Rockstar San Diego

  (Redirected from Angel Studios)

Rockstar San Diego, Inc. (formerly Angel Studios, Inc.) is an American video game developer and a studio of Rockstar Games based in Carlsbad, California. Colombian entrepreneur Diego Angel founded the company as Angel Studios in January 1984 after studying film in Chicago, where he grew fond of computer animation. The studio began with a focus on animation and visual effects for multimedia productions such as advertisements, films, and music videos. Notable productions include the film The Lawnmower Man and the music video for Peter Gabriel's song "Kiss That Frog".

Rockstar San Diego, Inc.
FormerlyAngel Studios, Inc. (1984–2002)
TypeSubsidiary
IndustryVideo games
FoundedJanuary 1984; 37 years ago (1984-01)
FounderDiego Angel
Headquarters,
US
Products
Number of employees
128 (2011)
ParentRockstar Games (2002–present)
DivisionsRAGE Technology Group

Angel Studios began working in the video game industry during the 1990s, creating cutscenes for Ed Annunziata's Ecco: The Tides of Time (1994) and Mr. Bones (1996). The company developed full games with Nintendo (Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest) and Microsoft (Midtown Madness and Midtown Madness 2), and produced a port of Capcom's Resident Evil 2 for the Nintendo 64. Rockstar Games was impressed with the studio's work on Midtown Madness and offered a long-term partnership in 1999, which resulted in the creation of the video game series Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run. Angel Studios was acquired by Rockstar Games' parent company Take-Two Interactive in November 2002 and became Rockstar San Diego. Angel left the studio in May 2005 and returned to Colombia.

Since 2004, Rockstar San Diego has operated an internal game engine team that develops Rockstar Games' proprietary Rockstar Advanced Game Engine, which is used in most of the publisher's titles. The studio led the development of further Midnight Club games, Red Dead Revolver (2004), Red Dead Redemption (2010), and its expansion pack Undead Nightmare. The studio collaborated with other Rockstar Games studios on Max Payne 3 (2012), Grand Theft Auto V (2013), and Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018).

HistoryEdit

Early years in animation (1984–1993)Edit

 
Diego Angel (pictured in 2020) founded Angel Studios in 1984 and served as its president until 2005.[2][3]

Angel Studios was founded by Diego Angel.[a][5] Wanting to become a film director, he moved from Medellín, Colombia, to Chicago in 1971, when he was in his early 20s.[5] He enrolled at Columbia College Chicago to study film and attended the Art Institute of Chicago.[5][6] During his studies, Angel grew fond of computer animation, describing computers as "the future of art".[5][7] In 1984, Angel moved with his wife and two children from Chicago to San Diego because he had friends and relatives there, and because the Spanish-language street names and proximity to Spanish-speaking Mexico made him feel at home.[5][6] He established Angel Studios as a work-for-hire animation studio in January 1984 in Carlsbad, California.[3][5] Angel obtained a computer and an office but, within a few days, realized he could not run a business and be an art director at the same time. He also lacked the knowledge to operate the computers. Angel consequently hired an art director and a system operator.[5] Angel Studios did not find a paying client for its first six months in operation and garnered only US$5,000 (equivalent to $12,031 in 2020) in revenue in its first year.[6] Angel said he was "suffering" due to a scarcity of work in the company's first two years in business.[5] The company's first project was an educational video for the University of California, San Diego, followed by commercials for Nintendo, Polaroid Corporation, Asiana Airlines, and Cobra Golf, among others.[8][9] Other early projects were productions for NASA and Rohr, Inc., as well as animated logos for Home Box Office and ESPN.[6]

After the first year, the brother-in-law of Angel's wife invested in the company and Angel secured a bank loan.[6] Brad Hunt became the company's chief technology officer and Michael Limber was its chief operating officer (later chief creative officer).[10][11] In the second year, revenues reached $25,000 (equivalent to $59,024 in 2020) and by 1989, Angel Studios had six employees and $500,000 worth of equipment. To ensure key employees would remain with the company, Angel made three of them partners in March 1989.[6] Hunt and Limber were among the founding partners.[12] The company grew to twelve employees by February 1993.[8] Angel used a philosophy he called the "three P's" (passion, patience, and perseverance), which meant he would not accept every offer that came his way, choosing instead to accept projects that showcased his team and its technology. Studio employees said that Angel treated them like family: he paid them well, gave them plenty of vacation time, and occasionally shared a bottle of Patrón-brand tequila on Friday afternoons, an event he called "Sippy Wippy".[3][13]

