Video games are meant to make you feel like you're somewhere else, so while playing them you might not consider their development process. However, if you're even a casual gamer you've likely played a game made right here in Dallas, whose thriving game development industry has flown somewhat under the radar the last few years despite the sterling titles being put out. From mobile gaming to industry-leading AAA console and PC games, Dallas has had a hand in some of the biggest games of recent years. Here are a few that might surprise you.
Duke Nukem 3D - Apogee/3D Realms
When I was a teenager, I thought the height of video game entertainment was the rampant misogyny and scatological humor in Duke Nukem 3D, the main competitor to Doom for the nascent FPS market. Combining oversized guns with dumb catchphrases and excellent level design, the Duke sold more than three million copies for Garland-based 3D Realms Software. I'm pretty sure that being able to boot pole-dancers to death is one of those things that seems hilarious as a 13-year old, but now that you think about it, maybe it wasn't so ... ideal.
Aside from the headline-garnering controversy, Duke Nukem was a fantastic shooter that demanded a sequel. People vaguely familiar with the video game industry will know what happened next: Duke Nukem Forever became the Chinese Democracy of video games, being delayed to the point where everyone was quite sure it would never happen. Announced in 1997, the development team for the sequel was let go in 2009, and the project was eventually passed on to Gearbox, which now owns the rights to the name and indeed published the game itself in 2011, to scathing reviews and general bemusement at the direct sequel to a game coming out 16 years after the original. Gearbox Software sound familiar? Well, that's because ...
Borderlands - Gearbox Software
Plano's Gearbox was formed by former Bethesda and Apogee employees in 1999. Starting out as a port company (creating versions of existing games for new gaming platforms), Gearbox had a hand in the Xbox versions of Half-Life and Tony Hawk 3, which is nice work if you can get it. In 2009, hitting on one of their first original games, Gearbox developed Borderlands, a smash hit that has sold 4.5 million copies worldwide. Possibly driven by the fact that a randomizer in the game can generate more than three million unique weapons, gamers became obsessed with the replay value, the guns and a small robot with one wheel and an upbeat personality.
Borderlands 2 was a similar success, featuring even more guns and, according to the trailer, a great deal more "wub." They ended up releasing Duke Nukem Forever too, but let's not hold that against them. They're the breakout Dallas success company. Of course, they don't hold a candle to the Mack Daddy of Dallas game designers ...
Doom - id Software
Proving that Dallas is the original home of the FPS, the two Johns (Carmack and Romero) founded id in Mesquite in 1991. It's probably quicker to say how they haven't influenced the industry since then than how they have, Starting with Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D in the early '90s (and in association with our friends Apogee) id has been responsible for the venerated series of Doom games, the series of not-quite-as-well-regarded-but-still-utterly loved Quake games and more recently good-to-very-good post-apocalypse shooter Rage.
Now at home in Richardson and sadly down to just the one John (Carmack), id is part of industry-straddling giant Bethesda, and so has also had a small but significant hand in titles such as Skyrim and Fallout 3, both of which have sold so many copies that the world ran out of numbers quite some time ago. Bethesda could probably cancel the U.S. national debt if they really wanted. They're like a version of EA that everyone doesn't hate. id is currently developing a new Wolfenstein game (and presumably Doom 4, although they're not saying anything about that one), but have been relatively quiet recently because they've been passing off a lot of stuff to Nerve Software. Guess where they're based.
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Call of Duty: Black Ops - Nerve Software
Yes, Dallas-based Nerve had a hand in one of the best-selling video games of all time, as well as developing quite a few ports and multi-player expansions for id. How much of a hand I'm not entirely sure, given that Treyarch are listed as the developers, but they claim credit on their website so, unless they are just extremely ballsy liars, I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if they only had a tiny hand in a game that sold TWENTY-FIVE MILLION COPIES, they're probably pretty rich right now.
However, given the reception that their first independent production, Aliens: Colonial Marines has received, they might have frittered away some of that money on making a game that doesn't work properly and no one wants to buy. How is it possible to make a bad game that features the sleek killing machines from the Alien films, I hear you cry? Well, I have no idea. I read the reviews and didn't buy it, despite my innate desire to run around darkened corridors screaming in fear (a desire I have gone back to the Fallout franchise to fulfill). Of course, this was developed with Gearbox. The Dallas programming scene is pretty incestuous.
Honorable Mentions: Metal Slug Anthology, Ghostbusters, Kinect Star Wars (Terminal Reality), Age of Empires Online, Orcs Must Die!, Hero Academy (Robot Entertainment), Splode, Rage, Doom Resurrection, Midway Arcade (Escalation Studios).