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Daikatana is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ion Storm and published by Eidos Interactive on April 22, 2000. It is known as one of the major flops of the computer game industry. Daikatana is considered a financial failure due to the high commercial expectations that preceded its release. The game has appeared on such platforms as Windows, Game Boy Color and Nintendo 64. A version being developed for the PlayStation was cancelled.
The protagonist of the game is Hiro Miyamoto, a martial arts instructor in 2455 AD. The world, ruled over by a man named Kage Mishima, is in the grip of a major pandemic. Kage Mishima was able to cause the pandemic by using a magical sword called the daikatana, which allowed him to travel back in time to prevent the disease from being cured. The game is based around Hiro's attempts to recover the daikatana, a task which involves travelling to a number of different times and places.
Hiro is joined by two other people ¡ª Superfly Johnson, a former soldier for Kage Mishima, and Mikiko Ebihara, the daughter of the scientist who informed Hiro of the problem.
Daikatana has a total of twenty-four levels, divided into four episodes. The number of maps per level varies, but is generally about three. The episodes represent different locations and time periods: futuristic Japan, ancient Greece, the Dark Ages in Norway and futuristic San Francisco. Gameplay tends towards fast-paced combat, although an attempt was made to include problem-solving elements as well.
One element that Daikatana stressed was the important role of the protagonist's two "sidekicks". The death of these sidekicks resulted in the failure of the mission, and their assistance was sometimes required for the completion of puzzles. Incidentally, due to the poor AI implementation of the sidekicks, one of the game's selling points turned out to be a focus of criticism.
Although far from the first or the last unsuccessful commercial project in the gaming industry, Daikatana was unusual in that it garnered a fair amount of negative attention in the American press and triggered a huge backlash from the gaming public. Despite the fact that other games actually lost a lot of money (E.T.) or have been delayed much longer (Duke Nukem Forever), Daikatana is still considered to be the archetypal big-budget flop of the American computer game industry.
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 Doom and Quake. 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, created by marketing guru Mike Wilson and approved by Romero, 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 and Eidos logo.
The ad is seen by many as a turning point in the gaming public's attitude toward Romero and Daikatana. An attempt to appear "hip" by "talking smack" was perceived as hubristic, impudent and disdainful toward the potential customers of the game. Following its appearance in several gaming magazines, more news came out of ION Storm that fueled gamers' distaste for the unreleased shooter. 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), Romero's well-publicized expensive tastes and hobbies (such as racing Ferraris), the dubious saga of Romero's girlfriend (and occasional Playboy model) Stevie "Killcreek" 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), incited fierce disdain and criticism among certain elements of the then-emergent online gaming fan community. The press regularly published leaked gossip 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 other 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, causing Daikatana to lag technologically in the market 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. As a result, Daikatana received mediocre reviews from reviewers and users alike.
Despite being considered a financial failure, Daikatana did eventually sell over 200,000 copies worldwide. This would normally be considered a success in the computer game industry, but due to outrageously high production costs the company only recouped their investment without turning a profit. Many believe the fallout from Daikatana sidelined Romero's career in the high-end PC gaming industry for a number of years, though Romero himself has stated that he chose to make his next company, Monkeystone, drastically smaller for his own reasons. It was a major contributing factor in the closure of Ion Storm's Dallas office. Romero moved on to running Monkeystone, which produced casual games for handheld devices. He later worked for Midway Games as Project Lead for Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, but he left the company before the game was completed and was not credited as Project Lead in the final game. Romero has founded a new development studio and is currently working on a MMOG. Both the studio and the game remain nameless.
Romero's initial game design, completed in March 1997, called for a huge amount of content -- 24 levels split into 4 distinct time periods, 25 weapons, and 64 monsters. Despite this, Romero believed the game could be completed in seven months, just in time for Christmas 1997. The game was to license the existing Quake game engine. While at id Software, the content portion of Quake had taken a nine-person team only six months. Romero had 8 artists, and calculated that he could finish in seven. This schedule was called "patently ludicrous" by John Carmack. What Romero had failed to realize was that he did not have an established, experienced team to rely on (see The Mythical Man Month). Ion Storm was still forming as a company, constantly adding new employees. Many were talented amateurs, hired on the basis of level designs they had created.
Ion Storm showed Daikatana at E3 in June 1997. Unfortunately, the engine was still running in a software mode, and looked dated and unimpressive. At the same time, id software was debuting their Quake II game engine, featuring hardware acceleration and innovative visuals. Romero realized that they were falling behind technologically. The Christmas 1997 deadline was quietly dropped, and the new plan was to keep creating the content for the game, and switch to the Quake II engine as soon as it was ready. The game was rescheduled for a March 1998 release.
The Daikatana team received the source to the Quake II engine around Thanksgiving 1997, and immediately realized that the switch would not be simple. The code was completely different from the original Quake engine, and would require throwing away eleven months of work for a complete rewrite.
Even this would not have prevented the release of Daikatana in 1998, but internal company politics began to erode morale. Ion Storm had grown extremely quickly, and was spending money freely. The Dominion project, put on a fast path by Ion Storm in a desperate attempt to generate some revenue, was resented by the Daikatana team for stealing resources from their project. In November 1998, morale got so bad that twelve members of the Daikatana team quit, leaving Romero with no team, and no way to make the Christmas 1998 deadline.
In January 1999, the switch to the Quake II engine was complete. What had been scheduled for a few weeks had taken an entire year to complete. Ion Storm proudly announced that "Come hell or high water, the game will be done on February 15, 1999." This deadline was missed, but a demo was released in March 1999. However, this demo failed to impress players as it featured no monsters and no single player game, only multiplayer deathmatch.
The Daikatana team was then frantically trying to create a new, far more impressive demo for E3 that year. Last minute changes to the level design led to a demo that could only run at about 12 frames per second, far less than the 30 frames per second that was considered a minimum for first person shooters. The E3 disaster led to a crisis for Ion Storm. Eidos, the parent company who had financed Ion Storm to the tune of $25 million so far, had had enough. In June 1999, Eidos and Ion Storm reached an agreement. Eidos got majority ownership of Ion Storm, and founders Todd Porter and Jerry O'Flaherty left the company.
Despite this turmoil, and the departure of the fourth lead programmer on the project since its inception, Daikatana was nearing release. Ion Storm was confident enough in its progress to schedule a huge release party for December 17, 1999. This date came and went like all the previous ones, as the bug testing, ambitiously scheduled for a few weeks, dragged out into several months. On April 21, 2000, Daikatana finally reached gold status.
Daikatana is written with the Japanese kanji; 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.
However, kanji can be pronounced in different ways, depending on context; the word ´óµ¶ is usually pronounced "dait¨" in japanese, using the on'yomi of the two characters.