There’s been a lot of major delays announced over the last few weeks: Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, DmC, and X-Com have all slipped out of the 2012 schedule, and you can bet more delays will be announced before or during E3 next week. While waiting for these guaranteed hits is indeed hard, history has taught us that sometimes, things are worth the wait.
Every time a publisher or a developer announces a delay to a highly anticipated game, everyone on the internet starts to whine about how much longer they have to wait. It’s understandable, sure; I can’t wait to get my hands on Bioshock Infinite or the new Tomb Raider reboot, but at the same time, I’m sort of glad the companies behind these games care enough to delay their games.
Yes, “care” is the right word to use in this situation. Contrary to what the kid in you might think, publishers and developers don’t just delay games in order to spoil your fun. While I’m sure the publishers behind these games would’ve loved to get them out in time to cash-in on the 2012 holiday season, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they delayed their games in order to make sure they got them right. A little extra dev-time or QA testing never hurts, and I’d prefer to get a good game a few months late rather than pay to buy a game that was released in an incomplete state (*cough* Bethesda *cough*). Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto once famously said “A late game is only late until it ships. A bad game is bad until the end of time,” and I couldn’t agree with him more.
Nothing illustrates that sentiment more than the following five games, all of which suffered long delays and challenging (read: troubled) development periods, but ended up becoming instant classics when they were released. I know it’s hard to be patient when a game you’re excited about gets delayed by a few months (or years,) but before you send an angry email to the publishers, take a look at the following list and remember that sometimes, somethings are truly worth the wait.
Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2 was originally announced by Valve in 1998, almost ten years before the game actually came out. Originally developed using the same modified Quake engine that powered the first Half-Life, TF2’s initial appearance bared little resemblance to the beloved whimsical shooter that millions play today — instead of the game’s current iconic cast of cartoony mercenaries, TF2 originally had a more realistic (by 1998 standards) cast of grizzled, military looking dudes and a far more serious, gritty tone.
The game’s development fell by the wayside as Valve dedicated most of their resources into developing Half-Life 2 (a game which also deserves a spot on this list, but doesn’t have one because… Well, honestly, I’m too lazy to write about it,) and after a few years with no news or updates regarding the status of the game, fans began to jokingly associate it with Duke Nukem Forever, which by that time was already a few years MIA as well.
Thankfully, Valve spent that time wisely and eventually delivered on a product that was fun to play, beautiful to look at, and surprisingly genuinely funny (all traits that are missing from Duke Nukem Forever, by the way.) TF2 changed a lot during its nearly decade long development period– Valve ditched the hardcore military theme for a brighter, almost Normal Rockwell-esque aesthetic, and they managed to create some of the best maps and most balanced selection of classes to ever appear in a shooter. One could even make the case that development on TF2 isn’t finished yet — Valve continues to support the game with new balancing updates and content, and I’m sure anybody who’s sunk a few (hundred) hours into Valve’s addictive shooter probably doesn’t even remember how torturous the 9 year wait for it was. (Speaking of which, where’s Half-Life 3?)
Fans of Nintendo’s Earthbound (known as Mother in Japan) series are some of the most dedicated and creative people out there– just check out the wealth of fan created merchandise at fangamer.net to see what the Earthbound community is capable of — but despite their chipper demeanor and optimistic attitude, they’re also one of the longest suffering groups of fans in gaming history.
The original Mother game was an NES RPG whose US release was cancelled at the last second, even after a full localization was completed. The second game in the series managed to come out in the US during the tail-end of the SNES’s wonderful run, and while it was never a big commercial hit, it’s absurdist sense of humor and charming cast of characters earned it a dedicated cult following that persists to this day. The team that developed Earthbound immediately started work on a third entry in the series for the Super Famicom, but they were forced to rework the game into 3D when the generations shifted and everyone’s focus turned to the newer Nintendo 64. The game languished in development hell for the entirety of the 32/64-bit generation, and fans of Earthbound began to worry that Nintendo would never deliver on a sequel to the cult classic.
By the time the Gamecube was released five years later, a lot of people had written “Earthbound 64” off as vaporware, and most people assumed that the Earthbound franchise was, for all intensive purposes, over. However, repeated requests from fans of the original games convinced the game’s developers to restart the project, this time on Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately, development on the GBA was slow as well, as by the time the game finally came out in Japan in 2006, most gamers had traded in their GBA’s in favor of Nintendo’s new hotness, the DS. The declining GBA market caused Nintendo of America to deny the game a localization in the West, and it seemed like Earthbound fans were destined to miss out on sequel that they had spent a decade and 2 hardware generations waiting for.
Thankfully, like I mentioned before, Earthbound fans are a creative, optimistic bunch, and they picked up the torch that Nintendo of America dropped and ran with it. The cool folks over at Starmen.net created a very, very well-written and accurate fan translation for the game, and English speaking Earthbound fans finally got the game they had wanted for so long. It was completely worth the wait, too: Mother 3 is every bit as good as its classic predecessor, and the story is one of the funniest and, surprisingly, one of the most touching pieces of fiction to ever grace a video game.
Red Dead Redemption
It’s sort of weird putting Red Dead Redemption on this list, because I don’t think anyone actually expected RDR to be as great as it ended up being. The original game in the series, Red Dead Revolver, was a solid but mostly forgettable last-gen third person shooter, and when publisher Rockstar revealed that they were making a sequel in 2005, I don’t think anybody got particularly excited.
