Diehard GameFAN Hall of Shame Induction: Daikatana

Every week, we will present a new game to be nominated for the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame. These nominations will occur every Monday and Friday, respectively. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted – or thrown – into their respective Hall.

Game: Daikatana
Developer: Ion Storm
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: 5/23/2000 (PC)
System Released On: Windows PC, Nintendo 64. A different version was developed for the Game Boy Color. We are focusing on the PC version
Genre: First Person Shooter

Who Nominated This Game: The question should probably be “who DIDN’T nominate Daikatana“, but Alex Lucard’s was the “official” vote.

Why Was It Nominated:: The history of Daikatana should be used as the lesson plan in Massive Video Game Failures 101. Everything about this game was a failure from start to finish.

It could have ended better, though. John Romero was the developer. In the years before he was a punchline, Romero was as close to a game developer god as you could get. A list of the games Romero was involved in at id Software is a who’s who of legendary names. Commander Keen. Wolfenstein 3D. HeXen. Doom. Quake. There are people that call Romero the godfather of the FPS genre, and it’s hard to discredit them. The hopes couldn’t have been higher when Romero co-founded Ion Storm. It was at this time when he started developing Daikatana, his most ambitious project.

The problem with ambition is that sometimes, it can run away from you. Romero’s first mistake was to task his staff with creating 24 levels with varied backgrounds and designs in seven months under the ageing Quake engine, a schedule fellow industry legend John Carmack called “patently ludicrous”. Near the end of the schedule, Quake II was released, and Romero decided to make the switch to the Quake II engine, which would require a complete rewrite of a game that had taken 11 months to develop to that point. Between that, and internal company politics, the entire Daikatana team quit and formed a competing company, leaving Romero with no team, a rapidly approaching deadline, and significant egg on his face.

As the delays continued to mount, development started to go from laboured to ludicrous. Romero decided to hire his girlfriend, professional gamer and failed Playboy model Stevie Case, as a level designer. His desire to have the biggest and most lavish office – to “celebrate success a little”, as he once said – was helping Ion Storm to bleed money to the point where Eidos Interactive, the publisher of the game, had to step in and take partial ownership of the company. The design of the game, and all the trappings that came with it, were such that a cottage industry started up on the then-developing internet of gossiping about and chronicling the missteps. The game that was supposed to take seven months to complete finally released three years after it’s initial release date. That’s when it hit the lowest low.

Simply put, Daikatana was a mess. It was bad enough that the game looked bad compared to other games like Quake III. It was the fact of the two sidekicks you were given who were utterly suicidal and made playing the game a chore because they would constantly get themselves killed. This, of course, was all in addition to the cringeworthy one-liners for everything including getting items, the bugs, and the fact that for all the development time and resources spent on the game and the designers, Daikatana had was not a very good game in almost any way whatsoever. All of John Romero’s ambition rose up and bit him – and his team – in the ass. The game was so bad that it made the infamous “Suck it down” ad you see in this paragraph seem pitifully ironic.

In the end, no one recovered from Daikatana. John Romero’s reputation took a hit that he never really recovered from, and only got worse with his pathetic spat with Mike Wilson of Gamecock. Ion Storm Dallas was shuttered by Eidos in 2001, a year after Daikatana’s release, and died out completely shortly after Warren Spector left the Austin office. Romero went on to co-found Monkeystone Games which he left due to questionable circumstances. He then went onto Midway, where he left before one of his games (Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows) was completed, and settled down at Slipgate Ironworks. Since Daikatana, Romero has not had his name attached to any game of renown, and has been relegated to little more than a punchline among most gamers and journalists, save a few who vigorously defend him to this day.

And now, we decide on whether the title that all but destroyed John Romero’s name gets to sit in our Hall of Shame…

All In Favour:

Ashe Collins: While I so wanted to love this game, the hype, the terrible advertising and the pretty awful AI within the game itself pretty much guaranteed I’d hate it. This is the game that actually got me less and less interested in the FPS for a long while. While Quake II and several other games in that vein had sealed it, this one game pretty much had me wishing I’d never gotten into the genre. Hell even today I’d rather play an RPG than an FPS and I swore by FPS games way back when.

This is one of those games that could have really used a lot more polish and a lot less hype before it came out. There have been many since, but not many games have killed such a promising career.

