22 Games That Got Stuck the Longest in Development Hell

From well-known titles such as Duke Nukem Forever and FFXV to more obscure ones like Galleon and UnReal World. These games were stuck in development hell for the longest time before eventually coming out, either somewhat unscathed, quickly forgotten, or panned by gamers and critics alike.

22 Games That Got Stuck the Longest in Development Hell

There was a popular saying from Shigeru Miyamoto: “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.” A game being delayed or have a long development time is not a rare occurrence in the industry. After all, we would prefer to have a complete game instead of getting a buggy, messy release. But these titles got thrown into the development hell instead — taking at least half a decade to be released to the public. You’d think Duke Nukem Forever would take the crown as the king of delayed games, right? Well, guess again and read on.

22. Alan Wake – 5 years, 2003-2008

After releasing the first two critically acclaimed Max Payne titles in 2003, Remedy decided that it wanted to come up with a different kind of project. Inspired by Stephen King and David Lynch, the team planned to make a thriller open-world game with an episodic format. Starring an atypical hero for an action game, an everyday novelist named Alan Wake, the title started off in 2005 as a survival game, where you needed to scavenge resources while the sun was out and defend your safe haven from shadow monsters once the night comes.

But the non-linear story-telling and the game’s world massive scale led to its downfall. Remedy’s head of franchise development at the time, Oskari Häkkinen, admitted that following a sandbox design was “the biggest mistake they made”. The issue was complicated further with Microsoft’s involvement when Remedy partnered with Microsoft Game Studios as the game’s publisher in 2006. Finally, after around three years of development hell and missing crucial milestones, the team managed to refocus on the core gameplay elements. Alan Wake, as we all know, was eventually released in May 2010 for Xbox 360. The PC version comes two years later.

21. Mafia II – 6 years, 2004-2010

Mafia II Made Man Trailer

Mafia II began development in 2004, but the work on the script began one year earlier. Illusion Softworks (now 2K Czech) originally planned a PS2 and Xbox release using a licensed engine, but in the middle of the project, the engine developer went out of business. Then Illusion decided to work on its own proprietary engine in 2005 and move the title to PS3 and Xbox 360.

Unfortunately, that was the least of its issue. Focusing more on visual details made for less time to implement proper gameplay elements such as player control, traffic, and even an adequate loading and saving system. And since the story was written long before game development began, the “narrative experience” end up conflicting with the sandbox environment. The development team would not have a playable build until 2007 or 2008. The game was supposed to be released in late 2009, but it was delayed until August 2010.

20. Resident Evil 4 – 6 years, 1999-2005

A huge departure from the series, but still one of the best Resident Evil game to date.

A huge departure from the series, but still one of the best Resident Evil game to date.

Although it’s remembered as one of the grandfathers of over-the-shoulder shooter games, Capcom didn’t exactly plan for Resident Evil 4 to be that kind of horror-shooter in the first place. During its six years of development hell, there were at least five different iterations of the RE4 project known to the public:

  1. 1999: Capcom producer Shinji Mikami announced the studio is working on a PS2 Resident Evil title. Hideki Kamiya directed the very first iteration of the game, where it was going to be a “cool” and “stylish” action game. But the project was scrapped and eventually remade into Devil May Cry.
  2. 2001: Now directed by Hiroshi Shibata, the game is about Leon trying to survive after he infiltrated Umbrella’s main headquarters in Europe. He was infected with the Progenitor Virus and possessed a hidden power in his left hand.
  3. 2003: In that year’s E3, Capcom showcased a new build (titled The Phantom Biohazard 4 in the RE4 bonus DVD) of the project. Set in a haunted building, this time Leon contracted a disease and have to fight paranormal enemies, such as living armor and dolls, as well as a man armed with a large hook.
  4. Later after the build not working out, RE3: Nemesis‘ writer Yasuhisa Kawamura rewrote the story to be about Leon infiltrating the Spencer castle and meeting a mysterious young girl and a Bio Organic Weapon dog.
  5. Lastly, Shinji Mikami took over the whole project as the director. According to his interview with Game Informer, after playing RE Zero, he was tired of how the series was going and decided to take RE4 in a completely new direction.

Now it’s rumored that the game will be getting a remake next year. We’ll see if it will recapture that magic again.

19. Shenmue – 6 years, 1994-2000

Throwing money at something doesn't mean it will turn out as a success, unfortunately.

Throwing money at something doesn’t mean it will turn out as a success, unfortunately.

