Top 10 – Old Games Companies We Loved
Ladies and gentlemen, geeks and nerds, we are gathered here in memoriam of those we have lost but not forgotten. This is a sad Top 10 to have to write, because the games companies we have assembled below have all contributed titles to history that have inspired and driven creative minds world-over to go into games design, or in some other way create incredible works. For reasons beyond their own control these companies have fallen by the wayside to create no more.
Join us, one and all, as we mourn the Top 10 games companies who are no longer with us.
10) Guerrilla Cambridge
Look, this Top 10 is about companies that we love, so you can’t tell us we’re wrong. In the PS1 days, these guys, (who underwent various name changes,) were genuinely great. Okay, they didn’t make many games of note, as one of their credited games is a PS1 port of Frogger… But they made two truly amazing games, thematically and at the game graphically.
These guys made Medievil 1 & 2, where you play as Sir Daniel Fortesque, a skeletal warrior with various weapons at his disposal. From his trusty sword, to his Blunderbuss, Sir Daniel was a skeleton warrior to be reckoned with. He could even remove his head to go on a little hand, allowing him to see through little holes in walls! The camera controls were a tad wonky, but get past that and you have a oft-forgotten PS1 gem.
But, Sony seemingly agreed that he’s a great character, as he made it into PlayStation All-Stars.
9) Cryo Interactive
Cryo’s best known games are Dune, the Atlantis Series and Versailles 1685. Many of the more well known games were classic ‘Point and Click’ adventures or mysteries often based on historical eras. With the help of museums via the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, they created very detailed looks and feels for these games along with educational information that could be learned by interacting with the in game world. Versailles 1685 is a beautiful example of this collaboration because the game included a detailed digital recreation of a destroyed section of the real palace of Versailles.
Cryo also had very engaging storylines. For example Egypt 2: The Heliopolis curse follows Tifet, the adopted daughter of a doctor, who returns home after receiving a message of her father’s strange illness. She used her skills of healing and her faith along with some daring decisions to save the city at a great personal cost. The game however is not just about doing puzzles and solving the mystery, it’s also about learning bits of Egyptian society and culture through an engaging format.
Cryo never seemed to get to the top ranks of game development and when the new instalment of game Dune as Frank Herbert’s Dune flopped in 2001 and the company was no longer financially stable and ceased to be in 2002. In 2008 Macroids bought intellectual property of Cryo Interactive and began to release some of the games digitally.
8) Mythic Entertainment
These developers were big for their time, victims of time itself… And a victim of greed that wasn’t their fault.
First, let’s talk about their early days. They made Dragon’s Gate and Ultima Online, two huge titles for their time. They had a great sense of quality about them, that in 2001, they released one of the most popular MMORPGs, Dark Ages of Camelot. I remember being young, watching my family play this game, though I was too young to play it at this point. It was a great title and it deserves a whole article to itself.
Time: This started the death of this once excellent company. See. DAoC was amazing and went strong for years, but it got overshadowed by the soon to appear monolith of MMOs, World of Warcraft.
Greed: Hey, remember that Dungeon Keeper game? The mobile one that was repeatedly slammed for micro-transactions? Yeah, these guys made it. The micro-transactions weren’t their fault, as the core game itself was rather fine to play.
A shame they were taken from us, all because of a few decisions, or in the case of DAoC, a lack of direction.
7) Looking Glass Studios
Here’s a complicated one, because Looking Glass themselves haven’t so much vanished as dissolved into the melting pot of the games industry, spreading out across Ion Storm, Arkane, Valve, and others, and their major properties are still going strong under different guises. Looking Glass gave us Thief and Deus Ex, along with System Shock – the predecessor to Bioshock. Looking Glass also kicked off the Ultima dungeon crawling spin-off Ultima-Underworld, so Looking Glass have been pretty instrumental in shaping gaming history to date, and many former employees still are, along with their publisher Eidos who were predominantly to blame for the studio in its original form. Now, where have we heard that one before?
