Tomb Raider

What might have been: 9 games that were dramatically revamped in development

Making art is messy, but it can be a fascinating mess.

By Anthony John Agnello • April 18, 2013

1. Tomb Raider: Ascension / Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider

Creating art is a tempestuous act—it’s almost impossible to see where an initial idea will end up. Supergiant Games’ Bastion wasn’t originally conceived as a story about refugees surviving the end of reality. It began as a game about cartography, the playful process of building up the world around you as you saw it for the first time. We rarely get to see how much games themselves change as the creative process unfolds, but because publishers and designers start showing off games years before they’re playable, sometimes the larval form of a project peeks out.

And sometimes, like with the recent Tomb Raider reboot, the final product is dramatically different from the early demos. After Crystal Dynamics finished Tomb Raider: Underworld, the studio planned to give Lara Croft, the series’ heroine, a prequel story. The game wasn’t, however, going to be a grunt-filled trial of torture and violent cultists. As documented by the superb archivists at Unseen64, concept art and prototype footage for the most recent Tomb Raider game (originally called Tomb Raider: Ascension) shows Lara pitted against monsters and giants. That’s in contrast to the foes she fights in the finished game, a bunch of dudes apparently suffering from vitamin deficiency. In these early glimpses, Lara also had a traveling companion, a child whom she had to protect. Ultimately, Tomb Raider turned Lara’s companions into props for her transformation into a ruthless warrior. The studio also ditched Lara’s horse, which had featured in previews. Why? Horses are awesome.

2. Realistic Okami / Okami

Atushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya’s games are well known for their visual bombast, but their Shinto-fueled fable Okami is far and away their most beautiful work. It’s a game that literally lets you paint spring into the world. When you move your character, the wolf/sun goddess Amaterasu, flowers burst from the ground in her wake. The sumi-e wash of Okami wasn’t always the plan, though. Inaba and Kamiya’s pitch prototype for the game is starkly realistic in comparison. The world needs another game full of brown, dirty landscapes as much as it needs more guns, but there would have been something magical and surreal about playing as a wolf god with trees springing from her feet in a world that otherwise looked just like ours.

3. Earthbound 64 / Mother 3

The more time goes on, the more beguiling early 3D graphics become. What seemed archaic and tacky 10 years ago is becoming a stylish visual mode. Just look at Minecraft. If Notch’s crazy world builder had come out in 2003, people would have ragged on it forever. Now, the low-polygon look is haute couture. Shigesato Itoi’s beloved sentimental opus Mother 3 was slated for release on the Nintendo 64DD, a disk drive expansion for the Nintendo 64 that was never sold outside of Japan (because almost nobody bought it). If Earthbound 64 had been made for the 64DD in the late ’90s as planned, its blocky impressionism might seem just as lovely today as the colorful, pixelated sprites that populate the Game Boy Advance version that was ultimately released.

4. Resident Evil 4 “Hook Man” version / Resident Evil 4

Before he left Capcom to make games about gun-toting cyborg football players, Shinji Mikami was a perfectionist in maintaining his signature Resident Evil series. There are multiple instances where Mikami stepped in during a sequel’s production to completely reimagine it. Mikami scrapped the first drafts of both Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4, and his meddling resulted in the series’ best games. Hiroshi Shibata directed an early version of Resident Evil 4 before Mikami took over, and while his vision may not have been the action masterpiece that Mikami ultimately produced, it sounds like it would have been one excellent haunted house. The “Hook Man” version of RE4 looked like it coupled the slow-paced Resident Evil of old with a cramped behind-the-body perspective (which remained in the final game). But in Shibata’s version, the hero, Leon, had to deal with hallucinations and ghostly pursuers—not just monsters. Yet the idea of a quiet, ephemeral Resident Evil seems impossible in the wake of the Resident Evil 4 that ultimately hit store shelves.

5. Dinosaur Planet / Star Fox Adventures

Star Fox was always a simple pleasure, a sci-fi dogfight game that features a bunch of animals wearing windbreakers and jabbering at each other in spaceships. No one needs to know more about Fox, let alone spend hours with him on a planet full of dinosaurs like you do in Star Fox Adventures. But it was never supposed to be Fox wandering this pseudo-prehistoric realm. In the original Dinosaur Planet concept, another vulpine dude named Sabre and his blue girlfriend went on an adventure to fight evil dinosaur men. The Nintendo 64 version of Dinosaur Planet was all but done when Nintendo directed the developer, Rare, to remodel Planet as a Gamecube game. The action in Star Fox Adventures is a little heavy on collecting useless doodads—as is the case with a number of Rare’s games in that era—but footage of the old game shows more of a point-and-click adventure style than the Zelda clone that Adventures became.