Still often referred to as one of the most ambitious games of all time, SEGA spared no expense when developing Shenmue. With huge and detailed environments, voice acting for every character and NPC, full orchestral cinematic soundtrack, and other bells and whistles, at the time, it broke the headline as the most expensive video game ever made — it said to have cost SEGA $70 million. Although later in 2011, the game creator Yu Suzuki said the figure was closer to $47 million, including marketing. 

Even with that kind of budget, though, the limitations of Sega Saturn hindered the development. Things went right for a bit when SEGA decided to release the game for its latest (and last) console, the Dreamcast. In an unfortunate turn of events, despite critical acclaim, Dreamcast died in just one year of release, the team failed to recoup the development budget, and it ends up as a huge commercial failure for SEGA. It took another 19 years, going independent, and a Kickstarter campaign for Suzuki to revive this series with the long-awaited Shenmue III.

18. Galleon – 7 years, 1997-2004

In 1996, Tomb Raider might’ve launched as a big success for Core Design and Eidos. But no longer having creative freedom, Lara Croft’s creator Toby Gard decided to leave the project and formed his own studio, Confounding Factor. The team quickly crank its gear to make its big debut, Galleon, a year later. It was originally planned as a PC release, but along with several delays, the game changed home to Dreamcast, GameCube, and finally, Galleon was silently released in a nearly unplayable state for the original Xbox in 2004. Confounding Factor disband in the same year. Meanwhile, Gard later rejoined Eidos and Crystal Dynamics to make Tomb Raider: Legend.

17. StarCraft II – 7 years, 2003-2010

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Opening Cinematic

Blizzard started working on the sequel to the world’s most popular RTS in 2003, right after launching Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. A year after the game was revealed at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in 2007, the California-based studio reported that the game wouldn’t include single-player campaigns for the Zerg and Protoss factions. Instead the campaign would be split up between the base game and future expansions. Fans keep getting restless when the game missed its planned beta from 2009 to February 2010, just six months before the release date. Fortunately, the July launch was met with praise from fans and critics alike, and to this day, StarCraft II is still the poster boy for competitive RTS.

16. L.A. Noire – 7 years, 2004-2011

A bit different than most of the titles on this list, L.A. Noire spent a long time in development hell because of its unique custom engine that includes a high-tech facial capture MotionScan. It records facial expressions with 32 cameras, resulting in extremely realistic face animation. Thus the tech became the main gimmick and backbone of the game’s whole interrogation system. Nevertheless, the complicated development of the technology didn’t take a lot of time; it was reported to have ballooned the budget to around $50 million. Making it one of the most expensive video games ever made at the time, just like Shenmue.

15. Cube World – 8 Years, 2011-2019

Cube World Release Trailer

After Minecraft launched a “voxel craze” in early 2009, one-man game developer Wolfram von Funck decided to make his own take on it. He started developing Cube World in June 2011, describing it as a 3D voxel-based game with a focus on “exploration and role-playing game elements”. An alpha version was first released two years later but was eventually made unable to be repurchased. Not long after, the download server suffered a DDoS attack that left von Funck traumatized.

Since then updates and communication were scarce. Many players were concerned about further development, and others eventually considering it to be vaporware. Surprisingly in September 2019, the developer announced that the game would be finally released on Steam, and purchasers of the alpha release would receive a free Steam key. Unfortunately, though, after waiting through its development hell, most critics and players agreed that Cube World didn’t live up to the high expectations.

14. Darkfall Online – 8 Years, 2001-2009

Lots of MMO took quite a lot of time to develop to make sure it has tons of content for fans to enjoy until the next major update drops. For one reason and another, though, Darkfall Online didn’t just take an insane amount of time in development hell but also failed to deliver on its promises when it’s released in 2009. The game also didn’t live long; it only managed to stay afloat until November 2012.

13. Spore – 8 Years, 2000-2008

Maybe one day we'll get our SimEverything.

Maybe one day we’ll get our SimEverything.

Will Wright, the creator of the Sim series, was well-known as an extremely ambitious developer. After making SimAnt, The Sims, and SimCity this time, he wanted to make a game that would follow the evolution of a whole species. You start off as a humble and weak microscopic organism and eventually transform into a space-faring civilization. The work started in 2000, first called SimEverything, then five years later a playable demo of Spore was shown off in the Games Developer Conference, much to the excitement of the simulator fans.

However, along the way, the developer team at Maxis had to make numerous changes and compromises. Gone was the more realistic visual, and several evolution phases were scrapped, among other cut features. And when the game was released in 2008, it was no longer looked like the “SimEverything” Wright had promised. The reception got worse when players realized that the game comes with SecuROM as copy protection, which needs to be authenticated every ten days and can only be authenticated on up to three computers.

