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Daikatana: Why John Romero's Doom Follow-Up Was A Disaster

All-time FPS classic Doom, unlike most of today's big gaming hits, was developed by just eight people. That team was led by designers John Carmack and John Romero, who became well-known in the video game world for working on Doom and other genre classics.

Romero's follow-up to Doom was a sci-fi shooter called Daikatana. Naturally, the game was hotly anticipated, in large part due to Romero's involvement. However, after a lengthy development period, Daikatana released to a predominately negative reception.

The writing was on the wall, so to speak, prior even to its full release — one particular marketing campaign for Daikatana notoriously left many feeling uncomfortable. For what its worth, Romero now knows this, and has since apologized for the language used in the ill-fated campaign.

This is how one of the most acclaimed FPS designers in gaming history followed up the critically-lauded Doom with a certified flop in Daikatana.

Break-ups are never easy

The path to Daikatana began when Doom co-designer Tom Hall left development company id Software due to irreconcilable creative differences between he and Romero. Not too long after, Romero then left the company over disagreements with Carmack. The next step for Hall and Romero was to join forces once again, untethered to what they had built with id Software. They founded a new company called Ion Storm, and Daikatana would be one of its first titles following their team-up.

However, Hall and Romero would not be working in tandem on the game. Ion Storm split its personnel between two main offices, and thus two games. Tom Hall headed the development of what was to become Deus Ex, meaning that the development Daikatana was led primarily by Romero.

Daikatana was weighed down by considerable ambition from the start. Romero had outlined a plot that switched between several periods in time, and gameplay that included Virtua Fighter-inspired melee combat and AI companions accompanying the player character. These ideas more-or-less made it into the final product, but judging by the game's eventual reception, were never fully realized.

A dull blade

The first considerable roadblock to Daikatana's success was Quake 2, developed by those remaining at id Software. Quake 2 was publicly previewed for the first time when Daikatana was well into development. However, Daikatana was being created using the engine made for the first Quake. That preview for Quake 2 showcased something far more robust, and Romero decided to start from scratch in order to utilize new technologies possible in Quake 2's engine.

Ultimately, Daikatana came out three years past its initial planned release date. In order to make back just its budget, 2.5 million copies would have had to have been sold. A few months after its release, the total sales number was a meager 40,000.

Romero now heads Romero Games, which has developed original titles like Empire of Sin and even released a new Doom mod in 2019, Daikatana now long since in the rear-view mirror.