The story of Daikatana is a rather fascinating one. The game started development in 1997 by a newly formed studio called Ion Storm lead by one of the most legendary men in video game history John Romero. In early 1998, another new video game studio known as Human Head Studios reached out to Romaro to see how he was doing. Human Head Studios already knew Romero as it was created by six former members of Raven Software and met him shortly before he left id software in 1994 while he was acting as producer on Hexen and Heretic.
Romero asked them if they wanted to work on Daikatana 2 and the team were ecstatic to work on the game. To make things even better for them, Ion Storm funded the team enough money for new equipment and living expenses. This even meant the ability to use the newly created Unreal Engine. So now in the year 1998 we have Ion Software working on Daikatana meanwhile another studio is working on Daikatana 2 with Romero’s blessing and funding. To quote Bubsy “what could possibly go wrong?”
If you know the history of Daikatana then you likely know exactly what is coming next. Daikatana went through development hell due to constant technical problems, forced engine changes and internal disagreements in the team. After 3 years of development and a rumored $30 million spent on the project, the game finally launched in mid-2000 where it bombed at retail. Reports prior to launch estimated the game to sell 2.5 million copies and according to issue 198 of Computer Gaming World only managed to sell 40, 351 copies on PC by the end of September 2000. Although you could say that without Daikatana the internet might not have been introduced to JonTron.
In an interview with Eurogamer at the end of June 2000, Human Head Studios’ co-founder Shane Gurno would say the following about Daikatana 2:
“Ion Storm funded us enough money for a few living expenses and some new equipment. This in turn meant that we would be using the Unreal engine, and that was extremely exciting.”
Unfortunately by this time Ion Storm was already in decline, Daikatana was becoming a running joke, and Eidos were starting to wonder where all their money was going. Hiring an external studio to develop a sequel to a game that was nowhere near complete was one expense which they could do without. And so, “before we knew it the project was canceled and we were on our own again”.
Human Head would live to fight another day though. “When Daikatana 2 was canceled, Epic was incredibly nice and let us use the Unreal engine even though we didn’t have any contracts with any publishers.”
While Ion Storm Dallas would shut down less than a year after the launch of Daikatana, Human Head Studios managed to survive until November 2019. Between the cancellation of Daikatana and their closing the team would go on to develop some memorable titles in gamers’ minds including Brink, Rune, Defiance, and Prey.