How a real-world Robert Ludlum shooter became 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand

Probably the least likely mid-development change-up ever

Seeing as the biggest news today is that Jonty's New Year hangover has yet to relinquish its vicelike grip on his lower abdomen, I thought I'd pimp a quote or two from last week's Development Hell feature, covering games that underwent dramatic overhauls before release. Specifically, there's the strange case of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, developed by Swordfish Studios for Vivendi and eventually published by THQ in 2009.

You know it as a sweary, parodic desert shooter in which plain-speaking popular musicians sock it to men in headscarves. But according to game director Julian Widdows, Blood on the Sand was originally something a touch less flamboyant - a serious-minded military shooter based on Robert Ludlum's Covert One novels.


Vivendi began to get "cold feet" about the game when the TV series based on Ludlum's series failed to do numbers. "We demoed the game and all went very well," Widdows recalled to the active and efficient Keith "writes for the Guardian" Stuart. "But then they said, 'It's great, but we've got a problem. The property hasn't performed at the level we'd like so we don't want to release a game with the Covert One license attached. But we've had another thought: how do you fancy putting 50 Cent in your game?'

"Initially, there was just a combination of shock and disbelief. We'd been working on a serious first-person shooter! How were we supposed to sell this to the team in the UK? Nobody would have defined the next stage in the studio's evolution as making a game about 50 Cent set in the Middle East. So I had 12 hours over the Atlantic to think of a pitch the team would respond well to."

Miraculously, Swordfish Studios was able to pull off the transition thanks to its experience with the similarly loony Scarface: The World Is Yours. With 50 Cent now in the starring role, the developer dropped the game's original setting in favour of something more openly fantastical. "The original brief was... a little more specific. There was an active conflict going on in the Middle East, and we thought it would be insensitive for the game to feature soldiers or touch on real themes. So we treated it as a generic desert area - enemies are a multinational task force, we made it very much a parody."

Further changes had to be made at the behest of 50 Cent himself. "After the first content review, [50 Cent's management] said they wanted a driving level and a love interest. Neither were built into the game, and adding them quite a way into development was a significant challenge. We had to change our hiring plans and get in people with racing and car experience." Among the more headache-inducing demands was a Mass-Effect-style plot choice, in which players get to decide whether they trust the game's love interest.

Kind of crazy, no? Read the full feature for more tales of mystery and amazement.