The video game Daikatana came out in 2000, but it's still one of the industry's biggest punchlines, right up there with Duke Nukem Forever and EA. It was supposed to be a hit: a new title developed by a bunch of talented people with grand ideas ... who got hit with so many delays, unexpected costs, and internal strife that the whole thing eventually imploded like a vortex bomb. We spoke with Matthew Cox, a senior artist, and Zach Baker, a programmer, who kindly agreed to tell us about their time working on the Waterworld of gaming.

#5. Daikatana Created Gaming's First Rock Stars

Wikimedia Commons

Daikatana was the brainchild of John Romero, who had both the reputation and the luxurious, law-breakin' hair of a rock star.

Inc Gamers
You just want to wrap yourself up in it and drift away.

Romero got his start at id Software, where he played a major role in the development of Wolfenstein 3DDoomQuake, and other games that basically invented the first-person-shooter genre. So when Romero left id, co-founded a company called Ion Storm, and announced a time-traveling epic that would take the player and an intelligent sidekick through a near-future San Francisco, 25th-century Japan, Ancient Greece, and Dark Age Norway, every nerd on the planet started hyperventilating into their lunch bag. Oh, but don't let us over-hype it ... let Time magazine do that:

"Everything that game designer John Romero touches turns to gore. And to gold," they said. "Romero ... wore the mantle of pop-culture godhood with aplomb," they gasped. The whole idea of sidekicks in a video game was a "bold departure" that would "help turn mere games into immersive dramas," Time screeched, before being overwhelmed with zealous lust and fainting dead away.

Eidos Interactive
Pictured: Immersive drama.

We don't blame them -- the description of Daikatana sounds awesome even today. And that's because, even today, it's ambitious. In 1997, it was a unicorn fart up a rainbow. It's no coincidence that Daikatana was developed between '97 and 2000, the exact span of the dot-com bubble. Technology was getting big, gaming was getting even bigger, and everyone thought the money would flow forever. Time called John Romero a god because the industry had reached a place where it needed one. And who do you blame when shit goes sideways?

That's right: Gary from accounting.

Oh no, wait: God. You blame God.

#4. "Develop Games Like A Rock Star" Turns Out To Be A Bad Business Plan

Russ Berger Design Group

Ion Storm had an office on the top floor of the Chase Tower in Dallas, and that prestigious real estate didn't come cheap -- Matt caught a peek at a budget spreadsheet and saw that the rent was over $1.1 million a month. The way Matt and Zach described the office made it sound awesome but ridiculously impractical, like using an F1 car to commute to your downtown office job.

Wikimedia Commons
Appropriately dick-shaped, considering how hard the company was going to be screwed.

If you've never thought of Dallas as a major hub of the game industry, that's because it's not. Ion Storm sure tried their hardest to turn it into one, though -- mostly by backhanding the problem with great wobbling stacks of cash. When Zach was brought in on loan from another company as a "firefighter," he was flown in from L.A. and paid a tidy sum to do so. He wasn't the only one:

"Dallas was a difficult place to staff people with an appropriate background to work on an epic, blockbuster game. John complained about that from time to time, the difficulty of finding people he wanted to have on the team and from bringing people out from the Bay Area."

Russ Berger Design Group
Ion Storm's lobby, which is actually a better-looking setting than any in the game.

As an example of just how much money was wasted, Matt points to Ion Storm's in-office movie theater. The projection bulbs were "some kind of crazy amount of money to replace," but people kept burning them out because they didn't follow the instructions correctly. Eventually Ion Storm either stopped replacing them or just stopped using the theater, and so it just sat there.

Russ Berger Design Group
One hallway had TVs like these installed at a 40-degree angle. They were useless for viewing
and were eventually just shut off.

By contrast, Zach points out:

"Id had a first-floor office in a nondescript office park. Not much to look at. It was surprising how small they were. Ion Storm had grown so much so quickly, but id had started around a core group of people and grown slowly."

Mod DB
Id's lobby, where you must have an appointment or face the Demon. Wait, sorry,
this actually says "Debbie." Make an appointment or face Debbie.

#3. The Failure Of Daikatana May Be Why You're PlayingBattlecall: Field Of Duty 17


For all of its notoriety, Daikatana was not objectively that bad. It wasn't good, but stripped of all the hype, and accounting for its age, it wasn't a digital uppercut to the ovaries like history would have us believe. We're not alone in our opinion -- retrospective reviews claim "Daikatana was never dreadful. It just made some pretty dreadful mistakes." Even at the time of release it wasn't universally panned; while many reviews were negative, a lot were in the 70 to 80 percent range.

Eidos Interactive
And the Game Boy Color version is great. No, seriously.

But "it's OK, we guess" doesn't cut it after three years of hype, rumors, intrigue, and promises. If you pay a hundred bucks for a wagyu steak and somebody hands you a pretty decent burger instead, you're going to be justifiably pissed. Everybody in the industry took special note of the consumer backlash. There's a cautious attitude toward innovation in gaming today, and Daikatana may be partially to blame for that. Even gaming household-names, like Miyamoto and Sid Meier, mostly make games similar to what brought them success in the past. If they do try something new, it's generally low-key and low-budget (raise your hand if you played Meier's turn-based tablet game about World War I fighter planes).