Rockstar San Diego
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Rockstar San Diego

Rockstar San Diego, Inc.
Formerly
Angel Studios, Inc. (1984-2002)
Subsidiary
IndustryVideo games
Founded1984; 35 years ago (1984)
FounderDiego Angel
Headquarters,
US
Key people
Steve Martin (studio director)
Number of employees
128 (2011)
ParentRockstar Games (2002-present)
DivisionsRAGE Technology Group

Rockstar San Diego, Inc. (formerly Angel Studios, Inc.) is an American video game developer and a studio of Rockstar Games based in Carlsbad, California. Founded by Colombian artist and businessman Diego Angel in 1984, the company initially focused on animations and visual effects for multimedia productions, including films and music videos. Following Angel's business strategy of avoiding high-risk business sectors, the company began working in the video game industry during the 1990s. Its first video game projects were Ed Annunziata's Ecco: The Tides of Time (1994) and Mr. Bones (1996), for which Angel Studios created cutscenes.

The company developed its own games in association 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. Impressed with the studio's work on Midtown Madness, Rockstar Games approached Angel Studios with a long-term partnership in 1999, which resulted in the creation of video game series Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run.

In November 2002, Angel Studios was acquired by Take-Two Interactive (Rockstar Games' parent company) and became part of Rockstar Games as Rockstar San Diego. Since 2004, Rockstar San Diego has housed an internal game engine team that develops the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE), Rockstar Games' proprietary engine used in most titles developed by its studios for personal computers and consoles. The studio led development of the 2010 game Red Dead Redemption and its expansion pack Undead Nightmare, and collaborated with other Rockstar studios on Max Payne 3 (2012), Grand Theft Auto V (2013), and Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018).

History

Beginnings, partnerships, and Resident Evil 2 port (1984-2000)

Colombian artist and businessman Diego Angel founded Angel Studios in 1984 in Carlsbad, California, as a work-for-hire studio that created 3D graphics.[2][3] Founding partners included Brad Hunt, Michael Limber, and Angel's brother-in-law, of whom Limber became the company's chief creative officer.[4][5] Angel employed a philosophy he called the "three P's" (passion, patience, and perseverance), which meant that he would not accept any offer simply because it came his way; instead, he opted for projects that showcased his team and their technology.[3] According to Angel Studios employees, Angel treated them like family, paying them well, giving them plenty of vacation time, and sharing a bottle of Patrón tequila with them at the "Sippy Wippy" he occasionally held on Friday afternoons.[3][6] Much of the 3D work produced by Angel Studios were films and music videos.[3][7] It was most successful with the computer-generated imagery and visual effects in the film The Lawnmower Man and the music video for Peter Gabriel's "Kiss That Frog", both released in 1992.[3][8][9] The video for "Kiss That Frog" received the Best Special Effects in a Video award at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards.[3][10] For The Lawnmower Man, Angel Studios produced two major scenes; one has been considered the first virtual sex scene.[11][12] Angel Studios' team for The Lawnmower Man--consisting of leader Hunt, Limber, and Jill Knighton Hunt--developed Scenix, a set of software providing a "visual programming language".[13] The team also developed an algorithm with which they could visually transform a jet fighter into a dolphin with just a few tweaks.[14] In August 1993, the agency Spear/Hall & Associates acquired the marketing service rights for Angel Studios.[15]

During the early 1990s, Angel Studios cooperated with technology company Silicon Graphics to create demos for the latter's high-end computers in exchange for units of the computers.[3] One of Silicon Graphics' clients was Genyo Takeda of Nintendo, who was impressed with Angel Studios' work.[3] Takeda requested an appointment with Angel Studios for the following day, and signed the company as a launch partner for the upcoming Nintendo Ultra 64 console (which later became the Nintendo 64) three days later.[3] Angel Studios then shifted its focus to the video game industry, and was announced as joining Nintendo's "Dream Team" (a group of third-party companies that would develop video games for the Nintendo Ultra 64) in February 1995.[3][10] According to Angel, he decided to stop seeking projects in fields in which the company had already succeeded if the field involved a "high-risk, capital-intensive business", even if it offered rich potential; this led him to approach the video game business.[2] Limber cited Angel's business model as the biggest factor in the company's survival of the dot-com bubble, which severely impacted the San Diego-area multimedia industry.[2] 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.[4] Annunziata was pleased with the result and invited Angel Studios to work on cutscenes for his next game, Mr. Bones, for the Sega Saturn.[4]Mr. Bones was released in 1996, with Angel Studios contributing the cutscenes and additional artwork.[3][7]

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, founder of Angel Studios[3]

As part of the Dream Team, the company developed two sports games featuring American baseball player Ken Griffey Jr.: Major League Baseball and Slugfest, released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998 and 1999, respectively.[2][16] Although both games were praised by critics, Angel decided against making further sports titles since Angel Studios was "not a sports company".[2] Still in conjunction with Nintendo, Angel Studios worked with video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto on a vehicular combat game for the Nintendo 64 entitled Buggie Boogie.[17] Miyamoto issued three-month contracts to the company, not retaining any documents and returning every three months to check on the game's progress.[18] The game would have seen vehicles eat each other, absorbing their DNA to obtain their powers.[17] After six to nine months, the title was canceled, with Nintendo opting to proceed with a prototype of Diddy Kong Racing instead.[18][19] Angel Studios was left with a "well-polished" tech demo, which it used to pitch its development services to other publishers.[19] Although Miyamoto later asked the team to create a fantasy golf game, that title was also unreleased.[18][20] Angel attributed much of his company's success in its early video game days to his good relationships with Asian publishers.[3]

In late 1997, Angel Studios was contracted to develop a port of Capcom's Resident Evil 2 from the PlayStation to the Nintendo 64 that was done in two years by nine full-time developers.[21] According to Angel, this was the first collaboration between Capcom and a non-Japanese video game company.[3] The development consumed a total budget of US$1 million.[21][22] Released in November 1999, the port was considered a success for the company; it fit a game taking up two compact discs (CDs) for the PlayStation version onto one Nintendo 64 ROM cartridge, which offered less than 10 percent of the two CDs' combined disk space.[21][23] In a 2018 retrospective on Resident Evil 2 and its ports, Eurogamer John Linneman called the conversion "one of the most ambitious console ports of all time".[23] In 1999, editors of IGN said that the port marked the studio as fit to develop Nintendo's recently announced Project Dolphin console (which later became the GameCube).[24]

The June 1998 opening of the first DisneyQuest interactive theme park in Orlando, Florida, debuted Virtual Jungle Cruise, an adventure ride Angel Studios had contributed to.[25] Interactive Light also published Savage Quest, a beat 'em up-style arcade game developed by Angel Studios, in 1999.[26] Around this time, Angel proposed development of a racing video game title despite market saturation.[2] He decided that his employees should work on their own and find their own ways to produce a full-fledged video game, said to have been a major factor for the product's quality; some developed a sense of ownership of their respective parts.[27] The game became Midtown Madness, the May 1999 installment of Microsoft's Madness line of racing titles.[28] Fred Marcus, a designer and programmer on Midtown Madness, stated that the studio's impressive physics demos were key to Angel Studios' publisher contracts.[29] The game was a success, with Tal Blevins of IGN calling it "[t]he most addictive racing game [he had] ever played."[30] It spawned a three-title series, the second entry of which (Midtown Madness 2) was developed by Angel Studios and released in 2000.[31] Both titles' most-acclaimed elements were the detailed open-world environment, outstanding visual presentation and well-programmed artificial intelligence.[32][33] Angel Studios continued working with Microsoft on a game involving a virtual girlfriend.[5][34] Known as XGirl, the game was planned as a launch title for Microsoft's Xbox console but was canceled.[5][34] A game based on La Femme Nikita was also pitched but never realized.[34]Sky Pirates VR, a pirate-themed attraction based on Steven Spielberg's "vertical reality" system, was exhibited in GameWorks theme parks, starting with their Detroit location in 2000 and later expanding to other locations that used this system, including that in Schaumburg, Illinois.[35][36]

Rockstar Games deals and acquisition (2000-2006)

A halo and the words "Angel" and "Studios", the latter in upper-case letters, aligned vertically and enclosed within a black oval that has a blue background and a horizontally barred overlay
Angel Studios' logo from 2000 to 2002, designed by Michael Limber[37]

American video game publisher Rockstar Games became interested in the studio after the release of Midtown Madness, wanting to use their combined expertise to develop what became the Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run series.[38] Angel Studios worked on a sequel to Bungie West's 2001 game, Oni, which was owned by Rockstar Games parent company, Take-Two Interactive.[39] Titled Oni 2: Death & Taxes, the game's production was later halted.[40] In a November 2000 interview, Rockstar Games' Sam Houser said: "I love Angel Studios ... I am not going to stop working with them."[41]Daily Radar ranked Angel Studios fourth on a 2001 list of the five best developers for Sony platforms, citing the strength of Midnight Club: Street Racing and Smuggler's Run on the PlayStation 2.[42]

Around 2002, Angel discussed selling his company with Microsoft, Activision and Rockstar Games.[3] He had befriended Houser and his brother Dan, two of the founders of Rockstar Games, over a shared love of tequila.[3] Rockstar Games initially presented what Angel considered a low-ball offer, to which he did not respond.[3] The company then presented an offer that Angel said he could not refuse, and he felt that Rockstar Games was willing to give the studio the freedom he wanted it to have.[3] On the other hand, Rockstar Games sought to acquire Angel Studios' Angel Game Engine as a proprietary engine replacing Criterion Games' RenderWare, which it had used for games in the Grand Theft Auto series.[3] Take-Two Interactive announced the acquisition of Angel Studios on November 20, 2002; it paid $28 million in cash and 235,679 shares of restricted common stock, making for a combined value of $34.7 million.[43][44] As part of the deal, Angel Studios and its 125 employees became part of Rockstar Games as Rockstar San Diego.[3][45]

After the acquisition, Rockstar Games executives reviewed projects in development at the studio to determine what was worth keeping.[38] According to Dan Houser, "this cowboy game that looked very good" (Red Dead Revolver) caught the review team's eye despite being unplayable at the time.[38] The project originally stemmed from Angel Studios and Capcom's partnership on the Resident Evil 2 port; Capcom's Yoshiki Okamoto then approached Angel Studios with the idea for an original intellectual property entitled S.W.A.T..[3] It later adopted a Western theme at Okamoto's recommendation, redefining the acronym as "Spaghetti Western Action Team".[3] Angel Studios began work on the game with Capcom's oversight and funding in 2000, and the latter announced the game in March 2002.[46][47] Its development was troubled, partially due to cultural differences between the two companies, and the game remained unplayable.[3]Red Dead Revolver missed the 2002 European Computer Trade Show and 2003 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).[48][49] Okamoto then left Capcom,[3] which stopped funding the game in July 2003 and announced in August of that year that the game was canceled.[50][51] Rockstar Games acquired the rights to Red Dead Revolver in December, and resumed its development.[52][53] The game's "crunch time" increased for as rapid a release as possible, and it was released in May 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.[3]

Rockstar San Diego began developing Agent, an open-world stealth game for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, in 2003.[6][54] The development team leadership was mostly as the same as that of Rockstar San Diego's 2001 game Transworld Surf, headed up by producer Luis Gigliotti.[6] In favor of developing Agent, the team ceased work on an untitled Justice League game that was still being conceptualized.[6] Unlike prior Angel Studios games, Agent began a prototype stage with a full-size team.[6] This team was given little time to complete this prototype, leading to much "crunch" at the studio.[6] Rockstar Games also removed studio-wide vacations after successfully reaching milestones or launching a game, a change many employees felt was abrupt.[6] Some Rockstar San Diego artists traveled to Cairo and Washington, D.C., two locations Agent was to be set in.[6] The four artists that traveled to Cairo took "over 10,000" of such photographs.[55] In both cases, artists were detained by the local police forces; it was resolved quickly in D.C. but took significantly longer for those situated in Cairo.[6] However, both teams could eventually return with the photographs they had taken and development was able to continue.[6] At the same time, Rockstar Games and the Houser brothers kept requesting changes so frequently that the studio was not able to keep up, leading to overwork and more crunch.[6] Around this time, three people connected to the studio (one active employee and two former employees) died.[6] This combined also made for a toxic studio culture.[6] After a year of work, Gigliotti left the studio and formed the studio Concrete Games in conjunction with publisher THQ, followed by eleven of Agent leads also leaving Rockstar San Diego to join Gigliotti's new studio on the next day.[6] To compensate for these departures, Red Dead Revolver developers were put in charge for Agent after Red Dead Revolver was released.[6] Under the new leadership, the studio spent another year upgrading its internal game engine for use within Agent.[6] Shortly thereafter, the game was put on hold indefinitely.[56]

After Criterion Games was acquired by Electronic Arts in 2004, Rockstar San Diego established RAGE Technology Group: an in-studio team to develop the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE), its proprietary game engine.[57] The engine was introduced in Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, also developed by Rockstar San Diego and released for Xbox 360 and Wii in 2006.[58] RAGE remains under development and is used in most of Rockstar Games' personal computer and console titles, including Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV, Max Payne 3, Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2.[59][60] Diego Angel left Rockstar San Diego in 2005 to return to his hometown in Colombia.[3] Alan Wasserman, who had joined Rockstar San Diego in 2003, replaced Angel and became the studio's general manager.[61] By January 2006, the studio began searching for new talent to produce next-generation games.[62]

Controversy, Red Dead Redemption, and layoffs (2006-2011)

Terri-Kim Chuckry and Garrett Flynn, former Rockstar San Diego 3D artists, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and over one hundred other ex-employees against the company on August 26, 2006, claiming unpaid overtime compensation.[63] The case, Garrett Flynn, et al. v. Angel Studios, Inc./Rockstar Games et al., was settled out of court in April 2009 with Rockstar Games awarding the group $2.75 million.[63] The wives of several Rockstar San Diego employees posted an open letter to their Gamasutra-hosted blog on January 7, 2010 (signing it "Rockstar Spouse"), alleging that executives had imposed poor working conditions on company developers since March 2009.[64][65] The letter was followed by a number of former Rockstar San Diego employees describing, anonymously and publicly, similar experiences.[66][67] Although a former staffer at Rockstar Games confirmed the blog-post claims, Rockstar Games denied all charges[68][69] and said that it was "saddened" that former employees found their time at the company unpleasant.[70][71] According to the International Game Developers Association, such working conditions were "deceptive, exploitative, and ultimately harmful".[72]

On January 11, 2010, it was reported that company management had gradually laid off employees working on the Midnight Club series and outsourced development; other key employees quit rather than work on Red Dead Redemption.[73][74] During the latter's development, mismanagement led to a number of delays and increased development cost.[75]Red Dead Redemption was a commercial and critical success, however, selling 13 million copies by July 2013; Take-Two Interactive chief executive officer Strauss Zelnick then listed it as one of the company's strategic "permanent franchises".[76][77] Some critics called Red Dead Redemption the best work created by Rockstar San Diego, and among Rockstar Games' best.[78]Business Insider reported in 2017 that Red Dead Redemption was the 37th-best game ever made, according to critical reception scores.[79] After the game's May 2010 release (when it had already sold five million copies), about 40 of Rockstar San Diego's 180 staff members were laid off.[80][81] By July 2010, Wasserman had been succeeded by studio manager Steve Martin and in February 2011, the company had 128 employees.[78][82]

Later activity (2011-present)

Rockstar San Diego became one of the eight Rockstar Games studios in 2011 that worked on Red Dead Redemption 2, released in October 2018.[83][84] It played a supporting development role after the layoffs in Team Bondi's 2011 L.A. Noire with Rockstar North and Rockstar Leeds, and was part of Rockstar Studios (a collaborative effort spanning all studios owned by Rockstar Games) for 2012's Max Payne 3.[85][86] By February of that year, Rockstar San Diego began hiring again for an unannounced open-world game.[87][88] The studio sought employees with "the skill to get the most from next-gen consoles" to create a game with "open-world game elements", "state-of-the-art visuals" and "dynamic multiplayer".[89][90] Many journalists thought that it would be a sequel to Red Dead Redemption or a new intellectual property.[91][92] Rockstar San Diego also collaborated with Rockstar North on Grand Theft Auto V, which was released in September 2013.[93][94] In August 2014, Rockstar Games renewed its lease on Rockstar San Diego's 52,726 square feet (4,898.4 m2) of office space in the Faraday Corporate Center at 2200 Faraday Avenue in Carlsbad.[95] The eight-year lease from Regent Properties Studio 2200 (an entity of Regent Properties) was valued at $12.6 million.[95]

Games developed

As Angel Studios

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

As Rockstar San Diego

Year Title Platform(s) Publisher(s) Notes
2003 Midnight Club II Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox Rockstar Games N/A
SpyHunter 2 PlayStation 2, Xbox Midway Games
2004 Red Dead Revolver Rockstar Games
2005 Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Xbox
2006 Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix PlayStation 2, Xbox
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis Wii, Xbox 360
2008 Midnight Club: Los Angeles PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
2010 Red Dead Redemption Also developed downloadable content Undead Nightmare (2010)
2011 L.A. Noire Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One Supportive development for Team Bondi
2012 Max Payne 3 macOS, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Developed as part of Rockstar Studios
2013 Grand Theft Auto V Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One Supportive development for Rockstar North
2018 Red Dead Redemption 2 Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Stadia, Xbox One Developed as part of Rockstar Studios

Canceled

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