What Went Wrong With Daikatana?

How 'too big to fail' toppled over

Daikatana Cover

Ion Storm

John Romero is one of the most influential people who has ever worked in the gaming industry. He made Doom, Doom II, Ultimate Doom, Final Doom, Doom 64, what can this guy not do?

In March 1997, John Romero decided he was going to make a game. The game would be 24 levels in 4 time periods, have 25 weapons, and 64 monsters. I'm sure the team at Ion Storm were listening in hushed silence, wondering what the punchline was, what did John Romero want with another old FPS? Like David Blaine, he must have looked them in the eye, leaned in and whispered, "We're gonna do it for 7 months."

John Romero, who is immensely talented, immediately asked himself "What could happen to this game, that even John Romero could not finish it?" and immediately did everything he could do to make himself fail. He was working with inexperienced staff, at a new studio, and after visiting E3 and showing Daikatana, he decided to switch to the Quake II engine due to comments that their game, using the Quake engine, looked dated. Expectedly, they did not make the Christmas 1997 deadline. 

The game rode almost entirely on Romero's popularity and several magazines basically said: "It has to be gold cause that's all Romero produces." So what do you do when the game is basically assured to sell just because you're involved in it? You allow advertising for the game to center around insulting your customer while showing nothing about your product. Then you hire your girlfriend, that has no coding experience to be a level designer, buy a whole bunch of expensive stuff, and make your development team so mad that they leave and form their own company.

In late '97, the team received the Quake II source code. John Romero, not needing any stinking rules, had led the team to modify the original Quake engine code so much that a complete rewrite was required instead of the quick port they imagined. The re-write was completed over a year later in January 1999, having missed the original release date by a year. 

A multiplayer demo made it out on March '99, it showed nothing that was promised and failed to impress. The biggest disaster of the whole development would occur as the team tweaked their E3 demo to the point where it slowed to 10-12 FPS, with no time to fix it, it was shown and Eidos Interactive, a financier of Ion Storm and publisher of the game, decided to take over. Ion Storm became majority owned by Eidos, and the founders of the company were forced out. Somehow it still took over a year to release the game, and boy was it just as bad as you would think.

Romero had spent too much time sabotaging himself to release anything nearly as innovative as his previous games. Daikatana was a mediocre shooter with a slew of bugs, namely your A.I. buddy, who had the path-finding of a kitten in a snowstorm. The Quake II engine that the team wasted a year on porting the game to was obsolete, supplanted by the id Tech 3 and Unreal engines, and since advertising had been insulting to his target audience, namely everyone, no one cared enough to buy it on merit.

Neither Ion Storm or John Romero ever recovered from the beat down they gave themselves with Daikatana. Ion Storm would be around for a few more years and even released one more big hit with Deus Ex in 2000. However, the shadow of Eidos Interactive hung over them, and like many small studios owned by big publishers, they were only worth as much as their name, which had been tarnished too badly by the debacle of Daikatana. John Romero was never able to make another hit after the injuries he sustained during the brutal, years-long assault he gave himself. Although he has stayed in the industry, he mostly dabbles in mobile gaming and has largely faded from the public limelight.