Reach for a tissue. Got it? Okay, now you might be ready for what I'm about to tell you.
It is with great sadness that I deliver this bit of news to you, dear readers: Lightbox Studios is laying off twenty-four employees, and is moving away from console development.
Now, it's not uncommon to hear of layoffs in the gaming industry; I mean, we've certainly seen no shortage of those lately. (I even commented on the Backbone situation pretty recently.) And I'm not going to trivialize any of those other layoffs, by any means. Each and every job lost in this industry is a tragedy, after all. But still, the Lightbox layoffs hit me just a tad bit harder than any of the others.
So what did Lightbox make, exactly? Well, Starhawk, perhaps the PS3's best-kept secret of 2012, was the result of Lightbox's efforts. And while that game's single-player campaign is mildly underwhelming, it was never supposed to be about the campaign in the first place. Starhawk's main attraction has always been its nearly infinitely replayable multiplayer modes.
You see, the game's Build and Battle system allows players to call down structures from space, structures that can be used for either offensive or defensive purposes. And if players are willing enough to work together, they can even build elaborate fortresses out of the walls and things that can be dropped in. Oh, and there's a whole slew of vehicles that can be summoned as well, including the transforming Hawk mechs. Build and Battle is a seriously cool game mechanic that ensures that every battle you're a part of in Starhawk will play out completely differently. But you can read more about that in my review of the game.
Additionally, Lightbox was a studio who truly cared about fans. Look at some of the design decisions behind Starhawk for some examples of this. In an era when it's common for fans to drop fifteen bucks for a set of brand new multiplayer maps, Starhawk is having none of that. Starhawk's maps need to be free for everyone.
You see, Lightbox understands something that a lot of other developers can't seem to grasp: Every paid expansion to a multiplayer game causes the player base to fracture. And a multiplayer game will live or die by how populated its servers are. If you find it next to impossible to get into a multiplayer match with any real people in it, you will undoubtedly move on to other games that have actual active fan bases. So adding free maps not only brings old players back, but it lets you continue to play with your friends who don't feel like spending the extra bucks on downloading new maps. (I explain this in much greater detail in a column I wrote called "Starhawk Changes the Landscape of the Shooter.")
Case in point, the Cypress maps. You see, Starhawk added two new maps a while back, both of which take place on the Endor-like planet of Cypress. The maps address a lot of fan concerns, adding more structures and a new environment, while making some much needed tweaks to the way drop pods worked. Additionally, the mise-en-scène is fantastic, and it's especially satisfying to see your descending pod knock tree branches off the gigantic Redwoods that litter the map. The weekend these maps dropped, I spent almost a dozen hours with them, and I enjoyed every Rift Energy-fueled second.
I always felt that Starhawk's business practices were forward-thinking, a positive change for the games industry. Now, though, the studio loses twenty-four incredibly talented people and shifts its focus toward the mobile space, which is truly a shame. While I look forward to whatever they manage to create for iOS, I would have loved to see their excruciating attention to detail and ear for fan feedback carried over into future triple-A PS3 titles.
So how does this affect Starhawk? Well, I'm not sure. I certainly hope Sony Santa Monica will continue to build content for the game as Lightbox steps away from console development. It would be an absolute shame to see something as great as Starhawk die out so soon.
My prediction: Perhaps in honor of those courageous twenty-four who will be leaving Lightbox, we PS3 owners should hop online and frag some Rift miners. It's the least we can do to show how much we care about the excellent product Lightbox was able to deliver.
Now, I guess that wasn't really a prediction, and I hope you're not terribly upset with me if that was at all misleading. But I'm pretty sure I can be forgiven just this once, right?
Editor / News Director
Date: October 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.*