The brightest flames often burn the shortest
Do you know how many game studios have closed during the outgoing generation? Over 150. It's a ridiculous number. A number so great, if we gave them all a round of applause or a 21-gun salute, we'd end up with red stumps for hands and at least one downed UFO.
Some of these studios were minnows in the gaming pond. They got swallowed up by bigger fish or just plain chewed up and spat out again. But some of them were big fish. Fish we'd come to know, love and never expect to get eaten by anything. So here are 17 (nice round number) of the studios we lost this generation that were truly great, and for which we--as gamers--will always mourn.
3D Realms (1987-2009)
While technically still alive after a name change to Apogee, the sad fact remains that 3D Realms had to lay off the entire Duke Nukem Forever team after the most famously protracted development cycle in gaming.
3D Realms also developed Prey, before outsourcing that too because it was taking so long to complete. Sigh.
Bizarre Creations (1994-2011)
What a crying shame. The company that brought us the incredible Formula One, F1 '97, Metropolis Street Racer, Project Gotham Racing and its three brilliant sequels AND Geometry Wars, not to mention The Club, Fur Fighters and Blur was bought by Activision in 2007... and then closed in 2011. We're still reeling from the announcement.
How are we supposed to ever unlock that 'Smile' achievement now, eh? Playing Geometry Wars 2 is too painful for anything resembling such an expression. All the... mem... ries... WAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaa...
BigBig Studios (2001-2012)
Remember when PSP came out and the best original game for it was Pursuit Force? Happy days. Sadly gone now though--after making a Pursuit Force sequel, MotorStorm Arctic Edge for PSP and Little Deviants for PS Vita's launch, the studio was closed.
All of those titles had some worth, but perhaps the quality was going down rather than up with each release. Either way, it felt like BigBig had a lot more to give.
EA Chicago (1990-2007)
Having started life as NuFX, EA Chicago was responsible for the Fight Night and Def Jam series, but was closed in 2007 because the business case simply wasn't good enough. The team size had expanded rapidly, but profits had not. With expected profits some four years off, it was sadly inevitable the studio would close.
Of course, the Fight Night brand continued anyway. But in the studio's closure announcement, Frank Gibeau had special praise for the studio's head. Know who that was? One Kudo Tsunoda, who went on to work on Kinect for Microsoft and become famous for showing everyone the bottom of an avatar's shoe. Bam!
Black Rock Studio (1998-2011)
Black Rock always felt like it was one game away from greatness. Having made a name for itself as Climax Racing and Climax Brighton with a selection of ATV, Hot Wheels and Moto GP games, it was under the Black Rock Studio banner that the team's best games were made. Pure was a terrific ATV racer and Split/Second Velocity won some massive review scores.
Both games had sequels in the works, but then Disney closed the studio down and that was that. What a waste.
Clover Studio (2004-2007)
Now, I know the spirit of Clover lives on with Platinum Games. But amazing though Platinum is, there's no denying it's produced a fair few misses to go along with the hits. Not so with Clover. Clover put out Okami, God Hand and Viewtiful Joe. All new IPs, all brilliant. OK, God Hand was flawed, but some people still swear by it.
Mind you, if the studio hadn't closed, maybe Bayonetta wouldn't exist. Not every cloud in this list has a silver lining, but this one's chock full of the stuff. Silver and naked witches.
Blitz Games (1990-2013)
Blitz Games made lovely games. Harmless, charming games. Yes, it was responsible for Glover, but that was years and years ago. It was home to the Oliver Twins--the guys who made one of my all-time favourite series: Dizzy. I met them at an event for the iOS Prince of the Yolkfolk port and they're lovely people.
But a lack of funding, too many non-committal business partners and the dreadful economic climate meant that not even the Oliver Twins' personal savings could keep the company afloat any more. For shame.
Factor 5 (1987-2009/11)
We live in an era where one duff game can bring one of the industry's most-respected studios to its knees. So it was with Factor 5, which was closed after delivering many, many great titles including two classic Rogue Squadron games on Gamecube simply because PS3's Lair didn't deliver the goods. Dragons + SixAxis don't mix, apparently.
Ironically, Lair was the first PS3 game to work via remote play--something now adopted as standard for PS4. Consistently producing games that were ahead of their time, Factor 5 is sorely missed. At least we'll always have the Death Star trench run.
I had a personal revelation once, where I realised every game that had Midway on its load-up sequence was a game that I liked. Games like Ready 2 Rumble boxing, Hydro Thunder, San Franciso Rush (yes, I know that last one was technically crap, but I liked it). Embracing the core values of arcade gaming, Midway always seemed to put the gamer's enjoyment first.
Having started its video game-related business with the US distribution of Space Invaders in 1978, it all ended with its remaining assets like Mortal Kombat being sold off to the highest bidder in 2009. Meh.
