Forever in Development Hell

When it comes to development time, video games can be a tricky business. You might have problems with the basic programming and engine, which all take months to fix. The game might not pass quality control standards, and need to keep going back to the shop. Or heck, in some cases, the developer or publisher might even go bankrupt while it’s in development, leaving the team and project to migrate somewhere else.

So as a result of this and a whole host of other possible issues, it’s not uncommon for games to stay in development a fair while. Indeed, some companies (like Nintendo, Rare and Valve) are even known for it!

But even they can’t compete with some games. Oh no, these games take development hell to a whole ‘nother level!

These games (thanks to all manner of strange circumstances) don’t spend a year or two in development. Oh no, they take decades. So from crazy ROM hacks and mods to commercial titles like Duke Nukem Forever and Final Fantasy XV, this article is about the games that spend years in development without an end goal in sight. These are the games stuck forever in development hell…

Brutal Mario – 10 years

Like Brutal Mario, the most ambitious and technically ground breaking Mario ROM hack of all time. Developed by an unknown Japanese user called carol, the game is basically a massive crossover involving every franchise the creator thought was cool. From Mario to Donkey Kong Country, from Mega Man to Castlevania, it’s all here.

As seen in the trailer:

Unfortunately though, this ambition came at a price. Namely, one of the longest development histories of any ROM hack ever made. Because from the first public demo to the current day, Brutal Mario has been in development for a massive TEN YEARS.

No, we’re not making that up. Demo 6 (the earliest demo on record) was released in 2006. And how long ago is that? Well, for comparison’s sake… the Wii was released in the same year.
We’re currently just a few months before the release of the Nintendo NX, two generations away from the point we ‘started’.

And trust us, we say ‘started’ very loosely. Cause Demo 6 kind of implies there were another 5 demos right before it. But we never found any of these demos, so for all we know, the game could have easily been in development for another 5 years before this point.

Oh, and let’s add a plus to the end of that development history number too. Because Brutal Mario isn’t actually finished. It’s still missing most of the final world (and boss battles), various special world levels and redone versions of the first two or three worlds on top of that. So this game could well end up as being in development for well over 20 years by the time its finally finished.

But not all games are stuck in development ‘hell’ because of their ambitiousness…

Chips Challenge 2 – 17 years

Oh no, some are stuck here because the creator got screwed over by the lawyers.

Because that’s exactly the case with Chips Challenge 2. Basically, the first game was designed by a man called Chuck Sommerville, and the rights owned by a company called Epyx.

Unfortunately, Epyx went out of business. Which then meant a company with no experience in games (called Bridgestone Multimedia) bought out their IPs (to get Bible software published by the company).

And so when Chuck wanted to publish the sequel (which was made in 1999), the group demanded Chuck pay a 6 figure licensing fee.

The end result?

The game got stuck in limbo all the way until 2010. At which point, licensing negotiations continued, and the game finally got released on Steam in 2015. That’s one heck of a legal/business battle, isn’t it?

Still, it all worked out in the end. And hey, Chuck did manage to release yet another sequel in the franchise shortly afterwards, so it seems like the licensing hell the Chips Challenge series was stuck in finally came to a close.

Doom (2016) – 8 years

But enough of that for a bit, let’s look at a slightly more positive case. Namely, another game stuck in development for years due to simple ambition. Aka, the 2016 version of Doom.

Started as Doom 4 back in 2008 and hinted at before then in 2007, the 2016 Doom game went through a lot of changes in its development history. It was planned as a normal sequel. Then a sort of not reboot but also not sequel type situation. Then it was announced to be using a new scripting language before surprise surprise, the game actually did turn into a reboot after all.

But unlike a few other games on this list, the game actually met and surpassed expectations. It got good reviews from most review sites, holding an average score of 85-87% on Metacritic. It sold well, selling 500,000 copies for the PC version alone in its first month. See, a game that spends a long time in development can turn out great after all!

Which is a whole lot better than the next, extremely infamous game…

Duke Nukem Forever – 15 years

Oh come on, you knew this one would be on the list, right? Duke Nukem Forever’s claim to fame is literally how long it’s spent in development.

There was even a website that tracked all the important things that happened in the world while the game was in development:

The Duke Nukem Forever List

But why was it in development so long?

Well, feature and scope creep taken to the extreme really. You see, the team at 3D Realms didn’t want Duke Nukem Forever to be a normal game. They didn’t even want it to just be a ‘good’ first person shooter.

Instead, they (and by that, I mean mostly George Broussard) wanted Duke Nukem Forever to be the best game there ever was. Bar none. The one that the whole industry sees as the paragon of greatness, all reality be damned.

And so a great game needed great tech and every single trend that was popular at any point in time.

The result?

Lots and lots of massive engine changes. Did a new engine come out that had more visual effects and features than the last one? Then Duke Nukem Forever would immediately switch to it, usually tossing the existing work out of the window in the process.

