Many Nintendo 64 games fell under this trope, due to such factors as the restrictions imposed by the system's cartridge format, Nintendo's censorship policies, and the general difficulty in programming N64 games:
One would think that, as bad as Superman 64 was, it was solely developer Titus' fault. However, in an interview with Eric Caen, one of the founders of Titus, with ProtonJon, it's revealed that it wasn't entirely their fault. A lot of the reasons for the game's poorness was politics with Warner Bros. and DC Comics towards Titus (the virtual reality world? They didn't want Superman kicking real people). In fact, Caen mentions that the game was only "10% of what they envisioned" and that while it was a money-maker, it hurt them in the long run because they were forced to cancel the PlayStation version of the game.
Mission: Impossible. The game was originally slated to be released in late-1996. However, constant Executive Meddling (resulting in the game switching development teams mid way through development) and problems fitting such an at-the-time ambitious game onto a small cartridge resulted in the game not seeing release until mid-1998. The final game actually wasn't half bad. However, its long development history definitely showed with its dated (even for 1998) graphics, buggy programming, and somewhat underdeveloped gameplay. The impending release of the competing Metal Gear Solid that same year certainly didn't help matters.
Body Harvest was originally slated to be a launch title for the N64. However, during development, publisher Nintendo took issue with the game's violent themes and thus dropped out of the project altogether. The game was presumed vaporware until a small third party publisher picked it up and released it in October, 1998... more than two years after it was originally slated to be released!
Believe it or not, a freaking baseball game fell victim to this trope! Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr., a spiritual successor to Ken Griffey Jr.'s Winning Run on the Super NES, was supposed to be released in late-1996. However, the game was delayed left and right before finally being released in May of 1998. By which time its graphics and gameplay were ultimately surpassed by Acclaim's All Star Baseball 99.
Daikatana, as chronicled in Knee Deep in a Dream. First, Ion Storm had some internal warring because the Daikatana team felt the development of Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 was stealing resources and staff. Then, they tried to move from the old Quake engine to the Quake II one, a process much more complicated and time-consuming than they thought. During the development of the game, the staff changed completely three times and the game ended up delayed so much that when it came out, it was already outdated. The resulting product ended up being a complete bust and pretty much ended the fame and career of the then-fledging John Romero.
Almost as high-ranking in gaming disasters is Battlecruiser 3000 AD. In 1989, Derek Smart had the idea for a grand, sweeping game set on a large ship cruising a realistically large galaxy. Players could choose how they wanted to experience it, from either the strategic level commanding fleets of ships in interstellar campaigns, to just shooting it out on a planetary surface with a blaster. Three years later it was a gaming magazine's cover story as "the last game you'll ever want."
Smart posted regular, lengthy updates on multiple online fora. These got him in the first trouble. He claimed at one point that he'd figured out how to make the opposing AIs use neural nets, a potential quantum leap in not only gaming but computing as a whole. Many developers and programmers were skeptical, and Smart's updates soon engendered one of the longest-running flame wars in Usenet history (which some people say might as well have been the real game, since at least most people could play it) due to his penchant for writing lengthy and confrontational replies, then lengthy and confrontational rebuttals to the lengthy and confrontational responses those replies got.
Offline, his personality was having the same effect on his backers. He went through several before landing at a small, relatively new company called Take Two Interactive. They got tired of his antics and, in 1996, called one of Smart's frequent bluffs by actually releasing the game. The poor-quality, buggy result of seven years of hype, development and online acrimony got the expected horrible reviews.
Smart immediately went online blaming Take Two. He was just as incorrigible with the company's executives. During one of the fights he had with management there, he started trashing the company's office, reportedly completely destroying a Coke machine at one point (an account he denies).
Smart has released some later versions as freeware. The flame wars are probably still going on somewhere on the Internet.
Similar issues came up as some of the reasons behind Duke Nukem Forever's infamous development, and instead of ruining a single man's career, the issues demolished DNF's development staff. The game's development was so troubled, in fact, that it has its own work page on This Very Wiki. The fourteen-year Development Hell that ensued was due to switching engines, 3D Realms founder George Broussard publicly insulting DNF's publisher, tons of changes beyond engine switches that would necessitate restarting the entire project, and more. DNF is truly spectacular, in that its production was so troubled that the staff had nothing worth publicly showing aside from a couple of screenshots. In the end, Gearbox Software took over production, and suddenly revealed the game would come out. Gearbox took the code and levels that 3D Realms had "finished" — which were largely conceptual and unrelated — and, in one year, completed the project that 3D Realms couldn't in fourteen.
