The next studio we’re looking at from the vaunted Dream Team assembled by Nintendo to provide exclusive titles for their upcoming Ultra 64 console is Angel Studios. Some of you may not recognize the name, but by the time we’re done here, you might just know who they are.
The legacy of Angel Studios began all the way back in 1984, where rather than video games, they provided 3D work for various films. One of their best-known works came in the form of the 1992 motion picture The Lawnmower Man, where they provided computer-generated visual effects.
They would also provide the effects in the music video for the Peter Gabriel song, “Kiss That Frog,” which would go on to win the award for “Best Special Effects in a Video” at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. Founder Diego Angel, looking for new mountains to climb, was often averse to pursuing projects in fields that the company had already achieved critical acclaim, leading to Angel Studios’ next target: The video game industry, where they would be signed on in February 1995 as a third-party for the latest Nintendo console.
As a part of the Dream Team, Angel Studios’ work included titles such as Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest, though they did other work outside of their Nintendo 64 (as the console was renamed, of course) projects on games for other platforms, such as Mr. Bones for SEGA Saturn and the first two Midtown Madness games for Microsoft Windows PCs.
Not satisfied with making sports games for Nintendo’s console, however, Angel tried working on other titles alongside Mario and The Legend of Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto. These included a vehicular combat game in which cars would eat other cars to gain their attributes, known as Buggie Boogie, and an unnamed fantasy golf game. Ultimately, however, neither game would see release.
Angel’s big breakout title for the Nintendo 64 would come not as a project in which they worked alongside Nintendo, but Capcom. At a development budget of $1 million U.S. dollars, nine full-time programmers were able to take the two compact discs’ worth of code that comprised Resident Evil 2 and turn it into a cartridge-based port for the 64-bit console.
The success of their Resident Evil 2 port and their two Midtown Madness releases (probably more the latter, though the former couldn’t have hurt) attracted the eyes of a little publisher you might have heard of — one Rockstar Games, who came up with a small-scale title called Grand Theft Auto. Rockstar would publish titles Angel Studios developed for the new Sony PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube like Midnight Club: Street Racing, Smuggler’s Run, and Smuggler’s Run 2 before deciding in 2002 that they liked what they saw and would put a ring on it — to the tune of $28 million U.S. dollars, and in cash, no less.
The newly rechristened Rockstar San Diego has become quite a prestigious studio in the years following the acquisition, continuing their work on the Midnight Club series and Red Dead Revolver.
Following their work on Resident Evil 2, Red Dead Revolver began work in 2000 as something of an update of the arcade classic Gun.Smoke under the guidance of Capcom, who eventually cancelled the title not long after the studio was acquired. Rockstar would then purchase the rights to the game, allowing Rockstar San Diego to continue their work and ultimately release the title for PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2004, thus kicking off the acclaimed Red Dead series.
In and around that, Rockstar San Diego has worked on some other recognizable titles, including L.A. Noire, Max Payne 3, and even Grand Theft Auto V, where they played a support role to lead developer Rockstar North.
While many gamers may not have realized it at the time, Nintendo saw something in the studio that would be asked to join their Dream Team, and it seems clear that they’ve proven their merit several times over.