Delay and Dismay

First published in  CubedGamers (Printed Edition)July 2016

Shigeru Miyamoto’s quote about delayed games was partly right. A rushed game is forever bad. But some delayed games are eventually awful. Sometimes a game simply takes too long to finish. The graphics might no longer match the standards demanded by gamers, or the plot might not reflect the social attitudes of the days. More commonly, a bad game stays a bad game, either because of bad controls and voice acting, contrived plotting, and bugs.

Simon the Sorcerer 3D: Adventure Soft (1996-2002)

Simon the Sorcerer was a quaint point and click adventure comedy released in January 1993 by British company AdventureSoft, who hoped to compete with Sierra Online and LucasArts. After accidentally entering a magical world, Simon is tasked to become a wizard and rescue the wizard Calypso from the evil sorcerer Sordid. What follows is a jolly jaunt through a beautiful fantasy land reminiscent of the Yorkshire Dales, and inhabited by a cast of characters drawn from the classic fairy tales and Tolkien. For the CD-ROM version, Red Dwarf actor Chris Barrie was brought in to voice Simon, and delivered a tour-de-force delivery of wisecracking sarcasm.

A sequel was released in 1995, which expanded the horizons of the fantasy world the original had created, and was equally successful in stores. Its open ending hinted at another sequel, which entered development in 1996. Initially designed in 2D, AdventureSoft were forced to switch the game to 3D after failing to find a publisher, stating that not even God himself would be able to come to earth and get a 2D adventure game published. After a change of engine, the game was picked up by a publisher, who went bankrupt before the game could be released. The game was delayed for a further two years, before it was self-published.

The result was a game that faithfully continued the plot of the previous game, but was hampered by awful 3D graphics, difficult controls, and a game world that was just too large to traverse. What was truly puzzling was that the graphics were not even up to the standard of AdventureSoft’s previous title The Feeble Files, which was released in 1997. If the designers had focused on rendering a few beautiful locations, rather than mapping out a huge world with large areas of poorly designed wilderness, then the game could have been a lot better.

Duke Nukem Forever: 3D Realms (1997- 2011)

You couldn’t leave this one off the list! Duke Nukem Forever set records for its protracted development cycle, and when it was finally released after fourteen years after it was first announced, it turned out to be a first rate turkey. It’s predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D, had surpassed all previous first person shooters with its intricate level designs, strong multiplayer mode, and dystopian atmosphere. Though it garnered plenty of critics who objected to its use of profane language and pornographic content, the game was well reviewed, and sold millions of copies.

Which makes it all the more strange that 3D Realms, the developers of the Duke Nukem series, were unable to come up with a high quality sequel. Or any sequel for that matter. Though they worked consistently on the game for nearly a decade, and periodically announced that it was nearly done, Duke Nukem Forever became a joke, and few believed that it would ever see the light of day.

The primary reason for the delays in releasing the game was the fear of not being as ground-breaking as Duke Nukem 3D. Following the release of id’s Quake II, the development team decided to license the engine to save time. Soon after, Epic MegaGames released Unreal, and having seen the game, it was decided that the game in its current state should be scrapped, and restarted using the Unreal engine. With games advancing so quickly, and with no firm deadline, the development cycle of Duke Nukem broke down completely, resembling a set of tech demos rather than a game.

In May 2009, the company eventually handed in the towel, forced to downsize to cut costs after having burned through $20 million dollars. The publisher of the unreleased game sued. Another company, Gearbox, picked up the rights, finished the game, and released it to dire reviews – Duke Nukem it was said, was outdated.

Fallout 4: Bethesda (2016)

Fallout 4 is by no means a bad game. It is very accomplished, and has a great atmosphere. But for all the hype, the game has multiple weaknesses that undermine its status as “Game of the Year” 2015. The game has incredibly long load times, which undermines the ability of the player to quickly traverse the post-apocalyptic terrain. The graphics are not particularly accomplished, bland textures are not uncommon, and there are bugs galore. And like its predecessor, basic game mechanics are poorly explained, if they are explained at all.

Characteristic of large roleplaying games, from Elder Scrolls to World of Warcraft, Fallout IV has such a preponderance of fetch and “clear the building” quests that one has to ask whether players would have been happier with a shorter game that delivered more a more engaging narrative. Not only that, there is little guidance given to the player of how to advance the plot after the first few missions. In many instances, a wide explorable area is something to be appreciated and enjoyed a game, but in Fallout 4, everything feels lost.

Though Fallout 4 contains rudimentary RPG elements, they are more basic than its immediate predecessor, and a world away from the original two games designed by Black Island Studios in the 1990s. In streamlining this side of the game, Bethesda took an interesting hybrid and idea and converted it into “just another FPS.”

All this could be forgiven if Bethesda could explain the most annoying and inexplicable element of the game. Why, even though more than 200 years has passed since the end of the nuclear war, nobody has taken the initiative to tidy up!  

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