The man in charge of the regional Rockstar studio long credited with handling the bulk of development for the Grand Theft Auto games is no longer at the company, Rockstar confirmed to Kotaku today. The company said Rockstar North studio head Leslie Benzies had been on sabbatical for the past 17 months. Rockstar North has had a less GTA-centric role in the past decade, as they and other regional Rockstar studios have been credited with sharing the work on the company's major games, including the seemingly all-hands-on-deck 2013 GTA V.
But Benzies' large team in the Scotland-based Rockstar North had been seen as major players for the past two decades in the creation of numerous Rockstar hits over the years, including the GTA releases, the first Manhunt and Red Dead Redemption. As recently as 2014, Benzies was named, along with Rockstar co-founders Sam and Dan Houser as an entrant into the Academy of Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
Rockstar North is continuing along, but Benzies won't be helming it.
I'd heard Benzies was leaving Rockstar more than a year ago, but when I asked the company about it at the time, they told me he was on a sabbatical following the launch of Grand Theft Auto V. Given how big that game was, that made sense!
When I checked in with Rockstar about whether Benzies had returned from sabbatical, they revealed he'd actually left the studio:
We can confirm that Leslie Benzies went on sabbatical on September 1, 2014 and has decided not to return to work for the company. We are very grateful for Leslie's contributions to Rockstar over the last 15 years as we worked together to make some amazing games.
Leslie helped us build an incredible team that will continue to create great experiences for our fans. Leslie will always be a friend to the company and of course we are going to miss him but we wish him the absolute best for the future.
Rockstar North wasn't always Rockstar North. They were originally called DMA Design. Remember Lemmings? That was DMA Design. Benzies didn't join until 1999, where he worked as a programmer on the quirky N64 game Space Station Silicon Valley. He moved on to the Grand Theft Auto series after that shipped.
Rockstar Games is headquartered in New York and has studios around the world, including Rockstar San Diego, which served as the lead studio on Red Dead Redemption. The lengthy credit rolls for the company's games list hundreds of developers, and Rockstar's generally press-averse top people have long pushed the idea that their games are the result of hundreds of talented people working together.
Rockstar North is now led by longtime Rockstar veterans Aaron Garbut and Rob Nelson, both of whom have been credited as art directors on major company releases and have been part of Rockstar's inner circle for many years.