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)

  • bud389  

    Maybe the writer should've taken 5 more years to write this correctly and get his facts straight.

  • kevlarcardhouse  

    This article makes a lot of false assumptions. For example, Warcraft III was only in pre-production for a lot of that development time, Prey was just on hiatus for a good portion of that time, and Prey 2 was only started on two years ago (After the first Prey, Human Head worked on another project but that fell through.)

  • Inuit_Dude  

    when star wars battlefront three is announced you will be able to add it to the long list of vapoware games it is being made by spark and is the unannounced project on thier page

  • Jeust  

    It may be just me, but including Alan Wake and Fable in the second category was pushing the envelope. Neither of the games is as average as the category wants to express, even as Alan Wake won GOTY awards.

  • Fredelas  

    Star Trek Online's lesser known sibling, Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising was just released this week after more than six years. It will be interesting to see how it fares in comparison.

  • EduardoSVK  

    Wheres Freelancer? Development: 1997-2003. And what a great game it was when it finally went out...

  • FrozenStar90  

    I couldn't agree more with the scores for Duke Nukem and Too Human. Those games were god awful. I liked the original Fable, but lost interest in the series after Fable 2. Peter Molyneux has a tendency to make his games out to be ground-breaking. They're definitely fun...just not mind blowing.

  • Briciovh  

    Wow, I was half way in hihgschool when L.A. Noire started to be developed

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