6. Halo for Mac / Halo: Combat Evolved

Master Chief may have been the faceless space soldier who launched a thousand shooters in the last decade—becoming the mascot for Microsoft’s ever-growing Xbox empire in the process—but that wasn’t always the plan. Quite the opposite: Halo was going to be Apple’s baby back in 1999. Bungie’s science fiction universe was actually going to be a Starcraft-style strategy game back then, with some action elements mixed in. A year later, Microsoft bought Bungie, and the studio turned the game into the first-person shooter juggernaut it remains today. The world got a taste of Halo-as-strategy game in Ensemble Studios’ Halo Wars, but who knows how Bungie’s turn at a cerebral sci-fi work would have turned out. One element never changed: That sweet theme song was there from the start.

7. Kirby’s Adventure / Kirby’s Return To Dreamland

Kirby: Return To Dreamland is an unsung hero for the Wii, a colorful slice of cartoon action that recalls the crisp, no-bullshit style of the Super Nintendo’s heyday. But the making of Return To Dreamland was anything but crisp: The game was in gestation for more than a decade as developers at the studio, a Nintendo subsidiary named HAL Laboratory, struggled to nail down what they wanted to make. The original Gamecube version in this video is not unlike the finished product, just with a more muted color palette and no four-player action. According to the development team, though, there was a time when the game was going to let you roam around in three dimensions, a first for Kirby. Return To Dreamland’s tough side-scrolling goodness was worth the wait, but it would have been swell to see the gluttonous puffball roam free for a change.

8. Super Mario 64 2 / Super Mario 64 DS

Yet another casualty of Nintendo’s confused N64 period, the awkwardly enumerated Super Mario 64 2 was in the works for the disk drive add-on just like Earthbound 64. But the company killed it at the turn of the century to focus on other games. The word in 1999 was that the second Mario 64 would take a page from the 1980s’ Super Mario Bros. 2 and add a bunch of playable characters to the mix. That idea ultimately made it into the remake Super Mario 64 DS, which also added a few new levels. Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, did say years later that the plan for Mario 64 2 was to do something that no 3D Mario game has ever done: let two people play together. Getting Mario and Luigi on the playfield together didn’t work out, though. It would have been sweet to wander the sunny castle grounds with a buddy, but think about how infuriating it would have been when both characters kept running into each other, yelping the whole time, as Mario 64’s persnickety camera struggled to keep up.

9. D2 for M2 / D2

Kenji Eno was a magnificent weirdo, and his lost alternate version of D2 is appropriately strange. It’s not just a lost version of a game—it’s a lost version built for a gaming machine that never made it out either. It’s twice as ghostly! D2 was intended (confusingly enough) for the M2, a console design that Panasonic eventually scrapped in 1997. The original brief for D2 cast Laura—a descendant of Dracula who starred in Eno’s D—as a mere background character. The hero instead was Laura’s son, and the quest was to explore a haunted castle. When Panasonic’s new console died on the vine, Eno killed the game, too. He reworked D2 as a creepy hybrid of The Thing and Evil Dead on Sega’s Dreamcast. Eno was really nailing down his shadowy surrealism when the first version of D2 was canned, making it both a lost capstone on his early work and the only promising game for a stillborn machine.

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103 Responses to “What might have been: 9 games that were dramatically revamped in development”

  1. zerocrates says:

    Of course it doesn’t really count, being from totally different developers/publishers, but I’m reminded of Interplay’s Fallout 3, known mostly by its codename “Van Buren.”

    As you might expect, it’s way more like Fallouts 1 and 2 than the Bethesda’d Fallout 3 that actually got eventually released. Little pieces of Van Buren apparently made it into Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas, though.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      there were a couple of minor things that made it into Fallout 3 proper, namely the whole Operation Anchorage plotline and the (insanely broken) DLC stealth armor introduced therein. But yeah, a ton of disparate Van Buren ideas made it into New Vegas in one way or another. The only element I can remember being a more or less whole-cloth transplant was the Arcade character.

      • Mach0KingRandySavage says:

        I’m think I remember reading somewhere that the Old World Blues DLC contains a LOT of the Van Buren Stuff, which makes me really sad that the game never happened because OWB is AWESOME.

        • KidvanDanzig says:

          OWB was an amalgamation of the Boulder Dome (an area that was more or less one giant homage to The Andromeda Strain) and Tibbets Correctional Facility, aka The Big Empty, which was just renamed Big MT or Big Mountain.

