News flash: making video games takes time. And we’re okay with that. Waiting years for an announced title is a practice gamers have become fully accustomed to. After all, video games are kind of the only entertainment medium that consistently announces new projects years in advance. How often do you see a movie or TV show (not produced by Marvel) announced more than a year before its planned release? Whether we realize it or not, we gamers have proven to be a relatively patient bunch.
We’ve come to accept the average two-year development cycle as the standard amount of time required for a game to come together. But not every title adheres to that schedule. Some games enter such lengthy development cycles that they almost become like time capsules. Looking back on their original announcement date, you exclaim “Oh man, I was still in high school when that was first shown!” or “Wow, President X was still in office.” You may even think “I remember when I used to care about this game.” We're patient, but even we have our limits.
Some long-stewing titles appear so bound for vaporware purgatory that when they actually do hit store shelves, it’s akin to encountering Big Foot while hiking. This near-mythical item is now in your hands and it still doesn’t feel quite real. Other games remain floating in limbo as anxious gamers devour any scraps of info that may drop to the floor, if they’re lucky. Let’s examine a few contemporary games that reached the end of their long journey to release and others that have yet to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.
15 Released: Nioh
Koei Tecmo’s Souls-esque action-RPG was first announced way back in 2004. Nioh took several return trips to the drawing board during its thirteen-year development cycle. It was initially planned to be a JRPG based on an unfinished script penned by famed Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa. However, this initial version fell apart entirely during its four years of conception and had to be restarted from scratch.
Koei originally helmed the project but development was transferred to Omega Force, who shifted Nioh’s gameplay from pure role-playing to an action style similar to its Dynasty Warrior series. This direction also didn’t fly with the project’s creative heads and Team Ninja was brought aboard in 2010 to help fine tune the action elements. Team Ninja assumed full development duties in 2012 and began molding Nioh in an image befitting of the Ninja Gaiden maker: a blisteringly tough, fast-paced action game. During this time, the popularity of FromSoftware’s Souls series exploded, which both inspired and validated Nioh’s hardcore direction. After over a decade of design and revisions, Nioh finally released this past February to a positive reception, meaning that players have declared the game as worthy of the wait.
14 Unreleased: Tekken X Street Fighter
Anytime Street Fighter X Tekken comes up in a conversation, the same question tends to arise: “Is that other crossover game ever going to happen?” It’s tough to mention one without thinking of its beleaguered counterpart and for good reason. Both games were announced simultaneously at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con. Street Fighter X Tekken took the latter franchise’s universe and translated it to fit within Capcom’s premier fighter, and Tekken X Street Fighter aimed to do the opposite: toss Ryu and Ken into the 3D world of button-mashing air-juggles. Capcom released its crossover in 2012, but Bandai Namco has been slow to hold up its end of the partnership.
In the following years, Bandai would release sporadic updates assuring the title’s active development. Explanations for the delay included a desire to avoid stealing Street Fighter X Tekken’s thunder, to a difficulty determining “the right time” to launch it. Although the project hasn’t officially been put to pasture (yet), Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada confirmed last year that the game has been placed on indefinite hold. By the looks of things, Akuma’s appearance in the upcoming Tekken 7 may be as close as we’ll get to playing Bandai Namco’s take on Street Fighter.
13 Released: Owlboy
Norwegian indie developer D-Pad Studio released their acclaimed side-scroller in 2016 after nearly a decade of development. Beginning production in 2007, Owlboy was envisioned as a loving return to the 16-bit era prior to the retro renaissance that would soon sweep the industry. Although the game made a few appearances early in the decade, including a playable demo in 2011, it entered a lengthy limbo period of continual reworking and polishing. As the years passed, fans following the project wondered what was up with the neat little platformer.
Turns out that professional road bumps, such as a fluctuating budget, were only a few of the obstacles impeding Owlboy's progress. A plethora of personal setbacks plagued the small studio as well. Among other issues, D-Pad’s designers endured bouts of depression, devastating losses of loved ones, and delayed marriages. Even still, D-Pad pressed on and saw Owlboy to completion. When the title finally soared to release last November, it received glowing reviews from critics and players alike.