Jurassic Park: Trespasser: As explained in an online feature or this video about this infamous botched 1996 FPS, Trespasser had a host of design and logistical problems that caused its design team to severely scale it back from their initial goals. An ambitious plan to have friendly and hostile dinosaurs that reacted to you through a groundbreaking AI system was largely abandoned because the creatures couldn't decide what mood to pick (the AI was set to maximum hostility as a quick fix). The melee weapons didn't work (so they had all their mass removed, making almost all of them useless), textures were largely scaled back because of compatibility issues and there were serious issues with the game's physics system. A botched licensing deal (they couldn't use John Williams' iconic music in the game, so they had to create their own), mismanagement between the game's design team, and a continuously-delayed release caused the game to be dead on arrival, and it was quickly forgotten.
Splinter Cell: Conviction: It took almost four years from the time the game was announced (via an internal leak of images from the game in mid-2006) to its release because of several major gameplay shifts, including a halfway-finished product that was essentially thrown out midway through production. The original game, helmed by Ubisoft Montreal, featured Sam Fisher (now on the run from Third Echelon) as some type of homeless drifter sporting a beard, hoodie and makeshift weapons and devices, and the gameplay was intended to be a sandbox-type shooter where Sam would investigate various locales to get information (and memories) about his daughter. The game was seen as a serious departure from the franchise, and Ubisoft canned it midway through development over negative fan reaction and claims that its gameplay was too similar to the original Assassins Creed (also made by Ubisoft Montreal). Several features were unceremoniously thrown out (including several abilities that enabled Sam to blend into his environment, move objects around and fight hand-to-hand against enemies), and the game's entire structure was revamped. Conviction would eventually be released in early 2010.
Gex, as discussed by programmer Gregg Tavares here. The development team was inexperienced, overworked to the point of doing 12 to 16 hours a day, understaffed and rushed to finish the game for Christmas. A lot of content was cut due to time and manpower constraints, and lead designer Justin Knorr was fired after hiding an insulting message that included Crystal Dynamics co-founder Madeline Canepa's actual phone number.
Atari's home port of Pac-Man was supposedly the demo version, made with great difficulty over six weeks due to the differences in underlying hardware. When the developer showed it to the suits, they said "OK, we're shipping this." It did well on the strength of the title but took a pounding in the media.
Valve Software's hit title Half-Life 2 cruised through a very troubled development when, a good portion into the production, the material was leaked and they had to start from scratch. Crosses over with 'What Could Have Been' after you see what they had created here.
The Sega Saturn game Sonic X-treme is perhaps the most tragic example of all as, unlike the other examples here, the game was never finished. The problems started when Sega of America demanded the development team start a new engine from scratch to replace the original, when the project had already been worked on for a while. Then, the team failed to show Sega of Japan the original engine, only presenting the new one (which was in a far more primitive and unplayable state), prompting Nakamura to order them to use the boss engine for the whole game. This prompted the team to ask for the NiGHTS engine (which Yuji Naka would not allow). Finally, the main programmer had a tendency to antagonize the rest of the team with his antisocial attitude. All of this resulted in Chris Senn doing most of the work himself, tirelessly working 20 hours a day until doctors told him he had 6 months to live; he then realized that there was no chance of finishing the game before the holiday season, so there was no choice but to pull the plug on the game.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2's own history can be chronicled by the various Alphas, Betas and Deltas made along the way. Rumor had it that 2 was supposed to utilize Time Travel, but it proved way too complicated for the simplistic Sega Genesis. Many Zones were planned and removed, including a curiously-named stage called Genocide City and the legendary Hidden Palace Zone. Sega gave Nickelodeon a very early version of 2 for Nick Arcade.
