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Even after Flow and Flower, naysayers and traditionalists had no problem dismissing thatgamecompany’s work. After Journey’s runaway success in 2012, though, we don’t think anyone can ignore thatgamecompany anymore. To us, the fact that thatgamecompany’s emotion-directed development approach can thrive and flourish indicates that our industry and our medium are gradually maturing in their capacity for creative expression -- which we think was a long time in coming.
Electronic Arts - We See Farther devs
Can a computer make you cry? That’s the question posed in an early print advertisement for Electronic Arts in its early days during the mid-’80s. Nowadays, EA’s reputation isn’t quite so clean, but we couldn’t put together a top 30 list without acknowledging their roots as a publisher for what was basically a loosely affiliated dev collective composed of: Bill Budge (Pinball Construction Set), Anne Westfall and Jon Freeman (Archon, Murder on the Zinderneuf), Danielle Bunten Berry (M.U.L.E., Seven Cities of Gold), John Field (Axis Assassin), David Maynard (Worms?), and Mike Abbot and Matt Alexander (Hard Hat Mack). It’s somewhat comforting to know that video games have a long history of artists and iconoclasts looking to push the medium further.
Sierra On-Line (originally On-Line Systems) started from humble beginnings with Mystery House, the first-ever adventure game with graphics. With King’s Quest, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, Gabriel Knight, and, yes, Leisure Suit Larry, however, they grew the adventure game genre into an integral part of the video game landscape. Sierra On-Line may not have made it into the current generation of games, but their impact on the industry and subsequent generations of developers lives on.
Rare started out making games for the NES at a ridiculous clip (releasing 18 games in 1990 alone!), went on to partner with Nintendo as a second-party developer, and then got purchased by Microsoft to make games for the Xbox and Xbox 360. When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that the same studio responsible for Battletoads, Donkey Kong Country, and Killer Instinct also did GoldenEye 007 and Kinect Sports. That kind of longevity in a cutthroat industry like this is, well, rare.
As we work our way through this list of legendary game dev studios, it’s worth taking a moment to honor the all-volunteer team behind MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator). Fact is, we’re really glad there are people working behind the scenes to preserve a playable, accurate version of our arcade game history, especially when that kind of preservation work entails breaking old proprietary encryption schemes and reverse-engineering undocumented system architecture. Keep doing what you’re doing, folks.
Sometimes it seems like games are a medium in search of a master storyteller to show us all how it’s done -- which is funny, because Infocom did exactly that with only text in 1980. Their works of interactive fiction -- most notably the Zork series, of course -- demonstrated that games could engage players in ways other media couldn’t. What’s more, with later releases like A Mind Forever Voyaging and Leather Goddesses of Phobos, they tackled mature themes meant for adult audiences that developers almost 30 years later still have problems sorting out.
Between their early work on the MSX to their more well-known NES and Game Boy games (Adventures of Lolo, Kirby’s Dream Land), HAL Laboratory was probably Japan’s best third-party development studio in the late ’80s to the early ’90s. We think that Nintendo buying HAL in 1992 was probably one of the best decisions they’ve ever made: Not only did HAL go on to make Earthbound and Super Smash Bros., they also hired a “genius programmer” straight out of college named Satoru Iwata, who would eventually go on to succeed Hiroshi Yamauchi as president of Nintendo.