The Nintendo Ultra 64 Dream Team studio we’re looking at this week bears some interesting parallels to the last one we looked at, Angel Studios.
Like Angel, the Edinburgh, Scotland-based DMA Design began in 1984 as Acme Software, though unlike Angel, they were all about video games from the very start. Initially, their work focused on PC gaming, and their first release under the name of DMA Design came in a 1988 side-scrolling shooter called Menace, which was released for MS-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, and Commodore 64.
With 1991’s Lemmings, they’d soon expand their reach to start working on games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as SEGA’s family of platforms and numerous others. Even so, most of their output remained on various forms of PC hardware.
Up until 1994, all of their titles had been published by Psygnosis, but a new title developed for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System saw them enter into an arrangement with a different partner: None other than Nintendo themselves.
Uniracers (known as Unirally in PAL regions) was a side-scrolling racing game featuring sentient Unicycles which placed a heavy emphasis on performing stunts, and could be enjoyed by one or two players. The problem is, reviewers at the time didn’t particularly enjoy it, meaning that Nintendo likely saw little reason to go to bat for it when the computer animation studio Pixar sued DMA Design, alleging that the Unicycle design was taken from their 1987 short film Red’s Dream.
DMA’s Mike Dailly said of the case, “The problem with Pixar was that they seemed to think that any computer generated unicycle was owned by them.” Unfortunately for them, however, the courts agreed with the future Toy Story creators, and further production of the game’s cartridges was ceased, leaving the total run at around 300,000 units and no Virtual Console release. It was only years in the future that people would rediscover the game, some even declaring it to be a “masterpiece,” but by then, the damage had long been done.
Despite the setback, Nintendo clearly still saw something in the Scottish studio, as they were signed on to be a part of the company’s Dream Team of developers for the upcoming Nintendo (Ultra) 64 console. This ultimately yielded a mere two titles for the platform, the first of which was 1998’s Body Harvest, an action-adventure title featuring a time traveling soldier who fights aliens that come to Earth in order to harvest organic matter. Like Uniracers, it was originally going to be published by Nintendo themselves, and as a launch title, no less; however, they took issue with the game’s violent themes, leaving DMA to find a new publisher in Midway Games, a company spun off from fellow Dream Team member Williams, as well as Gremlin Interactive in PAL regions.
Whatever interest Nintendo had in DMA Design had seemingly waned by this point, as their other Nintendo 64 title, a 3D platformer named Space Station Silicon Valley, would see them join forces with another publisher as well. Space Station Silicon Valley was released in North America the day after Body Harvest, and met with a more positive reception — enough that it would not remain a Nintendo 64 exclusive, and went on to see versions published for the Game Boy Color and Sony PlayStation as well.
While the whole Dream Team partnership didn’t really work out in the end, you needn’t shed any tears for DMA Design. You see, the year before Body Harvest was released, they had released another title alongside the same publisher that would lend them a hand with Space Station Silicon Valley, as Grand Theft Auto was brought to the PC and Sony PlayStation throughout late 1997 and 1998, courtesy of Take-Two Interactive and its subsidiary, Rockstar Games (nee BMG Interactive). Its success would see the studio purchased by Gremlin Interactive in 1997, only for Take-Two to purchase them from Gremlin in 1999
As you might have guessed, that partnership has gone rather well for them. They would release another Grand Theft Auto in the original’s top-down point of view before bringing the revolutionary third entry in the series to the PlayStation 2 in 2001. Following that game’s massive success, Rockstar fully integrated DMA Design into their fold as Rockstar North.
Since then, Rockstar North has released numerous new entries in the Grand Theft Auto series, as well as working on other names big and not-so big, ranging from Manhunt and Max Payne 3 to L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption, which were also co-developed by fellow former Dream Team member Angel Studios, who is now known as Rockstar San Diego.
While there may have been something of a culture clash when it came to content, Nintendo clearly knew talent when they saw it.
Bonus: The UK commercial for Body Harvest, which has to be seen to be believed, yet feels perfectly in sync for what one would expect from the creators of Grand Theft Auto: