A brief history of Sheffield companies involved in the design and production of computer games – past and present.
After setting up Just Micro on Carver Street in Sheffield in 1983, Ian Stewart and Kevin Norburn found oodles of precocious programming talent stepping through the doors. Tony Crowther, Peter Harrap, Shaun Hollingworth and Chris Kerry were the driving force behind Norburn and Stewart creating Gremlin Graphics – a company that would grow from a small studio above the shop into one of the world’s largest and most acclaimed developers and publishers. Gremlin developed or published over 220 titles including the ground breaking Monty Mole, Lotus, Supercars and Actua series before being bought by French giant Infogrames in 1999.
Sumo is a world-class, award-winning game development studio that has grown exponentially since the foundation of the company in 2003 by ex-Gremlins Carl Cavers, James North-Hearn, Paul Porter and Darren Mills. Responsible for titles such as Sonic All Star Racing Transformed and Little Big Planet 3 it now employs over 260 people in Sheffield and Pune, India and has recently announced the opening of another satellite studio in Nottingham.
Teque Developments / Krisalis Software
Founded by ex-Gremlins Tony Kavanagh, Peter Harrap and Shaun Hollingworth in 1987 under the original name Teque Developments, Krisalis worked on over 60 games, including the huge hit Manchester United series, before closing in November 2001.
From a mysterious Post Office box number in Sheffield S13, Martyn Westwood ran Interactive Technology, a developer and publisher of graphic text adventure games for the Commodore, Spectrum and Atari ST computers. Their first game A Dark Sky Over Paradise was released in 1990.
Teenagers Richard Stevenson and Philip Durbidge were Dollarsoft, two bedroom coders that created and sold games from Richard’s parent’s home in south-west Sheffield. From 1983 they produced games for the ZX Spectrum computer such as The Black Tower and Bombscare, with the help of Richard’s dad and his hobbyist teacher. Their talents brought them to the attention of big-name publishers Telecomsoft, and Sheffield’s own Alligata Software. They would also do conversions of games to the Amstrad for Gremlin Graphics and Charles Cecil at Artic Computing before the duo went their separate ways – Richard to join Alligata and Phil who left the industry.
Mike and Tim Mahoney’s (aided by their father) developer and publisher, formed in a similar vain to Just Micro out of the teenage programmers shopping and working in their retail outlet on West Street – Superior Systems. The mercurial Tony Crowther along with Steve Evans put the company on the map with hits such as Loco, Blagger, Defender and Who Dares Wins II.
Urbanscan is a digital publisher and developer established by industry veteran and Gremlin founding father Ian Stewart to exploit a portfolio of intellectual properties owned by the company, including historic titles such as Bounder, Zool and Premier Manager.
Perhaps Sheffield’s first successful bedroom coders: Teenagers Mark Aldrich and John Wriggleswork ran SpecSoft from Mark’s bedroom on Totley Rise in Sheffield. They released five games in 1983 and 1984 including adventures Castle of Doom, Operation Roman Gaul and Village of Death.
Rubicon Computer Systems
Founded by Dr John Maltby on Bannerdale Road, Sheffield in 1986, Rubicon Computer Systems was a short-lived developer created games for the Sinclair QL computer including the animated adventure game Dragonhold.
The Fourth Dimension
From Percy Street in Sheffield, two brothers ran Fourth Dimension; a conglomerate computer game publisher for the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Acorn Archimedes and RiscPC between 1988 (when they were known as Impact Software) and 1998. The Fourth Dimension released several landmark titles including Gordon Key’s E-Type and Simon Hallam’s Grievous Bodily ‘ARM.
Run by Dave Vout, 221B were a Sheffield indie developer based in the Globeworks in Shalesmoor, Sheffield. It was responsible for a variety of 8 and 16-bit games in the early 1990s including a Doctor Who-based Dalek Attack, a version of Hero Quest for Gremlin and Street Fighter on the PC amongst others. Members of staff included Sumo Digital’s current Studio Head Paul Porter, Creative Director, Sean Millard and musician/coder Paul Tankard.
Kuju Sheffield / Chemistry
Kuju was formed in 1998 in Shalford, Surrey after a management buyout of Simis from Eidos Interactive. Kuju opened studios across the UK, with former Gremlin Tony Kavanagh joining as Head of the Sheffield business in May 2002. Later Kuju granted its Sheffield studio autonomy rebranding it Chemistry in 2007. After specialising in creating games using the Unreal Engine, Kuju began reducing the company headcount and closed Chemistry in 2009.