          The biggest change was the complete de-emphasis on the horror that was especially thick in Van Buren (it was to be a game far more in line with FO1’s tone). The “Think Tank”, rather than being a group of eccentric, bickering brainbots, was just going to be a collection of preserved, conscious pre-war brains hidden deep underground, most of whom had gone completely insane from hundreds of years of isolation. I forget what their purpose was.

        • King_Rocket says:

          I think the location was was really all that was carried over. As much as like yourself I loved OWB I could never imagine FO:VB having that kind of tone.  

          EDIT: Need to refresh page before posting.

  2. caspiancomic says:

    Anthony, did you just write an entire Inventory by your lonesome? Well accomplished old sport!

    I’d also like to humbly suggest Nico for the list, the multiplayer giant-hunting game which was the primordial version of Shadow of the Colossus. (Get it? Ni is 2 in Japanese. Ni + Ico = “Ico 2”) 

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      On the plus side, the development team apparently decided to step away from “giant flesh-zombie” look of the prototype. After all, I like my colossi like I like my tea: tall and statuesque?

    • Chuck Spear says:

      When I saw the title of this inventory, Nico was the first thing that came to mind. I do love Shadow of the Colossus as it now stands, but I think there’s room in this world for a multiplayer giant-hunting game.

      Maybe something with different classes or skill-sets? With gameplay like an organic Battle of Hoth on horseback? I dunno, I’m just spitballing here…

      • Robert_Frost says:

        I’ve never played the Monster Hunter games, but my understanding is that’s pretty much what the Monster Hunter games are, get together with some friends and murder giants.  And be Japanese.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

       I can’t be the only one who thought that the Tomb Raider: Ascension game sounded more than a little like Shadow of the Colossus plus Ico (Giant enemies! A person to protect! A horse!).

      So it would have been basically awesome instead of the bland torture porn game we got.

      • stuartsaysstop says:

        I seem to have been totally unaware of the initial plan for the Tomb Raider prequel, or I simply just forgot about it, but that image up top instantly made me of think of SotC.

  3. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Does the length and aesthetic styling of Gordon Freeman’s beard count?   With any other protagonist it might not be such a big deal, but given he doesn’t speak, his looks have to do a lot of the narrative heavy lifting.

  4. Victor Prime says:

    One of the original concepts for Goldeneye 007 on the N64 was having it play as an on-rails shooter like Virtua Cop. Dodged that bullet!

  5. Mr. Glitch says:

    Conker’s Bad Fur Day was originally conceived as Conker’s Quest, a cutesy kids’ game in the same vein as Rare’s other cutesy kids’ games. Obviously they took a creative hard left with Conker.

  6. I really enjoyed the reboot of Tomb Raider having never played any TR game before the reboot.

    But, while the game managed to make new fans out of the Tomb Raider franchise, it fails to spark an interest on the entire franchise. It reminds me of the Star Trek reboot: A great movie, but doesn’t spark an interest for the entire franchise to the viewers.

    I’ve recently bought Tomb Raider Legends for $1 at a flea market out of curiosity. Hopefully TR Legends can turn me into a diehard TR fan.

  7. HobbesMkii says:

    I love looking at “what might have been” for games and movies. It’s a little self-flagellating when the final product is crap after far more promising early starts. And it’s a wonderful glimpse into the design process.

    But it always leaves me feeling a little depressed. “Why can’t we have that?” I ask. But that idea of choice is more of an illusion. It’s not like these early drafts are actual viable alternatives. Maybe in some parallel universe, there’s a world where Donner gets to finish his cut of Superman II, or Lara Croft fights giants, but that’s not how the development process went. That alternative wasn’t actually possible to achieve, it just looked possible back then, and as we look through the concepts from the past we have this moment where we can envisage a future of that past where certain choices weren’t made. But, ultimately, I feel like that’s how the design process went this time, because that’s how the design process goes. I wonder if anything has translated perfectly from the concept to final product without a revision that substantially altered its character.

    • Citric says:

      Coincidentally, another site I frequent got into a discussion of cars that almost happened, which sent me down many internet rabbit holes to look at nifty prototypes there too. It’s kind of sad to see some legitimately cool stuff that didn’t make it due to internal politics (Pontiac Banshee) because the sales didn’t quite justify it (BMW M5 convertible) or because the company itself was broke (so many British things). But, then again, a lot of rejected styling proposals and models were probably for the best.

