?In recent years, videogames have surpassed film and TV as the most profitable, and sometimes the most expensive form of entertainment. Once written by single programmers, games are now large development teams with seemingly limitless funding build virtual worlds for gamers to explore. Games can take years, or in the case of this list, sometimes over decade to be completed, and unfortunately, for every Skyrim or Old Republic that is released, there are a dozen Bulletstorms, Shaq-Fu’s or even the occasional Big Rig Racing. While no one sets out to make a shit game, it does happen, and as we shall see in this list, sometimes it takes a long time to get the shit at just the right temperature and consistency.
The term vaporware is used to describe software that is announced and misses multiple deadlines, to the point where gamers and industry experts agree, that the game will never be released. Sometimes a game is eventually released and is worth the wait, but those games won’t be addressed on this list. Instead, the list of today highlights the low-lights, or rather, some of the most infamous items of vaporware, that while eventually released, would have benefited humanity by staying in development hell a bit longer. Like, forever.
5) Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
When Myst was released early in the life of the CD-rom drive, the result it had on the industry was monumental. The visually stunning puzzle game instantly became the “must have” software for PC owners, creating a huge boost in CD-rom drive sales. It also brought two new demographics the videogaming market: Women and Adults. It was obvious that Myst needed to be continued, and its sequel, Riven, also performed admirably in both reviews and sales figures. The series continued, with mixed results, gradually getting lower and lower sales numbers (and incidentally, critical praise) as it progressed to Myst V: End of Ages. But it was immediately after the release of Riven that developer Cyan decided the Myst series needed to go in a new direction, sending Myst 3 and subsequent titles to third party developers, and instead focusing on a new direction for the Myst universe: Uru.
No longer a first person, environmental puzzler, Uru goes for more of the adventure game approach, with a new third person perspective. Originally conceived as a multiplayer game, it moved to something that could be considered a more interactive version of Myst. No longer present were the static environments that you clicked through to explore, replaced with a seemingly more open world.
The game failed to capture the core Myst audience, and planned features like online play were never implemented to their full potential. The game was still moderately successful, and did gain some pretty positive reviews, but so much more success was expected by Cyan with its expensive budget and five5 years of development time.
In the 1990’s, Id Software and its co-founder and programmer John Romero could do no wrong. Titles like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake revolutionized the world of PC gaming, multiplayer gaming, and made violence almost mainstream. Initially designed by Romero in 1997 with plans for an impressive Christmas 1997 launch, Daikatana was pretty expansive for the time, with the initial design spanning four time periods, 24 levels, tons of weapons and dozens of monsters to kill. The game was to use the Quake engine, which was all well and good, until the game debuted at the 1997 E3 conference, where Id just so happened to be showing off their Quake II engine, making the initial Daikatana look like crap.
So Romero and team decided to move on and port their content to the Quake II engine, and there went the Christmas 1997 release. To make matters worse, it was two years later when their conversion to the Quake II engine was complete. In an impressive example of fail, their demo at the 1999 E3 resulted in their new and “improved” Daikatana proving to be unplayable, with a maximum frame rate of 12 FPS. It was finally released a year later after continued development and bug fixes, selling a whopping 200,000 copies. To make matters worse, a Nintendo 64 was rushed out a mere three months after the PC release, with the result being a totally stripped down version of the already flawed PC game.
3) Duke Nukem Forever
It’s amazing to think that the recently released, and much maligned title, Duke Nukem Forever was in development for so long. First announced in 1997, back when most of us had just upgraded to the first Pentium computer processor and 3-D graphics card were in their infancy, 3D Realms (the original developer) promised more of the mayhem, massacres, and misogyny that the first 3-D Duke game delivered. After a few setback and missed release dates, 3D Realms gave its customers the exact answer they did NOT want to hear: The game will be done when it is done. That was in 2001, and that was the last word gamers got regarding Duke until late 2007 when a new teaser trailer was released. Of course, this digital cocktease was all that we got for six years of silence, and Duke quickly went underground again, with no further updates until 2009 when the Duke Nukem development team was downsized.
Legal battles ensued between 3D Realms and Take-Two Interactive, the company who held distribution rights for the game, until finally, in September of 2010, 2K Games announced that Duke Nukem Forever was back on the drawing boards, now being developed by Gearbox Studios. It was then announced that the game would be released in May of 2011. As we got closer to May though, a special announcement video was released from Gearbox. As the president of the company talked about the impending shipment of the game that people thought was never going to be completed, someone walks behind him and yet again changes the date, delaying the game for another month, obviously poking fun at the development history of the title, and letting everyone know that “Duke never comes early.”
