It’s hard to forget the incredible opening to BioShock, as an airplane crashes into the ocean, leaving you the sole survivor, barely making it to the surface. Surrounded by flaming wreckage, you swim toward the only form of safety around, a seemingly average lighthouse. Once inside you find out it’s your path to the incredible and terrifying world of Rapture. As amazing as that start is, it wasn’t part of the game until BioShock was months away from shipping, and it was something creator Ken Levine had to push really hard to finance.
Originally the game simply began inside the lighthouse with no preamble, but the team knew something was missing. After concocting the explosive start they scramble to find the resources to make it happen and get it ready in time for previews to the press. Despite the game already being delayed and having budget issues, 2K actually listened to the creative concerns and opened up their wallet. All Your Base Are Belong To Us has several moments like this that show sometimes when a willing company listens to astonishingly creative people, great things can happen.
Above: A very rare appearance by Sam Houser as he talks up the potential of the PS3 a year before launch
The Houser brothers aren’t very fond of interviews or public appearances, but as the heads of Rockstar their presence is felt in the gaming world regardless. With the younger Dan in charge of the cuttingly satirical writing, Sam Houser runs the company and pushes the creative direction. But Sam’s original goal was working in the music industry, which through coincidence led to games. And despite the hilarious hate GTA heaps on pop culture dreck, Houser’s music career was pretty mainstream, as he worked with UK boy band Take That and producer/future American Idol asshole Simon Cowell.
Though he wasn’t being paid much, Sam worked hard for the stars, even filming a popular behind-the-scenes video for Take That. Soon enough Sam was pushing his way into the record label’s multimedia offerings that included a Scottish game developer known as DMA which eventually evolved into Rockstar, and that was that. Houser’s love for music is obvious when you hear the soundtrack to any Rockstar game, but we wonder if Sam ever watches American Idol or X Factor and dreams about what might have been. (Probably not.)
Another group of college age upstarts, PopCap was originally a called SexyActionCool. The small group of developers was trying to find their way making PG-13 strip poker games and other trifles in the new world of browser-based gaming. After getting inspiration from a color matching game, the group started designing a title where you matched three or more gems of the same color, which would then be replaced by more gems as the player’s score climbed. They even had a great name for it: Diamond Mine.
Above: What was the original name for Plants vs Zombies? Undead Garden?
Unfortunately for the team, after they pitched it to publisher Microsoft, they were told that while the game was fun, the name needed to be changed. When the devs first heard the name Bejeweled, they were pretty disappointed. “That sounds like that crappy Bedazzled with Brendon Fraser that just came out. This sucks balls,” said one of the creators. But Microsoft had spoken and they learned to like it. So if you’re sick of seeing that name in headlines, you know who to blame.
All Your Base Are Belong To Us is filled with more stories like that, such as the drug-fueled creation of classic Atari games, the Housers’ famous mother, Miyamoto’s pachinko addiction, the strange rise and fall of PC adventure games, and much more. Obviously it can’t cover everything within its 300 pages, and I hope if Goldberg ever writes a second book on this subject he’s able to interview some Japanese developers outside of Nintendo, but I certainly learned much about the men and women that make the games that entertain the world. If these brief pieces of history interest you at all, I suggest picking up the book. You’ll probably learn something as well.
Above: Buy this book
May 12, 2011
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