12. Team Fortress 2 – 9 years, 1998-2007

And it is still going pretty strong to this day.

And it is still going pretty strong to this day.

After successfully making the original Team Fortress mod for Quake, the mod creators Robin Walker and John Cook were hired by Valve to make a proper, standalone sequel. The initial concept for Team Fortress 2, shown at E3 1999, was a military-themed tactical shooter not unlike Battlefield, complete with a commander role having a bird-eye view of the arena. The game went into radio silence for at least five years when development moved from GoldSrc to Source engine. Finally revealed at the EA Summer Showcase in 2006, TF2 has completely transformed into something else entirely where all the realistic designs were replaced with iconic cartoon visual and a fast-paced, arcadey class-based gameplay system. And thanks to becoming free-to-play five years after its debut, the population is as lively as ever, even if you just jumped in today.

11. The Last Guardian – 9 years, 2007-2016

A year after PS3 launched, Team Ico started development on The Last Guardian. Director Fumito Ueda has envisioned the idea of a game about human-creature relationships since 2005 after learning that most Shadow of the Colossus players felt a strong connection between Wander, the player character, and Agro the horse. The game was demoed at E3 2009, but Sony felt that the development progress was too slow and brought in another team to help. Unfortunately, the sudden departure of core Team Ico members, including Ueda, further troubles the game’s progress. Eventually, with the PS4 already released to the market in 2013, Sony decided to release it for the eighth-generation console. It was released to critical acclaim in 2016 but failed to generate as much buzz as Team Ico’s previous titles.

10. Too Human – 9 years, 1999-2008

More like,

More like, “Too Bad”.

Developer Silicon Knights were planning to release Too Human for PlayStation. But in 2000, it signed an exclusive partnership with Nintendo and now targeting a GameCube-exclusive release. After five long years of development hell, the game was moved to the Xbox 360, missing its planned 2006 release window. Regrettably, the game was panned both critically and commercially despite a reported budget of $60 to 100 million.

The game made headlines when the studio tried to sue Epic Games for failure to “providing a working game engine” in 2007. The game developer lost and had to pay $4.45 million on the grounds of copyright infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and breach of contract. Later in 2012, Silicon Knights were ordered to remove every physical copy from the market as well as digital copies from the Xbox Marketplace.

9. Final Fantasy XV – 10 Years, 2006-2016

FINAL FANTASY Versus XIII Trailer 2011

Even to its end, Final Fantasy XV was one of Square Enix’s most ambitious projects. It started life as FF Versus XIII, together with FF XIII and FF Type-0 (previously known as FF Agito XIII), it was supposed to form the ‘Fabula Nova Crystallis’ anthology series back in 2006. Similar to the ‘Ivalice Alliance’ series for FF Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, and Vagrant Story.

Developed using the company’s brand new, in-house Crystal Tools engine for the seventh generation consoles, unfortunately, the Shinjuku-based company seemed to have spread its resources too thin. Versus XIII was delayed repeatedly and had barely anything to show to the public. Even the game’s plot got revised several times, with the biggest casualty was the Princess Stella character, who was transformed into Lunafreya. Eventually, with the target shifted to the PS4 and Xbox One, the project was restarted into the FFXV, as we now know. However, after 10 years long of metaphorical development hell, FFXV is still released in a somewhat incomplete state. The game’s final three DLC stories were ultimately canceled, and director Hajime Tabata left the company.

8. Diablo III – 11 Years, 2001-2012

Diablo III: Gameplay Trailer

Development on the game began in 2001, just a year after Diablo II was launched into the PC market with critical acclaim. However, several of Blizzard North‘s key staff were in conflict with the-then Blizzard Entertainment’s parent company, Vivendi. In August 2005, the studio was closed down, killing the development of the game and another Diablo-like title set in space. It took another seven years before it got pulled from the fiery depth of development hell and got announced at Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in 2008. And four years later, it finally launched — to a mixed reception, mostly for the inclusion of always-online DRM and its cartoonish visual.

7. Prey – 11 years, 1995-2006

3D Realms was originally going to release Prey as a flagship title, a showcase for its in-house engine. Like what Epic Games did with Unreal or Valve with Half-Life 2 and Source engine. The team was lead by Tom Hall, but just a year later, he left with John Romero to found Ion Storm. It took more than a decade for them to actually release the game. A sequel was immediately planned, but it was quietly canceled. Later ZeniMax Media owned the IP, and Bethesda and Arkane rebooted the franchise and released a new, unrelated Prey title in 2017.

