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Little Deviants

Remembering studios that closed in 2012

Dec 22 // Sterling Aiayla Lyons
Hudson Soft Founded on May 18, 1973, Hudson Soft has been a force in this industry for so long that it seemed as if it would always be around. By 2003, the company had over 500 employees, with studios in both Tokyo and California. Throughout its history, Hudson designed a vast amount games and characters, including the iconic Bomberman, as well as less-iconic-but-still-identifiable Bonk. This story was one that was drawn out, as last year saw the closure of the offices in California. The final nail would come this year, when even the Tokyo offices would also be shut down. It’s something that is definitely heartbreaking for many a fan of the company's works, as well as people who loved the classic bee logo -- doubly for people in both categories like me. With the closure came the announcement that Konami would be absorbing what was left of Hudson, and retiring the name. So while the cute bee might be put out on the rocker on the front porch, hopefully the properties that bee ran won’t be neglected in the future. THQ & THQ San Diego Yesterday we reported that THQ had filed for bankruptcy. The company may not intend to reduce its workforce size during this period, but it's not a very optimistic situation. In March, the company reported a net loss of $239.9 million for the end of the fiscal year, which was over $100 million greater than the previous year's loss. Shortly after, THQ publicly made a deal with Electronic Arts to sell off its license to the UFC franchise. This directly lead to the closure of the THQ studio located in San Diego, the team behind the UFC games. This is one of those times that just goes to show you how fragile some things are in the industry. One deal sealed the fate of a whole studio, and all the workers there. While this might not be the end for THQ yet, the company's long-term survival is by no means guaranteed. I don't usually root for a publisher, but my heart is out for this one, if only for Saints Row 4. Black Hole Entertainment Black Hole Entertainment might be known for a few different games. It developed a couple of Warhammer games: Mark of Chaos and Black March. The company's most notable recent achievement would be Heroes of Might and Magic 6, which can be claimed as the reason for its downfall. Shortly after filing for bankruptcy, an insider from the company came out with claims that Ubisoft, the publisher they worked with, was at fault. The claims laid down include a lack of accountability from Ubisoft for missed deadlines, consistently sudden changes and feature removal demands by Ubisoft, and Ubisoft restructuring the key development team numerous times. Supposedly, the penalties from the missed deadlines, as well as the losses from money spent on features taken out of the game after completed made it so that an unreasonable 200 million copies needed to be sold before Black Hole would see any profit. Whether these claims are true is unknown, but the fact that the company went bankrupt still remains. Radical Entertainment Radical Entertainment is mainly known for the recent series Prototype, but it has been around since 1991, getting passed between multiple publishing companies through its history. There were layoffs, and many claimed that these layoffs lead to the crash of the Vancouver game design market. It was the oldest studio located in Vancouver, after all. This story happens to have a silver lining, as it appears that the company is still partially intact, functioning as a support studio for Activision Blizzard. Rockstar Vancouver/Barking Dog Rockstar's Vancouver studio is known for Bully and the recently released Max Payne 3. Shortly after the release of Max Payne 3, it was announced that Rockstar would be dissolving the studio to refocus its efforts in Canada on its Toronto-based studio. This story does not bring the saddest news of closure though, unless you're someone complaining about the decline of the Vancouver market. All 35 of the Vancouver employees were offered positions within the Toronto studio. With the additional claim of more positions being created afterwards, hopefully this leads to big new projects coming from those folks. Sony Liverpool/Psygnosis Sony Liverpool, perhaps better known as Psygnosis, is the studio behind the WipEout series. At the start of the year, Sony Worldwide Studios came out with an announcement that they would be restructuring the Liverpool studio. Many of the projects they were working on were halted as a