    • Asinus says:

      Back when was “Quake Stomping Grounds,” they had a great write up about the original concept for Quake. Back then, it sounded really interesting conceptually (“Quake” was the name of the character and he was a god armed with a hammer). Once I started thinking about how it would play, though, based on Romero’s description, it suddenly stopped sounding so great. Still interesting, but being a god that went around crushing things would probably get old pretty quickly.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        I think that touches on it for me. All these early concepts are great, but mostly because they never got to a finished product that could be flawed.

  8. rvb1023 says:

    I remember Dark Sector was the first game announced for the PS3/360 that was a stealth sci-fi game that then got turned into a Gears of War clone, albeit with a very cool glaive.

    The best example right now is Fuse. It looked like a light-hearted Insomniac co-op romp, but now it takes itself seriously and looks bleak as hell. Not so much a radical redesign as a hackneyed turn for the worse.

  9. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Interestingly enough, Devil May Cry also started out as an incarnation of Resident Evil 4, but since the style was so different from the series it was supposed to be a part of they turned it into a new one.

    • Speaking of which, i’d definitely play a Resident Evil 2 remake in the style of Tell Tale’s Walking Dead game.

      It would definitely work so well, especially with a character like Claire Redfield.

  10. Citric says:

    Does Star Fox 2 to Star Fox 64 count? The game was made, almost complete, and then scrapped because they had shiny hardware on the horizon that they figured would work better for a Star Fox game.

    • Girard says:

      There doesn’t appear to be much of SF2’s DNA in SF64, from what I’ve played of it. It’s more similar to Star Fox Command, if memory serves, with the multiple selectable characters and map-based tactics.

    • Star Fox 2 had some segments with BattleTech-style walking robots. Miyamoto ended up salvaging a lot of that for Mario 64.   

    • Bad Horse says:

      I’ve played an emulated version with a translate patch. It’s a really impressive piece of work for the Super NES but it’s just way, way overstuffed. Like they were trying to do XCOM with action, for furries.

  11. Alex S. says:

    Part of me still really wishes we had gotten the original, open-world version of Alan Wake that was teased back in 2006.

  12. LoveWaffle says:

    I’d talk about how Banjo-Threeie became Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, but it’s much easier to just link to the videos from JonTron and Did You Know Gaming that explain it in detail.

    Grant Kirkhope also said during his guest appearance on Game Grumps that part of why Banjo-Threeie became Nuts & Bolts is because the market for platformers collapsed while the game was in development.

    • duwease says:

       I’d be sad about that, if Nuts & Bolts wasn’t one of my favorite games of this generation.  So underrated!

    • neodocT says:

       Did the market for platformers collapse, or did they just stop making good ones?

      I used to love platformers when I was younger, and the Banjo-Kazooie games were by far my favorite. But skip a few years and the only decent 3D platformers left are the Mario Galaxy games…

      • LoveWaffle says:

        Did it collapse or did they just stop making good ones? I think those two ideas are connected. There was a point when platformers controlled an overwhelming majority of the gaming market, but other types of games (particularly FPS games) broke that genre’s dominance. So as platformers’ sales started slipping, interest in them declined immensely. Nintendo’s the only hold-outs since its what they built their brand on. But PlayStation, which has always been a bit more diversified, sort of stopped making them with the Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank series.

        The Xbox, on the other hand, never really had a major platformer. It did have platformers, but they never stood out, and are definitely not the reason anyone bought that console. So key to understanding why Banjo-Threeie became Nuts & Bolts is Microsoft not only entering the console market, but also buying Rare. If Microsoft didn’t buy Rare, I’m almost certain Banjo-Threeie would have come out as a platform early in the GameCube’s life cycle.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      I was going to plug Did You Know Gaming, glad to see someone else is aware of that site as well.

    • kazooiedog says:

      That video also gives a good overview of the process Project Dream went through in becoming Banjo Kazooie. And is much more accurate than my comment at the bottom of the page. 

  13. KidvanDanzig says:

    No Bioshock? You’re slackin on me GS.

    The original Bioshock concept was considerably more in line with the System Shock 2 design ethos – it was going to be a survival horror game with RPG inventory and FPS combat elements, set on a remote island where rogue Nazi scientists had conducted genetic experimentation and become fucked-up insectoid mutants. The player was set to infiltrate the island and rescue a young girl held captive there.

    They couldn’t sell it, naturally, even given the minor acclaim among more progressive industry types they had garnered with SS2. They made Tribes 2 to keep the lights on and eventually sold the idea to 2K, by which point the survival horror aspects were dropped in favor of more marketable FPS design.

    Gamespot had an early look at the game before its change –

    • duwease says:

      When blowing up Nazi mutants is considered unmarketable, you know the industry has some serious tunnel vision..