Sonic & Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were once planned to be one big game, just the basic Sonic the Hedgehog 3. However, time restraints forced Sega to split the game in two in time for 3's release, leaving many fans to wonder what these other stages were once they put in the insanely difficult Stage Select code. When Sonic & Knuckles was being made, the initial plan was that it could hook up to Sonic The Hedgehog 1, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 for new playing adventures. However, complications with the code in Sonic the Hedgehog forced them to scrap it and replace it with the Blue Spheres mini game collection. It was initially said that Knuckles gliding onto a treadmill in Scrap Brain Zone caused the game to crash. However, it was revealed later on that it was because they couldn't recolor the Flickies to their normal blue coloring without turning Knuckles blue. Which a fan did in a hack years later by bonding Knuckles' body color scheme to another.
Sonic Heroes was meant to be Xbox and GameCube only from the beginning, but midway through production, Sony apparantly gave Sega a deal to port to PlayStation 2 or be denied any favors from the company forever. Sonic Team's inexperience with the PS2 engine, as well as eventually being ported onto the PC as well, ended in a highly laggy, even boring (un)finished product.
L.A. Noire competely destroyed Team Bondi due to the lead designer having serious rage issues and treating it like his Magnum Opus. In order to get the game back on budget, they hired and chewed up nearly every budding game programmer and artist in Sydney and they were so hostile that publisher Rockstar publicly swore off ever working with them again. Said lead designer is now creating another game, titled The Whore Of The Orient. This can't possibly end badly.
Twodevelopers claims this happened to the infamous Last Action Hero licensed game. After the planning stage, word from a lawyer came that Arnold Schwarzenegger did not want to be "associated with violence" due to his then-recent involvement in family-friendly comedies, and that the game could not feature him using firearms, completely ruining the original concept. This led to the game being hastily retooled as the deadline was fixed with no chance for extension. Communications with the legal department was exceptionally slow, leading to the developers being clueless on even basic questions such as whether or not Arnold's character could punch, and the development of the PC version ground to an halt after the graphic artist refused to do work because of an unrelated payment issue with the publisher.
The Sega Saturn game for Magic Knight Rayearth was initially listed as one of the first games for the system. It didn't show up in the U.S. until three years after the Japanese release and six months after support for the system came to an end, effectively being the last North American Saturn game. What caused this game from Working Designs to fall this far down? Numerous problems, including:
The usual need to translate and dub the voice bits from Japanese to English.
The computer holding the data for the game crashing, forcing them to rebuild pieces of it.
A fight between WD and Sega over what to name the main heroines (Sega had realized Rayearth was a good enough series to franchise to the States. However, as it was common at the time, they wanted to give them English names. Both Sega and WD had different names for the girls before they both threw their arms into the air and left them Hikaru, Umi and Fuu.)
And after it was all done, then-current Sega head honcho Bernie Stolar's draconian policy against third party developers kicked in, leaving them high and dry until the Saturn was dead in the water.
Neverwinter Nights 2's premium module Mysteries of Westgate didn't take long to develop. However, Atari wanted the DLC shipped with a DRM scheme. This delayed the release of the game. Adding to this, Obsidian patches constantly broke down the Adventure Pack, pushing the game's release even further, much to gamers frustration.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a particularly extreme example. The game as it was showed great promise, and in fact ended up selling over a million copies, but due to either extreme overconfidence or extreme shortsightedness, developer 38 Studios borrowed money left and right from the state of Rhode Island, ultimately racking up a 75 million dollar debt. They were apparently confident that they would be able to pay back all the loans with the game's sales, as well as the sales of the then-in planning MMO, but it then turned out that the game would have had to sell 3 million just to break even. Long story short, 38's financial situation imploded, they went bankrupt, and all their assets, including the Amalur IP, were seized by the State of Rhode Island.
Note also that the head of that company was famous Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who traded heavily on his celebrity in convincing Rhode Island to suspend their own funding rules to loan his company more money. Not that RI necessarily needed convincing; to the state that, at the time (and possibly still today), had one of the five highest unemployment rate in America, the promise of a major high-tech firm bolstering their economy must have been very easy to get excited about. (RI's long rivalry with Massachusetts may also have played a role: here was one of Boston's star sons offering to bring his business to Providence instead.)
