This week, Zero Punctuation reviews the epic failure that was Daikatana.
Let's all laugh at an industry that never learns anything, tee, hee, hee.
Zero Punctuations’ Occasional Guide to
retarded Special Moments in Gaming History
So in our first instalment of the Zero Punctuation Guide to Retarded Moments in Retarded Retards, we discovered why, if the future of your company depends on the success of a game, you should maybe spend more than five weeks on it and don't build it out of LEGO.
This week, we're going to turn to the opposite site of the same coin. We know what happens when the publisher shits the bed, but what about when the developer earns the displeasure of the hotel chambermaid? When they are given too much development time as opposed to too little, as the publisher comforts themselves with the knowledge that even Stanley Kubrick once took 170 takes of the same scene; wilfully ignoring the fact that, while Stanley Kubrick was a flighty, auteur genius, the same behaviour pattern could easily be displayed by an incompetent spod with no planning skills and an indirectly proportional ego.
I speak of one the most notorious disappointments in the entire history of first person shooters. "Jesus Christ, Yahtzee, how many videos you gonna do on Duke Nukem Forever?" No, you twat, the other one!
I was slightly surprised to find Daikatana available on Steam, but even more so by the feature list: "25 glorious weapons to collect and utilize", "Two highly-trained sidekicks to watch your back." I'd have said it was being sarcastic if I thought publishers had any self-awareness at all. But, realistically, everyone knows that its infamous reputation is the only reason this game is on Steam, and the blurb should have read, "Roll up, roll up, everyone come and see the freak!"
I was surprised that the Steam version seemed to run alright, as on launch the game was notorious for running horribly with many issues, like a paper boy with polio. But I guess some things got fixed in post. For one thing, there is an option to disable the limited save gem system, although sadly not one to make it tear itself from the game and commit seppuku on your living room floor. Anyway, I started the game and it opens with a suffocatingly-boring intro cinematic written by a real go-getter, who refused to let his obvious ineptitude at writing stories get in the way of writing a huge pile of story that is now gonna get shoved in your face like an ether-soaked rag.
I die a lot in Daikatana - or should I say "John Romero makes me his bitch a lot" - but on only about 50% of those deaths was I completely certain of what it was that had killed me. And most of those 'cause it had been my own weapon. There seem to be even odds whether or not an explosive weapon will blow up in your face with every use, and the last weapon you find in the first chapter is some kind of bouncing death sphere that might as well rename the "fire" button to "immediately destroy self". And when weapons aren't actively plotting against you, they're just mystifyingly awkward to use. Under what circumstances could anyone need a shotgun that fires six times with every use, other than being an American police officer?
And as for our "highly-trained" sidekicks, they're only "highly-trained" by the standards of sea monkeys. Every level exit obstinately folds its arms and blocks you until you have both NPCs with you. And chances are good they will be three rooms back frantically sprinting into a wall or, more likely, each other, until you have to start manually guiding them along the hallways with a fucking snow shovel.
So the game's shit, but you knew that already. The rich, creamy brownness of its shit was the perfect fall to end a story about pride. John Romero was the auteur golden boy behind Daikatana - as should be well known by all the people who are now his bitch - formerly of id Software, who got his new studio off the ground, basically it seems, by saying, "Hello, I made Doom and Quake," and then rubbing his thumbs and forefingers together. And so he declared his intention to realize his brilliant ideas, unhampered by all those lame sensible people with their "logic" and "humility" and "realistic estimates of time management."
He planned out an epic adventure set over four time periods dripping with a huge variety of monsters and weapons like his hair-do drips styling product, and declared it would be done in seven months, at which point Id collectively rolled its eyes, did a little finger-gun gesture next to its temple, and released Quake 2, a game that's about as much fun as inspecting an architectural plan through a brown Quality Street wrapper, but which was the cutting edge of tech at the time, and clearly nothing else would do for Romero's big, hungry baby. See, that's the trouble with the cutting edge: it's hard to stay on, 'cause it's very thin and it keeps moving as it hacks at your balls.
Seven months turned into three years, but while that could be forgiven, the key word of the whole debacle was "hubris." Romero had a vision for designer-centric development - noble in itself, but queered by an ideal of a rock star developer image, publicly blowing money on penthouse studios and flamboyant lifestyles. But a rock star is obliged only to write some good tunes, sweat on some people, and coke themselves off their balls. Developing a game, it turns out, is actually quite hard.
As negative press grew and grew concerning nepotism and mass resignations, and full page magazine ads informed a restless gaming public that they were John Romero's cellmate and he'd claimed the top bunk, as it were; outright hostility was brewing. At this point, the universe takes two paths: one in which Romero spearheads a bold, artistic movement in game design as a misunderstood genius, burdened with the egotism that often strikes the auteur; or Romero is forever lambasted as a boob so massive that even the most determined baby would struggle to get its gob around it. And which universe we ended up with hinged on one thing: Daikatana not being a pile of execrable garbage. Better luck next time, universe!
The Lessons Nobody Learned
Today's faceless AAA industry rarely indulges auteurism, as throwing babies out with bath water is now so routine for big business that the babies have formed their own society in the outflow pipe. But Romero's vision also gave us Deus Ex, from the division of Ion Storm run by people who knew what the fuck they were doing.
What the modern industry certainly hasn't learned from the Daikatana fable is not to regard its audience with absolute giggling contempt. And as the same trollop is brought out year after year, contempt is virtually the industry standard.
But there was something morbidly-satisfying about Daikatana being shit. It was a modern-day Icarus flight, pulling a big ego back to earth. Today, as long as the publisher bombards us with enough prerendered teasers, mocked-up gameplay videos, little white lies and big black stodgy ones to move enough units on launch day, then they have the luxury of immediately not having to give a shit what we think. And that shows far more hubris than declaring bitches and the making thereof. At least that acknowledged that we are human beings. Human beings with very enticing buttholes.
- Bye, Katana: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And remind us how long you've been working on The Consuming Shadow, Yahtzee mate.
- Ha ha ha, we used to think three years was a long time.