At the time of writing the first part of this article, Beyond Good and Evil 2 has been in development for nine years. In 2017, Ubisoft unexpectedly showed the game at E3, but two and a half years later, we still don’t even know a rough release date for the title.
Nevertheless, from time to time, studios still manage to pull such viscous projects out of the “production hell” and present the result of many years of development to the players. You will learn about some of them below.
Doom (2016) — 8 years
In 2008, id Software announced the creation of the fourth part of Doom, in which they wanted to develop the ideas of the predecessor and send the forces of hell already to Earth. That version of the game was much more like a modern military shooter, complete with a dramatic storyline and realistic weapons. The developers were not inspired by this development, because they felt that they were moving too far from the true formula of the series, which, according to John Carmack, consists of «demons and shotguns.»
In 2011, development went into a second round, and this time id Software went back to the basics that made the first parts so exciting, putting high-speed, furious action at the forefront. At the same time, the publisher represented by Bethesda was convinced that the numbered representative of such an eminent line as Doom should not be inferior in scope to the same Skyrim.
When the public began to get acquainted with the new concept of Doom, accusations of excessive bloodthirstiness immediately fell on the developers, but the main problem was the widespread comparisons with such shooters as Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, and Halo.
While critics acknowledged the successful return of the franchise to the industry and praised the single-player company, many felt that Doom’s multiplayer failed to live up to expectations and was inferior in originality and sophistication to its competitors. id Software promised to fix this problem in Doom Eternal, which will be released in March 2020.
Team Fortress 2 (2007) — 9 years
When the authors of the first part of Team Fortress, a free mod for Quake, decided to start creating a sequel, they unexpectedly received an offer from Valve itself and soon continued to work on the game on behalf of the company. In 1999, Team Fortress 2 was released to the public and developed the same military setting without any comedic characters. Also in the «old» version, one player acted as a commander and had to control what was happening in real time.
The reason for rethinking the game was the development of a new Source engine, and while Valve was groping for a suitable concept for the title, they managed to reject three or four working versions. At the time, Valve’s main focus was on Source, Steam, and Half-Life 2, so it’s not surprising that the next announcement of Team Fortress 2 took place only in 2006. Viewers saw a more direct, cartoonish and bright game, visually made in the style of «Americana» of the 50s and 60s.
The release of Team Fortress 2 took place in 2007, including as part of the collection The Orange Box, which also included Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode 2. It is worth noting that, despite serious competition these days, Team Fortress 2 is still since collects an average of 45,000 players per month.
Star Citizen — over 9 years
It is unlikely that anyone will remember now that when Chris Roberts first started raising money for the creation of Star Citizen using Kickstarter in 2012, he conceived a much smaller game centered around space combat and trade.
Over the years, the range of Star Citizen’s mechanics has grown to include procedurally generated locations, first-person shootouts, and soon a story campaign featuring actors such as Gary Oldman and Mark Hamill.
The secret to the endless growth and longevity of the game, of course, lies in regular cash investments. Back in 2014, Star Citizen entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful crowdfunding project, and in December 2019 it became known that Roberts’ brainchild raised more than $250 million. In addition, players regularly bring money to developers by purchasing spaceships and lands in the game for real money.
Although Star Citizen is unlikely to fall under the criteria of «production hell», the development of the final version of the game will certainly go beyond the 10-year mark.
Final Fantasy XV (2016) — 10 years
During the transformation from a spin-off to a full-fledged numbered sequel, Final Fantasy XV managed to change the engine, platform, main character and director, not to mention the overall concept of the game.
Final Fantasy XV was originally announced back in 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII and, along with Final Fantasy Agito XIII and Final Fantasy XIII, was supposed to be one of three games that would launch the new Fabula Nova Crystallis series. However, after not receiving the best reviews for Final Fantasy XIII, Square Enix abandoned this idea, eventually turning Agito XIII into Type-O, and Versus XIII into Final Fantasy XV.
The development was led by the artist Tetsuya Nomura, who at that time was tired of the good nature of Kingdom Hearts and wanted to create something more gloomy. Unfortunately, Square Enix decided to focus on refining Final Fantasy XIII and then Final Fantasy XIV. At the same time, according to Nomura, most of Versus XIII was completed by 2010. Initially, the game was listed as a future PS3 exclusive, but later it became known that the title would be released on PS4 and Xbox One.
At the Tokyo Game Show 2014, Square Enix unexpectedly announced that Hajime Tabata had taken on the role of Nomura as the game’s director and announced the release of the first Final Fantasy XV demo.
As a result, Final Fantasy XV became that rare example when «production hell» did not affect the final, and the game pleased the creators not only with reviews, but also with impressive sales.