The New York Times did a long story about this. In addition to the above points, there's the fact that RI governor Lincoln Chafee had not endeared himself to Schilling when, as a candidate while the state was doing the deal, he dared to repeat insinuations that the Schilling had put red paint on his sock himself rather than actually bleeding during the most famous game of his career. While he tried to make up after he was elected, Schilling still resents that.
Schilling was probably out of his depth with his ambitious plans for the game. A complex multilevel PVE game is challenging to develop even for an established game maker with a success of exactly that type. He hired R.A. Salvatore to create a 10,000-year backstory for the game, for which Salvatore has yet to get paid any of the $2 million he's owed. One of 38's original executives said he had tried to convince Schilling to develop and release the game in stages, rather than "trying to build a skyscraper on the side and then stand it up."
Schilling paid very generous salaries ... by his estimate, the average pay at 38 was $86,000. The company went so far as to pick up the mortgage payments on its employees' unsold Boston-area homes if they moved closer to Providence. And since the state had made the investment to create jobs, 38 ultimately hired 400 people—a lot for a new game developer with only one title out.
In the end, everybody got hurt. Over three hundred people were let go from the jobs Rhode Island wanted so badly. Schilling claims to have lost his entire fortune from his baseball career, and had to auction the bloody sock. Chafee has a very low popularity rating and announced he would not run for another term. The state is suing Schilling, claiming he knew the game was unlikely to succeed (not hard to have seen that coming, since he couldn't get financing in Boston, where there are tons of venture capitalists focused on tech companies) and was attempting to defraud the state.
The Tomb of the TaskMaker, the sequel to the mid-1990s Apple Macintosh RPG TaskMaker, ended up being the undoing of its publishers, Storm Impact. Although TaskMaker was successful, the company's next three products (a skiing sim called MacSki, a debug program called Technical Snapshot, and a space game called Asterbamm) all failed to catch on, they started working on Tomb. A publisher who kept losing money orders didn't help, neither did the rush to get Tomb out on time — the game has a huge number of cut corners, and version 1.0 just barely got out before Storm Impact went under. See more information here (Wayback Machine archive).
About the partnership with Nintendo: Eternal Darkness started development of the Nintendo 64 —- and neared completion before Silicon Knights were asked to throw away everything and rebuild the game from scratch on the GameCube for launchnote A situation that isn't unique to just Silicon Knights; see also Star Fox Adventures by Rare, coincidentally another developer that would end up suffering from having their ties to Nintendo cut.... Additionally in its GameCube incarnation, there were some internal concerns on the Middle Eastern areas due to 9/11, causing a delay. Altogether though, the development of the GameCube version (as well as that of The Twin Snakes) were far less catastrophic due to the constant supervision of none other than Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata (no word if Silicon Knights' workplace conditions under Nintendo were as difficult as those of Retro Studios' concurrently).
CEO Denis Dyack's pet project and self-considered magnum opusToo Human is second place to Duke Nukem Forever as the king of Vaporware: announced in 1999 and released in 2008, having effectively existed in three incarnations on three console generations (PlayStation/Sega Saturn, GameCube, and the final released product on Xbox 360). It was cancelled the first time around by the original publishers (a partnership between Electronic Arts and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) for reasons unknown to even the developers, and sidelined the second time around due to too much workload with Nintendo. The reason why the Xbox 360 was ultimately chosen? Because Dyack, a man of graphics and technology, was utterly disgusted by the Wii hardware's lack of horsepower and immediately burned bridges with Nintendo.
This proved to be a fatal mistake, for without Miyamoto and Iwata to keep watch over him and his work, Dyack's ego spiraled out of control and he grew progressively more hostile towards virtually everyone, including his own staff (as will be made clear by the below bullet point). Development on the game suffered dearly for it. This resulted in mediocre sales and reviews, a bunch of projects left in the garbage bin over the next few years and most importantly of all, a disastrous lawsuit against Epic Games. Silicon Knights paid a license to use the Unreal Engine 3 for Too Human, didn't like it, and began reverse-engineering it until they decided the engine was now 100% Silicon Knights and 0% Epic. They stopped payments to Epic and demanded refunds for the money they already paid to them. Problem was, the "new" engine used in the final product still contained portions of Epic code... Needless to say, Silicon Knights lost big time and paid the ultimate price in 2013.
