Game

From Shogo to Shadow of War: Charting the chaotic, creative history of Monolith Productions

When you try to imagine how the developers of Blood, one of the most glorious and brutal games of the 90’s, might have first met, the last thing that comes to mind is a game studio known for titles like Millie’s Math House. Perhaps the introverted nature of educational game development has sparked a pressure cooker that has fueled tremendous ambitions for some developers. Because it was at Edmark that Monolith’s seven founders began planning their breakthrough into the gaming industry.

It all stemmed from the love of playing. One of the founders, Toby Gladwell, recalls his early experience. “We played Doom and our love for the game brought us together and wanted to make a game,” he says. “Maybe it’s because of the arrogance of our early 20s, but then we thought we were the most creative group of our time.”

Of course, some of the founders wanted to jump into game development, but Jason (Jace) Hall, the charismatic conductor who made Monolith’s most lucrative deal, had another idea – the MegaMedia CD. The idea essentially came from the 1990s. The Redbook Audio innovation meant that video, game demos, and music could all be stored on the same CD. Jace made some videos and music, and Brian Goble, among other things, provided a special version of his game Microman. In 1994, Jace left Edmark to become Monolith’s evangelist, and he used the Monolith CD as a gospel to attract loved ones.

It didn’t last long. Jace impressed Microsoft with the first iteration of DirectX. DirectX is an API that will unlock the latent features of your gaming PC. Shortly thereafter, Monolith’s co-founders left Edmark to join Microsoft’s prestigious coalition, doing some commissioned work on Windows 95 game CDs. Garrett Price, co-founder of Monolith, recalls that pivotal moment. “There were no Windows games back then, they were all DOS,” he says. “We left Edmark at prayer time. It was even more terrifying for Brian. [Bouwman] At that time, we had children, but the rest was like, ‘We’re young, so let’s do it!’

blood

While the Monolith team worked “in a few closets” at Microsoft and created sample CDs, Jace stayed in touch throughout the industry. They put all of their Microsoft work into monolithic startup pots. Jace’s ever-expanding network of networking has paid off when a Japanese company called Takarajimasha has invested a significant amount in Monolith. Later that year, the Monolith team moved from the Microsoft branch to the first office. Although “compound” might be a more appropriate description.

“We’ve rented several buildings in this office park,” Garrett said. “I remember going through that with my wife and asking, ‘How are you going to fill it?’ We started gathering friends from different companies. We got all these crews together almost instantly.” It was in 1996 when a studio complex, complete with a recording studio and other high-end add-ons, was built, when Monolith made its first in-house game. Garrett was Monolith’s original artist and gifted the rest of the team with a pending project from his art school days. Captain Claw, an anthropomorphic pirate cat, battled through herds of “cocker spaniels” in pursuit of the amulet of nine tails.

“I was obsessed with everything like New Wave music, Adam and Ants and romantic pirate outfits. It was just before Jim the Earthworm came out, so it was a good time for the blasphemous and weird characters,” Garrett said proudly of his pet project that will bring Monolith’s resume to life.

humble beginnings

blood 2

retro gamer

“He graduated from Wazoo as a sculptor and was able to create these amazing film masks,” says Garrett. “Film quality stuff. He modeled all these characters and markets for Blood.” The popular Blood marked the end of the PC gaming era, with 2.5D graphics replaced by accelerated 3D. Monolith knew it had to be part of that revolution, and even when Blood was still in development, it already had a team dedicated to building its internal 3D engine.

In 1996 Monolith received the Rendition Verite V1000, one of the first 3D accelerated graphics cards. This heralded the birth of DirectEngine, which would transform into LithTech, the engine Monolith uses to this day.

Sanity: Aiken's Relic

“I had an exchange student and she gave us the Gundam magazine, Dancouga and other things that inspire me for Shogo.” Garrett recalls. “The concept artists blew it up and made it great.” Then came the more modest 2D work. Get Medieval is a blasphemous dungeon crawler based on Gauntlet that many developers played in arcades as a child, while Gruntz was a real-time strategy game inspired by the team’s obsession with Warcraft II.