      • Vervack says:

         Speaking of blowing up Nazis, I would like to know what exactly happened with Singularity, that Russians-with-time-machines shooter from a few years back. A lot of the teasers and ARG seem rather disconnected from the plot as depicted in the game, and I’ve heard anecdotes that there were going to be a lot more time-manipulation based puzzles that were eventually cut out after they didn’t score well with the testers.

    • stuartsaysstop says:

      Seems I completely missed that. The original concept certainly makes the name Bioshock more apt.

  14. Enkidum says:

    I kind of miss the Mac Bungie – Marathons I-III were great, if really, really hard.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      Marathon is the first game I remember playing that had a level editor. I was too impatient to go through the game itself so I made levels with all the different gun types and just spawned enemies so I could shoot them. I was maybe 10 or 11.

  15. Dikachu says:

    Kinda surprised that Duke Nukem Forever wasn’t mentioned, though maybe it’s been done to death?  Anyway, I remember seeing THREE separate demos of the game over time, the earliest (and ironically, the most complete) in 1998, that looked like a seriously badass game.  Such a goddamn shame they weren’t properly managed.


    I’m very surprised to not see the original version of Bioshock Infinite on here, which I learned about from the concept art in The Art of Bioshock Infinite

    basically the premise of a floating city and the time period was the same (early 20th century) but the style was more in line with the original game, that is to say dark and foreboding (originally it was always going to be nighttime) with creepy looking mutant enemies and lumbering automatons similar to the Big Daddies, thus retaining the horror aspects of the original game, there was even going to be a Sander Cohen esque character except this time he was a Magician 

    I’ve got to admit, it looked pretty damn cool in it’s own right and while I think ultimately the final version of Bioshock Infinite is better, it is a shame the horror aspects of the original game are largely gone (save for one brief level), Bioshock Infinite is more of an action adventure 

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Holy shit, but what a level.  It was so affecting I can no longer wear my filthy union suit and weathered Benjamin Franklin hood without getting spooked out.

  17. NephewOfAnarchy says:

    Splinter cell conviction had a preview in one of the gaming magazines where Sam fisher was a bearded hobo and attacking someone with a chair. Then the game was “delayed” and came out business as usual, with no traces of hobo.

    • Canadian gamer says:

      It looked like a version of Hitman with more objects to throw, less blood and more linear arenas. 

    • Vervack says:

       Wasn’t there a massive fan outcry when the first trailers with Hobo Sam came out that actually prompted the publisher to backpedal?

      And on the same topic, what ever happened to that X-Com FPS? That actually looked pretty neat.

  18. Destroy Him My Robots says:

    I read Gilbert’s blog post about LEC’s demise the other day and was delighted when I saw Fox and Falstein chiming in in the comments. Naturally I fell down a whole rabbit hole and read lots of stuff, blablabla, long story short: I ended up in The Dig Museum once again. I remembered that the game had a troubled history and saw numerous changes, but I forgot how profound many of them were. It was originally conceived as a kind of adventure game with role-playing elements and a survival aspect. Two archaelogical teams would land on an alien planet and eventually become antagonistic (Falstein describes it as Forbidden Planet x Treasure of Sierra Madre here)

    6 years and three different project leads later they released a cool but not- quite-there pure point-and-click adventure. (Side note: The project leads were Falstein, Moriarty, Barwood, and finally Clark. Sheesh, talk about a surplus of talent.)

  19. TheAngryInternet says:

    id has at least three games that would fit on this list: Wolfenstein 3D was originally going to be a more stealthy game where you could hide bodies and wear stolen uniforms, like the old 2D Wolfensteins. Doom was going to have a much more detailed story, with more realistic locations, AI teammates, memos, etc.; this is somewhat reflected in the alphas. Quake was originally going to be an action-RPG about a godlike warrior with a multi-purpose magic hammer. The game as it finally came out was the result of mashing up a bunch of disparate visual elements the artists produced independently with no real guidance from above, linked by some nonsense about interdimensional gates. Masters of Doom has lots of good stuff on these changes and the infighting they generated.

    • TheAngryInternet says:

      Oh yeah, and the original idea for Dungeon Keeper had an overworld mode where you would attack villages and such to lure heroes into your dungeon. It also had a more robust first-person mode and heroes vs. villains multiplayer (I remember Bullfrog claiming hero play would be added to multiplayer via a patch or expansion, but it never happened). The raiding idea ended up in some latter-day DK successors like Impire.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      I’d read that all the programming for hauling bodies and the like is still in the Wolf3D code, it was more or less fully implemented, but Carmack and co felt it broke up the flow of the game too much. I don’t know if that’s true.

