Economists sometimes talk about "creative destruction," meaning the process by which new replaces old. While innovation is no doubt a good thing, the immediate results aren't always pretty: When products become obsolete, or when projects fail, people lose their jobs.
The video game industry hasn't been immune to these forces—just try checking your local retail store for the latest Atari or SEGA console. If anything, our industry seems especially volatile; development studios seem to shut down or lay off staff all the time. Sometimes this happens because they've been out-competed by better products—"creative destruction" at work. Other times, good products go unnoticed, or bad economic times claim a victim. But always, it's a painful adjustment as former employees struggle to find new jobs.
Here's a tribute to the recently closed developers we'll miss the most.
3D Realms (well, sort of)
The developer of the smash hit Duke Nukem 3D went out not with a bang but a whimper. Sure, they'll still be publishing games, but they'll always be most famous for their feats as a developer, such as (A) bringing the Duke to the first-person shooter and (B) coming up with awesome ideas and then sitting on them for ten years.
After their smash hit in the mid-'90s, 3D Realms had two huge projects underway. One was naturally a follow-up to Duke Nukem 3D. The other was a nifty shooter called Prey, which had a killer new mechanic that let you walk through portals.
Duke Nukem Forever had to be taken over by Gearbox Software before it saw the light of day, and by the time it came out, it was ridiculously outdated, running on a previous-generation engine and forcing players to sit through absurd load times every time they died. Prey wasn't half bad, but it too had to be given to another developer (Human Head Studios) to be finished. And by the time it came out, the far superior Portal was already with us. With better management, both these games could have been major hits around the year 2000.
So yeah, these guys were always good for a laugh. It's probably a good thing that they're sticking to publishing now.
Black Rock Studio
These folks were always on the verge of something great. After a decade working on arcade racing games under various names, the studio was acquired by Buena Vista Games, took on the name Black Rock, and dropped its two final efforts, Pure and Split/Second. Both of these games, especially the latter, introduced fun new mechanics and became cult hits. Neither, however, posed a serious threat to heavy-hitters like Burnout and Need for Speed—and for good reason, as both had some highly frustrating elements. They were works in progress, promising beginnings with lots of potential.
When they disbanded, Black Rock left sequels for Pure and Split/Second unfinished. I wouldn't have minded seeing how those turned out.
Who would have thought that Bionic Commando could be "rearmed"—not completely reinvented or rebooted, just spruced up a little—for a new generation of gamers? GRIN took on this challenge and came through with a fantastic game, and was working on the sequel when it went under, blaming the situation on delayed payments from publishers.
The history of GRIN is littered with other successes, such as the PC versions of the two Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter games. In its final note, the developer claimed it had an unfinished "masterpiece" on its hands.
Other games were less successful—Wanted: Weapons of Fate was a far-too-short third-person shooter with some decent ideas, and a game simply called Bionic Commando didn't sell well. Nonetheless, it pains me to know that a masterpiece from the creator of Bionic Commando Rearmed went unfinished.
This studio, best known for its work on the Age of Empires series and its development of Halo Wars, was shut down by Microsoft in 2009. Age of Empires is an obvious favorite of strategy gamers, and Halo Wars is quite possibly the only current-generation real-time strategy game that works well on consoles.
It's definitely a shame that Microsoft couldn't find a place for them. But fortunately, the studio's former employees have gone on to other ventures, including Robot Entertainment, developer of Age of Empires Online and Orcs Must Die. Also arising from the embers of ensemble was Newtoy, the studio behind the smartphone sensation Words with Friends.
What the heck happened with this one? These folks created a revolutionary and bestselling game, L.A. Noire, and then promptly shut down thanks to various internal conflicts. Certainly, Rockstar and Take-Two will make sure we see another L.A. Noire game eventually, but it's a shame the original team had to evaporate.
What are your favorite recently deceased developers? Let us know in the comments.
Date: April 18, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*