Monolith was very successful between 1998 and 1999, releasing nine games as a publisher and developer. The studios that were published for others had their own engine division and also a motion capture service division called Monolith Studios. An idealistic young company began to overwhelm itself.

fear

Here, Toby believes the company culture has changed. There has been an increased focus on the game, which has also meant shifting some of our chaotic creativity into a more managed and structured model. Monolith Studios and the publisher have ceased operations. Both Toby and Garrett admit that Monolith’s early, carefree days are the best, but the next few years will be the best in the studio.

In 2000, we released Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact, the first game on the new LithTech 2.0 engine. The game is a top-down action game in which the rapper Ice-T plays as a super-powered special agent with his voice. It may not be Monolith’s most famous game, but it marked a breakthrough in the LithTech engine powered by the introduction of the Voodoo 2 graphics chip.

“Final Fantasy 7 came out recently and I was amazed at how effective it was,” Toby says. “We realized that artists could build systems that could create these special effects, and that was the basis of Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact. This effects system is actually used in almost every other title.”

a solid strategy

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Toby Gladwell

Sanity laid the groundwork for Monolith’s two most popular games: No One Lives Forever and Aliens Versus Predator 2, a cheeky ’60s-style shooter. These games marked the maturity of the studio and engine technology they’ve been working on over the past four years.

With contrasting tones of both games, including witty ingenuity and loyalty to a beloved IP, ambitious blasphemy and cold sci-fi horror embodied an omni-directional spirit that is an important part of Monolith’s identity. The success of Aliens Versus Predator 2 cemented Monolith’s relationship with Warner Bros, leading to the (unlucky) Matrix Online, which eventually took over Monolith in 2004, a much less unfortunate takeover. Prior to the acquisition, there was time for the massively improved No One Lives Forever sequel and Tron 2.0, which, in turn, was both a passionate project and a lucrative task.

“Tron solidified to be the coolest thing in our childhood, so we got the chance to make a game in the Tron universe and meet Sid Mead. Let’s talk fanboys,” Toby recalls. “We were able to create a game that received really good reviews using a knowledge-gathering shooter.”

Monolith remained a forward-looking developer at Warner Bros. FEAR (2005) pushed the limits of AI and graphics capabilities, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system was considered so valuable to Warner Bros. that it was recently patented. But that’s just a summary of why the Monolith acquisition is bittersweet.

As legacy and talent shift into a new era, Nemesis patents demonstrate how great game design can be tainted by publishers’ callous calculations that often conflict with the interests of players. Monolith’s first decade, on the other hand, was driven by players who happened to be a great team of developers, and it was a win for all of us.


This feature first appeared in . retro gamer Magazine, Issue 219. Don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition for more great features like the one you just read. my favorite magazine.


More information

From Shogo to Shadow of War: Charting the chaotic, creative history of Monolith Productions

When you try to imagine how the developers behind Blood, one of the most gloriously gory games of the nineties, first came together, the last thing that springs to mind is a games studio known for titles like Millie’s Math House. Perhaps the placid nature of educational games development caused a pressure-cooker of wild ambition among a few of its developers, because it was at Edmark that the seven founders of Monolith began planning their break into the games industry.
It all stemmed from a love of gaming. One of the founders, Toby Gladwell, recalls those early experiences. “We’d been playing Doom, we came together with a love of games and wanted to take a stab at building them,” he tells us. “Maybe it’s the arrogance of being in our early twenties, but at the time we thought we were the most creative group of our time.” 
Naturally, several of the founders wanted to jump straight into game development, but Jason (Jace) Hall – a charismatic big-thinker who would procure many of Monolith’s most lucrative deals – had another idea: a MegaMedia CD. The idea was quintessentially Nineties. An innovation called Redbook Audio meant that videos, game demos and music could all be stored on the same CD. Jace created some videos and music, and Brian Goble contributed a special version of his game Microman, among other things. In 1994 Jace left Edmark to become Monolith’s evangelist, using the Monolith CD as a gospel to attract the people that mattered. 
It didn’t take long. Jace impressed Microsoft, which just so happened to be working on the first iteration of DirectX – an API that would unlock the dormant power of PCs for gaming. Soon after that, the cofounders of Monolith left Edmark and piled into the prestigious compound of Microsoft for some contract work on Windows 95 gaming CDs. Monolith cofounder Garrett Price remembers this pivotal moment. “Windows gaming didn’t exist then, it was all DOS,” he tells us. “We left Edmark on a prayer – it was way scarier for Brian [Bouwman] who had a child at the time, but the rest of us were like ‘We’re young, let’s do this!’”

The Monolith team worked “out of a couple of closets” at Microsoft, making sample CDs while Jace continued to make contacts in the wider industry. They put all the money from their Microsoft work into the Monolith start-up pot. Jace’s ever-growing network of contacts paid dividends too, when a Japanese company called Takarajimasha invested a sizeable amount of money into Monolith. Later that year, the Monolith team moved out of their Microsoft quarters to their first office – though perhaps ‘compound’ is a more fitting description. 
“We leased a bunch of buildings in this office park,” says Garrett. “I remember walking through it with my wife and she asked ‘How are you ever gonna fill all these up?’ We just began rounding up our friends from other companies. We almost instantly had this whole crew.” With the studio complex set up in 1996 – complete with sound studio and other high-end extras – it was time for Monolith to make its first homegrown game. Garrett was Monolith’s original artist, and presented the rest of the team with a shelved project from his art school days. It was Captain Claw – an anthropomorphic pirate cat who fought through packs of ‘cocker spaniard’ dogs in his pursuit of the Amulet Of The Nine Tails.
“I was obsessed with New Wave music, Adam And The Ants, all that stuff, so that whole romantic pirate outfits thing. This was right before Earthworm Jim came out too, so a good time for irreverent weird characters,” Garrett tells us, proud of his pet project that would kickstart Monolith’s resume.
Humble beginnings

“He got a sculpting degree from Wazoo and could make these amazing movie masks,” says Garrett. “Literally cinema quality stuff. He sculpted all these characters and maquettes for Blood.” Beloved though Blood was, it represented the end of an era in PC gaming, as 2.5D graphics made way for 3D-accelerated ones. Monolith knew it had to be part of this revolution, and even as Blood was still in development there was already a team dedicated to building an in-house 3D engine. 
In 1996, Monolith received the Rendition Verite V1000, one of the first 3D-accelerated video cards. This heralded the birth of DirectEngine, which would morph into LithTech – the engine that Monolith continues to use to this day.

“We had an exchange student and she had given us some Gundam magazines, Dancouga and other things that I’d draw inspiration from for Shogo,” Garrett remembers. “The concept artists just blew that out and made it amazing.” Then there were more humble 2D efforts. Get Medieval was an irreverent dungeon crawler based on Gauntlet, which many of the devs played in arcades growing up, while Gruntz was a real-time strategy game inspired by the team’s obsession with Warcraft II. 
Monolith was prolific between 1998 and 1999, releasing nine games as a publisher and developer. The studio was self-publishing, it was publishing for others, it had a dedicated engine department, and even had a motion-capture services wing called Monolith Studios. The idealistic young company was beginning to overstretch itself. 

This is the point where Toby believes the company culture shifted. The focus around games tightened, which also meant that some of that chaotic creativity had to be reeled in towards a more managed, structured model. Monolith Studios and the publishing side ceased operations. Both Toby and Garrett admit they’re most fond of the earlier, more carefree days of Monolith, but the next few years would be some of the studio’s fi nest. 
In 2000 it released its first game on the new LithTech 2.0 engine, Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact – a top- down action game casting you as a psychic special agent voiced by rapper Ice-T. While it wasn’t Monolith’s most famous game, it marked a breakthrough for the LithTech engine, propelled by the launch of Voodoo 2 graphics chips.
“Final Fantasy 7 had recently come out, and I was blown away by the effects that it had,” says Toby. “It made us realise we could just build a system that lets artists do these special effects, and it became the basis for Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact. That effects system actually got used in pretty much all our other titles.”
Sound strategy