Of course, Duke eventually did come, and 14 years of development paid off with a very lackluster game. The gameplay felt dated, very similar to Duke Nukem 3D from a decade past, complete with crappy controls and numerous jumping puzzles. Its attempts at humor are both juvenile and misogynistic, and while I don’t mind juvenile humor, the entire script seems like it was written by 6th grade boys. While Duke is not particularly a sympathetic character in any incarnation, scenes of him mercy-killing topless, alien-impregnated strippers isn’t so wrong it’s funny, it’s just wrong. Nudity abounds, and while I generally don’t shy away from that, the nudity is presented without any purpose or direction, like the “wall boobs” decorating the hall ways of dungeons. It seems that a level designer decided to randomly throw breasts in the scenery as filler.
To be fair though, the odds were stacked against the final developers. The expectations the gaming public had were astronomical, with Duke being almost a digital Messiah, when in fact the original Duke 3D was a pretty much average game, with an above average amount of humor for its time. It’s doubtful that anything Gearbox put out would have satisfied the appetites of Duke fans, but one thing is for certain, the taste it left in the mouths of most gamers was bittersweet.
2) APB: All Points Bulletin
No one can deny the popularity of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. While I have never been a particular fan, millions of fans over the years have taken delight in embracing their dark sides. With games like World of Warcraft being in their prime in 2005, it wasn’t long before some exec got the bright idea of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup combination of the popular MMO and the popular but socially deviant Grand Theft Auto series. The result was APB, a game that looked so much better on paper than in reality.
Development started in 2005 by David Jones and his newly formed Realtime Worlds studio. Originally planned for both the Xbox 360 and PC platforms and featuring concepts similar to their Crackdown title, APB was slated for a 2008 release. It wasn’t long before that release date was pushed back to 2009, with the Xbox released delayed until some time after the PC release. 2009 came and went, with the only thing to show for it being a closed beta test in October. It wasn’t until June of 2010 that an open beta was made available, and the game finally was released at the end of June 2010.
One of the first things that made the game different from other MMOs at the time was its subscription. While most MMOs come with at least one month of “free” play time, the system for APB was quite different. Upon purchasing the game, players were given a 50-hour free trial, and had the option to either purchase hours of gameplay, or a monthly unlimited pass. Second, it wasn’t that good. While not a terrible game, APB just wasn’t particularly fun, with particularly lackluster controls and mechanics. Of course, these issues paled in comparison to the fact that within six weeks of release, Realtime Worlds began laying off staff, leaving a skeleton crew on board to keep APB running. After over five years and 100 million dollars in development, APB was shut down after a mere 77 days, and ended up being one of the largest commercial failures in the MMO genre. Realtime Worlds shut its doors forever, and it’s properties, including APB, were sold.
1) Battlecruiser 3000 AD
In the ’90s, space sims peaked. Titles like Freespace, Independence War, and the iconic Wing Commander series captured the imaginations of science fiction gamers the world over. When Battlecruiser 3000 AD was announced, appetites were certainly whetted. The plan was to develop a serious, detailed space flight sim, with a level of realism that hadn’t been seen previously anywhere. First announced in 1992, the ambitious project bounced around several financially troubled studios before finally landing at Take-Two Interactive in 1997 who quickly released it.
All throughout the development of the game, creator Derrick Smart and the many publishers involved did their best to puff up the game to meteoric heights. The most ludicrous of these claims stated that they had developed a neural net artificial intelligence specifically for the game. The thing is, all bragging aside, Take-Two made one minor misstep when releasing the game: It wasn’t finished.
Keep in mind, the game was released in 1997. Although Windows 95 had been released and was now widely used, Battlecruiser was released for the DOS platform. Anyone who played games during that era knows that DOS and Windows 95 didn’t get along too well. Second, to quote Alan Bradly, it had “…more bugs than a bait store.” It had tons of issues that rendered the game almost unplayable right out of the box. One positive that I can say about it, creator Derrick Smart engaged in almost Herculean efforts to fix the fuck-ups, releasing multiple patches throughout the life of the game, and finally acquired the distribution rights to it, which he then released on the internet free of charge. It’s quite sad to see a game that seemed to have some much potential in 1992 fail so utterly.
A fan of video games and science fiction from the moment he discovered his father's Atari 2600 and Star Wars, Jason Helton has been contributing to The Robot's Voice since 2011. Prior, he wrote for the UK's Den of Geek and was the producer and host of Iron Otaku Radio on XM's UPOP 29 channel. A die-hard fan of Battlestar Galactica (both old and new), Doctor Who, and pinball, you can follow him on Twitter @Razgriz1138.