Speak to any developer for long enough and they'll all end up using the same stock phrase: making games is really hard. And they're right, of course. Hundreds of staff working on dozens of interconnecting systems while publishers yell deadlines, point at budget spreadsheets and say things like 'we love it, but can we have more flying tanks?'. It's no wonder that, from time to time, the whole thing spins wildly out of control and a game emerges from development limbo looking very different from the one that fell in.
Well, here are nine games that changed massively during construction. Some were last minute changes in direction, others lost key licenses or swapped publishers. What they all prove is that while making games is hard, retaining that glorious initial vision is, well, more-or-less impossible.
1. Alan Wake
Farewell, monster truck love scenes
What it is: After six years in development, Remedy's psychological thriller arrived as a more-or-less linear action adventure following the eponymous author going on holiday by mistake in hellish Bright Falls, Washington. Here, he misplaces his wife, then battles the servants of all-consuming evil the Dark Presence.
What it was: Alan Wake was originally going to be an open-world adventure. However, with a team of just 45 staff working on the engine, plus a desire to create a compelling, pacey narrative, Remedy abandoned the sandbox elements. As head of franchise development Oskari Häkkinen put it: "When you have the player turning up to a love scene in a monster truck, you know something's wrong."
2. Splinter Cell Conviction
The initially beardy rogue tidies up and takes to the shadows
What it is: Essentially a reboot of the stealth action adventure series, this time with shadow-hugging special operative Sam Fisher off the grid and searching for the truth about his daughter's death. Meanwhile, terrorists are plotting to blow up America and something is decidedly rotten in the state of Third Echelon.
What it was: While the final version of Conviction flirts with the idea of Fisher as a dodgy rogue agent, the original design was based entirely around this concept, with our hero bearded, desperate and unhinged. "It was a tale of survival where Fisher would stop at nothing to achieve his goals," says Richard Arroyo, one of the game's animators. "Sam was going through a major change when we first started. We were watching Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer and James Bond, and comparing them to him. The idea was to make him rely more on instincts and have him adapt to an active world where there wasn't the classic hiding in the shadow game play".
There were also elements of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series creeping in. "This version of Sam would need to blend and use the environment around him, and he would need to 'mingle' with the everyday civilian," says Arroyo. "This is where the idea of the jacket and backpack came from because they would enable him to carry and hide weapons. Fisher was going to be fully rogue - no rules, no restrictions, and no moral code - using an assortment of 'shady' characters to get his weapons and intelligence. I wanted Sam to be as ruthless as possible by making his take down and interrogation moves malicious, giving the player a shock factor you would normally see in the God of War series".
But the creative directors at Ubisoft were not so keen on seeing their dashing stealth agent becoming a homicidal mash up of Jack Bauer and Kratos. They were also wary of cannibalising the crowd stealth elements of Assassin's Creed. "There was a lot of reinventing the wheel, when we could have taken the best elements of Splinter Cell and added original gameplay or visuals," says Arroyo. "Our initial pitch was very well received, but we were slowly deviating from the elements that made the series so successful".