Much of the 3D work produced by Angel Studios was for films and music videos.[3][14] The studio's biggest successes came in 1992 with the computer-generated imagery and visual effects in the film The Lawnmower Man and the music video for Peter Gabriel's song "Kiss That Frog".[3][15] The latter received the Best Special Effects in a Video award at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards.[3][16] One of the two major scenes Angel Studios produced for The Lawnmower Man is considered the first virtual sex scene.[17][18] For this project, the company's team consisting of Hunt, Limber, and Jill Knighton Hunt developed Scenix, a software set that provided a "visual programming language".[19][20] By March 1992, Angel Studios was working on a virtual reality game adaptation of its scenes from the movie.[21] For The Enertopia Symphony, a 13-minute short film that was shown at the Electric Energy Pavilion at Expo '93, the studio produced a six-and-a-half-minute stereoscopic animation from live-action 3D photography directed by Peter Anderson.[22] It contracted the agency Spear/Hall & Associates to handle its marketing in August 1993.[23]

Entry into video games (1993–2000)Edit

During the early 1990s, Angel Studios collaborated on tech demos for Silicon Graphics's high-end computers and received some of these computers in return. One of Silicon Graphics' clients was Genyo Takeda of Nintendo, who was impressed with Angel Studios' work. He met with the company and signed an agreement that made Angel Studios a partner for Nintendo's upcoming Nintendo 64 console.[3] The studio shifted its focus to video game development and Nintendo announced it as one of the studios on its "Dream Team" of third-party developers for the Nintendo 64 in February 1995.[3][16] Around this time, Angel consciously steered the studio away from "high-risk, capital-intensive" projects, even if they offered rich potential.[2] Limber cited Angel's business decisions as the biggest factor in the company's survival of the dot-com bubble, which severely impacted the San Diego-area multimedia industry.[2] In retrospect, Angel said he never had a business plan or mission statement and made decisions by gut feeling.[5] Around this time, Angel Studios accepted game designer Ed Annunziata's pitch to create cutscenes for the Sega CD version of Ecco: The Tides of Time. Pleased with the result, Annunziata invited the studio to work on cutscenes for his next game, Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn.[12] Mr. Bones was released in 1996 with cutscenes and additional artwork by Angel Studios.[3][14]

I was the only company in video games, the only [American] studio in those days, that was working and getting along with the Japanese. Americans are kind of closed [off] ... When you're outside the United States, you're open to other cultures than the Americans ... I used to go every month to Japan and just bring six bottles of tequila. They loved it.

Diego Angel on good relations between the studio and Japanese publishers[3]

As part of Nintendo's "Dream Team", the company developed two sports games featuring the American baseball player Ken Griffey Jr.Major League Baseball and Slugfest—which were released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998 and 1999, respectively.[2][24] Although critics praised both games, Angel decided against making further sports titles because Angel Studios was "not a sports company".[2] Angel Studios continued its work for the Nintendo 64, collaborating with designer Shigeru Miyamoto on a vehicular combat game titled Buggie Boogie.[25] Miyamoto issued three-month contracts to the company, not retaining any documents and returning every three months to check on the game's progress.[26] Angel Studios spent 45 days creating a "design bible" for its first meeting with Miyamoto, who rejected it and asked the studio to "find the fun" over the next three months.[5] The game would have seen vehicles consume each other, absorbing their DNA to obtain their powers.[25] After six to nine months, the title was canceled as Nintendo prioritized a prototype of Diddy Kong Racing.[26][27] Angel Studios was left with a "well-polished" tech demo, which it used to pitch its development services to other publishers.[27] Upon Miyamoto's request, the team began working fantasy golf game.[26]

In late 1997, Angel Studios was contracted to develop a port of Capcom's PlayStation game Resident Evil 2 for the Nintendo 64.[28] According to Angel, this was the first collaboration between Capcom and a non-Japanese video game company.[3] The development had a budget of $1 million and the work was done in two years by nine full-time developers.[28][29] The port was released in November 1999 and was considered a success: The studio condensed the game's data to less than 10% of its original size, fitting the original version's two compact discs onto a single Nintendo 64 cartridge.[28][30] In a 2018 retrospective on Resident Evil 2 and its ports, Eurogamer's John Linneman called the conversion "one of the most ambitious console ports of all time".[30] Matt Casamassina of IGN opined the port marked the studio as fit to develop for Nintendo's recently announced Project Dolphin console, which became the GameCube.[31] Angel attributed much of his company's early video game success to his good relationships with Asian publishers.[3]

