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Shack Ten: Video games that changed dramatically between announcement and release

This week, in honor of a weird spin-off game that went underground and emerged as Final Fantasy XV, we're talking about games that changed significantly between their announcement and release.

Read on to see what the Shacknews editorial staff and Chatty community had to say about games that underwent near-total metamorphoses by the time they hit shelves.


Daikatana

John Romero's Daikatana is a storied title for several reasons. It was originally meant to contain a ridiculous amount of content that would be squeezed into seven months. This was...not what happened in the end. Deadline changes, engine switches, and a massive amount of hype contributed to the game's lukewarm reception when it finally did release, though the controversial marketing campaign didn't do the game any favors, either.

After the entire development team booked it to form their own company (Gathering of Developers), in fact, the team had to switch from one engine to another following that, missing several other deadlines and much less of what the game originally had promised players. With frustrating sidekicks (part of what were storied to make the game a success), poor AI, lackluster design decisions and other missteps, everything combined to turn Daikatana from what sounded like a serviceable shooter into something massively, completely different in the end.

Fuse

Much like a teenager goes through phases, Fuse evolved from one game to another seemingly overnight. Originally announced as Overstrike, Fuse was a third-person cooperative shooter starring a ragtag group of agents working together to thwart an evil plot. They exchanged quips, had distinct personalities, and a distinctive style to boot.

When it released, Overstrike emerged as Fuse, a completely re-worked four-person cooperative shooter without the style, humor, or personality of its former self. Whether studio input or internal decisions were to blame, it was ultimately for the worse. Especially because you can see threads of the more fun experience in the finished product.

BioShock

The beloved BioShock may be a critical and commercial success, but it wasn't always the game it ended up as. In the beginning the main character was set as "cult deprogrammer" Carlos Cuello, looking to rescue a character who had been trapped within the confines of a cult in the past. It was meant to be set aboard a space station with bizarre monsters as well, but obviously the BioShock we know and love didn't turn out that way.

Good thing it hadn't, as it gave us an interesting and memorable narrative that would end up shaping the landscape of first-person shooters and adventures for years to come.

If I remember, the first announcement of Bioshock talked about how it was about discovering an abandoned Nazi bunker where they were experimenting with genetic mutations. The enemy NPCs had a caste system and looked and behaved more like insects, with workers, soldiers, etc. and wouldn't bother the player until the player became a threat. -BlackCat9

Halo: Combat Evolved

As evidenced by this list, plenty of games go through radical changes in mechanics or tone or visual style. Halo is likely the only one that completely changed genres, keeping only its world intact. Bungie has stated that it went from real-time strategy game to a shooter, and even then it was originally a third-person shooter. It also was meant to launch on Windows and Mac OS simultaneously, thanks in part to a high-profile announcement at 1999's MacWorld meant to show off Apple's gaming might.

Once Microsoft acquired Bungie Studios, Halo became an Xbox exclusive, first-person shooter. In doing so, Bungie helped define the language of FPS on consoles, all as the result of a game that was never going to be a shooter, or on consoles, at all.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

From X-COM: Enemy Unknown to XCOM, to The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, the X-COM game from 2K Marin undertook three name changes and many design changes during its nearly seven-year development period. The Bureau was originally envisioned as a turn-based strategy in the vein of its predecessors using the Freedom Force engine.

Eventually, 2K Marin decided their X-COM game would be a first-person shooter set in the 1950's. The original 2010 pitch went under the name X-COM: Enemy Unknown internally, but by the time development was announced the name had been changed to XCOM. Although the time period of XCOM carried over to The Bureau, the gameplay was far different. The game's core mechanic was to research. You would photograph and retrieve alien technology and bring them back to your base.

Due to confused game design decisions, including enemies lacking faces. Development stalled. Staff left and were moved around and eventually the decision was made to switch the game to a third-person perspective. As time went on 2K Marin decided that a creative reboot was for the best, and as deadline, after the deadline were missed, attrition set in. The base mechanics were removed, and XCOM went from centering around stealth and suspense to a more generic third-person tactical shooter. It also goes one final name change from XCOM to The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.

The game released on August 20, 2013, to average to negative reviews, and was a far different product in name and substance than what 2K Marin began work on in 2006.