12 Unreleased: Agent
Rockstar Games’ Agent has been more elusive than Solid Snake and Jason Bourne combined. Sony announced the espionage-themed title in 2007 as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. Agent then received a full coming out party at E3 2009. Billed as a “paranoid journey into the world of counter-intelligence, espionage and political assassinations during the height of the Cold War at the end of the 1970s”, Rockstar has remained tight-lipped about the project for what feels like an eternity. Updates on Agent began in the vein of “yes, this is still happening” and gradually morphed into a series of glorified “No comments.”
Other than being described as an action game with stealth elements, almost no gameplay details have been divulged. Leaked screenshots released over the years have been our only hard look at the project (and may not even represent the final product at this point). One would assume Agent has quietly been put out pasture, but Rockstar renewed the game’s trademark in 2013, and did so again in 2016. Agent's mission clearly hasn’t been aborted just yet.
11 Released: The Last Guardian
Gamers weren’t the only ones taken aback by The Last Guardian’s protracted development. Even its creator, Fumito Ueda, was surprised at how long it took. Debuting at E3 2009 as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, the follow-up to Shadow of the Colossus spent much of its life-cycle in an unexpected limbo. After a few promising glimpses at the project, TLG routinely missed its release windows and regularly no-showed big events like E3. Something was clearly amiss. The departures of Ueda (though he remained a consultant on the game) and other designers from Sony in 2011 raised additional red flags. Amid cancellation rumors, Sony enlisted the aid of other studios, including Santa Monica, to help get the game back on track. After more reassurances, trademark renewals, and a shift to next-gen consoles, Trico and the Boy made their big comeback at E3 2015. The Last Guardian finally reached the promised land of release last fall.
10 Unreleased: Deep Down
When Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4 during the 2013 PlayStation Meeting, Deep Down was among the initial batch of next-gen titles to debut. Capcom’s multiplayer dungeon crawler raised eyebrows due to its impressive visuals (courtesy of the highly touted and silly sounding Panta Rhei engine) and surprising premise. Despite its medieval aesthetic, Deep Down takes place in New York City in the not-so-medieval year of 2094. Players control characters who interact with ancient artifacts that allow them to relieve trapped memories. That Assassin’s Creed-y premise sounds intriguing, making the wait for Deep Down all the more agonizing.
Deep Down has rarely resurfaced in the over four years since its reveal. A repeatedly delayed public beta never materialized. Beyond releasing a few new screenshots and the occasional video, news was scant until Producer Yoshinori Ono provided the most substantial update to date in 2015. In short, he stated that the game was still happening but has expanded in scope. Deep Down has undergone a significant design overhaul as a result. Capcom would resume its silence on the matter, but a flicker of hope arrived in the form of a recent U.S. trademark refiling this past February. Could Deep Down finally resurface from the depths of development?
9 Released: The Witness
Jonathan Blow’s puzzler Braid achieved widespread acclaim, meaning that his follow-up, The Witness, was highly anticipated from the get-go. Blow began development in 2008 and formally unveiled the game the following year with a planned 2011 release. Given that it released in 2016, you could say The Witness was just a little bit tardy. The ballooning of the game’s initial scope and Blow’s refusal to scale back have been cited as the primary reasons for its seven-year development cycle. As ideas grew, more and more puzzles found their way into the title. This aversion to compromise extended to Thekla, Inc.’s decision to construct their own game engine as opposed to simply utilizing an existing one. Making an engine from scratch ate a lot of time, but allowed the small team complete control in designing the game.
After a stealthy demonstration at the 2010 PAX, The Witness was slated to launch for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. However, those systems were later deemed under-powered and Thekla, Inc. sets sights on the next generation. The PlayStation 4 became Blow’s platform of choice and The Witness received a featured spot at the system’s reveal event. Originally planned to release close to the console’s launch, Thekla, Inc would continue to refine the title. The Witness finally arrived in January 2016 to a glowing critical reception.
8 Unreleased: SpyParty
SpyParty has been among the most unique and promising titles floating around the last several years. Conceived by industry veteran Chris Hecker, the title pits two players, assuming the roles of a spy and a sniper, against each other in the ultra-competitive arena of a swanky party. The spy, disguised as a guest, must stealthily infiltrate the gala and complete objectives. The sniper needs to carefully study party-goers in order to correctly identify and eliminate the spy - with only one shot to get it right.