Another Angel Studios project was Ground Effect, a hovercraft racing game that was due to be published in February 1998 by Inscape, which was acquired by Graphix Zone in February 1997.[32][33] The studio's film Oceania was exhibited at the Virtual Reality Pavilion of Expo '98.[34] The studio contributed to an adventure ride called Virtual Jungle Cruise, which debuted at the June 1998 opening of the first DisneyQuest interactive theme park in Orlando, Florida.[35] Interactive Light published Angel Studios' beat 'em up-style arcade video game Savage Quest in 1999.[36] Around this time, Angel proposed the development of a racing video game despite market saturation.[2] He encouraged his employees to work independently and take ownership over the game's different parts. This policy was considered a major factor in the game's quality.[37] The game was released as Midtown Madness in May 1999 as part of Microsoft's Madness racing game franchise.[38] Fred Marcus, a designer and programmer on Midtown Madness, stated the studio's impressive physics demos were key to its publishing contracts.[39] The game spawned a three-title series, of which Midtown Madness 2 was developed by Angel Studios and released in 2000.[40] The studio continued working with Microsoft on a game involving a virtual girlfriend, planned as an Xbox launch title called XGirl.[11] Sky Pirates VR, a pirate-themed attraction based on Steven Spielberg's "vertical reality" system, was exhibited in GameWorks theme parks. The attraction debuted in Detroit in 2000 and expanded to Schaumburg, Illinois, by December that year.[41][42]

Rockstar Games deals and acquisition (2000–2003)Edit

 
Angel Studios' logo from 2000 to 2002, designed by Michael Limber[43]

Rockstar Games, an American video game publisher, became interested in working with Angel Studios after the release of Midtown Madness, and wanted to use their combined expertise to develop what became the Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run series.[44] As part of their relationship, Angel Studios worked on Oni 2: Death & Taxes, a canceled sequel to the 2001 game Oni, itself owned by Rockstar Games' parent company, Take-Two Interactive.[45][46] In a November 2000 interview, Rockstar Games' Sam Houser said: "I love Angel Studios ... I am not going to stop working with them."[47] Daily Radar ranked Angel Studios fourth on its 2001 list of the five best developers for Sony platforms, citing the strength of Midnight Club: Street Racing and the first Smuggler's Run game on the PlayStation 2.[48]

Around 2002, Angel discussed selling his company with Microsoft, Activision, and Rockstar Games. He had befriended Sam Houser and his brother Dan, two of Rockstar Games' founders, over a shared love of tequila. The company sought to acquire Angel Studios' Angel Game Engine as a proprietary game engine to replace Criterion Games' RenderWare, which it had used for the Grand Theft Auto series. Rockstar Games initially presented what Angel considered a low-ball. When he did not respond, Rockstar Games presented an offer Angel said he could not refuse and convinced him that the studio would have the creative freedom he wanted.[3] Take-Two announced it had acquired Angel Studios on November 20, 2002.[49][50] It paid $28.512 million in cash, 235,679 shares of restricted common stock (valued at $6.557 million), and $5.931 million in prepaid royalties; a total price of $41 million.[51] Angel Studios and its 125 employees became part of Rockstar Games as Rockstar San Diego.[3][52] The headcount increased to 230 by 2003.[53] As part of a cultural shift that some employees felt was abrupt, Rockstar Games scrapped the studio's policy of vacation for all employees after each game's launch.[13]

Post-acquisition projects (2003–2006)Edit

After the acquisition, Rockstar Games executives reviewed the studio's development projects to determine what was worth keeping. Dan Houser noted Red Dead Revolver, which he described as "this cowboy game that looked very good", caught the review team's attention despite being unplayable.[44] The project stemmed from Angel Studios' and Capcom's partnership on the Resident Evil 2 port: Capcom's Yoshiki Okamoto had approached the studio with the idea for an original intellectual property titled S.W.A.T., a third-person shooter involving a seven-piece SWAT team. This later adopted a Western theme at Okamoto's recommendation.[3] Angel Studios began work on the game in 2000 with Capcom's supervision and funding.[54][55] The development was troubled, partly due to cultural differences between the two companies, and the game remained unplayable.[3] After Okamoto left Capcom, the company stopped funding the game in July 2003 and formally canceled it in August.[3][56][57] Rockstar Games acquired Red Dead Revolver from Capcom and resumed its development by December that year.[58][59] The "crunch" at Rockstar San Diego increased for a rapid release of the game, which came in May 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.[3]