Alex Lucard: Oh Daikatana. So much hype and so abysmal a failure. Romero hyped this game up to the point where he all but promised it would be Christ’s second coming in the form digital entertainment. He claimed all other gamers would fall before it. He claimed the game would make you his bitch. So on and so forth. It also didn’t help that every gaming magazine that was geared towards PC gaming gave Romero and Daikatana verbal fellatio to the point where the game could have just been FMV of Romero taking a shit and they still would have praised it. Take a look at PC Gamer back in 2000 that declared the game a classic before it was even released putting it alongside titles like X-Com, Ultima, Alone in the Dark, Descent and The Secret of Monkey Island. Hell, the very first of their “Classic Games Collections” had all those games and more, but then “DAIKATANA DEMO! DAIKATANA DEMO! DAIKATANA DEMO!” Seriously, looking back it makes me ill. Back then it just made me question their journalistic integrity.

I still have the disc and I remember trying out the demo only to go, “What the hell is this? This is awful.” Now granted I use my PC mainly for RPGs, strategy games and point and click adventure games. Daikatana was a FPS and it’s in my bottom three genres along with racing games and platformers, so I just assumed it was me and not the game. After all, PC Gamer was praising the thing as a GOTY contender and they had to have played the demo they gave to all their readers, right?

Well, thankfully when reviews started coming out and it was apparent that absolutely no one liked the game. Reviews almost unanimously declared the PC and N64 games to be the two worst games of the year. Well, except for Gamespy, who actually loved it, which again, tells you the quality of that site.

For me Daikatana was not only a truly bad game, but it was one that showed the inherent problem with gaming journalism – one that has only gotten worse in recent history. if you have enough money to get the media to give it cover stories and enough ads, the sheep-like consumers will buy it in droves and the press will fawn over the creators of games rather than do their duty and inform/protect the consumer.

Daikatana represents for me everything that is currently wrong with this industry. The marketing, the poor excuse for journalism, the fact most gamers will buy what they are told to instead of thinking for themselves, and the issues where publishers and developers have put quality control to the side as long as they know they can make money off the game, regardless of how awful it is. Daikatana is a not just a shameful game, but its entire legacy is a taint on the industry and sadly one that many a company has copied since.

Mark B.: When discussing Daikatana as a terrible game, one isn’t simply discussing the GAME so much as the whole series of events surrounding the game itself. The thing is that Daikatana, while certainly a terrible game on its own merits, is by no means “THE WORST”, as it were, and if it were just a game released to the market, would probably not merit much more attention than something like Run Like Hell, Malice, or any one of a number of games stuck in development hell for years. It tried to do some things at the time that were revolutionary, but handled poorly, it spent way too long in development due to delay after delay, and it was generally a stupid, uninteresting game on its own merits that, while flawed in design and execution, isn’t especially memorable for how bad it is.

The series of events surrounding the game, on the other hand, are so rife with egotistical nonsense and petty backbiting that the game pretty much earns its place in the Hall of Shame based on THAT ALONE. We’re talking about a game which its creator, John Romero, advertised with a full-page ad informing players that he was about to make them his bitch, and they should, in fact, “Suck it down”. We’re talking about a game where one of the level designers was Romero’s girlfriend, which would be fine if she had any sort of practical knowledge of game development, but her most notable claim to fame was beating Romero in a Deathmatch, which… doesn’t mean you know anything about level design, I don’t care how good at games you are. We’re talking about a game that hemorrhaged money and a company that did the same with employees pretty much from day one, to the point where pretty much every employee who left the company would give some sort of interview after the fact that amounted to “Fuck everything about Ion Storm, John Romero, and Daikatana“ pretty much every time. The game was a high-profile failure in every sense of the term imaginable, and for THAT reason alone, it pretty much deserves its spot on the list.

A.J. Hess: I don’t have a problem with ambition. Sacrificing competence for that ambition is a different story. When you scream from the mountaintops that you’re about to release the best game ever, go through four creative directors, repeatedly have to scrap your code and start over, and spend more time and attention on trailers and E3 publicity than you do on the game, you’re in trouble. Romero was treated like a rockstar after the success of Doom and Quake, and that clearly went to his head. The most telling aspect of this game’s failure is the cost. Forty-million dollars to make, about 200,000 copies sold. That means that in order to just break even, Ion Storm would have needed to charge two hundred dollars per game. Ion Storm, meet Epic Fail.

Christopher Bowen: Considering I wrote the lead-in and painstakingly detailed the failings of the game, the company and the mastermind, it’s patently obvious how I feel about things; for me to elaborate on the minutia would be redundant. Instead, I’m going to list my thoughts on something Alex said above.

