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Blastfrog

Hellish troubled dev cycle = timeless classics?

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Why does it seem that some of the greatest games of all time have had horrible development cycles and often end up far from their originally conceived concept?

An example most of us here know is Doom. Tom wanted something more akin to System Shock, wasn't even all that into the project to begin with, and was going against the grain of the rest of the team. As the game was shaping up only partly conforming to the original design document (probably because the rest of the team didn't really want to make that version of Doom anyhow), Tom is let go mid-way through development. The corpse of the empty, grey and slow-paced compromise is salvaged and quickly reworked into much more straight-forward action game. Despite this turmoil, the end product turns out great and is regarded as the golden standard of what the core of an FPS should be (some may disagree).

Thief: The Dark Project started as an action combat game than a pure stealth game, with much of its development being somewhat inbetween the two. Warren Spector was originally on the team but voluntarily left out of frustration as he wanted combat to be a viable option to the player while the rest of the team was starting to shy away from it. The game is converted to a pure stealth title at the last minute, retaining most of the level design and assets geared toward the more action oriented mechanics.The game is met with critical acclaim, but the legacy of its original combat design is still clearly felt and this diminishes the game for some. Thief 2 is highly regarded as it built levels and scenarios with the final stealth mechanics from the very start.

Deus Ex was a far more ambitious title than its final product. After Warren Spector left the Thief team, he began work on this game instead. It's said that the team was split into three factions: hardcore western RPG guys, hardcore shooter fans, and hardcore stealth fans. They eventually reached a compromise and tried including all three elements, but this initial schism obviously wasn't good. The original design consisted of entire portions of the game that never made the final cut in any form and many useless characters that served little purpose and only served to cloud the focus of the story, often disappearing without a trace later in the game.

The game was already being built to this plan until Harvey Smith became disillusioned with its flaws and pulled Spector aside to discuss a rescue plan. It was decided that they would cut everything not already physically started on from the design doc and heavily rework the story and decoration of the now severely out-of-place remainder levels. The portion that suffered the most was the middle of the game that took place in war-torn Texas. This was done, and thus came the game we all know.

Despite all games being considered some of the best of all time, Doom is probably the only one that doesn't have any obvious legacies of its troubled development during gameplay, though this could be attributed to the simplistic design and the rest of the team heavily leaning in this direction from the start and generally disregarding the design doc even when Tom was still around.

There's probably more examples and I only covered western first person games. If you have more examples, I'd love to hear them.

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Any game is subject to horrid development cycles. Valve is notorious for this (insert half-life 3 joke here). Valve got hacked by some german kid in 2004 and the game got leaked onto the internet. It showed that they were nowhere near done with the game. yet is ended up being one of the most remembered games ever made.

also, Obsidian beat me to the punch, Duke Nukem Forever took 12 years to make yet bombed.

personally, I think it has to do with developers that know what to take out and what to keep. The ones that avoid spinning their wheels make the best games despite problems they run into.

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I seem to recall something about the first Max Payne game struggling but I don't know if that's correct or not.

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Obsidian said:

*Points out Duke Nukem Forever*

I absolutely do not get why people 'nuke' duke forrever, it is a fantastic entertaining game. And in all honesty to me it plays like duke nukem 3D with a modern life bar...
i even see ressemling level design and transition. Unjustified, weird, unexplainable online destruction of a fantastic game. I mainly see nostalgia blind gamers, and a lot of
groepies just following each others ass in an attempt to fit in while posting 'its not good' because the others did it before them..

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DNF's problem wasn't that it's bad, but that it is so painfully mediocre.

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No, it was bad. It was the worst goddamn game I've played in years, and single-handedly threw me off the hype train. Fuck DNF, and George Broussard.

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The pattern here is most classic games were created by teams who didn't know what they were doing, but were willing to re-evaluate and change direction when the game needed it. Half-Life didn't become good until they took all their best ideas and tried them out in one map, TES: Arena is certainly better as a huge RPG than the gladiatorial combat game they started out making, and id just wasn't up to making something like System Shock, so DOOM's direction was an excellent choice.