Did a new game come out with a revolutionary new mechanic or interesting level idea? Then the exact same thing would be integrated into Duke Nukem Forever. For example, when the adaptation of The Thing came out with snow levels, then suddenly Duke Nukem Forever was going to have snow levels.

As a result, it’s a game you can basically cut open and see the entire history of the gaming industry in, like a tree with its tree rings. A fascinating historical case study, that’s for sure.

But not a game that ever saw completion, at least under its creators’ watch. Because 3D Realms forgot one crucial point about art. Namely:

Real artists ship

As Steve Jobs said there, you have to eventually decide your work is done and your product will become available for the public to the buy. You cannot spend your entire life (or your company’s life) developing something endlessly.

But they didn’t listen, and it eventually brought down the project. After all those years, the rights got moved to Gearbox Software, who finally got the game out the door by June 2011.

Why? Because they decided to try and finish the damn thing rather than spend another 15 years moving from engine to engine.

Onto the next game!

Final Fantasy XV – 10 years

Namely, Final Fantasy XV. Or should I say Final Fantasy Versus XIII?

Because Final Fantasy XV wasn’t originally intended as the next main game in the series, it was going to be a spinoff of XIII. But after many years and changes (from which it went from a PS3 game to a PS4 one), the title eventually morphed into a full fledged numbered instalment in the series and somewhat split from its roots.

And now it’s being released for real in November 2016. Again, another game long developed game finally gets to see the light of day! It’s been a pretty good record here so far!

Kirby’s Air Ride – 8 years

Which brings us to our next game, and more evidence that a long time in development doesn’t have to doom a game or franchise.

Because Kirby’s Air Ride was not started as Gamecube game. It became one, sure. But it originally began as a Nintendo 64 title at the end of the console’s lifecycle, getting moved over when it became clear the N64’s life was ending. It then got an early preview in 2003, which didn’t exactly get a great reception:

IGN’s Article on the above preview

Still, it turned out decently enough in the long run. Not fantastic (for those not already obsessed with the Kirby series), but good enough to get about 60% on Metacritic. Either way, it’s a million miles away from what happened to the next choice here…

Limbo of the Lost – 20+ years

Aka, Plagiarism Simulator 2008.

Originally designed as an Atari ST title in the early 90s, Limbo of the Lost actually had a surprisingly interesting development history, with progress on the title being on and off for over 20 years.

And with the game finally being released on PC in 2008, the game became one of the longest developed titles to actually see a widespread release.

However, it wasn’t to last. Because very quickly after it came out, the game become infamous for something else. Namely, plagiarism.

Because Limbo of the Lost turned out to have a lot of resources stolen from other games in it. There were areas copied from the Elder Scrolls series. Objects and backgrounds from Sea Dogs and Thief. Heck, some elements were even from movies like Spawn and Pirates of the Caribbean.

And what’s worse, this wasn’t even a new thing. The game wasn’t 100% honest before it became a PC title either, with contributors to the wiki pointing out that backgrounds from the Amiga demo were traced over from a game called Guy Spy. As you can see pretty clearly here:

Limbo of the Lost comparison

Either way, it was quickly withdrawn from sale, ending its creators game development ambitions not with a bang but a whimper.

Mordeth – 19 years

And then there’s this game. Aka the Doom Wad that’s spent so long in development than an award for ‘games stuck in development hell for long periods of time’ is now named after it. How crazy is this game?

Well, that 19 years figure is only based on when the first instalment of the three part mod was released, not when it actually started development. But even assuming it did start development the same year, this game is so old that Duke Nukem Forever actually started and finished production while the game was in development hell.

No, that’s not a joke. The first episode was released in February 1997, two months before Duke Nukem Forever started. And as of this point in time (when Duke has been available for five years), Mordeth is still nowhere to be seen. Heck, even the Doom series itself has gone through two major instalments and various extra episodes during this mod’s development!

That’s impressive. Enough so in fact that Mordeth could actually be the longest developed fan project in history! Well, unless the next game keeps going even longer…

Mushroom Kingdom Fusion – 9 years

Because Mushroom Kingdom Fusion has been in development for 9 years, is only on version 0.5 and has recently been cancelled revived multiple times in a row. Talk about a troubled development history!

But given the concept, this should surprise absolutely no one. Because Mushroom Kingdom Fusion was basically trying to be the biggest 2D platformer ever made. It had plans for 300 levels set across 11 worlds with about 10 playable characters (with more added whenever someone got bored and felt like it) plus thousands of enemies and bosses and about a hundred different power ups and…

Yeah, I think the trailer kind of says it best here:

Basically, the game was feature and scope creep gone ballistic. Everyone added into whatever they felt like, no one really led the project in any fixed direction and by the time it was cancelled (again), enough issues had built up that the whole engine needed to be remade from the ground up. It’s a great case of too many cooks ruining the game.

Which is at least an issue the next game didn’t have…

Prey – 11 years

Because Prey is a commercial game made by an actual team and released on shelves. So as per the norm, all development was handled by people who had a leader and singular vision to work too.

