The Dorklyst: The 8 Best Videogames Made By Closed Studios

By Sophie Prell / July 20, 2012
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Studios can close for all kinds of reasons – talent has moved away, bankruptcy, breaking off into smaller entities, EA – but when that happens, their deaths are often not noticed nor remembered by the gamers who played their products. Some properties are bought by larger distributors, and many more are simply forgotten forever. We wish to remember some fallen studios and their finest games. These are 8 of the best videogames made by closed studios.

8. Velvet Assassin (Replay Studios)

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Created by Replay Studios, Velvet Assassin tells the story of Violette Summer, a British spy during World War II. Though not as free-form as other titles in the stealth genre, Velvet Assassin nonetheless proved to be an extremely satisfying Nazi-killing simulator (note: very few Nazi-killing simulators are not satisfying, although as of late zombies seem to have replaced Nazis as the go-to default enemy you can gleefully kill with a clear conscience).

The weird thing about Velvet Assassin is that the game takes place mostly in the head of Violette as she lies comatose in a hospital bed, having been seriously wounded during one of her missions, giving way to one of the game's core gimmicks: Morphine Mode. Morphine Mode slows down time (okay, makes sense), shows Violette in her hospital gown (less sense there, but I get it), and rains down rose petals while allowing to execute gruesome one-hit kills. No wonder it's such a popular anesthetic.

Replay Studios didn't last too long as a company, only making three games during their stint as an independent videogame developer, none of which sold well. The end result was insolvency. What's interesting though is the place where Replay Studios came from. Because that place is Germany. Which is where Nazis came from. And in Velvet Assassin you kill Nazis. Maybe gamers weren't looking for a dark, sobering take on the game studio's nation's history? Maybe they should have just used zombies.

7. Thief: The Dark Project (Looking Glass Studios)

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Developed by Looking Glass Studios, Thief: The Dark Project was an ambitious title that became an almost instant cult classic. By focusing less on the "shoot 'em, kill 'em" style gameplay of most first-person games of the time, and more on "hide here, be sneaky here" presentation, Thief set itself apart in a way that few games even nowadays can compare to. The game also took place in a fantasy/steampunk universe, and everyone knows steampunk makes everything better, or at least more complicated-looking.

Thief introduced the mainstream masses to a lot of stealth mechanics we now take for granted. That open/shut eye from the Elder Scrolls games? Thief had a light gem. Using sounds to draw guards? Different terrain making louder/softer noise? The main character in Thief was like a damn bat with his use of sound. And of course, those sexy, sexy shadows (it had really good shadows). It's easy to take stuff like that for granted now, but in 1998 this was mind-blowing stuff. Kind of like how no one could believe that Backstreet really was back a year earlier. The things that shocked us in the '90s.

Unfortunately, Looking Glass Studios was kind of like the chess club of your high school: a whole bunch of smart people coming together and not getting a whole lot of respect for it. Like a horrifying combination of a katamari ball and a chimera, it was a many-headed beast that absorbed several other studios before being divested. Basically what that means is that this metaphorical chess club invited some of the popular kids to sit with them, and the jocks promptly kicked them out of their own club.

6. NBA Jam (Midway)

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If you are a gamer age 20 or older, there is no way you don't know NBA Jam (and yell "HE'S HEATING UP!" after anyone makes two shots in a row). And if you don't, I don't even know how you sleep at night. This game was created by Mortal Kombat studio Midway, which is a studio that technically still exists, but only because it's being slowly digested by the sarlacc of the business world: bankruptcy.

NBA Jam, for those not in the know, was an exaggerated 2-on-2 basketball game that featured over-the-top animations and sound, paving the way for classics like NBA Street and NFL Blitz. Midway went with a more cartoonish portrayal of sports because…real basketball is sort've boring (comparatively-speaking). Doing a triple flip with a ball that's on fire and shattering the backboard, however…now that's what videogames were made for.

Midway was always known by anyone who grew up in the '90s as "those guys that made Mortal Kombat" but the truth is they were also a lot more than that. For example, did you know how the company got its start? Distributing arcade cabinets of Space Invaders. Yes, that Space Invaders. The growth of the company from there is a plot more convoluted than a JRPG adaptation of Babylon 5 but for a time, they were kings not only of the arcade, but the home as well.

It didn't last.

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