First published in CubedGamers (Printed Edition): July 2016
When Nintendo delayed the launch of the Nintendo 64 by three months to ensure that its launch titles were completed to his satisfaction, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto responded to media criticism by stating: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”
To a large extent, he is right. Gaming history is littered with examples of games released before they were ready. Even now, games are released that are “broken at launch,” as developers rush to meet the launch dates set by company marketing departments. SimCity, Grand Theft Auto Online, and Assassin’s Creed: Unity are three examples of games that were near unplayable when they were first released.
For all the waiting however, delayed games are often very good. What has changed since the days of the Nintendo 64 launch is the mass popularisation of the internet. Impatient for new gaming experiences, gamers have become less tolerant of release delays. Kickstarter projects are commonly delayed. Recently, No Man’s Sky director Sean Murray tweeted that he’d received death threats after announcing that the game had been delayed for a few weeks. It’s hard to imagine Miyamoto was faced with similar responses.
In order to celebrate the art of delayed gratification, here are three games that overcame several delays to become classic titles.
The Dig: LucasArts (1989-1996)
Based on an unused Stephen Spielberg story from his mid-1980s Amazing Stories TV series, The Dig was always destined to be a hit. Viewed as too expensive to film, Spielberg’s idea for a mashup of Forbidden Planet and The Treasure of Sierra Madre – essentially Indiana Jones in space – was revived after the director played LucasArts’ adventure game adaptation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, designed by Ron Gilbert and Noah Falstein.
The basic premise of a group of astronauts exploring a deserted world far from Earth was quickly greenlit after Spielberg pitched the idea to LucasArts on October 17, 1989. That same day, a large earthquake hit the Los Angeles area. Many members of the design team have joked that the disaster was a bad omen, as the game ultimately took six years to complete, during which time it underwent three substantial rewrites and burned through four project leaders – Noah Falstein, Brian Moriarty, Dave Grossman, and Sean Clark.
After 18 months of development, little had been accomplished, and Falstein and his co-project leader Hal Barwood left to work on Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Replacing them was Brian Moriarty, who in line with Spielberg’s wishes to make a more mature game, redesigned it, adding gore and mature themes. However, he too left the project, in frustration at the slow progress, and the change in focus following the release of Jurassic Park. The backlash against the violence in that film forced Spielberg to reconsider and ask for a more family friendly game. After a brief interregnum, Sean Clark finally brought The Dig to stores on November 30th 1995.
In spite of all these problems, and the fact that its VGA graphics looked a little pixelated for the times, The Dig is an underrated sci-fi story that amazes the player with vast alien vistas and a soaring soundtrack. Though critics have accused the game of having obscure puzzles, in reality, they aren’t that difficult once you get used to adventure game logic. The only disappointing element of the game is the story of what might have been – stories abound about the ambitious Moriarty version, which involved an extra playable characters and some RPG survival elements.
Half Life 2: Valve (1998-2004)
When Half Life was released in 1998, it won over 50 gaming awards and topped many “Best Game Ever Made” lists. It marked the first watershed in first-person shooter games between earlier Doom-clones that focused on action and gore, and more sophisticated, story driven efforts. It was only a matter of time before a sequel arrived, and in 2003, the first details of Half Life II emerged at E3 when a demo version was awarded Best in Show. The media were told that the game would be released that September.
Then disaster struck. A hacker broke into Valve’s internal network, and leaked the game’s source code, and an early version of the game, to the internet. CEO Gabe Newell took to the company’s forums to ask for assistance in tracking down the culprits. Six months later, the FBI arrested a number of people suspected of being involved, including a German hacker, who was eventually arrested and charged with computer crime offenses, included the Agobot Trojan, which harvested users’ data. He later served two years in prison.
Half Life II was eventually released in November 2004, and again, the critical reception was overwhelmingly positive. Revisiting the first game’s alien invasion plot, replayed on a new engine, the game looked and played like a dream. IGN claimed it to be the best first person game ever released. Maximum PC, in a Spinal Tap moment of devotion, awarded it a score of 11 out of 10. Indeed, the game took everything about the original, souping up the realism and the responsiveness.
Diablo 3: Blizzard (2001-2012)
Blizzard have developed a reputation for cancelling projects if they don’t live up to their high standards. StarCraft: Ghost and Warcraft: Adventures were both axed as they neared completion, as was Titan, ultimately recycled as Overwatch. An entire decade passed between Diablo sequels, with Diablo III undergoing three revisions before its development team were satisfied that it met the standards of the first two games.
The game started its normal development cycle at Blizzard North, who had developed the first two games, in 2001. After they shut down in 2005, development was shelved due to Blizzard being preoccupied with the release of World of Warcraft. It was only in 2010 that they turned their eye to other titles, finally releasing a sequel to StarCraft.
The finished project was a masterpiece of action-RPG dungeon crawling, and was well received by fans who replayed the main campaign over and over, and consumed the Reaper of Souls expansion with the same eagerness. If you add the post launch development, in which Blizzard listened to fan feedback and updated the game – changing the levelling system and rebooting the in-game auction house – Diablo III actually took 14 years to mature into its definitive form.