Toby Gladwell

Sanity laid the groundwork for what would become two of Monolith’s most beloved games: sassy Sixties-themed shooter No One Lives Forever and Aliens Versus Predator 2 – arguably the best ever use of the Alien IP in video games. These games marked the maturation of the studio and its engine technology they had been working on over the previous four years. 
The two games’ contrasting tones of campy irreverence and cold sci-fi horror – witty originality and loyalty to a beloved IP – embodied the omnidirectional spirit that was such a key part of Monolith’s identity. The success of Aliens Versus Predator 2 solidified Monolith’s Warner Bros connection, which would lead to the (ill-fated) Matrix Online and ultimately to the much less ill-fated acquisition of Monolith in 2004. Before the acquisition, there was still time for a much-improved No One Lives Forever sequel and Tron 2.0, which was again as much a passion project as a lucrative job. 
“Tron was cemented in our childhoods as the coolest thing ever, so we got this opportunity to build a game in the Tron universe and even meet Sid Mead – talk about fanboyness,” Toby recalls. “We were able to leverage our knowledge building shooters to make a game that was really well-received.” 
Monolith would remain a forward-thinking developer under Warner Bros. FEAR (2005) pushed the envelope of AI and graphical prowess, while Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor’s nemesis system was deemed to be such an asset to Warner Bros that it was recently patented. But that gets to the heart of why Monolith’s acquisition was bittersweet. 
While the legacy and talent crossed over into the new era, the nemesis patent is indicative of how great game design can get tainted by the cold calculations of publishers, which are often at odds with the interests of the gamer. That first decade of Monolith, on the other hand, was driven by gamers who happened to be an exceptional team of developers, and we were all winners from it.
This feature first appeared in Retro Gamer magazine issue 219. For more excellent features, like the one you’ve just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition at MyFavouriteMagazines.  

#Shogo #Shadow #War #Charting #chaotic #creative #history #Monolith #Productions

From Shogo to Shadow of War: Charting the chaotic, creative history of Monolith Productions

When you try to imagine how the developers behind Blood, one of the most gloriously gory games of the nineties, first came together, the last thing that springs to mind is a games studio known for titles like Millie’s Math House. Perhaps the placid nature of educational games development caused a pressure-cooker of wild ambition among a few of its developers, because it was at Edmark that the seven founders of Monolith began planning their break into the games industry.
It all stemmed from a love of gaming. One of the founders, Toby Gladwell, recalls those early experiences. “We’d been playing Doom, we came together with a love of games and wanted to take a stab at building them,” he tells us. “Maybe it’s the arrogance of being in our early twenties, but at the time we thought we were the most creative group of our time.” 
Naturally, several of the founders wanted to jump straight into game development, but Jason (Jace) Hall – a charismatic big-thinker who would procure many of Monolith’s most lucrative deals – had another idea: a MegaMedia CD. The idea was quintessentially Nineties. An innovation called Redbook Audio meant that videos, game demos and music could all be stored on the same CD. Jace created some videos and music, and Brian Goble contributed a special version of his game Microman, among other things. In 1994 Jace left Edmark to become Monolith’s evangelist, using the Monolith CD as a gospel to attract the people that mattered. 
It didn’t take long. Jace impressed Microsoft, which just so happened to be working on the first iteration of DirectX – an API that would unlock the dormant power of PCs for gaming. Soon after that, the cofounders of Monolith left Edmark and piled into the prestigious compound of Microsoft for some contract work on Windows 95 gaming CDs. Monolith cofounder Garrett Price remembers this pivotal moment. “Windows gaming didn’t exist then, it was all DOS,” he tells us. “We left Edmark on a prayer – it was way scarier for Brian [Bouwman] who had a child at the time, but the rest of us were like ‘We’re young, let’s do this!’”

The Monolith team worked “out of a couple of closets” at Microsoft, making sample CDs while Jace continued to make contacts in the wider industry. They put all the money from their Microsoft work into the Monolith start-up pot. Jace’s ever-growing network of contacts paid dividends too, when a Japanese company called Takarajimasha invested a sizeable amount of money into Monolith. Later that year, the Monolith team moved out of their Microsoft quarters to their first office – though perhaps ‘compound’ is a more fitting description. 
“We leased a bunch of buildings in this office park,” says Garrett. “I remember walking through it with my wife and she asked ‘How are you ever gonna fill all these up?’ We just began rounding up our friends from other companies. We almost instantly had this whole crew.” With the studio complex set up in 1996 – complete with sound studio and other high-end extras – it was time for Monolith to make its first homegrown game. Garrett was Monolith’s original artist, and presented the rest of the team with a shelved project from his art school days. It was Captain Claw – an anthropomorphic pirate cat who fought through packs of ‘cocker spaniard’ dogs in his pursuit of the Amulet Of The Nine Tails.
“I was obsessed with New Wave music, Adam And The Ants, all that stuff, so that whole romantic pirate outfits thing. This was right before Earthworm Jim came out too, so a good time for irreverent weird characters,” Garrett tells us, proud of his pet project that would kickstart Monolith’s resume.
Humble beginnings