...but not before Dyack reached his nadir with the company's last game, X-Men: Destiny, which (along with the management of Silicon Knights itself before the lawsuit landed the killing blow) was completely destroyed by his final descent into power tripping and corporate mismanagement. This article tells the tales of the sheer shenanigans he caused behind the scenes.
20th Century Fox had tried to get production rolling for many years, beginning with an aborted attempt by Check Six Games (which was intended to be released for the PS2 at one point) in 2001, and culminating in their hiring of Gearbox Software in 2006.
However, production was very slow for the first four years, and there were a lot of "cooks in the kitchen" with different ideas about where to take the franchise. Allegedly, Gearbox was using money Sega paid them to work on other projects, including Borderlands 2 after the first game became a surprise hit. They eventually farmed out the game to TimeGate Studios (makers of Section 8 and the non-canon F.E.A.R. expansion packs) so that they could meet their obligations to Sega.
The first indication that something was wrong happened when TimeGate got their hands on Gearbox's assets for the game. What they found was a hodgepodge of barely functional code that clearly wasn't the result of four years worth of work, forcing TimeGate to scrap most of it and rebuild the game from scratch. Complicating this was the fact that the script had not been finalized yet, so content was continually being scrapped or changed due to last minute story changes. The creative process was also hampered since TimeGate had to pass all decisions through both Sega and Gearbox, leading to multiple conflicts. Finally, Gearbox and TimeGate had wildly different design philosophies, with Gearbox being more content with delaying games to ensure quality, while TimeGate being more concerned with shipping games as quickly as possible.
During this time, a teaser reel was released at E3 2011 showcasing sections from the Hadley's Hope stages. This demo was cut together using pre-release code running at a higher framerate than the finished game, polished to a greater extent, and featured gameplay elements and setpieces that were not present in the final product. This trailer was a prelude to another series of delays, as the release was eventually pushed to February 2013.
By 2012, most of their replacement assets were still incomplete, and Sega was becoming impatient with progress to the point that they could threaten legal action for contract breaching. Gearbox had to step up, try again from an incomplete product, and rush the game out the door despite knowing it was in no condition to hit the market in order to get their contract fulfilled.
After the game's critical drubbing, a planned WiiU port was scrapped, and the company was sued in a class action lawsuit for knowingly misrepresenting the levels, graphics and AI in previews and press demos, as well as restricting reviews until after the game's release.
Fortunately, things seem to be looking up. The PC version is in development, the game was released in Japan in February 2013 to great success, and the first DLC character was Saved from Development Hell when the developers started a crowdsourced fundraiser in order to fund the character's release. They said they would release the character if they raised $150,000 in 30 days. It only took one day. Four more DLC characters were funded as well. Ultimately, the fundraiser took in over $800,000. And they finally released the Xbox patch in May.
An odd one - Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 was actually held back a few months because of a music problem: JAM Project just couldn't hit a specific high note for the game's theme, GONG. Even now, they'll still sing the song in their shows, but they will not attempt to hit that high note.
The much anticipated mystery game 1666, that was being developed by Patrice Desilets of Assassin's Creed and Prince Of Persia Sands Of Time fame, has been delayed due to conflicts between Patrice and Ubisoft due to Ubisoft acquiring the rights to the game after THQ's bankruptcy. Since Patrice had left Ubisoft for THQ due to creative differences, Ubisoft wasted no time in firing Patrice over "creative differences". However, as one final act of spite, Ubisoft did not outright cancel 1666, since that would revert ownership of the rights back to Patrice. Instead, they put development "on hold" indefinitely just so they can keep the IP out of Patrice's hands. However, to his credit, Patrice is pursuing legal action to force Ubisoft to release the IP.
Lead creator Richard Garriott originally planned to have IX pick up exactly where the previous game left off (the Avatar confronting the Guardian on the latter's homeworld). However, after realizing that the fanbase likely wanted a return to the series' roots, he scrapped the idea. Shortly afterwards, in 1997, the team came up with a new concept for the game, using an isometric 3D engine. However, this idea was scrapped when the rise of 3D accelerators forced the team to jettison their existing project and begin another new version of the game.