The big games press – I won’t call out any names, but really, they know who they are – have this terrible habit of pimping games that are in conception to us as if they are – or could be – the next big thing. They might not even believe it themselves, but it’s all about two things: advertising and access. The video games press – really, the entertainment press on a whole – is one of the few places I can think of where profitability relies on advertising dollars from the very same people that we’re supposed to be covering on a daily basis. If the White House advertised with MSNBC, people would have heart attacks calling them out, but when a large company drops thousands of advertising dollars into a site or magazine, and all of a sudden their game is the Cover Story of the Month in that very same magazine, we all gloss over it. Wink, wink. It’s been happening since the media lent its own hand – through bad journalism – to the Video Game Crash of 1983, and it still goes on to this day. It was this hype that built up Daikatana.

Of course, when it turned out that Daikatana wasn’t very good, it seemed like everyone went and did a complete 180. Instead of just pointing out that Daikatana was a bad game, it became a contest of who could throw the most monkey shit. “Wow, would you look at THIS load of shit!? Hahahahahaha, what a piece of shit John Romero is! Bwahahahahahaha!”. And on and on it went. The press used Daikatana to the fullest hilt when hyping it up was beneficial to them and them only, and when it turned out that the game sucked, and therefore mocking it would draw a few more purchases off the newsrack, or a few more hits in the formative years of the internet, the circle completed itself, and people fell over themselves to see who could make fun of the proverbial retarded kid the best. I guess, in a meta sort of way, we’re partially responsible for that with this very piece.

In the process of researching this article, I did a lot of research on Daikatana, Romero, Ion Storm and everything else connected to it. In the midst of that, I made an off-the-cuff remark on my Twitter account that Doom was still an amazing game to this day, but it was “too bad John Romero (is) such a piece of shit”. Looking back, it was a stupid, juvenile remark from someone who really should know better, and I should never have said it, even in private conversation; after all, I don’t know Romero, so how would I know he’s a “piece of shit” unless I was relying on nothing more than simple hearsay? What struck me was the response I got from people all over who knew him. Not fanboys who called me names, but people that have worked with him, both as a designer and a businessman, who came to his defence. He’s a good man, I was told. He’s sincere, and honest, and sensitive, and you really don’t know what you’re talking about. Even Romero himself seemed hurt by the high school locker room remarks of a complete stranger. These weren’t fan remarks that can be easily dismissed as insane ramblings, these were people in the know who were defending a friend. People who knew him said wonderful things about him. Ignorant assholes like me called him a “piece of shit”.

I learned a lesson out of this, and I think it extends to the press as a whole. It’s a lot harder to cut on game developers when you’ve met and talked to a couple, people who’s livelihood relies on something as fickle as the desires of people who treat video games as a disposable hobby. Yet we – and by we, I mean all of us – casually make remarks about things or development that we don’t really know the details about, thinking it makes us edgy. It’s sad to see that Romero – by all accounts, a much more sensitive and sincere person than the idiotic advertising campaign for Daikatana would lead you to believe (check this anecdote from ’99) – is still paying the price for what can best be termed as the immature desires of a man-child. It’s even more sad that we’re part of the reason for that, especially when we delude ourselves into thinking that if we had Romero’s opportunity – an opportunity to create our dream job out of fucking thin air – we wouldn’t do the same thing.

So I offer a belated apology to John Romero, for my stupid and insensitive remarks made on Twitter, comments I should know better than to make.

I just wish it masked the fact that his game was terrible.

All Opposed:

Not one staffer was opposed to adding Daikatana to the Hall of Shame. Ruh-roh.

Result: 5 in favour, 0 opposed, 100% approval = SHAMED

Conclusion: In some ways, Daikatana is a microcosm of the Dot-Com Bubble. The inmates got to run the asylum for a bit, money flowed like good wine, and everything was golden until reality hit, and the adults (Eidos) had to come in and clean up. Another way to compare it to the Dot-Com bubble is that the end product wasn’t worth it. Daikatana was every bit as bad for the end user as it was for the people involved with its development, marketing, and publishing. Everything it touched turned to dust.

It takes something putrid to make a game enter our Hall of Shame. It takes something truly astounding to make it unanimously. Therefore, we now add Daikatana into the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Shame.

Next Week: We take a look at one of most polarizing games that Diehard GameFAN has ever covered. Was it a rape simulator? Or was it a legitimate, artistic statement? We’ll find out next Friday!

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