The big properties had already been shouldered by Ion Storm, following Warren Spector into the Texas based company. Ion also vanished five years later, once again courtesy of Eidos, who themselves were absorbed into the mad Katamari of Square Enix in 2009.
If I said Lemmings to you, I bet you’re either familiar with the title or have played one. Most people have, it’s okay! They were great puzzle games, where you have to guide the titular Lemmings through a variety of puzzles, often having to kill the little guys off to save the majority. From Lemmings that stop others falling to their death, to bridge builders, these guys were all about intelligent puzzling adventures.
But they made a few other noteworthy titles, too! Wiz ‘n Liz was a fantastic action-y game from the Amiga days. The original Toy Story game for the PS1 was their doing. Wipeout was made by these guys! Oh… and a little Sega game known as Shadow of the Beast – Such a small title. Totally never heard of that one before.
Actually strike that, you must have heard of Shadow of the Beast if you owned a Sega! Bye Psygnosis – Thanks for the memories, and that super cool logo!
5) Core Design
A British video games developer who made a fair number of games with one standing out from the rest. Tomb Raider emerged in 1996 and became the start of one of the most popular games series. The globetrotting archaeologist and adventurer, Lara Croft, took to the gaming screens, twin pistols blazing, as the first sole female protagonist of an action game which was a revolutionary decision. This success helped Core Design and its now parent company Eidos Interactive.Unfortunately as Tomb Raider had made Core Deign rise, it also led to their fall. Three successful games were made and Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was made as the final game and the developers made the decision to kill off the protagonist and focus on new ideas. Fan outcry occurred which led to the less popular Chronicles game and the development of a new series.
With a new gaming engine, new look, new moves, a darker feel and a more interactive story Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was to be the first of a trilogy of Tomb Raider games, but due to restructuring o the company and development setbacks and funding issues, Core Design was forced to release a bugged version of the game in 2003. By 2006 Core Design became defunct with assets and personnel sold off to other companies.
4) Sensible Software
Proving what can be done with tiny sprites and a little ingenuity in animation, Sensible rose to power on the back of a wealth of shoot-em-up games like Cannon Fodder and Paralax, they were also some of the earliest to introduce a game creation kit, Shoot-‘Em-Up Construction Kit for the Commodore 64. The company went on to produce a large number of Sensibly titled sports games, like Sensible Soccer, Sensible Golf, Sensible Train.. spotting? Is that a sport?
Ranging from the ZX Spectrum all the way up to DOS and even a brief show of Cannon Fodder on the Gameboy Colour, the shift onto modern consoles like Playstation and later PCs was unsuccessful for poor Sensible, as well as a distinct lack of diversity, recycling old hits repeatedly, a few badly performing titles, and eventually the decline was too steep for their plethora of awards, commendations, and contributions to the field to save them from extinction.
3) The 3DO Company
Oh who could forget the tiny green soldiers, the Army Men?
In fact 3DO is best known for the undying franchise Might and Magic, most notably the turn based strategy Heroes of Might and Magic co-created with New World Computing. Fans may disagree on whether 2 or 3 was the best, but things clearly started going down hill with the absence of New World in the creation of HoMM 4. And without 3DO what became of Heroes 5? Well it got back to the classics a bit, but the design was a little lack-lustre, after that it seems to be a sequence of missteps trying to reclaim the glory of the old days. No surprise that it was Heroes 3 that got the HD remaster because it was the best, not 2!
And I may dismiss Army Men, but the series was originally great, but turned out to be an early lesson in not pushing out new titles in a franchise too quickly (Ubisoft!) because it died off, although not until after 3DO itself had gone bankrupt in 2003.
2) Lionhead Studios
In our penultimate slot, a recent and keenly felt loss to the industry, the British studio behind the Fable trilogy, the Black & White games, and one of the biggest platforms for legendary designer Peter Molyneux. This one came as a bit of a shock, despite being bought out in 2006 by Microsoft, ten strong years and new directions coming up for the steamroller Fable franchise seamed to be propelling Lionhead to new heights.