During this time, Don Mattrick (later of Microsoft's Xbox brand), who was president of EA Worldwide Studios at the time, assumed control of the division. Mattrick pushed the development teams to stick to their schedules, and began cancelling Origin's projects for unexplained reasons (or outright killing in-production titles). As a result, Origin began to move into the online gaming sector.
Garriot went to EA CEO Lawrence Probst to get funding for Ultima Online, and it was initially treated as near-irrelevant by the publisher. However, after said game's beta test drew 50,000 volunteers, EA insisted that Garriott shelve Ascension and work solely on Online...
...and that's when everything fell apart. In the rush to finish Ascension for retail release (after EA set a firm deadline when Garriott wouldn't acquiesce to their original demand), many shortcuts were taken. As a result, the engine was bug-ridden, the team didn't have the time to fully implement the plot from the isometric version of the game into the 3D version, and cutscenes and dialogue were left unfinished.
Things finally came to a head afterwards, during pre-production on what was to become Ultima X: Odyssey. EA cancelled all of Origin's planned projects (including Ultima Online 2) and forced relocation of Odyssey's development from Austin, Texas to California, leaving developers who couldn't make the move due to family issues out of work. This subsequently led to the project being scrapped altogether, and Origin eventually being disbanded a short time later.
This trope can affect gaming hardware as well as software. The best known example goes back to the early days of home video gaming: the Keyboard Component to Mattel's Intellivision.
Starting in 1980, the back of the Intellivision box had given a third of its space to a large promotion for the Keyboard Component. The console itself was really the Master Component of what was to be fully-functional home computer with a secondary processor, 64K of RAM, a built-in cassette drive and a connection for a thermal-printer cable (all of which would have sounded impressive at that time). Just buy it, play the games, and wait. This could have easily justified buying an Intellivision over the cheaper Atari 2600, especially for parents not wanting the expense of buying both a video-game console and a home computer.
However, behind the scenes the engineers responsible weren't as confident as the marketing departmentnote Which of course rarely happens. Their prototypes were neither reliable nor reasonably cost-efficient to make. The ship date of the KC kept getting pushed back, to the point that a standup comedian named Jay Leno got his biggest laugh at the company's 1981 Christmas party when he said that the three biggest lies were "the check's in the mail, of course I'll respect you in the morning, and the Keyboard will be out in the spring."
By that time, the executives had grown concerned enough that they secretly established another group of programmers within the company to come up with a more scaled-down version of the KC, perhaps limited to the function of teaching kids BASIC programming. It was codenamed the LUCKI, or Low User-Cost Keyboard Interface, and its creators kept their work a secret out of (justifiable) fear that the main KC group would use their influence in the company to kill the LUCKI project if they learned of its existence.
Mattel's executives weren't the only ones having concerns, and acting on them. Customers who'd waited almost two years for the KC began to complain to the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Mattel of defrauding them. After enough of these complaints, and further stalling from Mattel, the FTC said that if they didn't make their latest promised ship date with the KC they would be fined $10,000 a day until they did.
It was still nowhere near ready. To appease the FTC, the company put about 4,000 of the latest prototype on shelves in selected test markets. Some sold, but the overall results were not encouraging.
After almost three years, the Keyboard Component was officially cancelled late in 1982. The FTC dropped the mounting fines when Mattel agreed to offer a full refund to anyone who had purchased one of the limited production runs. Those who wanted to keep them had to sign a full waiver promising not to seek any support or later refund from Mattel (in-house, the KC saw some limited later use when modified versions proved to be ideal development boards). A few are still out there somewhere.
As a consolation prize, the company brought out LUCKI, now formally named the Entertainment Computer System. While you could write and save programs to its (much-simpler) cassette drive (at a time when floppy disks were displacing tapes as the preferred storage medium), making it technically a computer, it only offered an additional 2K of RAM, putting it far behind any real PC on the market at that time. It was further the ECS's bad luck to hit the market in the spring, as the The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 was becoming an undeniable reality. Mattel went from aggressively hiring programmers to laying them off in one two-week period that spring; it further decided to switch its Intellivision focus from hardware to software, leaving the ECS with little marketing push behind it. The entire KC-ECS debacle played no small part in Mattel's decision to discontinue Intellivision a year later.