• magisterrex Retro Games


    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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Update: The Worst PC Game of 2000 – Daikatana

This is an update to a feature on Daikatana, a game that I recently panned as the worst PC game of the year 2000.

John Romero recently spoke with Gamesauce magazine (Spring 2010 edition) and gave a candid assessment of his advertising campaign.  Quoted from the source:

“I never wanted to make you my bitch, not you, not them, not any of the other players and, most importantly, not any of my fans. Up until that ad, I felt I had a great relationship with the gamer and game development community, and that ad changed everything. That stupid ad. I regret it, and I apologize for it.”

It’s an interesting interview, and give some insight on what id Software was like in the early days, too.

The infamous John Romero ad for Daikatana.

10 Years Ago: The Worst PC Game of 2000 – Daikatana

Every so often I get a little spoiled with too much classic retrogaming goodness, and begin to take for granted the great storylines, coding and sheer fun that most of my game collection contains.  It’s at that point that I find it helpful to look back on a game that is best played while under the influence of mood-altering substances.  Such a game is the pile of stinking defecation brought to us in 2000 called Daikatana.

Front cover of the 2000 PC game, Daikatana.

What hopes everyone had for this game.  After all, the lead designer was John Romero, he who was quoted to say, “Design is Law”, was one of the co-founders of id Software, and was one of the co-creators of the industry-changing Doom.  This was a person who gamers could count on to bring his “A” game to the design process.  Or so we thought.

Hello, I'm John Romero, and you're not.

Much has been said about the incredible excesses of Romero’s studio while working on Daikatana.  Around $40 million was spent on this game, which was a result of both Romero’s desire to be surrounded by luxury (complete with a multi-million dollar office at the very top of a skyscraper in Dallas), and his inability to keep the game on schedule.  Critical errors were made from the start of the project, as Romero estimated a seven-month development cycle using the Quake engine.  But id Software beat him to the market with Quake II, which meant retooling Daikatana with the Quake II engine to avoid looking like a tired old retread.  If that wasn’t enough, Romero saw his entire development team quit, which meant further delays.  Add these factors together and it’s easy to see how Daikatana quickly became a money pit.

Gameplay screen for Daikatana.

Perhaps if Romero didn’t project himself as such a larger-than-life personality, gamers would have been more willing to forgive him for such a catastrophe.  But even the advertising campaign was offensive to the buying public.  “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch. Suck it down.”  Seriously, how does an ad copy like that make its way all the way from a brainstorming session to publication?  Simultaneously insulting, crude, and a challenge to all gamers, everywhere, this ad campaign created an expectation that anything short of a coding love child between Sid Meier and John Carmack would be marked a failure.

The offensive Daikatana ad campaign.

Once the game was released, the sheer mediocrity of the product became evident.  The game mechanic was wonky, with the player getting the “benefit” of two sidekicks that you needed to keep alive to help solve various puzzles during the game.  Of course, they had the AI equivalent of a gnat, so you tended to see them die. A lot.  And did I mention that if the sidekicks died you lost the level?  That’s just bad design, which is unforgivable from someone who believes, “Design is Law.”  The good news for the sidekicks is that the AI for the enemies is just as bad, perhaps worse.  If a solid object is between you and your enemy, fret not, as they’ll keep trying to walk straight toward you rather than go around it.  You could even go out for a smoke break and come back in to see them still trying to become an irresistible force.  But you can’t take that break, as your stupid sidekicks will take the opportunity to walk directly into the line of fire while you’re gone.

Gameplay screen for Daikatana.

In the end, Daikatana sold 200,000 copies, probably to people who wanted to create a drinking game based on how bad it was.  The stark reality was after $40 million in development expenses and only 200K of boxes sold, Daikatana was an epic failure on a scale reserved for such amazing debacles such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (for the Atari 2600).

Daikatana is E.T.'s bestest friend!

So, game designers, study well the example that John Romero has left you and take note of what happens when ego and extravagance trumps hard work and diligence.  Let’s not have another Daikatana happen to us again, shall we?

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