The lights are on
Development studios, even highly successful ones, like to
change things. As the old adage goes (I
assume), if it ain’t broke, try something different to see if that also works. Studios
like Naughty Dog may have made a name for themselves with a jumping cartoon
bandicoot named Crash, but that doesn’t mean it can’t evolve to eventually
launch one of the darkest games of the previous generation. Naughty Dog is not
alone in its desire to change. Many studios have changed dramatically from
their earliest iterations, and below are a few examples.
Ubisoft Montreal – Tonic Trouble / Watch DogsUbisoft Montreal is a huge multi-studio collective with its
hands in a number of impressive triple-A franchises, like Watch Dogs, Far Cry,
and most importantly Assassin’s Creed, but its beginnings are little more
subtle. And colorful.
Its first game, released in 1999, was a PC and Nintendo 64
platformer called Tonic Trouble, or as I like to call it, “That one game I
always looked at, but never actually rented from Blockbuster.” The game stars the
lovestruck Ed, who is likely a relative of Ubisoft’s own Rayman as he has no
limbs, taking on the evil vegetable monster menace he accidentally created.
Ubisoft Montreal’s most recent title, Watch Dogs, takes
place in real world Chicago where players play as the hacker with a score to
settle, Aiden Pierce. Pierce has all of his limbs, and knows his way around a
gun just as well as he does a keyboard.
Naughty Dog – Keef the Thief / The Last of UsCrash Bandicoot is the game players think of when pondering
Naughty Dog’s first game, but it wasn’t its first game. After making games like
Math Jam, Ski Crazed, and Dream Zone as Jam Software, it changed its name to
Naughty Dog and launched Keef the Thief.
Released in 1989 for the Apple IIGS, Keef the Thief is a
medieval adventure RPG where players fight enemies, explore dungeons, and
collect gold. As a thief searching dungeons and finding gold, Keef could have laid
some of the groundwork for Nathan Drake in Uncharted.
Naughty Dog’s most recent game The Last of Us, on the other
hand, is about grounded people in a terrible situation trying to survive in a
modern world overridden by a terrible and dangerous disease. It also looks a
Bungie – Gnop / DestinyBungie has one of the most radical long-term transformations
of anyone on this list. It began its life owned by Apple trying to help the
computer manufacturer sell its machines as capable gaming platforms.
Eventually, the studio was purchased by its direct competition, Microsoft, to
help establish its own emerging gaming platform (the Xbox) before it partnered
with Activision to become the company it is today.
Before Halo, before Marathon, before fantasy titles like the
Myth series, and before military shooters like Operation: Desert Storm and
Pathways into Darkness, Bungie released a little Pong clone called Gnop. I will
let the creativity of that name sink in while you also consider that Bungie is
one of the most highly regarded developers in the industry.
Bungie’s most recent game by technicality is Halo: Reach,
but with the beta behind us and Destiny’s released right around the corner,
it’s hard not to call out its new science-fiction, future space-shooter, which
is slightly larger and more impressive than a Pong clone.
Rocksteady Studios – Urban Chaos: Riot Response / Batman:
Arkham CityThe Arkham series are considered some of the best licensed super-hero
action games, and are also some of the best games in general. There was a time
though, shortly before the release of Arkham Asylum, where people had low
expectations for the series. Batman’s video game triumphs were few and far
between, and it didn’t help that Rocksteady Studios didn’t have much to show
Three years before the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum,
Urban Chaos: Riot Response released on PlayStation 2 and Xbox. In the game, you
play as a riot response soldier with a shield tasked with protecting
firefighters and other important city-saving personnel. We gave the game a 7.75,
saying it was worth a look, but didn’t offer a particularly memorable or
Fast-forward five years, and Rocksteady releases Batman:
Arkham City, the most fully-realized interactive version of Gotham City ever
committed to a disk. After conquering comics, TV, and movies, Batman was
finally able to add video games to his expanding list of dominated media.
Blizzard – RPM Racing / Hearthstone, Diablo III: Reaper of SoulsToday, Blizzard is a giant in the industry, consistently
dominating the PC world. It even moved into the tablet world with Hearthstone,
and though it was no stranger to the console world, it only takes a quick
glance at your PlayStation 4 friends list to see it is doing something right
with the next-gen port of Diablo III.
Before all that though, Blizzard dabbled in the world of
racing with RPM Racing. Shorthand for Radical Psycho Machine Racing, the Super
Nintendo game did not feature elves, orcs, space marines, or even demons.
Instead, it was just a racing game, albeit a radical one. While it may not
exist in a high-fantasy, or rich science-fiction world, it does retain
Blizzard’s insistence on filling the game with narrative for those who wish to
seek. In the game’s booklet are two pages of story detailing why the races are
so dangerous and how they’ve evolved. You can read the whole story yourself
These days, Blizzard is in a perpetual state of releases
with some games in beta, some out in the wild, and some receiving re-release
ports to new platforms, like Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. For most of us
though, we’ve still got Hearthstone on the brain, which is slightly more
intricate than a Super Nintendo racing game.
Email the author Kyle Hilliard, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.