Unfortunately, said team were 3D Realms. Yeah, the guys behind Duke Nukem Forever, as mentioned above.

And while Prey spent less time in development than that title, it’s development cycle really wasn’t much better. Announced in 1995 and originally made in house by 3D Realms, it soon encountered ‘unsurmountable’ technical problems and got scrapped in 1997.

Before being redesigned and rebuilt with a new team in November 1998. But this version too fell apart, with tech programmer Corrine Yu (who was brought on for this version) parting ways with 3D Realms soon afterwards.

Cue a hiatus till 2001, when yet another new version of the game began development. Except now, it had been outsourced to Rune creator Human Head Studios, and ran on a whole new engine. Either way, this version didn’t fall apart, ending with the game finally seeing a retail release in July 2006.

So yeah, maybe that should have happened with Duke Nukem Forever too. At least that way, a third party wouldn’t have to be called in to fix it…

Project H.A.M.M.E.R. – 7 years

There’s also this game, infamous for being screwed over by Nintendo’s mismanagement of the project. It’s a long story, which you can see in these two videos:

But either way, it eventually died because of culture clashes between Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Japan, which led to low developer morale and enough problems that Nintendo Software Technology ended up being stuck on Mario vs Donkey Kong titles and non game apps for the foreseeable future.

Tobias and the Dark Sceptre – 13 years

Which brings us to our final game on the list. Namely, the game that time forgot. No seriously, that’s what the creator calls it as well:

To cut a long story short, Tobias and the Dark Sceptres was started by Adam Butcher when he was 13 years old… and he was 26 when it was finally released. In that time, the game kept getting new graphical updates, new levels, new puzzles, new bosses… and many of those all being more complicated than the ones before them.

So how did it work out? Surprisingly well to be honest. I mean yeah, it’s not as ‘professional’ as a lot of modern indie games, but compared to stuff like Duke Nukem Forever and Limbo of the Lost, it’s basically a masterclass in game design. So while it’s aged a bit, it’s at least a more unique, innovative indie game than a lot of those out now, and still worth playing even today.

And that concludes our list. Some interesting titles, a variety of outcomes, but all in all, a bunch of games who may have been too ambitious for their own good. But they’re not the only games to be released years late.

Oh no, there are a few other interesting cases here too. Like these ones, where the game itself was finished or cancelled in a normal timeframe but where the product itself only got released decades later.

Such as…

Mr Tuff – SNES (released after about 13 years)

Which is an extremely polished (albeit insanely difficult) platformer for the SNES. Mr Tuff was originally in development by a company called Sales Curve Interactive in about 1994 or so, with the game apparently being one of the most ambitious titles ever made. The graphics certainly look the part after all!

Unfortunately, this ambitiousness came at a cost. Namely, it was too ambitious for the company, who eventually scrapped the project (likely) just weeks away from completion. As a result, Mr Tuff never saw the light of day…

Well, until the internet came across it that is! Somehow, someone found a version of the game and uploaded it, letting everyone finally experience this unique game.

And with a few minor issues (a password system that doesn’t work, and a difficulty level far too high for most people to contend with), it’s actually a pretty damn good game. It’s got a lot of varied enemies and bosses, tons of weapons, some really nice aesthetics in general and decent enough level design that in the 90s, this would have got a pretty good reception.

But a quick release in ROM format isn’t the ideal result for a game. No, that’d be giving it an actual release on cartridge, like our next title…

Nightmare Busters – SNES (released after 20 years)

Aka Nightmare Busters, a Contra esque game featuring a leprechaun. However, unlike Mr Tuff, something better happened in this one’s future.
Namely, it got bought out various people and officially released on newer systems. For example, an obscure phone game company retitled it Flynn’s Adventures and released in 2004.

But the most notable version was the SNES version. Yes, 20 years after it was originally meant to come to the SNES, a small group called Super Fighter Team actually made it a reality! They worked with the original designers, refined some of the levels and mechanics and then gave it a full release on the SNES like it would have gotten all those years ago.

Here’s a video of the game in action:

As well as the official site where you can get the game for yourself:

The Official Nightmare Busters Website

Again, it’s pretty good. A great looking and sounding game that’d be well at home in your SNES game library!

Infinity – Game Boy Color (released after 15 years)

Which unlike the last two, is an RPG for the Game Boy Color. That’s a pretty rare thing in itself, especially outside of the Pokemon series.

And that’s not the only interesting aspect here.

Oh no, it’s that the creators themselves put the game out decades after it was scrapped. Out of the middle of nowhere, the people who used to work at Affinix Software released the game for free on their website. Even more impressive, they released the source code for free for non commercial use, and provided a nice link to contact them about the possibility of licensing it for a commercial release.

Here’s the site where you can download the game:

The official Infinity site

As well as an AMA (Ask Me Anything) they did on Reddit:

Infinity Devs AMA on Reddit

It’s a pretty unique case, and one where you have to be glad that the original creators still cared enough about their work to put it out for the public to enjoy.

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