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“Kien,” a Video Game 22 Years in the Making, Finally Launches

In 2002, a group of five Italians made local news for a remarkable endeavor: they were set to become the first company in the country to develop a game for Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. With just a few hundred euros, some computers, and an immense love for video games, they dove into this ambitious project without any prior experience or even a programmer. Their shared hatred of conventional jobs and endless optimism fueled their drive.

For the next two years, the team worked tirelessly, sacrificing late nights and vacations to bring their vision to life. Their project, named “Kien,” aimed to be an ambitious action platformer with complex features. Despite their efforts, “Kien” never saw the light of day—until now. The game’s original team mostly moved on, leaving only Fabio Belsanti, the game designer, who clung to the hope of one day releasing it.

“Kien” now holds the record for the most-delayed video game in history, taking 22 years to launch, surpassing the 15-year delay of the infamous “Duke Nukem Forever.” This year, people can finally buy “Kien” on a Game Boy Advance cartridge.

The game starts by letting players choose between two protagonists—a warrior and a priestess. The warrior, armed with a sword, faces numerous enemies that revive after a short while, making the game unforgiving. Belsanti compares it to a primordial “Dark Souls” due to its difficulty and relentless nature. The game’s style is reminiscent of those oddball games from childhood that intrigued you with their artwork or scarcity.

The long development delay wasn’t part of the plan. The game was finished years ago, and although multiple publishers showed interest, a shift in market trends and the high cost of producing Game Boy cartridges ($15 each) made the game too risky to back at the time. However, Belsanti’s passion never waned. His academic background in Tuscany, where he explored unpublished 15th-century mercenary tales, fueled his inspiration for “Kien.” This research, combined with influences from early Japanese games and classic action titles like “Turrican,” helped shape the game’s unique narrative and graphical style.

As the gaming industry evolved, a resurgence of interest in retro games made the release of “Kien” possible. The costs of producing cartridges decreased, and companies emerged to meet the demand for classic game formats. Incube8 Games, specializing in retro game production, took on “Kien,” releasing it in a translucent gray cartridge with a multipage manual.

Seeing “Kien” released on its original platform is a dream come true for Belsanti. AgeOfGames, the company he founded, has found success in educational games, creating titles like “ScacciaRischi” for Italy’s INAIL. This platforming game, which addresses topics like workplace safety and the COVID-19 pandemic, has been played by tens of thousands of students.

The success of “Kien” has inspired AgeOfGames to work on a spiritual successor. Belsanti believes in the power of old video games, which, despite limited graphical and technical resources, can offer an intense and powerful experience. He reminisces about the emotions stirred by the cover art of games from his childhood, which filled the gaps left by primitive graphics with imaginative stories.

For Belsanti, the release of “Kien” isn’t just about nostalgia; it’s a testament to the enduring appeal of creativity and storytelling in video games. The success of this long-delayed project shows that even games with humble beginnings and extensive delays can find their place in the hearts of gamers.

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