A lot of mediocre games come from long, tortured development cycles too. Aliens: Colonial Marines comes to mind. It got to where they just had to get something out the door.

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Avoozl said:

I seem to recall something about the first Max Payne game struggling but I don't know if that's correct or not.


I believe it had some budget problems here and there, and they used themselves as actors because it was all they could afford, but I don't think it was too troubled. I think Max Payne 2, which is even more acclaimed, went by even smoother. They even had actual actors (albeit Daytime Soap stars).

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It seems that too much time spent on a product often leads to a directionless shell of a game, of course there would be exceptions, but games made in the course of 3 years or less are often 'clean' if that makes sense. I'll bring up GTA 5, the game took a few years to make and even met a 6 month(ish) delay, but this clearly wasn't to shuffle ideas around and change the direction of the game, just to add polish and likely fix some game breaking bugs. It turned out very well.

There's also the case of shitting out sequels too fast, but I suppose that's another topic altogether when it comes to devs facing troubles.

DNF was kinda disappointing to me, but I definitely don't think it's as horrible as most people make it out to be. It's funny, it's goofy, the graphics are kinda inconsistent, but it's gold compared to, say, Diakitana.

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... that still doesn't make the game any good ...

What do I care how much fun the developers had, if the result is not convincing...?

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Sodaholic said:

Doom is probably the only one that doesn't have any obvious legacies of its troubled development during gameplay

Tom Hall's "realistic" layouts are still present in the final game, in some form.

Avoozl said:

I seem to recall something about the first Max Payne game struggling but I don't know if that's correct or not.

You should see the first trailer. :)

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No game should have more than a 2 year cycle unless its open world. Then 5 years is good. SquareEnix needs to know this too.

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Could this "phenomenom" of great games having troubled development be more a case of one or both of the following:

There is a large amount of great games in gaming history and in a large enough sample of data you will be able to find at least a handful of examples to "prove" any theory.

The production of video games requires artistic direction and creative decisions, which makes it in inevitable that there is a high chance of their being disruptions in development for all games whether they are good, bad or mediocre.

I'm not yet convinced there is a link between development hell and a successful game, other than perhaps you would expect at least a small amount of creative tension and if there is none at all it may suggest there was no passion in the development of the game or it was made in under very dictated and prescribed conditions.

If you are honestly interested in pursuing this theory I would suggest looking at 100 games generally considered in greatest game lists and taking an objective view of their development process. Find some sort of ratio and compare this to the same study done on games generally considered terrible and another control sample of random games not selected in either of the aforementioned samples. This should provide a more balanced review than simply grabbing at examples that support your view.

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Captain Red said:

Oddly enough, in interviews John Romero says that he had more fun making Daikatana then he did Quake.


I remember watching a documentary where Romero said he wanted to make Id Software's game after Doom II more oriented on melee combat as opposed to another shooter: his idea was unfortunately vetoed and Quake was the result. I haven't played Daikatana myself, but judging from the name alone there must be some decent amount of melee involved. It stands to reason that finally using his original ideas would be fun for him.

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Battlecruiser 3000AD had a truly messed up dev cycle and it's a pile of overrated poop even if you rate it low. Look it up, kids! It was the DNF of the mid-90's and Derek Smart makes George Broussard look humble and reliable. Neural net AI!

I also don't see how Doom qualifies for "hellish troubled dev cycle". Because one guy left after his original overly ambitious vision was butchered? Bitch, pls. The rest of the team was having the time of their life.

Oh and re: Deus Ex, that's no sign of troubled games making immortal classics, that's a sign of Ion Storm being a hilarious(ly tragic) trainwreck with incompetent management and unrealistic goals.

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dew said:

Battlecruiser 3000AD had a truly messed up dev cycle and it's a pile of overrated poop even if you rate it low. Look it up, kids! It was the DNF of the mid-90's and Derek Smart makes George Broussard look humble and reliable. Neural net AI!

