Gaming's Greatest Companies: Rockstar

By Adam Ma on February 17, 2012, 2:54AM EDT

A great gaming company is able to develop a game that's both enjoyable and memorable, something that lasts through the times as a staple of what years of solid development and creative craftsmanship can do. But to be considered one of the greatest you must do more. It's not simply about affecting a genre, but in a way redefining it and setting an entirely new bar for quality. I can think of no better company as an example than Rockstar Games, a development studio that not only worked to create the sandbox genre, but who would eventually redefine it over and over again with each subsequent game release.

Rockstar Games was founded in 1998 by a grouping of experienced video game producers, just a year after the first GTA game was to be released by Tarantula Studios. Led by Sam and Dan Houser the series would eventually be pushed away from it's top-down perspective and into a more realistic 3D environment. With Sam pushing hard on turning the game into an entirely different experience from a graphical perspective and Dan fleshing out the storyline and character development the two would create a sort of formula meant to encapsulate a piece of American history in every game they would develop. Their plan to create a trilogy of a distorted American history wound up being a huge success, spinning into Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas respectively.

Although best known for their GTA series, Rockstar Games has worked hard in flexing their creative muscle across a wide variety of other titles. On their list of amazing, high quality games that should never be forgotten lies Earthworm Jim 3D, Austin Powers: Oh Behave for the Game Boy Color, and the highly anticipated sequel Austin Powers: Welcome to My Underground Lair. Like all developers, Rockstar wasn't really immune to developing games simply to get cash early on, but a series of hits would rapidly reduce the amount of titles that Rockstar would focus on producing each year, instead pushing quality over quantity.

Almost always sticking close to their 'sandbox' development ground, titles like Midnight Club: Street Racing would be their next major hit, and maintains being a solid racing series to date. Using open world environments again to great success, Midnight Club would pioneer the 'trackless' racing game, something that up until the year 2000 had never been done. The title would become a staple on the PS2, and though it would be Rockstars only hit that year 2001 would see the release of Oni and Max Payne just before GTA III's grand unveiling. It marks the last year that the developer would print anything aside from their own IP's, acquired or otherwise.

Regardless of what kind of game they produce Rockstar has always kept this same focus on dynamic storytelling that they first dedicated to GTA III, and the result has been a list of diverse and memorable games that generally challenge the status quo. Bully and Manhunt both met with great success for their non-traditional approaches to gaming protagonists, and Red Dead Redemption has been hailed as nothing but a classical Western masterpiece by just about every gamer under the sun. The focus on story touches each of these titles in their own individual way from the hide-and-seek mechanics of Manhunt to the much grander world that John Marston explores, each game has their own subtle twists devoted to ensuring that playing as the main character is as real and natural as possible. The sales themselves point to the success of such games. Red Dead Redemption has sold 13 million units worldwide, Midnight Club has drawn in close to 8 million, and the Grand Theft Auto series itself has pulled in over 130 million copies sold since it's inception.

One can only hope that this devotion to remaining 'in character' at all times is something that stays a staple of their development. Their dedication to never making a FPS title has led to the continued support of a genre that sometimes doesn't get enough spotlight, and though there have been quite a few iterations of the GTA series over the years, they've always held back from simply flooding the market with their well known IPs. With Max Payne 3 releasing early this year, and GTA V and Agent on the horizon its safe to say that Rockstar will be keeping themselves plenty busy, which is good news for just about anyone who enjoys gaming.

TAGS: Rockstar, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
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