      Strange to think that a Thief-type game might have been the great modern gaming zeitgeist rather than an FPS.

  20. GhaleonQ says:

    I love that Luigi Mansion 1 was originally supposed to be some sort of traveling fishing title like Fishing Resort/Family Fishing.  I love that the decades of fishing games Japan has bought all led up to Nintendo putting out their 1st atmospheric adventure game since, what, Famicom Detective Club?  Perhaps Marvelous: Another Treasure Island?

    Anyway, it makes total sense to the extent that I bet they barely changed how the main vacuum/fishing mechanic feels.

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      Wait, that’s a real thing? “Vacuuming ghosts is just like fishing you guys!” isn’t just a stupid thing I made up? Man, I’m brilliant!

  21. rev_skarekroe says:

    Speaking of Bungie and their work for Macs, I miss the Marathon series.

  22. A few things:

    That Resident Evil game looks pretty cool. RE4 is a great game, but that Hook Man version seems to add a bit more “Silent Hill” type of aesthetics (mental breakdown, moods, hallucinations) that would really add a bit of backbone to the series. Instead, we ended up with whatever the fuck RE5 and RE6 was.

    Okami had a few different versions. I beat it on the Wii and there’s like 5-6 videos with different conceptual visions, including one where it looked like he was fighting other animals-as-gods. I kinda wanted to see that version.

    Oh, and this is kinda off-topic, but is anyone kinda concerned about The Last of Us? The early stuff looked like a trenchant post-apocalyptic travelogue where you have to make drastic, split-second decisions to protect the young girl from desperate roving gangs. Suddenly, it’s a game about stealth killing mushoom-infected zombies. When I saw that I was extremely disappointed. Am I the only one?  

  23. Craig Duda says:

    “Tomb Raider: Ascension” sounds like it was going to be a rip-off of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, and certainly worse than both. I think they were wise to ditch that concept.

  24. Craig Duda says:

    Okami worked so well because the “painted” art style allowed you to enjoy the beauty of the world without distraction. If they had tried to go for a realistic look, they would have encountered the Uncanny Valley. Instead of being transfixed by the beauty of the world, we’d be distracted by all the little things that don’t quite look right. As with Tomb Raider, I think they made the right choice here.

    • PaganPoet says:

      Thank god they went with the sumi-e art style for Okami instead of that generic realistic look. The finished product is one of the most beautiful games ever made.

  25. PaganPoet says:

    Every game should have “Ascension” as a subtitle.

    Tomb Raider: Ascension
    God of War: Ascension
    Mass Effect 4: Ascension
    Gears of War: Ascension
    Bubble Bobble: Acension
    Metal Gear Rising: Revengencension
    New Super Mario 3D Land Wii U: Ascension
    Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition Turbo HD Remix 3rd Impact: Ascension

  26. DK says:

    Minecraft is awful

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      Counterpoint: No it isn’t.

      Graphics are, yes.  But the exploration and survival aspects are a lot of fun.  The upcoming clones of it with improvements are exciting.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        Even the graphics aren’t awful. They’re pretty clear and nothing is ever muddled. you know what’s going on and won’t die or fuck up because of the graphics. Look at PS1 and N64 era games, then talk to me about bad graphics.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Why did you even post this?

  27. Mach0KingRandySavage says:

    Is there really enough nostalgia for early 3d graphics to claim they’ve been reinvented as a “stylish visual mode?” 

    I was in HS during the N64/PS1 era so I would theoretically be right smack in the middle of the demographic who would be all over that stuff, but by and large I think that era of graphics has aged far, far less gracefully than the earlier 16 bit era, and even some of the 8 bit stuff.

    • Citric says:

      I’ve got to cop to being fond of early 3D, but I also have to admit there’s no logical reason for that. I’ve admitted before that I like games to give me worlds that don’t exist in reality, and the 32-bit era did require a great deal of creativity to make something look good, so there often were nifty unique worlds.

    • Girard says:

      Yeah, the 32-bit era was kind of the Atari-era for 3D graphics. Some really fundamental design groundwork was laid, but graphically, things were fairly uniformly dire.

      Another way I’ve put it (and sort of the way I’d felt at the time) was that suddenly every game had become a “Super FX” game – and whereas in the SNES days you only had a handful of games that eschewed gorgeous graphics for a weird blocky aesthetic for some interesting 3D gameplay trade-off, now you had whole consoles making that aesthetic choice their bread and butter.