Hecker began work on SpyParty in 2009 and the prolonged development has pretty much been by his own design. He’s maintained a minuscule team-size (currently three employees, himself included) to help keep expenses at a minimum. Hecker also believes in allowing ideas enough time to gestate and that rushing creativity because of a deadline can adversely affect the finished product. That philosophy has proven sound thus far. Since SpyParty’s open beta launched in 2011, it’s received positive feedback for its cerebral, intensely personal approach to competitive multiplayer. The game continues to come together; early blocky character models and environments have been updated with more detailed assets over the years. The beta is still available for players to sign up and play, but a full release date remains as difficult to spot as a well-concealed spy.
7 Released: Final Fantasy XV
Even though it’s been out for months now, I’m still adjusting to the fact that we live in a world where Final Fantasy XV is a tangible product and no longer the Yeti of video games. How do you even begin recapping its tumultuous history? Let’s start with its unveiling in 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a spin-off in the XIII series’ “ Fabulous Crystal Nova Whatever Thing.” A slick reveal trailer led to a decade of development marred by years of silence, cancellation rumors, an entire console generation coming and going, a change in directors–all amidst an overall decline in prestige for the franchise as a whole.
What probably should have led to the game’s expected demise culminated into a triumphant return as the 15th numbered Final Fantasy at E3 2013. In fact, Final Fantasy XV was so anticipated that its release date announcement received the pomp of an auditorium packed with fans, celebrity appearances, and a New Year’s Eve-style countdown to the reveal of the launch date (which the game still missed in one final, somewhat hilarious, delay). Like the journey of Noctis and his pals, Final Fantasy XV endured a long and grueling road but still succeeded in reaching its destination.
6 Unreleased: Half-Life 3
Now here’s an interesting one. Depending on who you ask, the much-requested continuation of Gordon Freeman’s exploits may or may not have ever existed in any tangible form. Valve’s tight-lipped nature has made it difficult for any news on the mythic title to seep out, but recent information from a former employee have divulged details on the game’s status over the years–and they haven’t been promising.
The source (whose information has yet to be verified by other Valve insiders) claims projects that could have theoretically been Half-Life 3 never got further than mere concepts and experimental works that designers developed largely on their own volition. This news is the most substantial update on the titles after fans have spent years chasing a myriad of alleged clues pointing to the title’s existence. Valve has never formally announced Half-Life 3. If recent evidence is to be believed, closure to the story’s cliffhanger may never come to fruition. Can we at least get Half-Life 2: Episode 3? No? Okay then.
5 Released: Diablo III
Diablo III spent over a decade in the cooker, with development stretching all the way back to 2001. After seven years of quiet work amid rampant speculation from fans, Blizzard formally announced the game in 2008. The action-RPG underwent several revisions during its creation (it was once envisioned as an MMO). One such change was the initial art design, which attracted ire from fans who decried it as being a bit too whimsical and even started petitions to have it “fixed.” A closed beta launched in 2011 gave Diablo fans their first taste of the upcoming title. However, nothing could prepare them for the maelstrom the game’s official launch would bring. Diablo III’s 2012 release was sullied by fan complaints lobbied at systems such as its always-online requirement and the real-money auction house. Even after over ten years building the game, it took Blizzard another few years of improvements to make the title less demonized than its titular antagonist.
4 Unreleased: Cyberpunk 2077
To describe the scope of Cyberpunk 2077 as “big” would be an understatement. The Witcher developer CD Project RED has labeled it as their most advanced open-world RPG to date. First announced in 2012, Cyberpunk 2077 takes place in the world of Cyberpunk 2020, a series of pen and paper role-playing adventures. Story and gameplay details have been vague at best. We do know the game takes place in Night City, a futuristic dystopia and humongous sandbox backed by tech more advanced than the engine that powered The Witcher 3’s sprawling world. In addition to a lengthy single-player epic, Cyberpunk will feature some form of “seamless” multiplayer, a first for a CD Project RED RPG.
