Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Although far from the first or the last high-budget flop in the gaming industry, Daikatana was unusual in that it garnered a fair amount of attention in the popular press, starting with an unflattering company profile in the local Dallas Observer newspaper, but quickly gaining notice nationwide. Although geeky in its particulars, the general thrust of the story was classic rags-to-riches-to-rags Americana, with greed, libido, ambition, arrogance, lawyers and outsized egos all meshing with predictably poor results. The computer gaming industry was already being compared to Hollywood, and here at last was its own Heaven's Gate.
From very early on in the game's development, it had been aggressively advertised as the brainchild of John Romero, a man famous for his work at id Software in the development of Quake and Doom. Time magazine gave Romero and Daikatana glowing coverage, proclaiming "Everything that game designer John Romero touches turns to gore and gold." An infamous early advertisement for Daikatana was a red poster with large black lettering proclaiming "John Romero's about to make you his bitch". Nothing else featured on this poster but a small tag-line reading "Suck It Down" and an Ion Storm logo.
From the lavish rock-star like treatment given to Romero in his attempt to build a designer-centered game studio (including a multimillion-dollar office on the top floor of a Dallas skyscraper), to Romero's expensive tastes and hobbies (such as racing Ferraris), the dubious saga of Romero's girlfriend Stevie Case being hired on as a level designer, and most of all the tortured path of the game's development (which included most of the original development team quitting en masse to form a competing company), all of the elements for a classic soap opera were in place. The then-emergent online gaming fan community and online press were the ideal medium for the story to play out in, with regular leaks from disgruntled former (and current) employees providing ample and regular doses of new drama to keep interest in the story high. Several online industry gossip websites came into existence primarily to track the unfolding debacle, some of which are still publishing today.
Due to these and more problems, Daikatana was delayed multiple times from its conception in early 1997 to its eventual release in 2000. By this time, numerous games based on more advanced graphical technology (such as Id Software's Quake III) had already been released, making certain that Daikatana could not hold up technologically with its dated Quake II game engine. Additionally, its gameplay had many aspects that were widely disliked by players, such as an artificially limited number of saves per level and the presence of computer-controlled "sidekicks" who were an active impediment to the player. Worst of all, many of the game's features that had been touted as revolutionary in 1997 had by 2000 not only been done multiple times before, but in most people's opinion done better. The game was critically panned, and appeared on numerous "top 10 worst games" listings.
Daikatana ultimately ended Romero's career in the high-end PC gaming industry and was a major contributing factor in the closure of Ion Storm's Dallas office — Romero moved on to run a much smaller company, Monkeystone, that produced games for handheld devices.
Daikatana is written with the Japanese kanji 大刀; these characters appeared on the cover of the game's box. The characters literally mean "large sword" in Japanese, a name which comes from an item in a long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign played by the original members of id Software, which Romero cofounded. Note, however, that the game is American, and that the word "daikatana" does not actually exist in Japanese. 大刀's actual pronounciation is Tachi.
- The Dallas Observer's "Stormy Weather" expose on Daikatana's development problems.
- The Dallas Observers's "Vapor War: ION Storm's Daikatana still isn't out, but several legal filings are"
- Wired News: "Doom and Gloom at ION"
- Eidos's Daikatana Site
- Knee Deep In A Dream: The Story of Daikatana
- MobyGame's entry on Daikatana
- Salon Magazine's "The Waiting Game: Will John Romero's Daikatana ever hit the shelves?"
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