The game went from survival horror, to tactical shooter, to Mass Effect-alike throughout its hype stage. Once X-Com: Enemy Unknown released it became a sad throwaway as the brand nostalgia was used up on the more faithful spritual successor. -TraptNSuit

It has combat like a lite version of Mass Effect and some nifty XCOM lore. That was enough for me to enjoy it. But yeah, compared to the original design vision, it's a totally different and unambitious product. -Volatris

Destiny

Bungie's first independent project after the massively successful Halo series does bear a lot in common with its predecessor, but it underwent a late-breaking overhaul that still has repercussions on the game environment. A preview build of the game was reportedly unpopular with Bungie's management team, which found it linear. The concept of Destiny was a shooter inspired by MMOs, after all, so it was important to let the player have more freedom of movement.

The mission structure was massively altered, removing the linear elements in favor of free-roaming mission hubs. This also meant players would revisit the hubs repeatedly, which impacted its reception among players who felt it didn't have enough environmental variety.

Quake

The nail-firing, Shambler-spawning frag fest that id Software released in 1996 stands as a fast and frenetic successor to Doom. However, Quake was envisioned as something much different. John Carmack, John Romero, and their co-founders at id Software wanted to make Quake: The Fight for Justice an exploration-based game with few battles. A combination of internal politics and fatigue after cranking out Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Doom II caused id to go back to the fast-paced-shooter well.

Deciding to create another FPS of the type they had popularized didn't end id's internal disputes. Some developers crafted medieval castles and fortresses in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft. Others gave their maps a sci-fi bent. The result is a jumble of levels that don't mesh well, but when has that ever mattered in a classic id game? Most maps are a blast to play through, and Quake isn't remembered so fondly for its campaign anyway.

Borderlands

Borderlands was revealed to the public in 2007 with a trailer that showed a much different visual style than the bright cel-shaded Pandora that we came to know. Instead, the game had more of a generic, gritty sci-fi look.

Apparently, the change in visual tone for Borderlands can be traced back to internal testing in October 2008. Fallout 3 and Rage had just hit the market, and focus groups were stating that the brown, earthy pallet of Borderlands was remarkably similar to those two games. In contrast, the gameplay was much faster, and much more exaggerated that either Fallout 3 or Rage, which belied it's depressing and realistic visual language.

With the game 75% finished and time running out, Gearbox chief creative officer Brian Martel, quickly went back to the drawing board and came up with the exaggerated comic styling that Borderlands is famous for. In turn that styling influenced gameplay, with many "boring" elements being scrapped and replaced with more over the top abilities.

Borderlands released on October 20, 2009, to critical fanfare, a great deal of which was due to its cel-shaded styling and over-the-top cast. Without Gearbox's will to go against the mold stylistically, we might have had a much more run of the mill game.

Duke Nukem Forever

3D Realms announced the fourth Duke game in 1997, one year after Duke Nukem 3D became the first real contender to Doom's throne. By the time it came out in 2011, most of the core team members had left for greener pastures, and Duke was met with a cold reception from critics and even a huge portion of the Duke3D faithful.

What happened? A better question: what didn't? The abridged version: Key personnel chased new engines, causing months or years of work to be scrapped and reimagined; developers joined the team only to leave following months or years of inactivity; certain design decisions, such as limiting Duke to two guns instead nearly a dozen, felt too far removed from what had made Duke3D great; the pace was glacial; the level design hit or miss; and Duke's personality, put on ice since 1997 and a defining characteristic of his last great romp, went over like a lead balloon.

Gearbox owns the Duke Nukem franchise, and finds itself between a rock and a hard place: risk crafting a new game that fails to meld new and old conceits, a delicate balance achieved by id Software's Doom reboot; or abandon the fallen king, and leave the taste of Duke Nukem forever in fans' mouths forevermore.

Team Fortress 2

Then...

Now

Early in its development, Team Fortress 2 was planned as a strategy game set against the backdrop of a modern war. Over the course of its life, it was scrapped and re-done multiple times before going silent and appearing dormant for some time. When it finally re-emerged, it took the form of the cartoonish class-based shooter millions continue to play today.

At first it was just going to be an update of the original game, but then they scrapped what they had been working on and came out with a different art style. It was much better than the original design in every way. -Thresher

I miss some of the ideas from the TF2 that was originally shown. Requiring teamwork to have a player feed bullets into a heavy machine gun that another player was firing was a pretty novel idea. And integrated voice chat that made the characters' mouths move, in that South Park way that the first Half-Life engine was capable of, was really impressive. -BlackCat9

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