Bioware – Shattered Steel
This was the first game by Bioware and it came out in 1996. The cool part about this game was that it was actually ahead of its time. It has “3D” aka VR in it, three types actually, and it even has settings for head tracking. Did I mention it came out in 1996?
The game is what you’d expect from Bioware as it takes on everything the company does today, but on a more technology restricted level. You had a massive backstory that you can explore through menu’s, or you can jump right into combat. The combat was you in a mech suit taking on bad guys on different planets. As you progress you unlock new gear and models and the “office” menu will slowly evolve with it.
The game had some perks such as the ability to knock enemies around by shooting near them, and even blowing up chunks of the map. That’s something you’d expect to hear from DICE, huh? The game had a odd development cycle, but a demo for the game was impressing many publishers. Eventually the game was made and a sequel was planned, but never released. Bioware was also attempting to branch off, but both of their branches failed, leading people back to Bioware. The success of the game led to more deals, which allowed “Boldurs Gate” to follow, and well that leads into what we know Bioware for.
(Interesting note: Bioware released an early demo version of Shattered Steel to stores, with an offer to buy the full game at a discounted price. Most of these were defective and they have become a collector’s item.)
Naughty Dog – Rings of Power
Would you believe that Naughty Dog once published a game under EA? Rings of Power is not Naughty Dog’s first game, the team actually had another studio titled “Jam Studios” that made a skiing game and some other things they sold off, but when they formed “Naughty Dog” this is the first title they ever made. The game comes complete with a retro Naughty Dog logo, an old school EA logo, and it was even published on the Sega Genesis. Let that sink in for a second…. A Naughty Dog game, published by EA, on a Sega console. The game was a 2D style RPG game with a huge (ish) open world to explore that was filled with spells and things to do. Many fans found it hard, others found the challenge rewarding. The game was forgotten probably because it was made for PC, and yet it was on Sega due to a deal between EA and Sega. As you can imagine, that lead to some rather complex controller challenges.
At the time of Rings of Power, Rubin and Gavin (The guys that made the company) were in college and Naughty Dog was more of an afterthought for them. Okay let’s not sugar coat it, the company was basically bankrupt, but then they went at it again. During the time when everyone wanted to make a Mortal Kombat clone they decided to join in with Way of the Warrior. The game was simply that, a Mortal Kombat clone complete with White Zombie making it feel “cool,” lots of gore to make it feel “cooler,” and a lot of “real” pictures and GIFs to make it super cheesy. Let’s just say Naughty Dog probably wishes this game never existed. (All though it did give them an opportunity to make several games for Universal which led to Crash Bandicoot and eventually Sony’s partnership!)
Insomniac Games – Magic Knight
Speaking of Sony partnerships and clones, Insomniac may be the only company on this list that had major success right out the gate. Insomniac’s first game was called Disruptor and it was basically Doom, but it wasn’t just a knockoff. Instead it was released to great reviews and good commercial success. Insomniac had no problem finding deals to follow up and for some reason even their “bad ideas” are good ideas, but not “Insomniac good” so the ideas get canned. Yet that isn’t the game they want us to forget.
Insomniac made another game titled Magic Knight that was revealed to IGN during an interview about games Insomniac had cancelled before release. The game sounded amazing too, as it grabbed the Pokemon craze of the 90’s and bridged it with new creative ideas. Basically you catch small animal like creatures and the main character could use them to give her armor, weapons, or other abilities. It is said that the game was cancelled because the studio was too busy working on Spyro The Dragon titles. (But perhaps laid ground work for their social title Outernauts.
Insomniac had another title called “A Girl With A Stick” which is obviously a placeholder title, but it too was cancelled. Ted Price explains the game was cancelled due to them not fully achieving something that changes what had already been done by the industry elsewhere. Instead Insomniac made Ratchet and Clank, which has gone on to great success, but as you can see Insomniac has been rather good at dropping titles before we can even see them.
Bungie – Pathways Into Darkness
I couldn’t pass up Bungie because they have moved around the industry probably more than any other company while looking for opportunity. The very first game by the founder of Bungie, Alex Seropian, was a knock off as well, but this top it was Pong. The game was titled Gnop! And was released for free in 1990, but people paid for the source code. Shortly after, Alex decided to open his own game company named Bungie and released a game titled Operation: Desert Storm by 1991. The game was a typical top down shooter of the time. After a few life events and inspiration to make games he teamed up with Jason Jones to create Minotaur, which began to give Bungie a following.
Now the interesting thing is that the team focused on Mac based computers, not Windows, because they felt they were more open and reliable for what they wanted to achieve. Sounds interesting huh? Well their first major success was Pathways Into Darkness, a somewhat RPG style 3D first person shooter inspired by the game Wolfenstein. The game itself is very similar to Destiny, but more grounded for its time. A player takes part as a soldier that needs to stop a god-like creature from destroying the world, and you solve puzzles etc.. along your way. This was their first major success, winning many awards and beating sales expectations which allowed them to grow into an actual company by 1993.
Pathway’s then grew into a franchise named Marathon which functioned as a “Mac alternative” to Doom, which was a PC exclusive at the time. The game was selling thousands, forcing Bungie to hire external companies to help produce the game. This lasted through the 90’s, and Bungie was offered partnerships with all kinds of companies including Activision. Yet, as most people know, in 1999 Bungie went on to explore a new project named Halo. It was here that the owners of Bungie became serious in finding a partner and demonstrated it in front of Apple, Microsoft, and others which forced offers to come in like crazy. Originally the game was set to release on Windows and Mac, with the opportunity to hit all consoles, but on October 19, 2000 Microsoft announced they had bought Bungie. Bungie noted that the opportunity to work on Xbox titles with the secure foundation of the console is what helped strike the deal, and as we all know, Halo went on to become the ultimate flagship franchise for Xbox.
It is quite interesting to see that most major studios started off by simply mimicking another great studio. Most of this list was inspired by the likes of ID Games, but then they went and became something of their own. We hope you enjoy the list and look forward to future studios. If you want us to dive into any particular studio, let us know in the comments!