When the hack-and-slasher Golden Axe: Beast Rider was released in 2008, it's safe to say the reception was a little frosty. IGN's Chris Roper gave it a 3.2 out of 10 and warned players to avoid it like "the plague", while Gamespot's Chris Watters gave it a 5 out of 10 and called it "a game with lofty potential that ends up wallowing in mediocrity."
Retrospectives have since tried to make sense of the disastrous entry into the beloved series, with freelance writer Matt Paprocki contributing perhaps the most definitive account of the million-dollar blunder for Variety, where he interviewed former Sega and Secret Level staff. However, recently, on Twitter, someone involved with its development, who was not interviewed for that piece, decided to share some more memories from its chaotic development path. Ben Golus was credited as the world technical artist on the game and took to Twitter to share some recollections after seeing a reference to the title in a Penny Arcade tweet.
In the thread, he sums up the game with the following:
"I think 7 people had the title of “lead designer” across the ~3 years it was worked on. Multiple rounds of unusable mocap. And lots of drugs."
He then goes on to detail several bizarre instances that don't exactly point to the smoothest of development cycles.
The first involved an incident in which he alleges a "lead designer got fired for assaulting another employee, sucker punching as they walked out the door of the office". He also alleges that the company "also fired that other employee because everyone _else_ wanted to sucker punch them too."
According to Golus, the game at one point was also too hard that QA struggled to even beat the tutorial, and the (then) lead designer wouldn't budge on its difficulty. Rather than confronting the dev about it, the management sneakily switched them to another repository, with another group working on the actual Gold candidate that would go to manufacturing. The version eventually released to consumers was the retuned one that was also given colored flashes to indicate attacks present in the final game.
Then there's the issue of the Mo-Cap that was intended to help with the animation, which Golus suggests turned into a bit of a money-hole:
"The latest lead designer had quit at that point, and there was no lead animator yet. So they sent a random person who had no idea what they were doing and they racked up 1/2 a million $ in mocap hours of completely unusable stuff they thought looked cool.
"Eventually people were hired who knew better, and they complained it wasn’t useable. So they ordered another million $ of mocap and sent out someone who knew a bit more … and someone else who didn’t and whom overrode the person who did know resulting in even more unless mocap.
"Instead of cutting their losses, management required all animations in the game had to make use of the mocap in some way. So the animators used single frame poses from the mocap as the starting frames. Just so management could save face."
Sadly, to this day, Golden Axe: Beast Rider still marks the final entry in the Golden Axe series. Sega Studios San Francisco (formerly Secret Level) was shuttered in 2010 after finishing development on Iron Man 2, with discussions of a Beast Rider sequel coming to nothing.
Shortly after, a development team at Sega Studios Australia tried to resurrect the series, but the project was eventually cancelled for lacking the "wow factor" and not being similar enough to a God of War-style 3D brawler.