Founded by Ian Stewart in 1999, Zoo has grown substantially and continues to be hugely creative and a large employer in Sheffield. in 2015 they were selected by BBC Worldwide to deliver a global management solution for its subtitling and captioning operations, and ongoing automated localization services as well as being selected by Apple as one of only four approved iTunes Delivery Partners to support its global Compressor users in delivering video content directly to the iTunes Store.
Games Faction is a Sheffield based iOS developer of games and apps founded in January 2006 by Lee Hickey and Malcolm Reed, two industry veterans with over 30 years professional experience and a shared passion for making great games.
The Steel Minions Game Studio was created in 2010 in order to provide students on Sheffield Hallam University’s game development degrees with “workplace simulation” within a studio environment. In July 2015 the Minions released PieceFall, an agile 3D puzzle game that was the first PS4 student game in the world from Sony’s PlayStationFirst programme.
Ten24 is a well-respected Sheffield-based CGI studio providing modelling and rendering services.
Team Cooper / Robot Lizard
Team Cooper is a BAFTA-nominated digital agency run by husband and wife, Tim and Emma Cooper. The company was founded in 2006 to provide interactive development services to creative agencies but since then has gradually grown to become a digital agency in its own right and releases their own original in-house game projects under the moniker of Robot/Lizard.
Mr Qwak is a small, one man, indie studio based in Sheffield, UK. Run by veteran indie developer of over 25 years, Jamie Woodhouse, for the purpose of creating fun, playable and engaging games, primarily for mobile devices.
Boneloaf was setup in 2011 by three brothers; James Brown, Jonathan Brown, and Michael Brown to make games and toys informed by a shared adolescence playing multiplayer arcade games and making silly drawings. Gang Beasts, a slapstick local multiplayer party game created as a Ludlum Dare 28 prototype has gained the brothers a publishing deal with DoubleFine.
Based in the Electric Works, Tuna are an international award-nominated boutique game production company that specialise in developing projects for mobile, traditional and on-line platforms.
In the former home of Gremlin Graphics on Carver Street, Dumpling Design is an independent studio focusing on family-centric arcade games led by award-winning game designer, and ex-Gremlin Travis Ryan along with ex-Rare cohort Brent Poynton. Dumplings first game, Dashy Crashy launched before xmas 2015 and is fast approaching 2million players!
Tony Kavanagh established Kavcom in 2006 as a digital games publisher. Their hit titles to-date include Z a Bitmap Brothers game and Burn Zombie Burn from Doublesix.
Dave Footit is the man behind Papa’s Gong that develops a range of entertaining mobile games as well as cutting-edge titles for retro platforms including the much admired Mountain Panic for the BBC Microcomputer.
Sheffield Indie Game Developers or Shindig is an informal collective of independent game developers, mostly individuals or micro-studios, who are based in and around the city. The Shindiggers are a friendly bunch and can be found on the first Tuesday of each month in The Devonshire Cat public house.
Paul Finnegan founded Rage Games in Liverpool in 1992. Rage’s first title, Striker, sold more than one million copies and established the studio as a major creative force in the interactive entertainment industry. The company experienced a period of rapid growth in the 90s leading to its floatation on the stock market in 1996 and acquisition of many key ex-Gremlin staff including Phil Wright and a number of former developers who worked on the Actua series.
Yeti Studios was founded in August 2002 when David Nicholson and Phil Wilson negotiated the management buy-out of the Rage Sheffield Studio. The studio’s first title was a PC port of Gun Metal, first released in 2002 for the original XBox and developed by Rage Sheffield.
Hi-Tec Software / PAL and Bizarre Developments
Dave Palmer founded Hi-Tec software in order to foster the creative talents of former Alligata programmers and artists, collectively known as PAL Developments alongside Richard Stevenson’s Bizarre Developments. Hi-Tec made their name by producing games featuring the world famous Looney Tunes and most of Hanna Barbera series including Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, Wacky Races and Scooby Doo.
Founded in 1995 Pixelogic worked as a work-for-hire studio with their best known game being The Italian Job on PSX which reached number 1 in the UK software charts for 6 weeks and won several awards in both the UK and Europe.