result. It wouldn't be until August when the announcement finally came about the studio's closing. The studio employed roughly 100 people across two development teams. The studio was reportedly working on two projects at the time, each for the next-generation Sony console. While the facility at Liverpool remains functional, it is only to house other Sony Computer Entertainment Europe departments. The status of the two projects, one being a new WipEout, is unknown. BigBig Studios BigBig Studios, I feel, is mainly known for Pursuit Force, one of the better launch games for the PlayStation Portable. The studio was formed from a core team of four former Codemasters employees. Sony acquired the studio in 2007, and assigned them to work exclusively on games for the portable system. That might have been the major component in the downfall of the studio, due to the generally dismal life of the portable device itself. The last game they made would be the recent Vita game, Little Deviants which released to less-than-stellar reviews. The studio would be shut down at the beginning of the year as part of restructuring of Sony's European studios. Zipper Interactive Zipper interactive started out making computer games before it became tied to the franchise that would rule the company for the most of its life span, SOCOM. In 2006, the studio was acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment and would go on to make games exclusively for the PlayStation brand.  Not to let SCE Europe have all the fun restructuring studios, SCE Worldwide Studios announced in March that Zipper Interactive would be shut down. The reason given was that it was part of a normal cycle of resource re-alignment within Sony. The studio had roughly 80 employees at the time of closure. Its recent games, SOCOM 4, MAG, and Unit 13 are still going to be supported, according to Sony. Paragon Studios NCSoft is one of the few companies that almost exclusively deals in MMOs. Of course, most of that is acquiring studios that make those kind of games and just putting the monetary system on top of that. There are two things that usually happen. Either the game becomes too bloated to sustain from a financial standpoint, or the people calling the shots shift their focus to something "new." Such is the case with City of Heroes, which was finally shut down this year, much to the outrage and disappointment of its players. The really sad part comes with the liquidation of Paragon Studios, the developers behind the game. As of now, I don’t exactly know what happened to the folks who worked there, whether they were reassigned, or just let go entirely. At the very least, I hope that they are all still out there making games. 38 Studios and Big Huge Games 38 Studios started in 2006, originally named "Green Monster Games." Founded by Baseball star Curt Schilling with a dream to make his own MMO, he seemed to start out the right way, hiring talent that had great experience in the game world. In addition to writer R.A. Salvatore and artist Todd McFarlane, former general manager of games at Comcast Jennifer Maclean, former lead engineer at EA Jon Laff, and a former lead designer of EverQuest Travis McGeathy were in the employ of the studio. To further bolster the prestigious talent base of the company, 38 games acquired studio Big Huge Games, of Rise of Nations fame. The single-player RPG that BHG was working on at the time would be turned into a tie-in to Schilling's MMO. It all looked like it was going the right way, and in 2010, the studio received a $75 million dollar guaranteed loan from the state of Rhode Island to relocate their business to the state, in the hopes of creating new jobs. In February of this year, that RPG would see release in the form of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which received favorable reviews. A missed loan payment just a few months later, and very shortly after, the entire 379 person workforce was laid off, with 38 Studios entering bankruptcy. Schilling and his studio has come under investigation since then for criminal charges, though at the time of writing, no federal charges have been filed against him. A state-level investigation is still underway. As for the folks under Big Huge Games, they're still happily together as Epic Baltimore.
Studio Closures in 2012 photo
Taking a sec to pay respects
This year was great in general for videogames. Beyond the predictable success of games like Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops II, there were a ton of hits that came out of nowhere, including not just big publisher titles, bu...