      The stuff looked awful then, and has only worsened with age, really. There were some successful stylized games that managed to overcome those issues (I’d say the cel-shaded MegaMan Legends games looked great – basically the WindWaker of their time, and have aged almost as well as that game). I could see a game adopting and exploring the low-poly style successfully, of course, but it would require a more deft touch than simply making gorgeous pixel art look gorgeous.

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      Retro 3D graphics may not be stylish, but they certainly would be a deliberate style. I can’t think of any games that are using that style, though. The closest I can think of would be something like Animal Crossing, which has models that kind of resemble the blocky graphics from that era, if you squint.

      Graphics aside, I suspect that Minecraft would have gone over poorly in 2003 because of performance as much as anything else. A decent PC may have been able to keep track the world well enough, I don’t quite remember how good computers were ten years ago, but I doubt any of the consoles could have.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I think I’m in the same camp as @Citric:disqus, in that early 3D graphics actually do have some nostalgic impact on me. I mostly grew up in the 16-bit era, when 2D sprite graphics were at their apex (arguably), but my sensibilities mostly matured during the 32 bit era, and I do remember it very fondly.

      In fariness, a lot of it is incredibly ugly. And the more ambitious games tried to get back then, the uglier they tended to be. But like art in any medium, creatively working within the  limitations produced some tremendous results.

      The Playstation era Final Fantasies, my favourites in the series, overcame their graphical limitations by using beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds and having their characters take on distinct, easily recognizable silhouettes. Silent Hill used the system’s poor draw distance to its advantage by building an atmosphere around compensating for that weakness, and the lack of clarity in its character models made the muddy, indistinct monstrosities even more unknowable and frightening (same deal with early Resident Evil, which also championed the above-mentioned pre-rendered backgrounds.) Some games created 3D models for their characters and then used those models as a basis for their sprites, like Wild Arms or Tomba!, essentially getting the best of both worlds. Even some early fully 3D games have aged relatively well, like the first Metal Gear Solid, which was able to maintain a certain degree of graphical integrity by focusing intensely on what it knew it could do well, and filling its world with as much detail as was then possible.

      I also like early 3D because it’s one of the last periods in gaming where projecting your imagination onto the game’s world was a necessary step in understanding what was going on. We’ve all by now seen countless visual interpretations of the 8-bit Mario and Zelda titles, because those titles were so graphically simple and young impressionable kids were filling in the blanks with their imaginations. As graphical fidelity has gone up, those blanks are being filled in for us. But during the 32 Bit era, you could still look at Cloud’s character model, or Chris Redfield’s, or Harry Mason’s, and fill in the missing details with your own mind, creating a more personal experience than modern AAA games tend to invite.

      At least, that’s how I feel. I do fully admit that I mostly feel this way because I was the perfect age during this period to feel exactly this protective of it when it comes under fire.

    • Asinus says:

      I think this has come up before, and I Think back then I said something along the lines of, “Games that didn’t try to push beyond the limitations of their hardware looked great.” I liked the low-res textures on the N64– well, what they were probably doing was gouraud shading, but I’ve never looked into it. The Zelda games, Mario 64, and I have to think that there were a few others that I appreciated. I also think the N64 was better at 3D because of its lack of textures than the Playstation, which ended up looking terrible with some of the more photorealistic textures mapped onto blocky models. 

      Although FFIX running at high resolution on an emulator looks pretty great– So does OoT. 

      However, at the time these systems were being played, I had a 3D accelerator in my PC and it made them all look pretty shitty, but 3D was pretty new to consoles. 

    • Goon Diapers says:

      I completely agree with you. There are a lot of games from 1997-2003 that are completely unplayable for me because I hate the graphics so much. But 16 and 8 bit graphics look great to me.

  28. Quamikaze says:

    The first thing that popped into my head was SimCity 3000, which had the ULTIMATE 3D EXPERIENCE for it’s initial build at E3. EA purchased Maxis soon after they displayed it, and they were ordered to completely change the game (really for the better, I think):

  29. Tim Kraemer says:

    It’s fascinating how seemingly complete Dinosaur Planet N64 is based on that video. Just crazy to think of a game making it that far into development and being scraped (or, at least, really drastically overhauled).

    • WarrenPeace says:

      That “controversial” Tropes vs. Women series used this game as one of its main arguments when discussing damsels in distress, since the original had a strong female main character (a fox-lady with boobs, of course), but when they remade it into a Starfox game, they kept her in it but gave her skimpier clothes and trapped her inside a crystal for the whole game, turning her from an actual character into a prize to be won. So, the game didn’t just get revamped into a franchise entry, but they layered on a coat of misogyny too.