Britain has a thriving games industry, but it often serves as a cold reminder that a company can vanish as fast as a project can be cancelled. Perhaps it was a lack of diversity in Lionhead’s catalogue, Molyneux’s bad habit of over-hyping his products or perhaps the loss of the man himself from the company, but we must now face a future without another gigantic demon-cow.
And on the subject of Peter Molyneux…
1) Bullfrog Productions
Over the four years of running this website, I have met many, many gamers. Old school, new school and all school, people are brought together by a common thread. One of the most common threads I have found is the sheer number of people who have played a Bullfrog game, sometimes unwittingly. These titles are considered to be amongst the best games these people have played, all whilst being relatively kid friendly and with a damn fine sense of humour.
It seems fitting that we pay tribute to the company that produced the only game I recorded with no commentary, as both Joel and I did not bat an eyelid. So whether you are curing people of their Bloaty Head, or if you’re tearing up the Lord of the Realm, we unanimously agree that we miss Bullfrog. They dominated games for so long, that the industry is better off having had them.
From Theme Park and Theme Hospital, to Dungeon Keeper and a rare gem in Magic Carpet, this is one game company we will never forget.
As we round out our obituaries of game studios, we find that once one starts remembering companies that we used to love, we can’t forget them completely.
No! Not this again! Somebody please stop these people making games. Wait, they’re defunct? Oh boy, now I feel like we’ve actually managed to lose a video game legend. The legendary LJN, three letters that can be attributed to bad games. But don’t just take my word for it – If swear words and some amusing visuals are your jam, go watch the AVGN, the Angry Video Game Nerd. His encounters with LJN are simply excellent!
So just to explain, this company was really well known for their relatively bad games. Not Big Rigs level of bad, but just downright bad. The type you try to forget, rather than celebrate. The type of bad that drives you to drink related diseases. To make life better, they produced a console, so uhhhhh… yeah. So long and thanks for the laughs, LJN!
Stop it! You’re already planning on saying “Woah! Timlah! They’re still around! Don’t be such a stupid!” and of course you’re totally right. Square never really disappeared, they simply became Square Enix, so they shouldn’t even get a mention… until we take a step back and try to recognise the difference between Square and Square Enix. Once you begin to uncover the differences, you too might beg for Square.
First off, this is not a dig at anyone who enjoyed Final Fantasy XV – I’ve spoken to many fans of the game and so they’re entitled to enjoy it. My problem is, as an old school fan of Final Fantasy, I didn’t feel like it truly represented me. Having just one controllable character in a hack-n-slash just doesn’t cut it, pun intended. I want a turn based RPG experience, not a character who happens to run around during the quietest and strangest boy-band-in-a-car experience. Furthermore, apparently this style of gameplay goes as far back as Final Fantasy XIII – Which makes sense, as I’ve never played that one. I feel like I should… Just to say I’ve completed it.
Also, don’t forget that Square made Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, before they became Square Enix. Either way, we’re glad Final Fantasy continues today… and we eagerly await the next Kingdom Hearts.
Thank you for attending our service in memory of those who have fallen in pursuit of great games. As you leave today for the wake in the pub round the corner, please leave a donation in the voting box for next week’s geeky Top 10.
Thanks to Katy Firmin for helping out on the sections for Cryo and Core, as a long term fan of both Lara Croft and Cryo’s catalogue of historically-based games her knowledge was always going to outshine ours.
Weep for the fallen, But rejoice that they pave the way for new gaming studios to rise from their ashes, to stand upon the shoulders of giants, and other metaphors to poorly mix together – y’know, classic eulogy stuff. We live in interesting times for games, but as the industries flourishes only a few can persevere in the roiling competition, and in the process we lose some real titans of industry and ingenious creators. For many of these companies we are ready to move on to the future, for others the loss still stings.