Disassembled Ensemble Reassemble

By Alec Meer on March 20th, 2009 at 2:17 pm.

I wonder if Microsoft would still have closed down Ensemble if they’d have known Halo Wars would go on to shift an easy 1m units. Sounds as though the veteran RTS developers who comprised this former goliath of PC gaming aren’t wasting any time getting back on their feet, at least.

So far, there are three splinter companies, each promising happy days ahead.

Ensemble co-founder Tony Goodman set up Robot Entertainment last month, working out of Texas. There are no details on their projects, but from the sole press release it sounds as though they’re retaining some ties with their former Microsoft slavemasters:

Robot Entertainment announced today the formation of its new game development studio in Plano, Texas. Founded by many of the original founders of Ensemble Studios, Robot has a staff of 45 comprised entirely of former Ensemble employees. Robot’s team developed the hit franchise Age of Empires™, selling over 20 million units worldwide, and the soon-to-be released Halo Wars for Xbox 360™. Tony Goodman, the founder of Ensemble, is the CEO of Robot.

“The video game industry is in a state of upheaval,” said Mr. Goodman, “not just games, but the entire landscape. Everything is changing: where we buy games, how we buy games, how much we pay, how long we play, who we play them with. As a fast-moving independent team of game developers, industry leaders and market experts, Robot Entertainment is ideally positioned to play a transformative role in the industry’s future.”

Robot Entertainment is working with Microsoft Game Studios to develop additional content for Halo Wars and support online gaming and community for both Age of Empires and Halo Wars. Additionally, Robot is developing its own original IP.

Next up is the 35-man Bonfire Studios, headed by one David Rippy (I wish he was called Dave Ripply). They’re working on a new IP, but it’s under-wraps for now. And their website has about a dozen too many fire-based gags: “THIS INFORMATION IS HOT. If you can handle the ‘Heat’ contact us and we’ll introduce ourselves BONFIRE style… ignite@bonfire-studios.com.” Oof.

Rippy was one of the first ex-Ensemblers to proffer his thoughts as to why they were shut down: “Ensemble was kind of a victim of its own success as an RTS shop. As hard as we tried, we were never able to have one of our non-RTS prototypes greenlit, largely because we were ‘the RTS guys’.”

With that in mind, their first game will be a break from form: “Our first game is something completely different than what we’ve done in the past. I think our games will always have a strong strategy element to them, though, since that is one of the core strengths of the team.”

Finally, this week, the incredibly-named Dusty Monk (who sounds like a bad Batman villain. “Run for your lives! Cover your eyes! It’s The Dusty Monk!”) revealed Windstorm Studios. Their Jetsons-esque website reveals they have colourful, optimistic plans:

Windstorm Studios is an independent game studio whose mission is to bring a new era to online gaming! Are you tired of online games filled with depressing predictions of post apocalyptic destruction? Are you weary of walking through grey streets beneath grey skies and killing grey zombies? Have you had your fill of dank cellars and dark caves? Well so have we! And we’re ready to build a brighter world! A better online game – a game with the promise of of a hopeful future — cities of glass and steel, and most importantly, flying cars!

An MMO based around a 1950s vision of the future? Sounds fun to me.

Ensemble’s death is sad and absurd, but if it means its fine men and woman are now free to go and create amazing, inventive new projects, rather than simply endless historical strategy games, we all win. Good luck to the lot of ‘em, and let’s pray it doesn’t end up being the quickfire studio apocalypse it was so for so many of the former Bullfrog splinters.

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28 Comments »

  1. Ging says:

    Johnny five alive!

    I’m pretty happy to see that the spirit of ensemble lives on in so many different and varied ways – should be awesome seeing what each of the new studios comes up with in the future.

  2. schizoslayer says:

    I really hope that the Death of Ensemble will result in a net gain for gaming.

  3. Citizen Parker says:

    I think the phrase “Introduce myself BONFIRE style” just made it into my common vernacular.

    Happy news for all involved. Go get `em, gang.

  4. Gap Gen says:

    I hope they don’t go bust and have to FIRE everyone.

  5. ChaosSmurf says:

    “I wonder if Microsoft would still have closed down Ensemble if they’d have known Halo Wars would go on to shift an easy 1m units.”

    With all due respect (and all unnecessary cliche), they could have shat in a box, stuck halo wars on the side and sold an easy million.

    I wonder if any of the guys from Ensemble moved onto other development houses (or have applied). I know Blizzard’s SC2 team has a few openings, can’t imagine EA or whoever aren’t hiring.

  6. Cooper42 says:

    Ok, I just spent far too long looking for this.

    First person to find a youtube link of Johnny 5 shouting “No disassemble!” gets internets.

  7. Ian says:

    I was totally about to make an hilarious pun relating to all the words in the title having “semble” in, but then I remembered “semblance” doesn’t. Your loss, because you’d have totally been all rofl-ing and stuff.

