Halloween is here and frightening stories abound: here's Game Rant's list of the most horrific video game development stories in gaming history.
Halloween often casts an eerie shadow over everything, and people are more interested in stories with gruesome endings than they might be normally. While there are plenty of video games to play on Halloween that are suitably creepy or festive, the video game industry has more than just unsettling video game mods or spooky titles to offer its fans – there are some real-world tales from developers that are more terrifying than any ghost story.
Even scarier still, many of the games haunted by terrible luck or crucial development missteps are among the most popular or anticipated today. It's a difficult business where a single poor decision can hamstring a game for years, and for those looking to see just how scary video game development truly can be, here's Game Rant's list of seven video game development stories that have surely kept those involved up at night for months afterward.
7 Duke Nukem Forever
Our list begins with what could be gaming's biggest example of development hubris. Duke Nukem Forever was originally announced as the sequel to the popular Duke Nukem 3D, and was poised to capitalize on the success of its predecessors with a bigger campaign and better graphics than the series had ever experienced.
Unfortunately, Duke Nukem Forever's development quickly became a running joke instead. After being delayed from 1997 to 2001, 3D Realms announced the game would simply be released "when it's done," and 8 years of silence followed before a brief demo was shown in 2007. In 2009, 3D Realms was forced to downsize, resulting in a lawsuit from publisher Take-Two Interactive that the studio never really recovered from. The Duke Nukem Forever game suffered as a result, finally releasing in 2011 after a 15 year development period to a mediocre response. Time had passed Duke Nukem Forever by, and the game is now more famous for its catastrophic development than its actual gameplay.
6 The Last Guardian
For whatever reason, The Last Guardian has had the opposite effect on its fans and studio that Duke Nukem Forever developers and diehards experienced. The Last Guardian first began development in 2007 as the follow-up effort from Team Ico, the studio behind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
That wait for the game ended up being about six years longer than expected, however. The game has been delayed multiple times, game director Fumito Ueda doesn't even work at Sony anymore, and hardware difficulties forced the developers to completely rebuild the game for the PS4 after it struggled on the PS3. A development period that could have ended in disaster has somehow managed to create a mystique surrounding the game however, and ahead of it finally being released later this year, fans are inexplicably excited and hopeful to see what The Last Guardian has to offer.
5 Final Fantasy 15
Speaking of high-profile games that were stuck in development hell only to somehow escape its fiery clutches, Square's Final Fantasy 15 actually started out as a spin-off from Final Fantasy 13, a game that was released in 2009. Final Fantasy 15 itself began development in 2006, and initially looked well on its way to a smooth release, with numerous trailers and gameplay stills surfacing five years later in 2011.
It's actually surprising that Final Fantasy 15 looks like a serious game of the year contender for 2016, given how horrendous its development cycle was. Several key figures, including the game director Tetsuya Nomura, left the project mid-way through, and the game also switched engines when it became clear it wasn't going to be ready for the PS3's life cycle. Despite the production and development headaches, however, Final Fantasy 15 has turned around under new director Hajime Tabata, and the game looks like it could be the innovation the JRPG genre has sorely needed for years now.
4 Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Not every development story ends once a game has gone gold. Long after the last details of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain had been ironed out, Konami's next big AAA title became its own little horror show as the publisher had a very public falling out with series creator and director Hideo Kojima.
Speculation suggests that the dispute between the two parties stemmed from Metal Gear Solid 5's $80 million USD development spending, although it's also possible Konami wanted to release the game sooner than Kojima had intended. Kojima has since earned the good-will of the video game community while fans have turned their backs on Konami and its strange, foreign take on Metal Gear since Kojima's departure. Metal Gear Solid 5 may have made Konami a lot of money, but it cost them their public image and their best creative talent.
3 Aliens: Colonial Marines
Aliens: Colonial Marines is a game that provides a strong argument for the existence of real life curses. Originally scheduled for release in 2001, it was cancelled pre-release. In 2006, Sega purchased the rights to the Alien franchise in video games and slated Gearbox to develop the game starting in 2008. That's when things truly went south for everyone involved.
Later in 2008, Gearbox had a series of layoffs for an unknown reason at the time that was later revealed to be because Gearbox had been secretly shifting team members off of Aliens: Colonial Marines to help develop Borderlands. While this isn't an uncommon practice, the fact that Gearbox had hidden it from Sega was – the game was delayed drastically, and Sega actually had to outsource almost all of its development to studios other than Gearbox. As if that wasn't enough, the game was hit by a lawsuit in 2013 that stated it had falsely advertised its gameplay, and its lack of success critically makes everything about the project a terrifying look at how development can go so, so wrong.
2 Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
By now, the long and drawn out affair that stemmed from the development of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is pretty well-known. 38 Studios, which was owned by Curt Schilling, borrowed a lot of money to develop the game – more than they should have, in fact. Despite a relatively strong showing in sales, the fledgling IP needed to move 3 million copies to break even, and it fell well short at 1.2 million.
If the horror had stopped there, however, Kingdoms of Amalur likely wouldn't have made this list. Instead, Curt Schilling and 38 Studios began a lengthy legal battle stemming from unpaid debt and other broken promises that were directly related to Kingdoms of Amalur's expensive and poorly managed development. The legal battle has finally subsided, four years after the game's release, but 38 Studios is no more and Curt Schilling has been justly vilified as an investor as a result.
1 Too Human
Too Human might be the least talked about case of development hell on the list, but it's also one of the scariest stories to stem out of video game development in history. Too Human is a game that was developed on and shifted to three different platforms spanning three generations of console gaming, starting in 2001 with the PS1, then later for the GameCube, and finally finding a home on the Xbox 360 in 2008. When the game was finally made, Silicon Knights, the developer, tried to sue Epic for issues in development that had stemmed from the game's use of the Unreal Engine.
Sadly, Silicon Knights bit off way more than it could chew. Epic Games countersued Silicon Knights, claiming the studio was using the engine without paying royalties, and won the lawsuit. Silicon Knights' defeat would be far more humiliating, however, as the studio was also ordered by law to recall all copies of its games that used the Unreal Engine and to destroy them. The studio folded shortly after, clearly a candidate for the best – and worst, depending on one's perspective – development horror story of all time.
What do you make of our list of video game development horror stories? Know one we missed? Think you'll share any of these around a Halloween campfire this year? Let us know in the comments below.