Sony Liverpool (1984-2012)
How could this happen? No more Wipeout? Everything this studio touched seemed to turn to gold. Whether it was the famous hovercar racing series or the superb PS2/PSP F1 racing games, Studio Liverpool arguably didn't put a foot wrong for years. If you ever want a brilliant racing game for a pittance, get F1 '05 on PS2.
Sony decided to close Studio Liverpool after a review of its European business so that was that. You've got to be ruthless in business, certainly, but surely there was another way in this instance?
Zipper Interactive (1995-2012)
Zipper may have become known only for the PlayStation-exclusive SOCOM: Navy Seals, but it also made MAG, Unit 13 and the rather brilliant Xbox dogfighting game Crimson Skies. This was a team that knew how to make online games.
But we must now talk of them only in past tense, as Unit 13 on Vita was the team's last game. 'Resource allocation' was blamed. The team had apparently finished all their work on it, as Sony proudly proclaimed. Maybe they should have taken a bit more time.
Red Octane (1999-2010)
Red Octane was the company responsible for the invention of the Guitar Hero plastic guitars. They are/were a lot of fun. Who hasn't enjoyed clack-clack-clacking their way through Sweet Child O' Mine? Exactly.
Nonetheless, Activision bought them up, wrung them dry and then closed them down. And now the clacking has stopped. Most tellingly, I bet you can still hear the sound of strum bars playing 'Paranoid' if you listen in your mind...
The Melbourne-based creators of much-loved franchises like Mercenaries, Star Wars Battlefront and Destroy All Humans was closed shortly after producing the rather lovely Saboteur on PS3 and 360. Although the talent was still present and correct, the popularity of Pandemic's franchises were on the wane. Mercenaries 2 was decent, but appetite for third-person shooters had been dimmed by the rise of COD. And Destroy All Humans... well, let's be kind and say they 'ran out of decent ideas'.
The good news is that Pandemic's finest creation--the Star Wars Battlefront series--is making a comeback on next-gen, thanks to the war-wizards at DICE. Will it be a fitting tribute to this fine studio? DICE's pedigree says 'Yes'.
Hudson Soft (1973-2012)
The maker of Bomberman, Hudson Soft was founded in 1973, making it one of the oldest video game companies in the world. Although the popularity of Bomberman was a huge success during the early and middle generations, Hudson never really created anything as big since. It's true that Mario Party and Sonic Shuffle is the company's work, and it created other--more unusual--games like Far East of Eden, which is why Konami absorbed Hudson in 2012.
So, technically, the company no longer exists. Having said that, games will still be distributed by Konami using the Hudson Soft brand. Not quite lost, then, but no longer independent.
Kaos Studios (2006-2011)
Although a relatively minor studio, Kaos had plenty of talent. Formed from the key players of Trauma Studio who created the Desert Combat mod on PC (using the Battlefield 1942 engine), Kaos only made two full games. These were Frontlines: Fuel of War and Homefront. While the latter was a significant disappointment, both games showed huge potential--especially in multiplayer. I'd love to have seen what Kaos could have done with solid development time and backing.
Sadly, we'll never know how far Kaos would have gone. The New York studio was closed down by owner THQ in 2011, following poor sales of Homefront. THQ itself folded shortly afterwards...
Rockstar Vancouver (1998-2012)
Rockstar Vancouver started out like as Barking Dog Studios, which is quite a naughty-sounding dog but obviously not enough to make Uncharted. After a name change, the team made two excellent games, namely Bully and Max Payne 3.
Despite the successful reception enjoyed by both games, the studio was merged with Rockstar Toronto. It's all still 'Rockstar' so we're not too sad, but even so, this studio's output was particularly strong and now it's technically history. Damn you, streamlining!
Radical Entertainment (1991-????)
Damn it, Radical Entertainment is a huge loss to the industry. This studio had some pedigree. It started with Terminator on the NES, worked on Gridrunner (Saturn), Dark Summit, The Simpsons Hit'n'Run, Scarface: The World Is Yours, and finally created the Prototype series for Activision. It's reward for making the decent Prototype 2 was to be crippled by redundancies, so that it no longer had a team large enough to create individual games. Thanks Activision.
Radical Entertainment still technically exists, but it works as a support studio for other titles in the Activision stable. A sad end to a great company.
Which one do you miss most?
As I say, there were some 150 studio closures over this past generation, so it's entirely possible one of your personal favourites hasn't been mentioned here. Let us know which one you'll miss most in the comments below. Er... we won't be able to bring back the most popular, it doesn't work like that. Sorry.
And if you're looking for more, check out Exactly how many studios has Activision closed this generation and Bizarre Creations releases retrospective video as its doors close forever. Noooooo.