As much as we see Nintendo as a very insular company these days, it was much more so way back during the NES and SNES eras. If you tried to challenge Nintendo's power, you were met with intense scorn at the very least or litigation at the very worst. That's why the story of small British studio Argonaut Software is so bizarre -- Argonaut broke the copyright protection on Game Boy and was rewarded with a three-game Nintendo-publishing contract.
This past week, Eurogamer posted a write-up about Argonaut's time with Nintendo and the fruits of the team's labor. The first thing Argonaut's technical wizards did was develop a 3D prototype for the NES called "NESglider," a spiritual successor to an Argonaut Amiga / Atari ST game, Starglider. They then ported the demo to SNES and promised the Kyoto higher-ups that they could improve the 3D effect more than ten-fold if they designed a radical new 3D microprocessor. The microprocessor became known as the Super FX chip, and the first game to use it was none other than Star Fox -- renamed Starwing in Europe to avoid a trademark dispute with the German company StarVox.
Argonaut later made Stunt Race FX and Star Fox 2 for Nintendo, although the latter wound up getting canceled despite being essentially finished. Key members from the Argonaut team actually became full-time Nintendo employees: Dylan Cuthbert, today the head of PixelJunk studio Q-Games; Giles Goddard, today the head of Steel Diver studio Vitei; and programmer Krister Wombell. Unfortunately, relations between the two companies ended after Argonaut pitched a 3D platformer starring Yoshi, upsetting Nintendo which had yet to allow an outside studio to use its own IP. So Argonaut retooled and published it through Fox Interactive as Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, the company's biggest game in terms of both sales and royalties.
I urge you to give the full article a read. I was especially surprised by Argonaut's idea for a virtual reality system that could have beat the pants off the Virtual Boy and then some!
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