Gamescape: A Look at Development in North America's Cities
September 15, 2009 Page 2 of 8
Planet of Sound
MIT has always been an engine of new ideas and talent for the Boston game development community. In recent years, two researchers from MIT's Media Lab, Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy, brought about a radical shift in the game industry with the creation of Guitar Hero.
When they formed Harmonix Music Systems in 1995, their goal was to bring the interactive music making research that they had been doing at the university to a wider audience.
After creating Frequency and Amplitude as well as several titles in Konami's Karaoke Revolution line of music games, Harmonix teamed up with RedOctane to produce the guitar peripheral-based Guitar Hero.
Since its release in 2005, Guitar Hero has become a cultural force, forever changing the audience for video games.
Leaving the Guitar Hero franchise in the hands of Activision, Harmonix has since moved on to create the Rock Band franchise, further expanding on its mission of bringing the joy of music creation to non-musicians.
In 1997 a group of Looking Glass developers including Ken Levine, Jonathan Chey, and Robert Fermier split off to form their own studio called Irrational Games. Irrational's first effort was a co-production with Looking Glass on a System Shock sequel. Released in 1999, System Shock 2 revisited the deep space horror of the original game with improved graphics courtesy of a new engine based on the work done for Thief.
Over the next several years Irrational would open a studio in Canberra, Australia, create Freedom Force and its sequel, a new Tribes game, as well as a new entry in the long-running SWAT series. In 2004 Irrational revealed plans for a new game called BioShock that would be a return to the themes and style of the great Looking Glass games of its roots.
By 2006 Irrational had joined Take-Two Interactive and its studios were renamed 2K Boston and 2K Australia. With the release of BioShock in 2007, the studio made good on its promise and delivered a game that was as intelligent and mature as it was visually striking. BioShock's overwhelming critical and commercial success was telling affirmation of the design principles first described by Looking Glass a decade earlier.
In years past the Boston area was home to Infocom, the creators of Zork and numerous other classic text adventures, and later Papyrus Design Group of NASCAR Racing fame. Currently the city hosts a new generation of studios that cover the gamut of the industry. Blue Fang Games, creators of the Zoo Tycoon series, Turbine, the developers behind The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, and Tilted Mill Entertainment, designers of the city building games Children of the Nile and SimCity Societies have all established studios in the region.
Baseball legend Curt Schilling's newly-formed 38 Studios, which is working on a MMO with design contributions from R.A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane, is also located in the Greater Boston area.
Rockstar New England is based just north of Boston in Andover. Formerly known as Mad Doc Software, the studio picked up development on Jane's Attack Squadron after Looking Glass was forced to shelve the project. Since then it has worked on Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna, Empire Earth II, Star Trek: Legacy, and Bully: Scholarship Edition.
Contract work is an important part of the game industry and Boston area's Demiurge Studios is making a name for itself as Unreal Engine experts after work on BioShock, Mass Effect, and the Brothers in Arms series. Also near Boston is Orbus Gameworks, a company that produces metrics gathering middleware as well as metrics consulting
In addition to MIT there are a number of higher education resources in the Boston region that provide game development related programs. The Berklee College of Music and Northeastern University are both located within the city while the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University is in nearby Waltham and Worchester is home to the Polytechnic Institute.
Boston occupies a unique space in the history of game development. Talent has always been drawn to the city, lured there by educational and entrepreneurial opportunities. And wherever smart people gather to do interesting things, someone will surely make a game of it.
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