I was reading the other night about how George Lucas really didn’t like how the first Star Wars failed to take shape the way he’d first envisioned, and that he was freaking out about it being a massive flop at the box office. His good mate Steven Spielberg was just across town making Close Encounters of the Third Kind around the same time, and George was always over there on the set marvelling at how kickass Steven’s film was while bemoaning how awful his was going to be.
He made a bet with Steve: If my trashy Star Wars film grosses more than your alien thingy, you can have 2.5% of my movie’s profits for life. Reportedly, Steve still gets quite sizeable and annoyed cheques in the mail from George. Point is, George’s vision was changed for the much better.
Very little is said, however, of games that change their stripes mid-development. Oh sure, they receive tweaks all over the place all the time, but complete overhauls? Shooters, as it turns out, are some of the most tampered with productions in video game entertainment today. Let’s look at some of the biggest stripe-changers.
Topical. You may remember way back in the day when Gearbox first started showing this baby off to the masses that it looked nothing like it ended up looking — that’s a picture of it up top there. Its art style was your stock “kinda real” shooter art style, with nary a hint of the huge, cartoonish about-turn their design team would pull quite late in its production cycle. Everyone wigged out at the time: “Whaaat it’s a comic nao zomgor,” etc. Everyone subsequently declared much win when it was released, and Borderlands’ eventual aesthetics arguably had a big hand in establishing what was, at the time, an IP no one cared about.
Team Fortress 2
Valve’s enduring precious also took a huge amount of time in development, which is nothing new for Gabe and co. – except ten years is a really long-ass time, even by their generous standards. It first showed up at 1999’s E3, and then totally disappeared while most of the dev team were assigned to other things. “Oh well,” peeps thought. “Seeya.” But it came back, Jimmy. The next time the world saw it was in 2006, and it was completely unrecognisable. Team Fortress co-creator Robin Walker later revealed that he and his people “ended up building probably three to four different games.”
BioShock’s looks didn’t change much, but its story sure did. Originally there was no Andrew Ryan, no undersea Rapture city gone mad, and no funky superpowers. Instead, you were going to be a guy hired by a senator to rescue someone of great importance from a cult before “reprogramming” them so they might reintegrate with society again. Even stranger, at one stage it was all supposed to go down in a newly discovered Nazi laboratory in the 21st century. Aren’t you glad Ken Levine is handy with a narrative whacking stick?
Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 2’s a pretty drastic example of a game completely turned on its mouldering head mid-dev, but Resident Evil 4 is a lot shootier – although it wasn’t always that way. Devil May Cry was originally supposed to be Resi Evil 4, but luckily Capcom began to realise that this was crazy, and didn’t at all fit in with the franchise, definitely. They weren’t finished trolling their dev team though, and Resi Evil 4 initially took a few cues from Stephen King and Eternal Darkness, with Leon battling a malevolent fog, suffering bizarre hallucinations, and punching on with ghosts. Here, check it out: