I decided to list only the top ten so that I wouldn’t go nuts and list 40 something plus developers, but I am confident that the 10 I’ve chosen won’t result in a flood of hate mail. So without further ado I present my Top 10 Best PC Developers of All Time!
10. Old Lucas Arts
I put Old Lucas Arts, because the Lucas Arts of the last couple of years is nothing but a shadow of their former self. Where now all we can expect from Lucas Arts is average Star Wars games, there once was a time when Lucas Arts was held with an almost divine respect. They were responsible for the greatest Adventure games of all time, The Monkey Island Series, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and the legendary Grim Fandango. These are games that were built with such love and care, that when you played them no matter what age you were, you felt like a kid again, it was like being a part of your favourite Disney film. That’s not even mentioning some of their amazing Star Wars games, like the X-Wing and Tie Fighter series, which almost always rank as some of the best games ever made. I guess that’s the sad part of all this, Lucas Arts can say they have some of the best games ever made, but they haven’t made anything as good in so many years.
9. Westwood / Lionhead
I know, I know, we’re only at number 9, and I am already copping out and putting two names down! But worry not readers, this is the only time this will happen on this list. The reason that I chose both of them, instead of just one, is that both studio’s brought us amazing games, but not enough to land themselves on a top ten list alone. Westwood is famous for two reasons, the first is that they pretty much created the RTS genre as we know it today with their classic title Dune 2, it was with this title that they forged the “gather resources, and build a base” model that is now standard is almost every RTS game today. Their other claim to fame, and the one we all hold dearly is the Command and Conquer series. It sits with the greats of the RTS genre, but stands apart as a result of its campy cut scenes, over the top actions (perfected in the Red Alert Series), and wonderful storylines. Lionhead’s main man is good old Peter Molyneux, who spear headed both Bullfrog Productions and Lionhead studios, the two brain stations can claim glory with their original and imaginative series like Dungeon Keeper, Populous, and Black and White. And while the studio may now be more focused on the console side of the business, it will always be remembered by the PC community as the studio who brought us those overly addictive god games.
8. Black Isle/Interscope
I know what you’re thinking, didn’t I just say no more cop-outs? Well let me just inform those of you who aren’t aware that Black Isle and Interscope are almost one and the same, and so I wasn’t lying when I said no more ties! When it comes to this blast from the past I could easily put down one word and end their slice there and I would be able to sleep easy tonight knowing I gave you guys enough to warrant them to be number 8 on this list. But that would be doing these guys a disserves, and as such I will tell you all the golden eggs this Goose has laid. Ok well let’s just get the big one out of the way, it’s a little game you might of heard of, it changed RPG’s forever, had an amazing setting, yada, yada, yada, it’s called Fallout, the post apocalyptic black humour, open world RPG that landed in the laps of PC gamers in 1997 and blew away our concept of what was possible. Fallout was the first truly open world game that allowed one to chose how they wanted to play, allowing for people to customize their character in a million different ways, while also giving them choice, choice that would actually changed the world. This gem was followed a year later by Fallout 2 which is considered superior to its younger brother, and made people realize that when it came to RPG’s, Black Isle was one of the best. I could stop there but then I would be ignoring the fact that they developed the amazing IceWind Dale, the legendary Planescape, and even helped produced a little title called Baldur’s Gate. Though this studio ended on a sad note of shutting down in 2003, most of the team found a new home at Obsidian Entertainment, which of course created Knight Of The Old Republic 2, and Never-WinterNights 2.
No I am not asking for your driver’s Licence, I am talking about ID Software, you know the guys who have made a few titles here and there you may have heard like I don’t know, DOOM, Quake, Wolfenstien, oh and this writers favourite platformer from his childhood, Command KEEN! On top of pretty much creating the FPS genre with Doom, and Wolfenstien, and then creating one of the greatest multiplayer shooters in history (Quake 3) they also found time to create some of the industry’s leading technology, ID Tec, which was pretty much the standard for a lot of games last generation. What else do I really need to say, they are one of the founding fathers of our industry, they hold the man who is considered the greatest game programmer in the world, John Carmack, they just launched what is looking to be the next generation of computer games with Quake live, which is pretty much the game we know and love played completely from a web browser, and oh ya, THEY CREATED COMMANDER KEEN!
The second major RPG maker on our list that starts with a B, but will it be our last? Bethesda is best known for their work on the Elder Scroll series which has become the marquee IP for vast open world RPG’s where you will sink a few hundred hours in and then realize that you’re not done. But these guys don’t just on their one prize, they carry the torch of studio’s gone, by buying up the rights to the Fallout series, they released their Fallout title last fall to much love both from the critics and our wallets, and while the zealous Fallout fans still look at it with steaming hatred it’s hard to play through their game and not find the love and care that was put into this title. They also do everything in house, developments, publishing, the whole nine is done by the house that Elder Scrolls built and for that they should be commended, keeping such complete independence in this day and age is a rarity to say the least, and if it means that we keep seeing AAA RPGs coming out every other year, then I say rock on Bethesda, rock on.
While the name may not be that familiar I am sure the man behind it will be. If the name Sid Meier rings any bells in your ears, then I am sure you can tell why these guys have made it to number five on our list. Sid Meier and his team at Firaxis are the creators of such classics as Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Civilization, Alpha Centauri, and his addictive Rail-Road Tycoon. So why does his team rank fifth our list? Well let’s be honest here, when you’ve really perfected and forged the Turn Based genre, and then surpassed it in each game you make, while also perfecting a simulation sub-genre, and making one of the most fun pirate games ever, what can you not say about them. Firaxis has been one of those companies where name alone will give you the promise of both an amazing game, and a level of quality and polish that so few studios are willing to go to, seriously for those of you out there who have played Civilization 4, who didn’t sit at the menu screen and listen to Christopher Tin’s “Baba Yetu” over and over again? Their titles are the type of titles that 20 years from now if you asked someone if they remember Civilization, they will just begin a rant about how they sat down one afternoon, and the next thing they knew it was 4 am, and they had a terrible urge to pee. This is the power and greatness of Firaxis games, you will sit down saying I’ll just play a few turns, and the next thing you know, you’re about to be late for work or school.
Oh Bioware, I myself am Canadian so it’s with a lot of pride that I get to put these guys on the list, they are considered right now the best Western RPG maker, and their list of titles and innovative ideas only reaffirms that statement. Some of you may think that I am wrong for putting Bioware this high on the list considering their dedication to our dirty cousin (console gaming) but they have brought out every major console title to PC with that extra layer of love. Let’s start with their humble beginnings, they made a little series called Baldur’s Gates, easily one of the best RPG series to every grace the PC, and that’s just their start, they then went on to make MKD2, a cult classic which feature a cigar smoking, six armed, gun wielding dog. This was then followed up by a string of critical and commercial hits including, NeverWinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect. All of these games have push storytelling and gameplay in RPG to new heights, bringing the quality of a Hollywood movie into the narrative, while also laying the responsibility of choice on the player’s shoulders. That’s the other reason Bioware finds themselves this high on the list, it’s because they are dedicated to their craft and refuse to wavier of their vision or their quality, they set the bar higher every time they release a game and because of that they find themselves sitting pretty on our list.
The House that Sims built, that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say. Maxis is the creative house behind some of gaming’s most original and most popular titles. These of course are titles like, Sim City, Sim Tower, Sim World, Sim Island, Sim Ant, The Sims, and Spore. If you didn’t see a pattern in there well then you have problems. But the real reason that these guys land at number 3 is because of the trail blazing they do, the studio is steered by Will Wright, one of the greatest game developers of our time, and he’s created so many new genres it’s not even funny. There was no city building genre before Sim City, no social games before The Sims, and his recent work Spore, took ever big idea you could think of and rolled it into one giant ball of fun. Their games do what every publisher wishes for, they can suck in the hardcore and the casual alike, it’s not uncommon to find your mom having longer play sessions of The Sims then you, and the sales show that, The Sims series alone has gathered sales of over 100 million units which sits right up there with Mario. Also a lot of respect has to be given to a company who has never had to compromise their creativity, they continue to think of new mind bending ideas, always pushing gaming forward, and in an industry where Publishers love to wade around in sequel after sequel, Maxis continues to tinker around in their willy-wonka world thinking up the craziest games in those wonderful minds.
You knew these guys were going to show up on this list, and you knew it would be near the top, and because you knew that, you can now smile knowing you were right. Valve is one of the last great Heroes of the PC gaming community, they constantly do everything right, they respect their community, and heck half the time they hire them, and most of all they released AAA title after AAA title, and give the little guys the chance to make a big splash, but more on this later. Let’s start off with the easy stuff, their games. Valve has made or help make a few titles you may have heard of, stuff like Half-Life, which is considered the greatest shooter ever made, Counter-Strike, one of the largest multiplayer games in history, they brought in a small and imaginative group of guys and helped them create Portal, the first purely puzzle focused FPS, then they recreated a gaming classic with the Pixar styled Team Fortress 2. They decided that winning felt good and then bought Turtle Rock studios, and helped them make Left 4 Dead, one of last fall’s few smash hits.
How much of a smash hit? With a niche theme and no real single player, they beat all the odds, and the game has gone on to become one of gaming’s newest super IPs! Ok so we got that stuff out of the way; now let’s move onto their baby, Steam! Steam is quickly becoming the standard where you go to download all PC games, it’s the one stop shop for digital distribution and universal multiplayer support, to say that Steam is a big deal is an understatement, Steam has brought unity to what was once a chaotic mess that was PC gaming, under Steam we are seeing a stronger leaner PC gaming, one that will survive this year and the next 10 to come. Finally let’s talk about Valves community support, there are some companies who listen to their communities, some that take direct feedback, and then there is Valve, who will see the work of 2 guys, who have made a mod for their game, and offer them high level position at the company without batting an eyelash, it’s because of their willingness to harness the creativity of the little guy that Valve continues to evolve into one of the greatest game Studios out there.
Really did you think after Valve came in second that there was really any other choice but Blizzard? I will say this though, I don’t see a difference between Valve and Blizzard, the quality of their games and their impacts on the industry have been pretty much tied. I put Blizzard ahead purely from the fact that I grew up on Blizzard games. Blizzard for those of you who have somehow only ever heard their name in the stock option for Activision, is the studio that created 3 of the largest and greatest series of all time, Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo, all of their games have sold millions up millions of copies, have won hundreds of awards, and even now ten years after the release of Starcraft 1, it is still South Korea’s national sport, and a part of their very society. This isn’t even getting into a little game called World of Warcraft, the MMORPG that came out and changed almost every standard in games, the yellow ! and ? over an NPC head is now like a staple of the genre, and where it was once considered a massive success for an MMO to have a million people subscribing, WoW sports more than 12 million over 4 years after its released.
Then there is Battle-Net, the unsung hero of the Blizzard legacy, it was Xbox-Live, before Live was even a dream at some nerd at Microsoft’s head. A dedicated multiplayer system just for their games that would allow the creation of clans, friends lists, ranks, and matchmaking, and full integration and support for one of the best map making features that you will ever find. And just days ago, the release of Battle Net 2.0 began, and now players around the world can submit their CD-Keys into their account and be able to download all their games from anywhere in the world. This and so much more that really wouldn’t mean much to most of you is why Blizzard is number one, their amazing selection of games, their dedication to perfection, their motto “Easy to learn and hard to master”, and oh yeah for creating the terms ZUG ZUG, and Zergging!