Development on the game continued on and off for the next few years, and it was actually a pretty quiet affair as far as the public and press were concerned, as nobody really got hyped for it until a few months before its release. But according to interviews with the game’s writer Dan Houser, development on the game was a “nightmare” as the company struggled with a host of technical complications and other problems. Red Dead Redemption was to be Rockstar’s biggest and most ambitious open world game to date, but considering that the best Western game up until that point was Activision’s fun but seriously flawed last-gen adventure Gun, I don’t think anyone was expecting Red Dead Redemption to surpass the quality that Rockstar North had delivered with GTA4.
But Red Dead Redemption ended up doing just that: as far as I (and many others) am concerned, Red Dead Redemption is the best game that Rockstar has every published. With its grand scale, brilliant story (especially during the third act,) and fun, polished combat, Red Dead Redemption galloped past the more modern GTA4 to become the surprise smash hit of 2010. Despite it’s success, Rockstar hasn’t announced another game set in Red Dead Redemption’s bleak rendition of the dying West, but I’m sure that they’ll make another Red Dead adventure at some point, and if it’s half as good as RDR was, it’ll certainly be worth the wait.
Resident Evil 4
Part of what makes things scary is the fear of the unknown: our imaginations are always capable of creating things that are personally more terrifying than any movie or game monster. Once you get familiar with something, it stops being a threat, and a decade ago, Resident Evil was dangerous close to becoming overly familiar: just like a Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street sequel from the 80’s, Capcom’s pioneering survival horror series was dangerously close to becoming predictable and irrelevant. Now, don’t get me wrong, classic RE fanboys: I love old-school survival horror games as much as you all do, but by the time Code: Veronica rolled around, it was clear that the genre needed to evolve.
Resident Evil’s creator, Shinji Mikami, dedicated himself to making sure that RE4 would be the evolution that the genre needed, but the process certainly wasn’t easy. The game was scrapped, revised, and restarted many times over as the developers struggled to figure out how to modernize the traditionally slow and plodding series. One early version of the game eventually evolved into the first Devil May Cry after it’s melee-combat based mechanics were deemed too different to qualify it as an RE title, and another scrapped version of the game had protagonist Leon fighting ghosts rather than the series’ more corporeal zombies and bio-monsters. Mikami and his team tried every idea they could think of: bad ideas were scrapped, the project was restarted, and the good ideas transitioned over to a newer version of the game.
It was a long process, but it paid off: by the time Resident Evil 4 was released on the Gamecube in 2005, most gamers had begun to shift their attention to the upcoming next generation of consoles, but RE4 proved that the old 128-bit systems and the survival horror genre both still had some life left in them. While old-school fanboys decried the changes for being… well, different than the games they had grown up with, anyone who approached the game objectively found one of the best action games ever created; coupling a tense atmosphere with some incredibly polished and satisfying combat scenarios, it was clear within minutes of starting the game that RE4 was a classic. RE4’s influence on later games like Gears of War and Dead Space is immeasurable, and even though it’s labored development meant that it came out at the tail end of the last generation, it is without a doubt one of the best (if not the best) games of the 128-bit generation.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
There’s no better way to illustrate the benefits of “not releasing it until it’s perfect” than Nintendo’s Ocarina of Time, a game which has been almost universally hailed by every major gaming publication as the one of the best games of all time, and a game which continues to hold the highest Metacritic average review score ever, despite being almost 15 years old. You may not personally like it, but I think anyone with a sane view of gaming history will agree that Ocarina of Time’s influence on game design and the game industry as a whole are immeasurable.
Of course, while it’s old-hat nowadays to sing (only slightly) hyperbolic praises about OoT, the game’s greatness wasn’t always guaranteed. Originally shown in 1995, Ocarina of Time went through a number of massive revisions as the development team struggled to recreate the iconic, expansive kingdom of Hyrule in 3D while at the same time trying to fit it within the technical constraints of the notoriously hard-to-develop-for Nintendo 64. Early screenshots of the game look very different from the final product, and Zelda creator/producer Shigeru Miyamoto even admitted that the dev team toyed with the idea of making the game take place entirely within Ganon’s castle as a way of working around the N64’s crippling RAM limitations. The game was originally developed for the ill-fated 64DD disc-based add-on for the N64, but had to be reworked to fit on a cartridge when it became clear that the 64DD was never going to be anything but a curio.
Thankfully, by the time the game finally came out (3 years later) in 1998, the team had fully mastered the N64’s hardware and delivered an adventure that was epic in both its size and beauty (again, by 1998 standards,) and, most impressively of all, it played like dream. Link controlled with pixel-accurate precision, and the game’s “Z-Targeting” style of lock-on combat made Link’s battles with Ganon’s army far less awkward and less annoying than the combat in most other games of the time. It was obvious that a lot of team and effort went into making sure every boss battle was tense and exciting, and that every puzzle and dungeon was challenging but not frustrating or confusing. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time may have arrived a year or two after its original intended release date, but it’s obvious that Nintendo used every second of that time into making sure every part of the game was as good as it possibly could have been.
So there you have it: five games that show that delays can sometimes be a good thing, and that good things sometimes take a long time to make. Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to keep watching that Bioshock Infinite trailer from last year’s E3 over and over again until the game comes out.