In 2003, Rockstar San Diego began developing Agent, an open-world stealth game for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, under the leadership of producer Luis Gigliotti.[13][60] The concept for an untitled Justice League game was scrapped in favor of Agent. Unlike previous Angel Studios games, the prototype stage for Agent began with a full-size team, which was given little time to complete the prototype, leading to a crunch at the studio. Artists from the company traveled to Cairo and Washington, D.C., two of the settings for Agent, to capture reference photographs.[13] The four artists who traveled to Cairo took more than 10,000 pictures.[61] When police detained artists for their photography in both locations, the situation in D.C. was quickly resolved while the one in Cairo took significantly more time. The development continued once both teams had returned. At the same time, Rockstar Games and the Houser brothers kept requesting changes so frequently the studio could not keep up, causing further crunch. Three people connected to the studio—one active employee and two former employees—died during this time, adding to a toxic studio culture. After a year of work, Gigliotti left the studio and formed Concrete Games for the publisher THQ. Eleven of Agent's lead developers followed Gigliotti the next day and several Red Dead Revolver lead developers were put in charge of Agent to compensate for these departures. Under the new leadership, the developers spent another year upgrading the internal game engine for Agent.[13] Shortly thereafter, the game was put on hold indefinitely.[13][62] The sister studio Rockstar North would eventually develop a game of the same name and announce it in 2009.[13]

After Electronic Arts acquired Criterion Games in 2004, Rockstar San Diego established the RAGE Technology Group team to develop the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) from the Angel Game Engine.[13][63] The engine was introduced with Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, which was developed by the studio and released for the Xbox 360 and Wii in 2006.[64] RAGE would go on to be used in most of Rockstar Games' titles for personal computers and consoles, including Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV, Max Payne 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and Red Dead Redemption 2.[65][66] Founder and president Angel had been working from Rockstar San Diego's offices, Rockstar Games' New York City headquarters, and Colombia since the acquisition and eventually decided not to renew his contract with Rockstar Games. The Houser brothers tried to persuade him to stay, but Angel felt homesick and left the company in May 2005 to return to Colombia.[3][5] In Medellín, he tried to create game development opportunities, such as a master's degree in video game programming at EAFIT University.[4][5] They ultimately faltered due to a lack of government support and talent in the area.[5] Alan Wasserman, who had joined Rockstar San Diego in 2003, became the studio's general manager.[67] The studio opened two paid internship positions for Entertainment Technology Center students in December 2005 and soon began recruiting employees to produce next-generation games.[68][69]

Red Dead Redemption and labor issues (2006–2011)Edit

In August 2006, two former Rockstar San Diego 3D artists—Terri-Kim Chuckry and Garrett Flynn—filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of over one hundred ex-employees, claiming unpaid overtime compensation.[70] The case, Garrett Flynn, et al. v. Angel Studios, Inc./Rockstar Games et al., was prepared with assistance from Thomas Urmy Jr. of the law firm Shapiro Haber & Urmy LLP, and it was settled out of court in April 2009 with Rockstar Games awarding the former employees $2.75 million.[70][71] Even after the settlement, the wives of several Rockstar San Diego employees, under the pseudonym "Rockstar Spouse", published an open letter in January 2010, alleging executives had imposed poor working conditions on studio developers since March 2009.[72][73] This was followed by several former employees anonymously and publicly describing similar experiences.[74][75] While a former staffer at Rockstar Games confirmed the post's claims,[76] Rockstar Games denied all claims and said it was "saddened if any former members of any studio did not find their time here enjoyable or creatively fulfilling".[77][78] The International Game Developers Association described the alleged working conditions as "deceptive, exploitative, and ultimately harmful".[79]

