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[Killzone studio Guerrilla Games went from its humble beginnings in the PC demoscene to become purveyors of one of PlayStation's biggest releases of 2011, Killzone 3. This profile revisits commentary from studio leaders to explore the history behind Guerrilla...]
One thing that is available in abundance in Amsterdam's 17th Century city center is history. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the entire old city center is protected, and its history is preserved to the full extent Dutch law allows.
Most people who have visited the old city associate it with places like the Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal) that amongst its buildings has the Anne Frank house, or the Brouwersgracht (Brewers' Canal) which used to be Amsterdam's center of commerce, and which is generally regarded as the most beautiful street in the city.
For me, however, the associations are different; one thing that comes to mind when I see those old buildings is the Herengracht (Lord's Canal), named after the people who governed the city centuries ago.
For almost a decade at number 410, Herengracht, in a nondescript old building that used to be a bank, an unlikely story has played out. A small Dutch developer grew to become one of Sony's big first party studios.
The company's recent move from that historic building to a nearby modern office space prompted me to investigate the history of the company itself, and delve into both old and more recent interviews and meetings I had with key people at the company.
I am, of course, talking about Guerrilla Games.
"This place is falling apart around us," managing director Hermen Hulst once told me. "We have all the network cables hanging off the walls, the walls themselves are falling apart, and we lack enough electricity here to continue operating. Last summer we brought in a few diesel generators to run air conditioning, but this is a pretty exclusive neighborhood, and the people living around us filed noise complaints, so we had to stop doing that, [said] the police."
Yet it is not in this aging building that the story begins; to find the origins of what is now called Guerrilla Games, and what led to the Killzone franchise, we have to go all the way back to 1994 and even before.
In the late '80s and early '90s, there was a thriving demoscene -- a computer art subculture that started with crackers, who cracked commercial software, and added their own animated screens to the programs they hacked. From this, it grew to a legitimate subculture where coders showed their talents to the world. It still exists today. In 1991, a group called Ultra Force made the first ever PC 3D demo -- the so-called Vector Demo -- created by a single programmer.
The talents of this coder were recognized by an at the time new company in the U.S. called Epic Megagames -- and so in 1994, Arjan Brussee was invited to work on a project with a brilliant young designer. The game was called Jazz Jackrabbit, and the designer of the game Brussee worked on was Cliff Bleszinski, now of Gears of War fame.
Despite the fact that they are competitors now, the respect between the two men runs deep; when I asked Bleszinski if he will ever make another Jazz Jackrabbit game a few years ago, he told me that he can't do it without Brussee.
After Jazz, Brussee continued to do contract work for other companies, but his ambitions outgrew those possibilities. It so happened that in 2000, his company Orange Games merged with two other small Dutch developers (Digital Infinity and Formula). This brought in Mathijs de Jonge, who is now game director at Guerrilla. Hermen Hulst, meanwhile, was attracted as manager from an outside consulting company.
The merged company was funded and became part of the Lost Boys media group, owned by rich playboy Michiel Mol, who would later go on to start the Spyker Formula 1 racing team (which he sold to Vijay Mallya, and which today still exists as Force India).
And thus, Lost Boys Games was created -- a company that brought together the best developers in Holland and provided them with the funds to work on bigger and more ambitious projects.
Success early on did not come easy.
Said Mathijs de Jonge, "I have very fond memories of a Game Boy Color game we made during the Lost Boys Games days, which we sadly couldn't find a publisher for. Even though it was a Game Boy Color game, we had the same ambitions we had with Killzone 3, in a way.
"It's a puzzle platform game but it has a level editor built in, and all the 80 or so levels in the game we made with the in-game level editor. If you remember it, the Game Boy Color had an infrared port, so you could submit the levels/puzzles you made to your friends that way.
"That was already a big and ambitious project, and that was such a long time ago, and it's really sad we couldn't find a publisher for it -- because back in those days publishers wanted licensed characters, and asked us to change the nice characters we created to well-known cartoon figures. We didn't want to compromise our game, and sadly, that ensured that nobody wanted to publish it."
Learning from that experience Lost Boys Games went on to do contracted work, including Tiny Toon Adventures: Dizzy's Candy Quest, (GBC, 2001), Rhino Rumble, (GBC, 2002), Black Belt Challenge, (GBA, 2002), and Invader, (GBA, 2002).
After the release of these Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games, Lost Boys Games was sold off to the Media Republic group, and renamed into Guerrilla Entertainment in 2004. This was likely done for tax purposes, because the Media Republic group was also owned by Michiel Mol -- so the new owner of the company was the old one.