  30. Angus says:

    I was reading a fascinating article about the development of XCOM: Enemy Unknown the other day saying that it too changed drastically in development

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Apparently the maker of the new XCOM designed it as a boardgame first, to make sure the mechanics were sound and fun. Quintin Smith (who created Shut Up & Sit Down, and writes for RPS and Eurogamer) Likes to harp on this a lot when he’s evangelizing boardgames to videogamers. 

      Now that I’ve written this, I’m not sure which one Enemy Unkown is. I’ll go ahead and post this anyway.

  31. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    Aw man, no one has mention Portal 2 yet? Valve has talked about the development for that game a lot in different places. Apparently there was a feature called F-Stop that let you shrink and grow things or something like that, but it proved to be too complex for the playtesters. 

    I know Valve is known for scrapping almost entire games to start over on them. It’s kind of sad knowing we’ll never get to play that version of Portal 2. 

    • stuartsaysstop says:

      Sounds to me like that f-stop mechanic ended up in Quantum Conundrum, which was directed by one of the lead designers of Portal.

  32. beema says:

    RE4 is the only one of these I’ve ever played, or even really know about.

  33. OhHaiMark says:

    I had always figured this was the case for Silent Hill 4: The Room, that they had built some game and then stuck the title of the game on it. I always thought that the game would’ve been better without the Silent Hill name myself.

    But no, it was actually meant to be a Silent Hill game during development. Interesting.

    • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

       Hrm, are you sure?  Cause I have heard, from a number of people, that SH:The Room was never intended to be a Silent Hill game, but as the series was well-received, and needed a new entry, they shoe-horned in some SH references and scenes that were originally set in wherever the original concept was got turned into modern-day Silent Hill.

      • OhHaiMark says:

         Yeah, I had always figured the same thing but I couldn’t find anything that actually confirmed that.

        Either way, it would’ve been much better without the expectation of it being an actual SH game, in my opinion.

    • Vervack says:

       Yeah, I’ve wondered about what exactly happened in the initial stages of SH4’s development, but I’ve never been able to get a clear answer from someone in the know. I stick with the theory that it may have been intended to be a separate game when the original idea was created, but once work actually started on the game it was quickly decided to put it within the SH franchise.

      In any case, I’ve grown to believe that by the time SH4’s development rolled around there was a consensus at Team Silent that they had taken the SH formula as far as it could go, and they wanted to try something more experimental. As it turned out the aesthetics were wonderful but the game was a bitch and a half to play. If it had been released independent of the SH name the gameplay problems would probably have sunk it, though it may have developed a small cult akin to Rule of Rose.

      • OhHaiMark says:

         Yeah, that’s a fair point. I know a lot of people who dismiss the game entirely, but I felt that it was, in the very least, interesting. It wasn’t all bad, and it certainly had some parts that stuck with me, but it was highly divergent from the formula that was Silent Hill 1-3. People didn’t like it much, but I thought it was exactly as you said. Wonderful in parts, utterly broken in others.

        I’m definitely a fan of experimenting, and it’s so fun seeing the final version of a game and comparing it to demo versions that the development team had been working on.

        I thought the Hook Man RE demo was awesome, for instance.

  34. KidvanDanzig says:

    Also, Rise of the Triad, which was originally going to be a Wolfenstein 3D sequel before they ditched the concept halfway through development and elected for the total insanity that we got. The only remnants of the original concept are the low-level human enemy sprites, who are all obviously nazis even though they’re supposed to be island cult security forces, or something.

  35. forbidden_donut says:

    Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time was originally supposed to take place entirely in Ganon’s castle. Really.

  36. kazooiedog says:

    It’s also worth mentioning Dream, the SNES concept that turned in to Banjo Kazooie. The only character (if I’m remembering correctly) that survived the change was Blackbeard, who only showed up in portrait form in the first BK game. 

  37. Andrew Perrine says:

    The low-polygon look is “haute couture,” you say? Huh. As in luxury clothing? The metaphor is “un peu tiré par les cheveux” as the French would say.

  38. HyperSpiral says:

    I remember Starcraft: Ghost going through some major changes before it died. I remember being excited about an exiting single player game for the GameCube. No multiplayer, but that tends not to add much to some games (see every Rare game after Banjo Kazooie). Then, surprise, we’re adding multiplayer! It has a crazy class-based system and allows you to play as all three races! Then they say the game is PRIMARILY about multiplayer. Hmm, weird. the final announcement before its cancellation was oh, by the way, the focus on multiplayer means the GameCube version is cancelled.

  39. Goon Diapers says:

    Man, I HATE early 3D graphics.