While we are starting to see the rise of indie developers and publishers across the gaming industry, it’s still hard not to notice the trend of big gaming ‘corporations’ overshadowing and acquiring the little guys. Though some studios barely get noticed after this enveloping takes place, one studio has managed to shine through the darkness even after being traded around by the big boys. They shined so hard that now, they’re major players themselves. They’re red, dead and stealing your cars, it’s the bad-boys of developing…Rockstar Games.
Brothers, Dan and Mike Houser grew up in London, England and attended Cambridge university there before travelling to America and becoming citizens of New York. Living in New York they met Terry Donovan, Jamie King and Gary Foreman. Realising a shared passion in games, they decided to start up their own developer studio. The group formed the company, “BMG Interactive” and worked on several indie development games for PC before being acquired in 1988 by “Take Two Interactive Games Studios”. Later that year BMG Interactive was reformed and shifted to form “Rockstar Games”, with the Houser brothers fronting the team.
The history of Rockstar becomes very murky and convoluted, as Rockstar Studios begin sprouting up across the globe, all working on separate titles. However it is clear enough to track the series, which spawned, from the Rockstar name with their most famous series starting up from a top down view in 1997. “Grand Theft Auto” became an instant hit, being one of the first ever open-world city roamers on the market. The series that made Rockstar famous and infamous, Grand Theft Auto is still a highly popular game to this day with the fifth installation emerging into the world later this year. At the start of the new millennium Rockstar Games begun the “Max Payne” and “Midnight Club” series, which saw them screeching onto both the racer and shooter scenes, with incredible results. After sitting upon these titles for some time and starting work on their own gaming engine, (the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine or Rage) the company produced a game which saw the start of their most recent cult series, “Read Dead Revolver”. What stands out from this developers long and tangled history, is that there hasn’t really been a game under the Rockstar name that has not been hugely successful, they re-defined the open world, gave the game some very unique racer and shooter mechanics and started up a community of developers intent on following in their footsteps.
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto was one of the first open-world games in existence. (Along with “Turbo Esprit” in ’86) That alone gives credit to just what the series is in terms of innovation. Grand Theft Auto II and III brought deeper 3D realism and control into it, with incredible facial modelling and detail. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City provided players with amazing side activities to pursue, which much more emphasis on this aspect of the game than had been in previous iterations. The game, which could then be described as ‘legacy making’, in the Rockstar catalogue was most definitely the next in the series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. With undoubtedly the largest gaming world Rockstar had developed and a multitude of missions, activities, shops and races to partake in, this is probably the game, which stemmed the plethora of ‘GTA Clones’ that followed. However, this was also the game, which game the studio a slightly different reputation. Glamourising crime and racism, San Andreas was criticised for its portrayal of African Americans, featuring the group of characters going for fried chicken and partaking in a drive-by in one of the very first missions. On top of this, a modding-loophole was found in the games coding which allowed the “Hot Coffee” activity to be accessed. The mod featured a sex mini-game, which resulted in the banning of the game in a number of countries. The mod has since been fixed and an altered copy was distributed in place of the original.
Grand Theft Auto IV saw things take a more serious turn, while the crazy side of GTA was shared across to the ever-growing clone, Saints Row. Despite not being as wacky, the game sure dealt out its share of humour. Opting for a more cynical representation of New York, GTA IV was a critical and market success. 5 years on and we eagerly await the next title in the franchise and wonder at which areas Rockstar will target their city-spanning innovation towards this time. In an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of Grand Theft Auto III, “Street Fighter” Producer, Yoshinori Ono said “It would be no exaggeration to say that GTA III changed the industry, and we can basically separate the time before and after its emergence as distinct eras.”
“Red Dead Revolver” was conceived and dropped by “Capcom” in 2002, and subsequently picked up by Rockstar Games later that same year. Instead of focusing on a gritty western scenario, they expanded it in their well-known style of humour into a ‘spaghetti western’ focusing on crazy characters, a crazy plot and a wild setting. The game received some success but was overshadowed and easily forgotten. 10 years later, the spiritual successor to the earlier title and host to one of Rockstar greatest open world landscapes came to fruition, “Red Dead Redemption.”
This title amazed critics with its incredible 3D draw distances, life like characters and persisting and vibrant online culture. Winning many awards, the soundtrack of Red Dead Redemption received incredible acclaim. Through use of wind effects, animal noises and eerie western guitar riffs, Cowboy America was brought to life. The legacy of this series can be physically measured by looking at the new multiplayer reveal trailer for Rockstar’s own GTA V. The 16 player open world scenario seems very reminiscent of the Red Dead online, and who knows, if that becomes a major part of that franchise, Red Dead Redemption may indeed make a significant imprint on the gaming industry after all.
In an interview with Japanese Gaming Magazine, “Famitsu”, Dan Houser said, “It’s in our DNA to avoid doing what other companies are doing. I suppose you could say that Max Payne 3 is something close to an FPS, but there are really unique aspects to the setting and gameplay there, too, not just in the story. You have to have originality in your games; you have to have some kind of interesting message.” This is exactly what Rockstar leaves behind for future generations. Every one of their games is unique and gives the industry something. “Saints Row” and “Sleeping Dogs” are just one of many examples of what we might expect from the legacy that Rockstar leaves behind. From the wild west to Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson, the things that Rockstar Games did, and the things that they created will never be forgotten.
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