In January 2010, it was reported that the company management had gradually laid off employees working on the Midnight Club series and outsourced its development. Other key employees quit rather than work on Red Dead Redemption.[80][81] During the development of Red Dead Redemption, mismanagement led to delays and increased development costs.[82] After the game's May 2010 release, about 40 of Rockstar San Diego's 180 staff members were laid off.[83][84] Red Dead Redemption was a commercial and critical success, selling 13 million copies within two years. Speaking to investors, Take-Two's chief executive officer, Strauss Zelnick, announced that the game would become one of the company's strategic permanent franchises.[85][86] The game won several year-end accolades, including multiple Game of the Year awards.[87] Business Insider found that Red Dead Redemption was, as of 2017, the 37th-best game ever made when measured by critical reception scores.[88] Steve Martin, who had been a producer at the studio since 2009, succeeded Wasserman as studio manager later in 2010.[89][90] The headcount shrank to 128 employees by February 2011.[87]

Development collaborations (2011–present)Edit

Beginning in 2011, Rockstar San Diego largely cooperated with other Rockstar Games studios. It played a supporting role (alongside Rockstar North and Rockstar Leeds) in the development of Team Bondi's 2011 game L.A. Noire. For 2012's Max Payne 3, Rockstar San Diego was part of Rockstar Studios, a collaborative effort of all Rockstar Games studios.[91][92] To expand, the studio was hiring further employees by February 2012.[93][94] Rockstar Games then paid $12.6 million in August 2014 to renew its lease on Rockstar San Diego's 52,726 square feet (4,898.4 m2) of office space in the Faraday Corporate Center in Carlsbad for eight years.[95] The studio collaborated with Rockstar North on Grand Theft Auto V, which was released in 2013.[96][97] More recently, the company was one of eight studios that worked on Red Dead Redemption 2, which came out in 2018.[98][99] The development of Red Dead Redemption 2 again faced allegations of labor issues. Some employees reported that they were ordered to work overtime, frequently doing 80-hour weeks.[100] In 2019, Martin left the company to join the Chinese conglomerate Tencent, opening a subsidiary studio called "LightSpeed LA" the following year.[90][101]

Games developedEdit

As Angel StudiosEdit

List of games developed by Rockstar San Diego, 1994–2002
Year Title Platform(s) Publisher(s) Notes Ref(s).
1994 Ecco: The Tides of Time Sega CD Sega Supportive development for Novotrade International [12]
1996 Mr. Bones Sega Saturn Supportive development for Zono [12]
1998 Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. Nintendo 64 Nintendo [24]
Virtual Jungle Cruise N/A Exhibition at DisneyQuest theme parks [35]
1999 Savage Quest Arcade Interactive Light [36]
Midtown Madness Microsoft Windows Microsoft [37]
Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest Nintendo 64 Nintendo [24]
Resident Evil 2 Capcom Ported only; game developed by Capcom [28]
2000 Sky Pirates VR N/A Exhibition at GameWorks theme parks [41]
Midtown Madness 2 Microsoft Windows Microsoft [40]
Midnight Club: Street Racing PlayStation 2 Rockstar Games [48]
Smuggler's Run [48]
2001 Test Drive: Off-Road Wide Open PlayStation 2, Xbox Infogrames [102]
Smuggler's Run 2 PlayStation 2 Rockstar Games [103]
Transworld Surf GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox Infogrames [13]
2002 Smuggler's Run: Warzones GameCube Rockstar Games [103]

As Rockstar San DiegoEdit

List of games developed by Rockstar San Diego, 2002—present
Year Title Platform(s) Publisher(s) Notes Ref(s).
2003 Midnight Club II Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox Rockstar Games [104]
SpyHunter 2 PlayStation 2, Xbox Midway Games [105]
2004 Red Dead Revolver Rockstar Games [58]
2005 Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Xbox [106]
2006 Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix PlayStation 2, Xbox [107]
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis Wii, Xbox 360 [64]
2008 Midnight Club: Los Angeles PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [108]
2010 Red Dead Redemption Also developed the expansion pack Undead Nightmare (2010) [82][109]
2011 L.A. Noire Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One Supportive development for Team Bondi [91]
2012 Max Payne 3 macOS, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Developed as part of Rockstar Studios [92]
2013 Grand Theft Auto V Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S Supportive development for Rockstar North [96]
2018 Red Dead Redemption 2 Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Stadia, Xbox One Developed as part of Rockstar Studios [98]

CanceledEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Also spelled Diego Ángel[4]
  2. ^ Not to be confused with the game of the same name developed by the sister studio Rockstar North and announced in 2009.[13]

ReferencesEdit

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