A lot can happen during game development. Certain gameplay features may turn out duller than expected. Story beats may not work as the developers envisioned. New ideas may come about that force devs to completely rethink their games. Whatever the reason for the changes, there are many occasions where games start out as one thing, and by the end of the development are something completely different.
Some of the biggest games in history have undergone rather dramatic transformations to the point that they would have been unrecognizable to fans had the devs stuck to their original visions. Here are the 13 most notable examples of games that started out completely different.
The underwater city of Rapture is such an iconic setting that it’s hard to imagine BioShock being set anywhere else. However, original plans for the game had it set on a space station infested with mutated monsters, with players sent to rescue someone from a cult.
Ultimately, plans for the space station setting were scrapped, and the game underwent a major overhaul. The second version of BioShock was also quite different from the finished product in terms of story and setting, as it was set on a tropical island where a secret Nazi laboratory had been discovered that time around. Eventually, the development team at Irrational Games moved away from these ideas as well, settling on the concept that would become BioShock.
Borderlands is known for its cel-shaded art style and quirky sense of humor, but if plans didn’t change during development, it could have been a much different game. When Borderlands was first announced, it sported a darker tone and realistic graphics to match.
While it’s hard to say how this version of Borderlands would have fared, the released game’s uniqueness certainly helped it stand apart in the sea of drab shooters that dominated last generation. So, one has to imagine it may not have drawn quite the same amount of attention as it did if it retained the style the developers originally had in mind.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Like Borderlands, Conker’s Bad Fur Day went through some major revisions that made it a much more unique and arguably more interesting game. Rare’s original vision for it was that of a typical, kid-friendly 3D platformer in the vein of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, called Conker’s Quest and later Twelve Tales: Conker 64. These early versions of the game even had Conker’s girlfriend Berri as a playable character in stages that featured strategy gameplay, as well as split-screen co-op for the story.
With no shortage of kid-friendly platformers on the market, Rare needed an angle for its game to stand out. It eventually decided to rework Twelve Tales: Conker 64 into an adult-oriented game with dark comedy, foul language, blood, gore, drugs, booze, and sexual innuendos galore.
As one of the most successful new IPs in history, it’s safe to say that Bungie did a lot of things right with Destiny. However, one has to wonder if Destiny would have reached the levels of popularity that it did had the former Halo studio gone with its original vision.
Initially, Destiny was going to play similarly to Blizzard’s cancelled Titan MMO, which was reportedly a class-based shooter that allowed players to engage in firefights or hold non-violent professions in-game.
Donkey Kong is one of the most important video games of all time, introducing some of the industry’s most popular characters, and helping Nintendo become an even bigger player in the North American video game market. Considering this, it’s crazy to think that it all could have ended much differently, with Shigeru Miyamoto working on a licensed Popeye game instead of creating original characters.
The Big N was unable to secure the necessary licensing rights for Popeye in time, so Miyamoto set to work on a game that mirrored the Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto dynamic from the comic strips. Miyamoto ultimately ended up replacing them with Mario, Pauline, and Donkey Kong, respectively.
Before Doom was about slaughtering demons from Hell, it was actually a licensed game based on the Aliens franchise. id Software was in talks with 20th Century Fox to produce the title, but negotiations fell through as the development team wanted more creative freedom.
If Doom was an Aliens game instead, perhaps it wouldn’t have had such a profound impact on popular culture and the video game industry.
Back in 2001, Crytek developed the CryEngine for Nvidia. To show off its new technology, Crytek created a tech demo of a game called X-Isle: Dinosaur Island that featured a variety of prehistoric creatures stomping around in the woods.
Eventually, Crytek scrapped the dinosaurs and reworked the demo into a full-fledged FPS that would become the very first game in the Far Cry series, which is still going strong today.
Hot off the heels of its Donkey Kong Country successes, Rare had quickly become one of Nintendo’s most important partners in the industry. The studio was then entrusted with creating a game based on the James Bond film GoldenEye 007, and before it became one of the most critically-acclaimed FPS games of all time, it went through a couple of other iterations.
Rare’s original vision for GoldenEye 007 was that of a 2D side-scroller for the SNES that would play similarly to Donkey Kong Country. Plans changed when Rare was told of the Nintendo 64 (then known as Ultra 64), and the company decided to make an on-rails shooter similar to Virtua Cop. Luckily, Rare decided to ditch the on-rails aspect of the game and allow players to explore levels freely, resulting in the game many FPS gamers fell in love with back in 1997.
Grand Theft Auto
At its core, Grand Theft Auto is a game about being a criminal and committing heinous acts. But it wasn’t always that way. Back when Grand Theft Auto was called Race ‘n’ Chase, players were actually allowed to choose whether they wanted to play as the police or the criminal. Furthermore, the game wasn’t about completing missions or free-roaming, but rather, it was a multiplayer racing game.
Another important part of the Grand Theft Auto formula came about by complete accident. Apparently, cops weren’t meant to chase players off the road, but they started to do so due to a glitch in the programming. This glitch reportedly led to the “Wanted” system that is still used to this day in the latest entry in the series, Grand Theft Auto 5.
Like Destiny, Bungie’s Halo underwent a number of revisions before it became the genre-defining FPS powerhouse it is known as today. Originally, Halo was set to be a real-time strategy game, and then it became a third-person shooter that was going to launch for Mac and PC, not as an Xbox exclusive.
After Microsoft acquired Bungie in 2000, though, Halo became a first-person shooter launch title for the Xbox. The rest, of course, is history.
Sucker Punch’s Infamous series is about super-powered humans that can be superheroes or supervillains depending on player choice. While Infamous always had a superhero-theme, the gameplay was once much different, with more focus on the player’s alter-ego as a property developer. This translated into city management gameplay, with Sucker Punch co-founder Chris Zimmerman describing the game as “a superhero version of Animal Crossing.”
Before there was Overwatch, there was Titan. For the uninitiated, Titan was a massive MMO project that was in development at Blizzard that featured class-based shooter gameplay along with mundane professions players would participate in during the day.
Ultimately, Blizzard decided to scrap the Titan project, marking one of the company’s most high profile cancellations in its history. However, not all was lost; some of the development team of Titan used its assets to create something completely different, and that project became the award-winning Overwatch.
Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4‘s story begins in 1999, when Hideki Kamiya started work on the project, at first creating a stylish action game. Series creator Shinji Mikami felt as though this original vision for Resident Evil 4 was too different than other games in the series, and so that project became Devil May Cry. Development was then restarted in 2001, and the game became about Leon S. Kennedy exploring a castle.
The castle version of Resident Evil 4 was also scrapped, and Shinji Mikami took more control of the project. Leon was still the main character, but instead of the typical Resident Evil-style monsters, this version of Resident Evil 4 featured supernatural threats like ghosts and possessed dolls. Development on the game would be restarted one last time, resulting in the groundbreaking Resident Evil 4 that took the gaming industry by storm in 2005.
As we stated earlier, a lot can happen during game development. Even so, some may have been surprised to learn that some of their favorite games could have ended up as something completely different.
As the game industry continues to grow, more games will undergo similar changes from the start of their development to the time they actually hit store shelves. With this being the case, it will be interesting to eventually learn how the hottest games of the future changed during development.