Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003)
What it Tried to Do: Herald a new beginning for the Microsoft-era Rare.
What It Did: Inspire many copies of Goldeneye 007 to be dug out of their closets.
What Went Wrong: Besides Nintendo’s own content, there were few better indicators of quality in the N64 era than a Rare title. So when Microsoft announced its acquisition of the Stamper Brothers’ company, Xbox fanboys rejoiced. The partnership eventually bore fruit in the form of Grabbed by the Ghoulies, a Halloween-themed beat-‘em-up that left plenty of fans scratching their heads: Where was the inventiveness of Blast Corps, the snark of Conker’s Bad Fur Day? Was Ghoulies a devilishly tough kids’ game, or a saccharine-sweet survival horror? Who were the losers here: Microsoft, the once-great Rare, or the gaming public? Ghoulies endowed the new Rare with a stench of mediocrity the company never recovered from: when the Stampers finally left the company, which they had started in the ‘80s, nobody minded much.
Star Wars Galaxies (2003)
What it Tried to Do: Star Wars! Online! What more could you want?
What It Did: Discovered the answer to the above question (turns out it’s “fun”).
What Went Wrong: You can’t just set any old thing in the Star Wars universe and expect it to kick ass. This was the lesson of everything from Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure to The Phantom Menace. But did Sony Online Entertainment, developers of Star Wars Galaxies, pay heed? Not so much. When the game finally brought Star Wars to the MMO community, gamers were put off by the unclear, monotonous grinding involved in becoming a Jedi (a feat no player would achieve for four months). SOE tried patching the game to overhaul combat and make the Jedi class selectable from the start; you can imagine how well that went over. Years’ worth of upgrades and patches later, the game remains an underpopulated lesson in how not to manage an MMO.
What it Tried to Do: Provide limitless adventure and intricate consequence in a detailed, evolving world.
What it Did: Remind people that Peter Molyneux sure does got a mouth on him.
What Went Wrong: Not only did Fable promise GTA-style sandbox-gaming in an RPG realm, but every choice the player made was to have huge consequences on the game’s world and story. The game’s developer, motormouthed genius-savant Peter Molyneux, swaggered about the scene making outrageous promises: plant a tree and watch it grow fifteen years later! See the world around you react to your moral choices! Compete with NPC heroes, who’ll beat you to the prize if you’ve let your character get shabby! When the game emerged it was a fun, Elder Scrolls-lite romp, but gamers wondered what had happened to the depth they’d been promised. The suddenly untrustworthy Molyneux went so far as to issue a public apology and promised to be more grounded when promoting future games.
Advent Rising (2005)
What it Tried to Do: Show that sci-fi legends can write for games too.
What It Did: Showed that games can arse up even the work of sci-fi legends.
What Went Wrong: While most games blow the budget on fancy effects and production doodads, leaving no room for an exciting story or memorable characters, Majesco’s Advent Rising was a depressing inversion of the norm. Based on an original script by Orson Scott Card, Advent Rising was to be the first in a trilogy, taking place alongside planned PSP game Advent Shadow. However, the game’s control system and lengthy list of bugs caused retail performance to fall far short of projections. The PSP game was nixed, the series put on indefinite hold, and Majesco announced that they were moving exclusively into casual content. Card, for his part, never ended up writing the tie-in novels Majesco had planned; chalk one up for fellow sci-fi author Harlan Ellison, whose work got turned into a game back in 1995.
What it Tried to Do: Be the best God Game ever. Hell, just the best game ever.
What it Did: Prompted a lot of people to pirate the toddlers’ version of Civilization.
What Went Wrong: Time Magazine called Spore “the most ambitious game ever.” Will Wright, father of everything with “Sim” in the title, promised an experience where players would guide their life-form from single-celled organism to intergalactic superpower, seamlessly growing in scope from microcosmic amoeba-manipulation to traversing the infinity of space. It was a tough task - but if anyone could do it, Wright could. Apparently, nobody could do it. On release, reviewers couldn’t get past the way the game’s rigidly divided levels all offered training-wheels versions of other games. Even shorter shrift was given to the game’s copy-protection: EA’s SecuROM technology crippled players’ ownership of the software, leading anti-DRM advocates to lead a “Pirate Spore” campaign that saw it become 2008’s most-copied game.
Sep 16, 2009
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