That’s earned it a reputation as a specialist in the field of mature, cinematic video games. Games where drugs are dealt, prostitutes killed and people say fuck with a straight face.
So it’s easy to see how people forget it’s also the same studio that made Lemmings.
Rockstar North hasn’t always been called Rockstar North. It was once an independent video game developer known as DMA design, which was founded in the Scottish city of Dundee in 1988. After releasing a couple of games for cult hero publisher Psygnosis, in 1990 the team designed a game called Lemmings. It starred stupid little creatures with green hair that you had to save from repeated and grisly doom.
It would go on to sell over 20 million copies.
For the duration of the 1990s, Lemmings’ success (and production line of sequels and spin-offs) allowed DMA the indulgence of experimenting with as many game genres as they could get their hands on. They released a racing game (Uniracers), a Space Hulk-esque tactical shooter (Hired Guns), a side-scrolling shooter (Walker), a platformer (Space Station Silicon Valley), a tank combat game (Wild Metal Country) and a weird 3D action game called Body Harvest.
Oh, and also a little something called Grand Theft Auto, along with every core console game in the series to date.
So why is Rockstar North simply the house that GTA built, and not also the house built by some of the PC’s best titles of the 90s, including one of the first great casual successes in the platform’s history? There are two reasons.
One is simply the name change. After a succession of messy purchases, sales and transfers in the late 1990′s, DMA ended up becoming a part of the newly-formed Rockstar Games, which in turn was owned by Take-Two Interactive, after which DMA’s name was changed to Rockstar North, which it still uses today. So the DMA-to-Rockstar link isn’t explicit if you don’t know the history.
Another is a key change in personnel. For a long time DMA was headed up by David Jones, one of the studio’s founders and the man often given credit for the creation of both Lemmings and the Grand Theft Auto series. Yet just before the transition from DMA to Rockstar North, Jones left the company, and would go on to found Crackdown and APB developers Realtime Worlds (which has since gone bust).
While the people at the top changed as dramatically as the studio’s name during that transition period (Jones replaced at the top by Sam & Dan Houser, who continue to head up not just Rockstar North but Rockstar Games as a whole), it’s still the same studio. Many developers carried over during the shift, bridging the gap and ensuring the “DNA” of DMA remained intact.
It wasn’t a case of, as you see so often these days, a studio literally closing down and some of its former members relocating elsewhere. This was the same studio simply given a new name.
So next time you see somebody saying they hate Rockstar, that all they make is cinematic fluff, that all they do is bait tabloid newspapers with risquee content, remember: they also made Lemmings! Sort of.