I also don't see how Doom qualifies for "hellish troubled dev cycle". Because one guy left after his original overly ambitious vision was butchered? Bitch, pls. The rest of the team was having the time of their life.

Oh and re: Deus Ex, that's no sign of troubled games making immortal classics, that's a sign of Ion Storm being a hilarious(ly tragic) trainwreck with incompetent management and unrealistic goals.


Doom was quickly shat out like all great games.

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The thing you guys aren't considering, is that for every "classic" with a rough dev cycle, there are tens of unreleased games languishing under differing directions.

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geo said:

Doom was quickly shat out like all great games.


That. Considering how innovative it was, it was quite a "quick and dirty" affair. Quite unlike the OP's premise.

There were different concept/design directions, yeah, but those got settled pretty quickly. Going from Wolf3D to Doom (as a finished product) in little more than a year and a half hardly qualifies as "troubled" and "protracted" development, by any standard. Even more impressive if you consider that this was essentially a game engine development feat, first and foremost, like all id games starting from Wolf3D.

And its even more impressive if you consider the innovative coding aspects of it, like e.g. being coded almost entirely in pure C and isolated from platform peculiarities, which also made it the first "serious" game to have an actually portable source code, when it was finally opened.

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Obsidian said:

*Points out Duke Nukem Forever*

Beat me to it. :P

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Obsidian said:

I haven't played Daikatana myself, but judging from the name alone there must be some decent amount of melee involved.

The titular sword was probably supposed to be an ultimate weapon or something, but I've never felt any desire to use it. It's not very satisfying, the animation is lackluster, and there's usually an alternative, not necessarily of melee type.

Overall, the game is a typical shooter where you shoot stuff most of the time.

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Da Werecat said:

Overall, the game (?) is a typical shooter (sic) where you shoot stuff bugs and frogs most of the time.


FTFY <3

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Problems with game development come from everyone wanting to make their dream game. And even if it wasn't over ambitious, it might not work, if everyone's dream game idea is too different. Try to please everyone, and you'll probably please none.

Better would be to do it in turns, and make more than one game, than mash it all together.

Also over ambitious games might turn out too complicated to be fun anyway.

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It seems to me that the defining characteristic of great games is not a lengthy and hellish dev cycle, but the ability for the creators to ultimately put their foot down and cut the crap that isn't working out. I mean, when I think of Doom's development, I don't think about how long it took, what comes to my mind is all the extra features and whatnot that had been planned but were cut due to them being unfeasible on the given hardware limitations and/or not really adding much to the game. Or take HL2 - they had things like the tentacle monster planned, but those were ultimately scrapped when they didn't really work out. I think HL2 would've been a massive disaster if they didn't have guts to do that. It seems to me that there's a trend among flops wherein the devs just can't stop trying to add new features, can't stop trying to make things work when they clearly don't. There's nothing wrong with having grand visions, but ultimately you need to realize that some of those ideas are ultimately going to have to be scrapped in the end for the game to work out. The devs who can't accept that are the ones who end up failing.

I mean, DNF is like the poster child for that attitude - the specific reason it was in dev hell for so long was the devs simply couldn't say no to any new idea.

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Maes said:

That. Considering how innovative it was, it was quite a "quick and dirty" affair. Quite unlike the OP's premise.

There were different concept/design directions, yeah, but those got settled pretty quickly. Going from Wolf3D to Doom (as a finished product) in little more than a year and a half hardly qualifies as "troubled" and "protracted" development, by any standard. Even more impressive if you consider that this was essentially a game engine development feat, first and foremost, like all id games starting from Wolf3D.

And its even more impressive if you consider the innovative coding aspects of it, like e.g. being coded almost entirely in pure C and isolated from platform peculiarities, which also made it the first "serious" game to have an actually portable source code, when it was finally opened.


A lot of mechanically great games have short dev times if not start for 2 day design contests. Even if the development takes a bit of time to make levels. World of Goo, the original Scribblenauts, Broforce, Super Meatboy and Binding of Issac all come to mind.

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