So when do we get to play it? That’s been the million dollar question for years. Priority in shipping The Witcher 3 is one big reason Cyberpunk hasn’t made much of a peep. Those hoping for more details post-Wild Hunt were disappointed when CD Project RED stated in a financial conference that it won’t announce any major updates on the game until it launches Gwent: The Witcher Card Game (which arrives later this year). Most concerning is a recent NeoGaf rumor–and I emphasize rumor as details are still being confirmed as of this writing–stating that a new Game Director has been appointed and has scrapped all development work completed pre-2016. If this information proves accurate, then Cyperpunk 2077’s launch could be as far off as its futuristic time period.
3 Released: Doom
Doom is an incredible experience despite its incredibly turbulent road to release. At Quake Con 2007, id Software excitedly announced the return of the granddaddy of the FPS. What followed was years marred by mismanagement, disorganization, and an unclear vision of what a new Doom should be. Several factors have been cited for Doom’s woes. A lack of focus on the title’s direction, chiefly due to the studio heads’ attention on finishing Rage. Conflicts within not only id’s leadership, but between the studio and its parent company, ZeniMax, hindered progress and damaged employee morale. An exodus of talent along the way, including the departure of id co-founder John Carmack.
Even after the project was rebooted in 2011 (after a famously scrapped prototype that took a few pages from Call of Duty’s playbook, earning it the nickname “Call of Doom”), Doom was still reported to be a mess by several of its designers. Somewhere along the way, however, id managed to get its act together. Not only did the team finally churn out the finished product in 2016, but Doom went on to receive overwhelming acclaim. Like the game’s own protagonist, even the most hellish of circumstances couldn’t keep Doom down.
2 Unreleased: Beyond Good & Evil 2
Beyond Good & Evil has a passionate cult following, one that has been clamoring for a follow-up since the first game shipped in 2003. Their prayers were answered in 2008 when an impressive teaser trailer for the sequel came to light. Unfortunately, Beyond Good & Evil 2 spent the following years mired in uncertainty. Silence and speculation have characterized the game’s development, save for the vague assertions of creator Michel Ancel and publisher Ubisoft that it remained in the works. In 2013, Ancel revealed the project had grown “too big” for the then-current generation of consoles and that focus had shifted to new hardware. Ancel’s work on Rayman Origins/Legends also delayed progress on BGE2 for a time. The opening of Wild Sheep, Ancel’s indie studio, caused further confusion on the game’s status, though Ubisoft assured Michel was still working with the publisher to complete the game.
Beyond Good & Evil 2’s emergence gained traction last fall when Ancel posted concept art of the project, followed by Ubisoft’s announcement that the title had officially entered pre-production. Soon after, reports surfaced that Nintendo secured a 12-month timed-exclusivity deal for Beyond Good & Evil 2 on the Switch. As of this writing, this rumor has yet to be confirmed nor denied by neither Nintendo, Ancel, or Ubisoft (though Ubisoft’s swift action to remove the leaked news fuels this fire). Regardless of what platform Jade’s next adventure takes place on, chances for its release appear brighter than they ever have.
1 Released: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Link’s open-world odyssey took over four years to assemble - four excruciating long years in the eyes of the series’ fervent fanbase. The next console entry was first discussed in a Nintendo Direct in early 2013. Even back then, director Eiji Aonuma expressed his intention to dramatically shake-up established series conventions. A brief yet exciting first look at the title made a big splash at E3 2014, sending fan anticipation through the roof.
Breath of the Wild was originally intended to be a Wii U exclusive (the tablet-style Sheikah Slate is an in-game remnant of that plan). But when Zelda’s 2015 release was postponed to 2016 and Nintendo subsequently revealed its next home console, doubts of that plan began to surface. The title skipped the 2015 E3 and its 2016 release was delayed again to the following year. Breath of the Wild then rode into E3 2016 as Nintendo’s sole playable title. Soon afterwards, the company confirmed what most everyone else had already deduced: the game was now being prepped for launch on both Wii U and the new Switch console. Although the delays were disheartening at the time, they seemed to have paid off just a tiny bit. Since its release in March, Breath of the Wild has been celebrated as one of the greatest games ever made. I guess good things really do come to those who wait.