The lights are on
Yesterday Neversoft, which had once been
Activision's premier in-house development studio, was officially dissolved and
absorbed into Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward. In tribute, we look back at
the studio's auspicious 20-year history.
Now that the Neversoft story is officially done, we can critique
the history and work of a great studio - one that will forever be associated in
gamer's minds with its classic franchise, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. However, the
full tale of Neversoft's rise and fall shows that there is much more to the
story than just a skateboarding video game.
Like many of today's triple-A development studios, Neversoft
got its start in the wild days of the early 1990s. With new compact disc driven
systems like the Saturn and PlayStation making more ambitious game designs
possible, many young Americans entered the world of development that had previously
been dominated by Japan in the 8- and 16-bit eras.
Neversoft was formed by three such aspiring developers: Joel
Jewett, Mick West, and Chris Ward. The studio started out small, working on a
game based on a Playmates line of toys called Skeleton Warriors. The Genesis
version was cancelled, but it was eventually remade for the Sega Saturn and
ported to the Sony PlayStation.
Skeleton Warriors didn't exactly set the gaming world on
fire, and the next couple of years were difficult ones for the fledgling
studio. Work began on a game based on the Ghost Rider comic book series for
Crystal Dynamics, but it was ultimately cancelled before completion. Neversoft
kept the lights on by porting Shiny Entertainment's (the company formed by Dave
Perry of Gakai/PlayStation Now fame) MDK to PC.
The company's next project was an original game titled Big
Guns. Like Ghost Rider, it would never see the light of day. However, it laid
the foundation for Neversoft's later success.
While Tony Hawk is the celebrity most associated with Neversoft,
the studio's fortunes were actually turned around with a little help from
another entertainment icon: action star Bruce Willis.
In 1998, Activision took an interest in the then
close-to-death Neversoft. Though it wasn't impressed by Big Guns, it did see
something in the game's underlying technology and graphics engine. Activision
contracted Neversoft to revive a stalled project entitled Apocalypse, which starred
Bruce Willis as the virtual hero and voice actor. Though the finished product
was fairly mediocre 3D shooter, Activision was sufficiently impressed with
Neversoft's work to give it another shot - this time with a skateboarding
game to be powered by the Apocalypse engine (this same engine would also be the
basis for Neversoft's excellent Spider-Man game of 2000).