“He got a sculpting degree from Wazoo and could make these amazing movie masks,” says Garrett. “Literally cinema quality stuff. He sculpted all these characters and maquettes for Blood.” Beloved though Blood was, it represented the end of an era in PC gaming, as 2.5D graphics made way for 3D-accelerated ones. Monolith knew it had to be part of this revolution, and even as Blood was still in development there was already a team dedicated to building an in-house 3D engine. 
In 1996, Monolith received the Rendition Verite V1000, one of the first 3D-accelerated video cards. This heralded the birth of DirectEngine, which would morph into LithTech – the engine that Monolith continues to use to this day.

“We had an exchange student and she had given us some Gundam magazines, Dancouga and other things that I’d draw inspiration from for Shogo,” Garrett remembers. “The concept artists just blew that out and made it amazing.” Then there were more humble 2D efforts. Get Medieval was an irreverent dungeon crawler based on Gauntlet, which many of the devs played in arcades growing up, while Gruntz was a real-time strategy game inspired by the team’s obsession with Warcraft II. 
Monolith was prolific between 1998 and 1999, releasing nine games as a publisher and developer. The studio was self-publishing, it was publishing for others, it had a dedicated engine department, and even had a motion-capture services wing called Monolith Studios. The idealistic young company was beginning to overstretch itself. 

This is the point where Toby believes the company culture shifted. The focus around games tightened, which also meant that some of that chaotic creativity had to be reeled in towards a more managed, structured model. Monolith Studios and the publishing side ceased operations. Both Toby and Garrett admit they’re most fond of the earlier, more carefree days of Monolith, but the next few years would be some of the studio’s fi nest. 
In 2000 it released its first game on the new LithTech 2.0 engine, Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact – a top- down action game casting you as a psychic special agent voiced by rapper Ice-T. While it wasn’t Monolith’s most famous game, it marked a breakthrough for the LithTech engine, propelled by the launch of Voodoo 2 graphics chips.
“Final Fantasy 7 had recently come out, and I was blown away by the effects that it had,” says Toby. “It made us realise we could just build a system that lets artists do these special effects, and it became the basis for Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact. That effects system actually got used in pretty much all our other titles.”
Sound strategy

Toby Gladwell

Sanity laid the groundwork for what would become two of Monolith’s most beloved games: sassy Sixties-themed shooter No One Lives Forever and Aliens Versus Predator 2 – arguably the best ever use of the Alien IP in video games. These games marked the maturation of the studio and its engine technology they had been working on over the previous four years. 
The two games’ contrasting tones of campy irreverence and cold sci-fi horror – witty originality and loyalty to a beloved IP – embodied the omnidirectional spirit that was such a key part of Monolith’s identity. The success of Aliens Versus Predator 2 solidified Monolith’s Warner Bros connection, which would lead to the (ill-fated) Matrix Online and ultimately to the much less ill-fated acquisition of Monolith in 2004. Before the acquisition, there was still time for a much-improved No One Lives Forever sequel and Tron 2.0, which was again as much a passion project as a lucrative job. 
“Tron was cemented in our childhoods as the coolest thing ever, so we got this opportunity to build a game in the Tron universe and even meet Sid Mead – talk about fanboyness,” Toby recalls. “We were able to leverage our knowledge building shooters to make a game that was really well-received.” 
Monolith would remain a forward-thinking developer under Warner Bros. FEAR (2005) pushed the envelope of AI and graphical prowess, while Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor’s nemesis system was deemed to be such an asset to Warner Bros that it was recently patented. But that gets to the heart of why Monolith’s acquisition was bittersweet. 
While the legacy and talent crossed over into the new era, the nemesis patent is indicative of how great game design can get tainted by the cold calculations of publishers, which are often at odds with the interests of the gamer. That first decade of Monolith, on the other hand, was driven by gamers who happened to be an exceptional team of developers, and we were all winners from it.
This feature first appeared in Retro Gamer magazine issue 219. For more excellent features, like the one you’ve just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition at MyFavouriteMagazines.  

#Shogo #Shadow #War #Charting #chaotic #creative #history #Monolith #Productions


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