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Is Eight Years Too Much Time?
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on October 13, 2006   |   Episode 8 (Show Archive)  

   

This is Prey in its earliest form!
When it comes to video game design, the rule of thumb is that the longer a developer has to work on their game, the better the finished product will be. While it's easy to be disappointing that high profile titles like The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess and Spore aren't released on time, most people are willing to accept that an extra year or two will make a great game even better. But is there such thing as giving the developers too much time to develop their game?

Conveniently this question may have been answered by the release of Prey this year. Earlier this year 2K Games finally got around to finishing the long-delayed (and cancelled) first-person shooter originally shown off at the 1998 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Eight years ago it was considered one of the most promising first-person shooters ever to be developed;

Thankfully The Twilight Princess didn't take eight years to develop!
it featured amazing graphics and people running through portals. But Prey didn't quite make it to store shelves in the 1990s. Somewhere between its E3 showing and the turn of millennium Prey was cancelled so developers at 3D Realms could focus their attention on bigger projects.

It's been eight years since Prey was first shown off to the game press, but this year 2K Games did the unthinkable ... they actually released the game. In the past eight years the project has changed its look, engine and development team. The project may have been put on indefinite limbo, but that didn't stop a few future-minded developers from thinking about its potential. Instead of just

Far Cry is hardly a perfect first-person shooter, but at least it didn't take eight years to make!
letting it die with dignity somebody decided it was time to take all of the good ideas found in the 1998 demo and add a few more cool features for the 21st century. It took eight years, but it was well worth the wait ... right?

Actually, no it wasn't. While Prey is a solid action game with a few really cool ideas, it's not the end-all, be-all first-person shooter you might expect for eight years of development time. While it's true that not all eight years of were spent developing the game, this game certainly had more time devoted to it than your average shooter. Yet for some odd reason Prey pales in comparison to the likes of Call of Duty 2, Unreal Tournament, Far Cry and a lot of other action games that had a lot less time to perfect their product. In the case of Prey the eight years of development may have actually worked against the game more than it helped it.

Another good example of why a lengthy development cycle does not

Who wants to bet that this is not the box art we will see when Too Human finally ships to retailers?
always translate to a great game is Too Human, the new action/adventure from the people that brought us 2002's Eternal Darkness. Although the game has technically been in development longer than eight years, it was first shown off at the 1999 E3. Eight years (and three consoles) later Xbox 360 owners will finally have a chance to play this long-awaited trilogy. Silicon Knights promises that when Too Human is released (sometime in 2007) it will be one of the most ambitious games of all time, a sweeping trilogy that will offer countless innovations and an emotional story. With so much development time behind them what could possibly go wrong?

Everything, if you judge the game by the terrible demo that was playable at this year's E3. Instead of coming off like the first real next generation action game it's purporting to be, Too Human failed to impress even the most accepting video game player. With disappointing graphics, a simple control scheme, horrible special effects and a buggy demo that was practically unplayable in its current state, Too Human left a real bad taste in just about everybody's mouth. Instead of your character being front and center, Too Human's camera is pulled back so far you might as well be playing Smash TV on your NES. Where did all that development time go?

To be fair to the people working hard on making Too Human the best game it can be, the version shown at E3 was

It's pictures like this that make Too Human look cool ... but believe me, it's not!
hardly the finished product. There's no doubt that when the game is finally released next year it will have some of the issues worked out, but by that time it will have been eight full years since it was shown off on the original PlayStation. One can only wonder if most of those eight years have been spent completely redoing everything they originally worked on in order to make it playable on a new system. The game was originally meant for the PS1, but then along the way it switched to the GameCube, and now it's on the Xbox 360. That's three different console generations and three completely different companies; one can only imagine the difficulties involved with changing the game in so many different ways.

Perhaps that's the biggest problem with spending eight years developing a game, technology changes so much that you might as well start over. It's not like making a movie or writing a book, our industry is all about offering the best graphics and newest game play elements, two things that are made extremely difficult when you're spending close to ten years on one

This is one game you will never actually play!
project. One can certainly appreciate the level of dedication that goes into a game like Prey or Too Human, but if you can't get the game out in a few years then perhaps somebody should step in and see what the problem is.

You can't talk about lengthy development times without wagging the finger at Duke Nukem Forever. Forget eight years; Duke Nukem Forever has been in development hell for almost ten years. Back in the late 1990s the team that was working on Prey was taken off of that project and placed on what would prove to be Duke's most controversial adventure. These days most gamers doubt they will ever see Duke Nukem Forever on store shelves, but with games like Too Human and Prey showing up long after they were announced there may be hope yet. Ah, who am I kidding? The chances of Duke Nukem Forever hitting your local Electronic Boutique are about as good as Tecmo making a male-only Dead or Alive game.
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