Prey (2006) — 11 years old
As you know, it is 3D Realms that is responsible for the launch of one of the most striking examples of «production hell», the fifteen-year development of Duke Nukem Forever. Much less frequently mentioned is another of her brainchild, namely Prey 2006, which took 11 years to create.
The first steps towards the development of Prey’s ideas were made back in 1995. Then the legendary game designer Tom Hall was present in the team, and the title itself was supposed to become the company’s trademark and eventually turn into a popular and successful series. When Hall left the studio in 1996 to found Ion Storm with John Romero, his role at 3D Realms was taken over by Paul Schuyema.
In Shuitema’s version, the player took on the role of a Native American fighting aliens and moving around locations using special portals. It was the mechanics with portals that was the main trump card of the game, but at that time its implementation was given to developers with great difficulty.
After 1997, development began again from scratch, but already under the leadership of Korin Yu, however, she, too, was in for a failure. Finally, in 2001, the opportunity to try for the fourth time went to the Human Head Studios team, and five years later, Prey made it to the shelves. The title didn’t revolutionize the gaming industry as 3D Realms once planned, but received fairly positive reviews, which were enough to put a sequel into production.
Prey (2017) — 11 years old
Although Bethesda received the rights to the Prey series back in 2011, players saw its continuation, or rather the restart, only six years later. In general, the development of the second part began immediately after the release of the first, but later 3D Realms was forced to abandon its offspring for financial reasons.
In that version of the title, the player acted as a bounty hunter, and the setting was transferred to space stations. This version became a hit at E3 2011, but after a few months, development stopped because, in Bethesda’s opinion, the quality of the game was inferior to the company’s standards.
As a result, the publisher instructed Human Head Studios to develop the sequel, but two years later rejected this version as well, officially canceling the creation of the sequel and instructing Arkane Studios to restart the line in principle.
While Prey’s 2017 release was met with positive reviews from critics who were pleased with the mixture of action and first-person space horror elements, Bethesda called the results disappointing.
Mother 3 (2006) — 12 years old
The development of the third part of the cult Japanese RPG series Mother, known in the West as «EarthBound», Mother 3 started in 1994, and the game was originally supposed to be released on the SNES, like its predecessors. Later, Nintendo decided to time the release of the game with the release of 64 Disk Drive, which allowed players to use 64 MB magnetic disks on the Nintendo 64.
Porting the series to 3D was not easy for the developers of Mother 3, and progress was rather slow. After the release of the 64DD in 1999, reviews in Japan were so negative that no one thought to promote the device in the west. As a result, the developers from Ape and HAL studios had to shift their focus to the standard cartridge for the N64, once again start development again.
In 2000, the game was canceled altogether, but the next year the project was restarted with the goal of releasing the title on the Game Boy Advance in 2D. Until now, fans of the series have not received an official English version, but, of course, you can easily find a fan translation.
Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar (2017) — 20 лет
Of course, Grimoire cannot boast of the scale and fame of the above examples, although it still deserves mention and even respect, because for two decades this title has been developed by one single person.
Mark Blakemore started creating his own CRPG in 1997, hoping to finish the title that same year. In 1998, Blakemore staged a beta test, but after that the game disappeared from sight for sixteen years, until in 2013 the game designer launched a fundraising platform on Indiegogo. The campaign failed to raise even a tenth of the $250,000 required, and the long-awaited role-playing game had to be pushed back from 2014 to 2017 when Grimoire was released on Steam.
According to Blakemore, Grimoire boasts 600 hours of content, a huge amount of locations, and some serious character customization. But, judging by the reviews on Steam, the game designer failed to convince the players that the study of all these materials is worth it.
Unreal World (2016) — 26 years
Surprisingly, a year before Grimoire, another long-term build appeared on Steam, which was in development even longer and even ended up in the 2019 Guinness Book of Records.
Sami Maaranen and Erkka Lemus started RPG development in 1990, releasing the first working build in 1992. The first version of the title was developed in ASCII and the developers planned to distribute it via shareware.
Despite the fact that Unreal World has retained the visual style of the 90s, the concept of the game has changed more than once, acquiring elements of such genres as roguelike and survival. The setting in general migrated from fantasy to Iron Age Finland.
Year after year, Maaranen and Lemus developed the game of their lives, making technological leaps forward one by one along the way. Fortunately, unlike the situation with Grimoire, the efforts of the Finnish developers were appreciated. When Unreal Worlds came out in 2016, gamers raved about its atmosphere and depth, with critics even calling it one of the best RPGs of all time.
The main problem of «production hell» is not time, but the dissatisfaction with the expectations of the players, who are becoming more picky every year. If we do get Beyond Good and Evil 2 in 2020, then no matter how much leap the game makes compared to the last part, it is not known whether it will be able to please the fans who have been waiting for it for 13 years already.