Video game development is not a simple process. Designers and programmers often spend years on a single project, and thus there is plenty of opportunity for games to shift focus dramatically as they make progress. Of course, this can lead to some rather strange origins of popular video games, where the end product is something very different than the original concept.
While a certain amount of change is to be expected with any title, some famous examples have gone through such extensive alteration, they are almost completely unrecognizable compared to what the developers initially intended. There are many examples of video games that changed design partway through, with the creators having to scrap work and practically start over from scratch.
This can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the art style might clash with the gameplay, or new mechanics might be introduced partway through development that developes like more. It’s even possible for a studio to build a game with certain characters in mind only for a license deal to fall through, causing the team to have to go in a new direction with a new cast. Even some of the most famous video game titles in history started out much differently from what hit store shelves.
Nintendo’s first foray into the American market with their arcade cabinets proved to be incredibly unsuccessful. With 2,000 spare units sitting unused, they tasked newcomer Shigeru Miyamoto with creating a game that would work on the arcade machines, so that they could avoid financial ruin.
The legendary developer quickly came up with the idea of a comic-strip inspired game featuring Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl. Nintendo was unable to secure the rights to those characters, forcing Miyamoto to switch to a different love triangle inspired by King Kong. So, a licensing issue led to the creation of Donkey Kong, Mario, and Pauline. Swap out the spinach for mushrooms and suddenly you've created a new crop of icons. "I am what I am," Popeye used to say, which isn't too far away from Mario's famous "It's-a me!"
You've probably heard of Halo even if you've never played a video game in your life. The action/sci-fi, first person shooter (telling the story of an interstellar war between armored humans and technologically sophisticated aliens) is one of the biggest franchises in gaming history and Microsoft’s flagship series, and millions of people play its various installments. However, Bungie drastically altered the fate of Halo in a short span of time, after Microsoft purchased the developer so the game could launch alongside its new console, the Xbox. The original title was intended to be a real-time strategy game, that saw players take control of soldiers on a large battlefield.
The game's protagonist, Master Chief, was already in place but instead of driving a four-wheeled car, he rode on the back of his traveling companion, which was a dinosaur. Also? It was almost called The Santa Machine which is a full-blown bonkers name for a space video game about alien fights.
Before the focus was switched to first-person shooter, the studio revealed how much work they had put in by announcing Halo at Macworld. Steve Jobs even introduced the game to the world on stage. The switch evolved naturally, when the developers saw they were focusing more and more on the Spartan super soldiers. They decided to put the emphasis entirely on Master Chief, to create a better story and a more emotional experience. The dinosaur was switched out for a cool car, the third-person perspective was switched to first, and the text-based roots of the game were switched out for a guns-out, action-heavy epic.
Super Smash Bros. a beloved party game involving famous video game characters battling it out in a Battle Royale across many dynamic backgrounds, is a ground-breaking fan favorite. It was a mainstream game that let you play as characters across different franchises, together, for the first time. Link, Pikachu and Luigi, together at last!
Surprisingly, the game went through a pretty difficult development process. There were only three people working on the game throughout much of the early phase, and the small team had no plans on incorporating established Nintendo characters until very late into the project. The concept for the four-player brawler was simply to create a distinctive fighting game. The idea of iconic, classic Nintendo characters brawling it out for the first time-- the thing that became the cornerstone of the franchise-- started as an afterthought.
The decision to actually use the likes of Mario, Link, and Samus came when they wanted to find a way to interest players and market the game abroad. Nintendo initially shot down the idea, so the developers secretly went ahead and included the characters anyway. Fortunately, executives liked the end product and gave the designers permission to include them in the game. And it's a good thing, too. Without the draw of famous characters fighting it out, Super Smash Bros. likely would have just gotten lost in the shuffle as another, generic fighting game.
Work on what would become Splinter Cell began before Ubisoft acquired developer Red Storm, and the rights to the Tom Clancy license. The game was a futuristic shooter that saw players take on the role of a protagonist traveling across floating cities. Known as The Drift, the game had a number of interesting mechanical elements, such as the ability to fire cameras and grapple up buildings.
As the project stalled, it was pitched as a James Bond game to the license holders, but it ultimately failed to make an impression. When the publisher acquired the ability to make the games based on Tom Clancy’s novels, the team began to inject more espionage mechanics, and soon realized the stealth gameplay was better than what they had previously worked on. With the mandate to “make a Metal Gear Solid 2 killer,” the studio created Splinter Cell.