6. Mother 3 – 12 Years, 1994-2006

MOTHER3 プレイ映像

The sequel to Mother 2 (or EarthBound to international audiences), Mother 3 was a Japan-exclusive release. The developer Brownie Brown and HAL Laboratory wanted to release it for the SNES, but technical limitations moved it to N64 and later the Gamecube. Eventually, the game was released to Game Boy Advance in 2006 after the team decided to shift back to 2D graphics. Although it’s been said that Nintendo canceled the English localization due to fears of bereavement as its central theme, instances of drug use, and animal cruelty, a fan-translation patch was released in October 2008.

5. Duke Nukem Forever – 15 Years, 1996-2011

Duke Nukem Forever Launch Trailer

Duke Nukem Forever was originally in development at 3D Realms to follow-up on Duke Nukem 3D. Eight long years after the company announced it in 1997, its first gameplay footage was shown to the public for the first time. Everything seems going smoothly until two years later, 3D Realms was downsized due to poor financial performance.

In 2000, a ray of hope came when 2K Games got the IP and handed it over to Gearbox Software. And in 2011, the long-awaited game was finally released… to a massive disappointment among fans and mediocre reviews. Although well-known as the poster boy of delayed games and development hell, there are actually still other titles that went with longer development periods.

4. Star Fox 2 – 20 Years

Edge magazine reported that development on Star Fox II begun back in 1993, co-developed by Nintendo EAD in Japan and UK-based Argonaut Software for the SNES. The team in charge was toying with new gameplay ideas, from random encounters, strategic map system to two-players mode. A demo build was even playable at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas in 1995.

Alas for Nintendo, 3D technology was advancing rapidly. Its fiercest (and only) rivals, PlayStation and Sega Saturn, already managed to run much more impressive 3D graphics. Out of concern for SNES graphical capability, even though the game was 95% complete, Nintendo ends up silently killing the project. Although the development has officially been stopped, it still went through full localization and QA testing. ROMs of the beta build were leaked in the ’90s as well. Thankfully, for one reason or another, Nintendo decided to have it from development hell, releasing the game on SNES Classic and Nintendo Switch Online December 2019 update.

3. UnReal World – 26 Years, 1990-2016

UnReal World official trailer 2016

Out of all the games in this development hell list, this one might sound the most unfamiliar to you. If you’ve never heard about it before, it is “allegedly” the first-ever sandbox roguelike RPG created by a Finnish-based two-men team of Sami Maaranen and Erkka Lehmus. They started the project in 1990, and two years later, the first build was released into the wild. After 26 years of development, the game is finally available to buy on Steam on February 26, 2016, priced at $10.99. It may doesn’t look much, but UnReal World is definitely an unreal journey to realize one’s own passion project.

2. Dwarf Fortress – 2002-???

A cult classic, this dwarf-themed procedural generated simulation and base building game started development in 2002. The two-brothers developer team, Tarn and Zach Adams, released the first alpha version five years later, and since then, it became a massive underground hit despite its text-based graphics. Back in 2011, Tarn himself stated that a 1.0 version would not be ready “for at least another 20 years” and promises he will keep updating it as long as he lives. Let’s just wait and see how massive this game will be when it comes out in the far future.

1. Star Citizen – 2010 – ???

Imagine: Star Citizen

A massively ambitious project from Cloud Imperium Games. Lead by Chris Roberts, director of the classic space simulator Wing Commander, this game is said to not just be its spiritual sequel but also contain many complex features that would make Second Life blush. From a drop-in-drop-out cooperative campaign mode featuring Mark Hamill, PVP mode, 1000 meters long capital ships with walkable interiors, a persistent world, seamless ground-to-space transition, and many others. Pre-production of the game began in 2010, and production kicked off a year later. But it’s not until 2012 that the studio finally opened its Kickstarter campaign to the public.

The game was supposed to be out back in 2014, but ever since the Kickstarter ended, it seemed to have expanded in scope. Fans are even keeping track of the game’s many promised features over on starcitizentracker.github.io to this day. Sure, it could end up releasing faster than DNF, but with how things are going, I seriously doubt it.

Those are 23 games that took the longest time in development hell. If you’re not seeing other famous titles like Half-Life 3, this list didn’t include the games that are complete vaporware. We’ll save that discussion for another time (and maybe update this list once it came out… one day, hopefully).

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