5 More Defunct Developers Who Went Out With a Bang
A fortnight ago we took a look back at a handful of developers that closed their doors on a positive note, checking out with a game their teams could be proud of.
We asked you for your suggestions for more examples of developers going out on a high, and you guys and girls delivered.
We also discovered a lot of you liked Blur better than Split/Second, which is totally cool, although Bizarre’s last title was 007 Blood Stone. But we digress.
On with the list!
Troika Games – Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
The paranormal romance genre that exploded around about the time Stephenie Meyer made vampires sparkle has done bloodsuckers somewhat of a disservice. In fact, there’s so much blowback against sensitive, new-age vampires that people are already beginning to forget that before vampires began agonising over who to take to the prom, and what to do if there’s garlic in the finger food, they used to be cool and mysterious. At least, whenever they weren’t being turned into ash by Buffy.
Or Wesley Snipes.
Troika’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, released by Activision in 2004, sits squarely in the vampires-as-cool-badasses camp. Set in White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade universe, where vamps and werewolves and other creatures quietly go about their business amongst regular society, Bloodlines is a little tough to totally categorise. Part-action game but very much a true RPG, Bloodlines can be filed alongside the likes of Deus Ex if you’re looking for a comparison.
Bloodlines ran on an early version of Valve’s Source engine, and it was the first third-party game to do so. Contractual obligations prevented Activision from releasing Bloodlines before Half-Life 2, so the two were released on the same day (in North America): November 16, 2004.
Hobbled by bugs Bloodlines was nonetheless praised by critics for its fantastic writing and great presentation and gathered a small, dedicated following of fans.
Unfortunately for Troika that small, dedicated following of fans was very, very small. After disastrously low sales for Bloodlines, Troika was unable to secure funding for future projects. The developer was forced to lay off its entire staff shortly after the release of Bloodlines in 2004, and shut its doors permanently in February 2005.
Founded in 1998 by three senior Interplay staff, who left following initial design work for Fallout 2, Troika ultimately produced three games over six years.
Looking Glass Studios – Thief II: The Metal Age
In the scheme of video games, these days stealth generally means sneaking around behind your enemies and killing them silently. This wasn’t always the case. With Thief and Thief II the point was to avoid opponents, not face them.
Not entirely dissimilar to the original, Thief II again followed Garrett as he pilfered and sabotaged his way across the steampunk fantasy metropolis known as the City.
Originally founded as Looking Glass Technologies in 1990, Looking Glass Studios was responsible for several truly genre-defining game franchises during its 11-year lifespan, including Ultima Underworld, System Shock and the aforementioned Thief.
Thief II was well-received by critics and certainly performed well enough at the cash register to warrant a second sequel (Thief: Deadly Shadows was released in 2004). Unfortunately, Looking Glass was already in a precarious financial position thanks to a variety of factors relating to other projects. In May, 2000 the studio’s debt issues caught up with it and Looking Glass was shuttered.
It’s worth noting Looking Glass is credited as a developer for Jane’s Attack Squadron, released in 2002 (just under two years after the studio’s closure). Looking Glass was working on the title for EA but after the studio went bankrupt EA dropped it and the game was cancelled. In 2001/2002 the game’s code and the Jane’s license were acquired by Mad Doc Software. The game was completed by Mad Doc Software and released in March, 2002.
Ensemble Studios – Halo Wars
Halo Wars may be the red-headed stepchild at the Halo family supper, ducking away from the chest slams of its jock brothers who insist that if a disagreement can’t be solved with teabagging then it can’t be solved, but the praise it earned upon its release was well-deserved.
Creating a real-time strategy game that functions properly on console is a task many developers have failed. Upon the release of Halo Wars Ensemble received well-deserved credit for building an RTS that felt entirely at home on the 360, rather than a shoddy PC port with half-baked controls.
Ensemble Studios was established back in 1995 and was acquired by Microsoft in 2001. Ensemble was one of the industry’s premier RTS studios and was responsible for a host of highly-celebrated strategy titles, the Age of Empires series and Age of Mythology. After a review of its first-party portfolio Microsoft decided to close Ensemble immediately after the release of Halo Wars. The doors were shut for good in January, 2009.
SCE Studio Liverpool – Wipeout 2048
Wipeout 2048, a prequel of sorts that represented a window into the formative years of the anti-gravity racing league, was a flagship title for the fledgling PlayStation Vita. Despite a bossy multiplayer component that refused to let players choose what they wanted to do with friends and a slightly more drab and less-stylised approach to track design, Wipeout 2048 was still a cracking futuristic racer upon release.
It’s only fitting, we guess, that Studio Liverpool’s swan song would be an instalment of the series that very much defined the original PlayStation and was one of the key pillars of the console’s success.
SCE Studio Liverpool began life way back in 1984 as Psygnosis. Psygnosis, primarily a publisher during this time, was acquired by Sony in 1993 during the lead-up to the release of the original PlayStation. Psygnosis subsequently became well-known for a variety of popular PlayStation series, including Wipeout, G-Police, Formula One and Colony Wars.
Psygnosis was renamed SCE Studio Liverpool in 1999. The studio continued to produce Formula One and Wipeout titles until it was closed by Sony in August 2012 after an assessment of all its European studios.
Studio Liverpool was the oldest and second largest Sony Computer Entertainment Europe developer at the time.
Cavia – Nier
Nier was sent out to die by Square-Enix in April 2010, a mere month after the North American and PAL release of Final Fantasy XIII. An action-RPG, Nier was met with mild-to-mixed praise but was quickly forgotten by all but its most ardent devotees.
Perhaps the most memorable elements of Nier, however, are the multiple endings players can earn over several playthroughs. Each time the player completed the story they would receive additional insight into what was going on until, finally, the ‘real’ ending would be revealed.
At which point, the game would delete all your saves and erase your character and all evidence of your accomplishments from existence. No, really.
Tokyo-based Cavia was founded in March 2000. The name Cavia, according to the former studio’s website, is actually formed from the words ‘Computer Amusement Visualizer’; three English words that have never actually been put beside one another outside of Japan. Slightly befuddling, Cavia also included a picture and a definition of caviar on the same page, confusing the matter somewhat. They could have just kept the r from ‘Visualizer’ if they wanted to make a barely-passable acronym and still be named after pickled fish ovaries.
In July 2010 Cavia was disbanded and absorbed into parent company AQ Interactive (which, the following year, was absorbed by Marvelous AQL following a merger). Nier was its last title.
Have we missed any more of your favourites? Let us know below. Check here for the studios we already covered in 5 Defunct Developers Who Went Out With a Bang.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN AU. You can find him on IGN here or on Twitter @MrLukeReilly, or chat with him and the rest of the Australian team by joining the IGN Australia Facebook community.
By Luke Reilly