    Anyway, I’d seen about Windstorm and their peoject sounds interesting. To be honest most of them are probably feeling like they’re in a pretty exciting place just now so fair play to them, and here’s hoping we get some great games out of it.

  8. Tworak says:

    Faith in humanity -1000000

  9. Premium User Badge

    oceanclub says:

    “1950s vision of the future….”

    The Gernsback Continuum: the Game!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gernsback_Continuum

    P.

  10. BooleanBob says:

    I thought the 1950s vision of the future WAS post-apocalyptic, nuclear destruction? What with that half-century of arms-racin’ and stand-offin’ between all of the world’s major powers.

  11. Larington says:

    This is very likely a blessing in disguise – The economies of making 1 game in a 100+ man studios as opposed to 3 30+ man studios are MUCH better for long term success for all concerned, if you leave aside the risk of graphical nazi-ism of course.

    Its a shame executives are too blind to realise that it doesn’t matter what kind of game your making really, as long as its polished and designed well.

  12. Tei says:

    “Ensemble was kind of a victim of its own success as an RTS shop. As hard as we tried, we were never able to have one of our non-RTS prototypes greenlit, largely because we were ‘the RTS guys’.”

    This is total decadence of gamming. I hate the very existence of “genres”, but forcing a group of your more creative people to stick to a formula seems the most idiotic waste of creativity the world has never seen.

    Is like forcing the NASA to build only one type of space exploration vehicle. Or forcing a car, to only one route. Or forcing a hotel to only sell a room (room 101). GRRRRR!!!…

    Genres, could be a result of creativity, not the limit!.

  13. Ian says:

    You hate the “existence of ‘genres’”?

  14. Matt Kemp says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t one of the side-effects of the Ensemble shutdown that MS were going to form a new but more compact studio (Robot)? See here.

    On another note, I think someone else commented on the Ensemble shutdown – they may have been ‘the RTS guys’, but they were also the smallest studio under the MGS wing, yet somehow costing them the most (Can;t find a link for it right now, shall update if I do).

  15. Larington says:

    Nothing wrong with the existence of genre’ in themselves (Though I hate seeing that term used for types of gameplay rather than style of storytelling), its how publishers abuse them that is the problem along with human natures tendency to try and pidgeon hole everything so that life seems simpler (How could life ever be ‘simple’).

  16. Bobsy says:

    Gaming is an oddity in the entertainment industry because genre determines mode of interaction, rather than the theme of the content. We talk about first-person shooters and real-time strategies, rather than thrillers and rom-coms.

    Meanwhile, I see this as a positive move as I was never very enamoured by Ensemble. They seemed very stuck in their methods, a bit like Bioware can be accused of today.

  17. Dan Harris says:

    Jetpacks for all!

  18. dsmart says:

    I am sure that the 1m unit sales number for Halo Wars was its worst case scenario projection. So no, I don’t think it would have mattered either way. If that were the case, they would have waited until HW was released before closing down the studio.

    It is all in the numbers.

    The bad thing about stuff like this is REALLY GOOD people losing their jobs when they LEAST expect it.

    The good thing is that all that repressed talent is now let loose on the world.

    The good thing is not always a good thing because most of these splinter studios – regardless of who with a “name” is attached to it, usually end up failing anyway – and for some reason (failed first project) or another (no funding to finish game).

  19. Yargh says:

    Strangely enough I seem to quite enjoy killing thousands of grey zombies in a semi-destroyed post-apocalyptic world…

    That said… Flying cars!

  20. Pags says:

    The Windstorm Studios logo makes them look more like children’s party planners than game developers.

  21. Gap Gen says:

    @Pags: Perhaps a sideline to provide funding for their games?

  22. Tei says:

    Haha.. these comments about flyiing cars and jetpacks made me laught.

    Flamethrowers is the ultimate solution!!

  23. MeestaNob! says:

    If Ensemble was costing Microsoft so much money (but also making them plenty as well), why the hell didnt they just release Ensemble back to being a separate entity – let the employees buy themselves out – instead of razing the whole thing to the ground???

    Do we know if this was presented as an option, or did Microsoft just update their use by date and toss them?

    I find it entirely unacceptable that a SUCCESSFUL company can even go tits up purely on the whim of their owners for no good reason.

  24. Heliocentric says:

    @chaosmurf
    Shit in a million boxes? Not so easy, let me tell you. Logistics become a problem too.

    Good luck to the studios,grim that one group ran straight back to microsoft’s teat.

  25. Pantsman says:

    As dark as things may seem today, I think the future is less likely to be ash and rubble and more likely to be glass and steel – and at least electric cars, if not flying ones. Does that mean I’m living in the 1950s?

  26. Centy says:

    I can’t wait to see what all 3 studios do with their new found creative freedom. Rock on guys.

  27. the north face denali says:

    Well said! This was a really quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

  28. North face says:

    It’s so funny that so many people are complaining about an event…not every event you attend is going to be exactly as you’d like it to be.