Why We Shouldn’t Give Up on Games in Development Hell

BioShock Infinite‘s falling apart! The Last Guardian will never see the light of day! Final Fantasy Versus XIII is dead! Sounds like it’s time to panic…or is it? Over the past couple weeks, there have been lots of headlines about long-delayed games suffering turbulent development cycles, causing many to wonder if the turnover and copyright issues meant cancelled games. But all I keep asking myself is how any of this is news. Hugely expensive creative projects with staffs of hundreds? How could that not be turbulent?

The reaction was the loudest in regards to BioShock Infinite, probably we know plenty about it already. A cut multiplayer mode and a handful of producers are moving on to other projects, which suggests that Infinite might look radically different from when we last saw it (or not). But would that be such a big deal? Irrational’s vision for the original BioShock changed dramatically over time, and the final results were mostly incredible, ending aside. Those folks have earned a little faith! There are countless beloved games that bear little resemblance to their original concepts, as well. Halo started out as a real-time strategy game before Bungie reconfigured it into a FPS powerhouse. Mother 3 began as an N64DD game before the scenario ended up on the Game Boy Advance roughly a decade later. Even Shadow of the Colossus, from Team Ico, ditched the multiplayer and Ico’s horned heroes from “Nico.”

Speaking of which, Fumito Ueda’s latest project may or may not be canceled, based mainly on a lapsed copyright. Well, that, and nobody has seen it in years. But that’s part of an ambitious creative process. Though few teams would be given the free reign and money to take so damn long, is there any doubt that the next game from Team Ico is worth it? And if you look at other mediums, this isn’t at all unprecedented. Terrence Malick typically takes about 10 years between films, which sounds absurd until you have a chance to take in his magnificent work. Stanley Kubrick’s production style was similar, with only 13 films to his name throughout his career. These guys weren’t willing to compromise their craft, and while it probably made them a pain in the ass to work with, their visions needed to be realized. I would expect will see this more frequently with games, as better technology allows for greater scope.

I will admit that the one game I’m “worried” about is Final Fantasy Versus XIII. We haven’t seen any footage, and more importantly, it was conceived as part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis – a perfect example of counting your video game eggs prematurely. However, even if this particular project is a bust, some good may come of it. Maybe it will just be part of Square Enix’s current growing pains, as it struggles to figure out how to keep its franchises going without letting them get too bloated. Or maybe we’ll get the story delivered in a different form, through books or DVDs. I wouldn’t be too excited about this given my general apathy towards Nomura’s storytelling, but the point is that even when a game is canned, it doesn’t necessarily disappear completely.

As gamers, we have a tendency to assume the worst in any given predicament; the Internet does not breed patience. But we shouldn’t give up on troubled game development because of a few bumps in the road. What we end up with might not be the same as what we started with, but it doesn’t really matter if we get to play a masterpiece.

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