Review: Little Deviants

Feb 13 // Jim Sterling
Little Deviants (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Bigbig StudiosPublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment AmericaReleased: January 22, 2012 MSRP: $29.99 The kid-friendly premise of Little Deviants sees a collection of mischievous (yet highly marketable) aliens on the lam from an oppressive army of robots who can resurrect the dead for some reason. It's never quite clear whether the titular Deviants are supposed to be villainous protagonists or misunderstood heroes, but to ponder that further would be to put more thought into it than anybody else has. Needless to say, you're on the side of the GoGo's Crazy Bones lookalikes.  Story Mode will take players through each available game, making use of touch controls, cameras, gyroscopic movement, and even voice recognition. There's a substantial number of games, spread across five distinct areas, and they range from traditional racing games and whack-a-mole experiences to more complex feats of finger gymnastics. The base goal of every game is to earn a bronze medal by successfully completing actions and collecting stars to win points. Earning a bronze unlocks the next game, while earning silver and gold medals awards bonus items to look at in the gallery. Usually, earning higher grades and better medals is a good incentive for replay value, but some of the games are so unenjoyable, earning just a bronze is satisfying enough as it means the experience can be ditched and left alone forever.  The first available game has players pushing the environment "upwards" by pressing on the rear touchpad, exploiting physics to roll a spherical Deviant around a map and collect keys. This game is indicative of the game's greatest strength and biggest weakness -- the power to showcase genuinely exciting new technology, and the inability to showcase that technology in a satisfying way.  In this first game, the premise of pushing a ball around from underneath is laudably inventive, but it's also unintuitive and awkward. Having such an indirect influence on a bumblingly controlled ball is far from a pleasurable experience, especially with dangerous robots marching around. Yes, part of the challenge is in dealing with such a strange new interface, but dealing with strange new interfaces and contrived, inconvenient control schemes is rarely fun. Any other game would be slaughtered for such awkward controls, and it's not acceptable in this case just because it was intentional. Other games demand players to "pinch" their Vita by holding the same spot on the front and back of the system and stretching areas to fling Deviants around. Some go even further, such as rubbing the front screen one way while rubbing the touchpad in the opposite direction, then "tickling" the Deviant from behind while tapping the front screen to knock out robots -- all in the span of a few seconds. It's recommended that one holds the PS Vita over a cushion while playing some of these games, as dropping it is a serious risk when it's being held like a perverse octopus-crab with cerebral palsy would hold it.  When Little Deviants doesn't let its ambition escape its ability, it can be a relatively amusing -- if completely forgettable -- time waster. Simple games with inventive twists can be a solid laugh, such as a whack-a-mole-style game where robots need to be pushed out of windows from the touchscreen or touchpad depending on which way they're facing. There's also a surprisingly adorable mic-powered game in which one has to sing, whistle, or hum a tune at the correct pitch to send out notes and hit oncoming objects, and an augmented reality shooter that'll have players spinning around the living room in an attempt to shoot down robot ships. None of these games are stunningly brilliant, but they do a decent job of showing what the Vita can do without trying to show off.  These moments, however, are fleeting thanks to the developers becoming way too big for their boots. It is impressive that the Vita is capable of so much input, but that doesn't mean forcing the player to do three or four things at once is entertaining. This is especially true when the selection of games, unique though their controls may be, are mostly quite dull and inane. Strip away the gimmicks, and Little Deviants is just another minigame compilation at heart.  The aforementioned ball-rolling game is essentially a poor man's Monkeyball. A maze-like game in which players use the gyroscope to roll around and collect items is just Pac-Man with less excitement. For all the attempts to look cutting edge, Little Deviants is little more than a collection of games we've played multiple times before, with the added bonus that they're more of a hassle to play.  Outside of looking good and featuring cute, colorful characters, there's not a lot that Little Deviants has going for it. Either games are forgettably fun or memorably vexatious. It's a disappointing situation, because the game has not been badly put together and it seems to have been made with some genuine love. It's just full of bad ideas that have been implemented to make old ideas look new. They certainly do feel new, but rarely in a way that compliments the gameplay.  I get the feeling that games like Little Deviants will be a big part of the PlayStation Vita's early library offerings, games desperate to exploit every available feature regardless of whether or not it helps to make things more enjoyable. I hope against hope that studios calm down and learn a little restraint when it comes to exploiting these features, as this collection of clumsy, discommodious distractions is indicative of what can happen when developers forget the elegance of simplicity. New features are only worth including if they enhance an experience. When they get in the way of it, they should be axed on the spot.  It's a shame Little Deviants couldn't have been more ready with the chopping block.
 photo

The PlayStation Vita is rich in features, boasting every possible input method a portable gaming system could have to date. Multiple touch interfaces, dual analog sticks, voice control, twin cameras, and even motion sensing; ...


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