes went to see The Mask Of Zorro. And at least the latter ended with a functional Batman. The game was a quick conversion of the code from the consoles, and it would have been a better adaptation if they'd snapped shards off the Xbox disc until it was shaped like a Batarang and then thrown it through the PC's fan vents. Because that Bataranged computer could at least be fixed.
"This Batcomputer projection shows I could reduce crime 10 times more effectively
by funding after-school programs."
Thousands upon thousands of negative reviews forced Warner Bros. to remove it from sale almost immediately. The game surrendered in the face of hordes of the angry and immediately stopped making money. That's the opposite of being Batman on every conceivable level. These are the people who released and still sell Batman & Robin, with absolutely no shame, and even they realized they'd finally gone too far.
Warner Bros. offered patches. They offered refunds. They recalled physical versions from the stores as if they were trying to remove the evidence of the world's most obviously themed Bat-crime. Online retailers refused to sell it. Online retailers sell horse-porn for Bitcoins, but they refuse to deal with rubbish like this. Warner Bros. publicly announced that they were "restarting" selling the game a full four months after trying it the first time. You'd think a full season of failure would be the most embarrassing thing possible. We'd thought Assassin's Creed Unity was the worst game launch of all time.
Everybody involved in this would be and always will be wrong.
The game was (and is) still broken. It looks like it will always be broken, because Warner Bros. have broken down completely and offered full refunds for anyone who's owned the game for any length of time, no matter how long they've played it. But this looks less like an apology and more like cutting their losses. It feels like an admission the game has moved past unsatisfying sales and into outright liability. They say they'll keep working to fix it, but they couldn't even finish it when they were selling it for millions of dollars. How much work will they put in for zero? This refund feels like a tacit admission that the game as launched was a scam, like they wanted to see if they could get away with making money from it, and now that they've been caught they just want to move on. Faced with a huge mob of angry victims, they just dropped the money and ran. An event that, ironically, would have made Batman unnecessary in the first place.
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