Despite being the third largest in the world based on sales and developer success, the UK gaming industry is often overlooked. This is largely due to the fact that it is overshadowed by America and Japan. But do a bit of digging and you’ll find a rich history of UK developers, which time and time again pushed the medium forward.
So in the interest of giving these guys the credit they deserve, here’s a list of the greatest UK game developers of all time.
Core Design Ltd
Based in the city of Derby and founded in 1988, Core Design released a number of games in its active years, but one name stands out above the rest, Tomb Raider. The game launched on the Sega Saturn October 25 1996, a full month before its release on PlayStation 1. The game was so successful that Sony used it as part of PlayStation 1’s core marketing. The game was praised by critics for its intelligent puzzles and level design along with its impressive sense of adventure. Core Design stuck with the series until after Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, when Crystal Dynamics took over the development side.
DMA Design/ Rockstar North
The studio behind the Grand Theft Auto series, DMA Design (which became Rockstar North) are a developer whose place in the industry cannot be understated. They helped Pioneer the non linear open-world style of gaming which dominates gaming today, and have inspired both creativity and controversy over the years. Responsible for creating one of the most profitable franchises of all time with Grand Theft Auto, along with cult classic Lemmings, DMA Design have truly earned their place in the video game hall of fame.
Rocksteady Games are important for one reason alone, they made the best freakin’ Batman games of all time! From 2009’s Arkham Asylum all the way to last year’s Arkham VR, Rocksteady Games proved that superhero games could be great again. Arkham Asylum came at a time when superhero games were mostly uninspired movie tie-ins, and was almost incomparable as a result. The studio crafted a thoughtful, intelligent Batman story that gamers all around the world fell in love with. Rocksteady succeeded where previous studios had failed, in that they actually made you feel like Batman. The final game in the series Arkham Knight was a culmination of everything the studio had learnt over the years and featured one of the best realisations of Gotham city ever created. In October 2016 the studio released Arkham VR, widely regarded as the system’s flagship title. The game made you feel more like Batman than ever before and was the perfect end cap to one of the greatest series of the last decade.
David Braben and Ian Bell
The Elite franchise is the love-child of game developers Ian Bell and David Braben. The 1984 original defined the space-simulation genre as we know it and is the game by which all space trading games are compared. Inspired by the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven, it’s the game’s dedication to detail that makes it stand out. Each game in the series can be played in a number of ways and are intentionally open ended. In 1984, the original received the Golden Joystick award and is highly regarded as one of the most influential games of all time. David Braben and Ian Bell are believed to be the Fathers of the first ever-open world game, and are undeniably some of gaming’s most important developers. The series continues to this day, with the latest entry, Elite:Dangerous available to play fully in VR.
Ah Rare. Few studios can boast the sheer volume of great titles that came out of Rare over its 30+ years in the industry. Donkey Kong Country, Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, StarFox, Killer Instinct, the list goes on. From the get go, Rare put an emphasis on originality and would only develop unique ideas, never spending time on anything considered to be too generic. In 1994 the studio partnered with Nintendo and were given unlimited resources and free reign on what they worked on. In the 7 years that followed Rare released hit after hit, earning their place as one of the top developers in the world. The studio was acquired in 2002 by Microsoft and went on to release titles mainly for the Kinect. Their latest game, Sea of Thieves is slated for a 2017 release and looks to continue the studios streak of delivering fun and original experiences.
Media Molecule proved themselves a force to be reckoned with the release of their first game LittleBigPlanet. The game featured an impressive set of user creation tools and created a brand new PlayStation mascot in Sackboy. The Studio’s dedication to trying new ideas along with their rich and quirky art-style really set them apart from their peers. Media Molecule continue to flex their imaginative flair in their latest title Dreams. The game is an abstract and complex experience, centred around creation tools. Coupled with VR compatibility and intuitive motion controls courtesy of the PlayStation Move controllers, Dreams looks to be a game unlike any other that has come before it.
Psygnosis first achieved success with Shadow of the Beast on the Amiga. The game featured parallax scrolling and made full use of the consoles processing power. A few years later the studio shifted its attention to PlayStation, releasing the action-racing classic Wipeout. The studio carved out a name for themselves in the mid nineties and were responsible for 40% of game sales in Europe for 1995-96.
Mythos Games are responsible for creating the cult classic X-COM. The series is known for having one of the most passionate fanbases of any title and is widely regarded as one of the best PC games of all time. Mixing turn-based combat with real-time strategy, the game has inspired countless others that followed, most notably the Fallout series. The team have always had a knack for nailing this type of gameplay, with 1988’s Laser Squad being one of the earliest examples of the turn-based strategy genre.
Some say that simulation games have never gotten better ever since Theme Park was released by Bullfrog Productions in 1994. With an amazing attention to detail and chock full of deep, interconnected systems, Theme Park begged the player to sink hour after hour into its world. Bullfrog studios was founded by the now infamous Peter Molyneux and with the release of Populous, created a whole new genre, the “God game”.
So there we have it, a list of the most important game developers to come out of the UK. I’m sure there are plenty of omissions to the list so let me know what studios you consider to be the UK’s finest in the comments below.