30 Games That Emerged from Development Hell

  • Publish Date: June 23, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 28 user comments

Better late than never ... barely

While the following titles were solid releases, they were unable to match the level of hype generated during the lengthy development process.

game imageAlan Wake Xbox 360 83
6 years in development (2004-10)

Max Payne developers Remedy Entertainment first conceived of a story-driven thriller in 2004, and announced Alan Wake at 2005's E3 conference. Thanks in part to a lengthy false start -- in which Wake was first developed as an open-world adventure -- fans wouldn't get a chance to solve the Twin Peaks-influenced mystery until 2010. And some critics and gamers found the finished product lacking in the gameplay department.

game imageBlack & White PC 90
4 years in development (1997-2001)

Peter Molyneux, the god of god games, left Bullfrog Productions (where he created the genre's first hit, Populous) in 1997 to found a new studio, Lionhead, where he and his team began work on their first release. But fans would have to wait four years to get their hands on Black & White, which promised to revolutionize the genre. Despite strong initial reviews, the game was a bit buggy, and soon came to be regarded as highly overrated.

game imageFable Xbox 85
4 years in development (2000-04)

One of the most hyped releases of its day, action-RPG Fable faced long odds if it was going to achieve everything that creator Peter Molyneux promised it would. And, indeed, despite four years of development, the finished product was relatively short, and failed to include some features that had been promised; nor was it "the best game ever," as its creator had suggested. Still, Fable secured mostly positive reviews, and was a major hit, generating two sequels and plenty of related titles.

game imageFinal Fantasy XIII PS3 83 Xbox 360 82
4 years in development (2005-09)

One of the best-selling releases in the franchise, FF13 earned raves for its technical aspects, the result of four years of work. However, not everyone was a fan of the RPG's story and linear storytelling style. Still, the sequel (Final Fantasy XII-2) promises to be even better, and fans won't have to wait quite so long this time; it should arrive in Japan late this year and in the U.S. in early 2012.

game imageGran Turismo 5 PS3 84
5 years in development (2005-10)

Plagued by technical challenges and at least one missed release date, racing sequel GT5 not only had a lengthy development period, but is one of the most expensive games ever produced, with an estimated development cost of $80 million. Despite all that money and effort, critics found flaws in the game's graphics, and some people felt that GT5 felt unfinished and unpolished.

game imageHeart of Darkness PC n/a   PlayStation n/a
6 years in development (1992-1998)

The first game ever made with a full orchestral soundtrack, the "cinematic platformer" Heart of Darkness -- an unofficial follow-up to 1991's Out of this World -- also boasted cutting edge graphics, and received a fairly good reception from critics and gamers (especially for those technical accomplishments; less so for the story). Still, that six-year incubation period took its toll on developer Amazing Studio, which had to declare bankruptcy shortly after the game's release.

game imagePerfect Dark Zero Xbox 360 81
5 years in development (2000-05)

A sequel to the 2000 Nintendo 64 hit Perfect Dark, Rare's first-person shooter Perfect Dark Zero was one of the original launch titles for the Xbox 360 in the fall of 2005. Too bad, much like the similarly delayed Kameo: Elements of Power, it was supposed to be a launch title for Nintendo's GameCube four years earlier, instead. Though the game disappointed some critics, it was a solid commercial performer for Microsoft.

game imagePrey PC 83 Xbox 360 79
11 years in development (1995-2006)

Much like Duke Nukem Forever -- another project that at one time was being developed by 3D Realms -- the first-person shooter Prey was in development for over a decade. An early demo of the game, set on a massive spaceship, and featuring a score by KMFDM, earned raves when shown at E3 in the late 1990s, upping the anticipation factor for the game. It proved to be a false start, however, and it would be followed by several more over the ensuing years, until a new developer (Human Head Studios) took over and finally completed the project in 2006. While the finished product didn't live up to those early expectations, the game sold well enough to merit a sequel, though Prey 2, itself, has been in development for five years already (with an expected 2012 release on the horizon).

game imageSplinter Cell: Conviction Xbox 360 85 PC 83
4 years in development (2006-10)

The fifth installment in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series of stealth action titles was originally scheduled to launch in the spring of 2008, but was ultimately delayed a full two years while Ubisoft drastically reconfigured the game. The resulting game (well, at least the console version) was solid, but not as admired as previous installments in the series.

game imageSpore PC 84
8 years in development (2000-08)

Rumors that legendary SimCity creator Will Wright was working on a new simulation game known colloquially as SimEverything first began to emerge in 2004, though Wright actually began work on the game back in 2000. When Spore was officially announced and demoed in 2005, the hype began in earnest. Unfortunately, the finished product that emerged a long three years later turned out to be, in effect, stripped-down versions of five other, better, games, vaguely linked together on a single disc with draconian DRM. The game's creature editor, however, remains a delight.

game imageS.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl PC 82
6 years in development (2001-07)

This Ukrainian-developed survival horror shooter was first slated for a 2003 release. Despite a four-year delay -- during which time it qualified for Wired's annual vaporware awards -- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was still full of bugs and struck some gamers as underdeveloped when it was released in 2007. Nevertheless, it sold 2 million copies, leading to several sequels.

On the next page, we profile our final group of games, where extra development time certainly didn't translate into extra quality ...

Comments (28)

  • Tkwz  

    Diablo 3 vaporware? Seriously?

  • tarekmallo  

    Hey guys Doom 3 anyone? not in development hell technically speaking but geez 1994 - 2004!

  • Sexbad  

    Where's Amnesia? The developers almost went bankrupt entirely and had to stop.

  • buellerbueller  

    You should've put Conker's Bad Fur Day. It was originally a cutsie-patootsie game until it became the hard-M game we all know today.

  • badkarma  

    I really miss Wizardry 8 in this article. When Wizardry 7 was released in 1992 it advertised multiple endings (with cliffhangers) and the possibility to export all characters to a sure-to-come sequel.....
    ...that sequel did not appear till 2001 and followed (!) the announcement, that Sirtech would close down directly after releasing the title. I've kept my savegames almost ten years!

  • susubarata  

    Ummm... Where's Doom 3 ?? O_o'

  • Xikar  

    @Super-Evil-DOOM- Why should Zelda be on there? This is a list of games that had painfully long development times. Games that should have come a year or two after they were announced. Most Zelda games come about 3 years after they get a full title. The longest one being Twilight Princess merely because Nintendo saw the chance to get a AAA title on the Wii's launch. Though the quality of the port is debatable.

    There is a difference between time between sequels and games entering development hell.

  • Super-Evil-DOOM  

    Not a single Zelda game in there, really?

  • Goofus  

    You forgot Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. In development for 7 years (1999-2006) and bankrupted the developer. Great game though... terrifying.

  • Krud  

    I enjoyed this article, but took issue with the statement that "Heart of Darkness" was the first game ever with full orchestral soundtrack. Am I missing something? Because I am nigh positive that games prior to 1998 had full orchestral soundtracks. "Star Wars: Dark Forces," any number of the mid 90's Sierra CD-ROM adventure games, and the LucasArts western shooter "Outlaws" in '97. Maybe the definition of "full" orchestra is the key factor, I don't know.

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