On Queen’s Street, Pete Bratcher and Steve Oldacre founded Devil’s Details in 2007 to exploit the growing divergence of the game market and take advantage of Sheffield’s vibrant local development community.
Founded by former Krisalis developers Nigel Little and Keith Birkett in 1994, Distinctive games are played by 60 million people worldwide, supporting an award-winning roster of titles, including Rugby Nations, Football Kicks, Patrick Kane’s Hockey franchises and Downhill Xtreme.
Particle Systems / Argonaut Sheffield
After the success of Cholo, Warhead and Subwar 2050, lifelong friends Glyn Williams and Michael Powell founded Particle Systems in 1996 continuing their obsession with huge forms of transport, fluid physics simulations and cutting-edge games. After Independence War Particle signed a multi-product deal with Infogrames that included the much-hyped robotic extravaganza EXO for Playstation 2. EXO failed to materialise and Particle was acquired by fellow British developer Argonaut. Renamed Argonaut Sheffield the studio continued to deliver licenced products for its parent before closing in October 2004 after the lack of publishing deals led to cash-flow problems.
Funbox Media Ltd.
Based in Chesterfield but ‘born’ in Sheffield in 2010. Headed up by former ZOO Digital Publishing MD, Barry Hatch, Funbox have published and developed over 100 titles on all console formats, PC/MAC/Linux, Steam/GOG, Leap Motion, airline games and mobile/tablet platforms. Funbox Media Ltd is going from strength to strength and will be publishing 4 PS4, 3 PS3, 2 PSVita and 1 3DS titles in 2016 in addition to 5+ PC titles and 3 mobile games.
Painting by Numbers
Starting life as Impact Software, Chris Kerry, Steve Kerry and Mark Rogers formed Painting By Numbers after leaving Gremlin Graphics in 1988. Using their existing relationship with Ocean Software’s Gary Bracey, PBN started life as a work-for-hire developer for the Manchester firm. After obtaining the licence for Jurassic Park they were given the opportunity to head to the US as the start-up team of new studio Ocean of America.
Absolute Image Creative Computing
Paul Blyte (another Gremlin alumni) formed Absolute Image in 1989 with Paul Jackson. They developed the PC version of Federation of Free Traders for Gremlin before disbanding and heading to China to work on the ill-fated Konix Multisystem.
System Applied Technology Ltd
Situated in Sheaf House in Sheffield, System Applied Technology explored a number of computing concepts such as artificial intelligence, computer-aided learning and computer games. They coded a small number of games between 1988 and 1990, including Roy of the Rovers for Gremlin Graphics.
Gamesauce was founded in 2002 by a team of industry veterans and headed by managing director Bryan Reynolds. In addition to sub-contract work, Gamesauce designed its own games and created vocal and audio analysis software for music and rhythm games. Its most high-profile game was a title based upon the high-profile BBC programme Little Britain.
Stripey Design, located in the Sheffield Technology Park on Arundel Street, is a small, independent development team who craft children’s apps that inspire, educate and entertain.
Route 1 Games
On Burton Road in Sheffield, Route 1 is a developer of gaming technology that powers gamified learning environments, games and apps and the biggest real time multi-player games on web.
TecSport was founded in 2011 to provide an innovative approach to commercially effective social gaming. The company has developed a pioneering cloud based format that is pushing the boundaries of technology and the gaming experience.
Triplevision Games is a Sheffield game studio led by Andrew Stewart and a variety of collaborators from all over the world. Their first game, due for release in 2017 is Mable in the Wood – a 2D action/exploration game set in a land where the overuse of magic is draining the world of its colour.
Spherical Games is an independent games company based in Sheffield with more than 30 years of development experience. Roll Rage is their first game that is available for iOS.
The Cream Crackers
The Cream Crackers were Berni Hill, Paul Gregory, Scott Guest and Vincent Paggiossi, respectively known as Berni, Greggs, Mule and Pag. A fifth member, Pete, remains unidentified. They didn’t make games, but instead created standalone demonstration programs for the Commodore 64 computer showcasing their programming, artistic and musical skills. In the mid 80s they could be found on most weekends in Just Micro on Carver Street in Sheffield hogging a computer in one corner of the shop.