|Type||Subsidiary of Nintendo|
|Headquarters||Austin, Texas, United States|
|Key people||Michael Kelbaugh
|Products||Metroid Prime series
Donkey Kong Country series
|Employees||≥110 (as of July 2013)|
Retro Studios, Inc. is an American video game developer based in Austin, Texas. The company was founded in October 1998 by the video game veteran Jeff Spangenberg after leaving Acclaim Entertainment, as an independent studio making games exclusively for Nintendo. The studio started with four Nintendo GameCube projects which had a chaotic and unproductive development, and did not impress Nintendo producer Shigeru Miyamoto, but he suggested they create a new game in the Metroid series. Eventually the four games in development were cancelled so Retro could focus only on Metroid Prime, which was released for the GameCube in 2002, the same year Nintendo acquired the studio completely by purchasing the majority of Spangenberg's holding stock. Now a first-party developer and division of Nintendo, Retro since then developed two sequels to Prime, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the compilation Metroid Prime: Trilogy, and the revival for another Nintendo series, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. The studio also collaborated with the development of both Metroid Prime Hunters and Mario Kart 7.
1998–2002: Creation and Metroid Prime
Retro Studios was created in October 1998, by an alliance between Nintendo and former Iguana Entertainment founder Jeff Spangenberg. Nintendo hoped that Retro could provide the forthcoming Nintendo GameCube with games targeted at an older demographic, as Iguana Entertainment developed the successful Turok series for the Nintendo 64. After establishing its offices in Austin, Texas in 1999, Retro started four different projects for the future GameCube, despite not even having development kits. From the initial staff of 25 people, several of whom were former Iguana employees, the crew had grown into 120 employees by the time development of projects begun, eventually peaking at over 200 employees.
The workplace was chaotic, with the teams for each project not interacting with each other, and the deadlines imposed by Nintendo not being reached. Japanese employees visited three times a year, and were mostly critical on how development was progressing. In 2000, producer Shigeru Miyamoto visited the studio, and did not like the games being developed, but suggested that Retro could develop a new title in the Metroid series, considering that the studio could deal well with the license after seeing the prototype of a first-person shooter engine they created. Just a few weeks before the 2000 Space World, Nintendo granted Retro the Metroid license, and development of an action-adventure game was cancelled, with its team moving into Metroid Prime.
In February 2001, over 100 employees were laid off as two games, a football simulator and a vehicular combat game, were cancelled. In July 2001, an RPG called Raven Blade was also terminated, so that Metroid Prime would be the only game in development. 26 people working on the game were laid off, and nine others joined the Prime development team. On May 2, 2002, Nintendo secured $1 million worth of Retro Studios stock from Spangenberg, which reclassified the company as a first party developer and division of Nintendo. Spangenberg had a controversial stint as president, rarely appearing to work, neglecting supervision on the company's projects, and having pictures of himself with half-naked women appearing on a website registered to a Retro Studios mailing address. His replacement on the presidency was Steve Barcia, the founder of Simtex who joined Retro as vice-president of Product Development.
During the last nine months of Metroid Prime's development, Retro's staff worked 80 to 100-hour weeks to reach the deadline imposed by Nintendo. Despite its troubled production and initial mixed reactions from fans, Prime was released on November 17, 2002 in North America to universal critical acclaim, and commercial success, eventually selling over two million units worldwide.
2003–2009: The Metroid Prime Trilogy
After the critical and commercial success of Metroid Prime, Nintendo asked Retro Studios to produce a sequel. The developers decided against recycling the features of the first game while creating Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and instead used new sound models, weapon effects, and art designs. A multiplayer component was also added to the game. On April 2003, Steve Barcia left the company. Michael Kelbaugh, who had worked with Nintendo for over 15 years, was appointed president, a job he retains to this date. Retro tried to include some extras, such as a hidden version of Super Metroid, but were halted by the short development time. Producer Kensuke Tanabe later revealed in an interview that the game was just about thirty percent complete three months before the strict deadline Nintendo had set for a release in the 2004 holiday season. The critical reception for Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was very positive, but earned some criticism on the game's high difficulty. Sales for Echoes were lower than the first Prime, with a total of 800,000 units.
Retro Studios was then put to produce the next game in the Metroid Prime series titled Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Retro intended to give Metroid Prime 3: Corruption larger environments than Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and enable the game to run at 60 frames per second. The developers were also interested in using the WiiConnect24 feature to provide additional content for the game that would be accessible from the Internet. Retro announced that Corruption would be the final chapter of the Prime series and would have a plot "about closure, told against the backdrop of an epic struggle". After the Wii Remote was revealed, Nintendo demonstrated how Metroid Prime 3 would take advantage of the controller's special abilities with a version of Echoes modified for the Wii and shown at the Tokyo Game Show in 2005. Originally envisioned as a launch title for the Wii in November 2006, Corruption suffered many delays, eventually being released on August 27, 2007 to generally positive reviews, and over 1.60 million copies sold worldwide.
While Retro was busy with the Prime sequels, they had to pass on the Nintendo DS title Metroid Prime Hunters. The eventual developer, Nintendo Software Technology (NST), worked closely with Retro to design the game's art and characters to make sure that they fit into the overall Metroid series.
In 2004, while Retro Studios was finishing Echoes, senior producer Bryan Walker suggested to studio president Michael Kelbaugh to "do something for the fans by putting all the games together on a single disc in a collectors 'trilogy' edition". Kelbaugh sent the proposal to Nintendo, and the company accepted. The compilation Metroid Prime: Trilogy started being developed shortly after the release of Corruption, and was released in 2009.
2010–present: Donkey Kong Country series, Co-Developing Mario Kart 7
In April 2008, Retro saw the departure of three key developers, designer Mark Pacini, art director Todd Keller, and principal technology engineer Jack Mathews, who went on to form their own company, Armature Studio. Around the same time, Shigeru Miyamoto asked fellow producer Kensuke Tanabe to recommend a studio that could develop a new Donkey Kong game, and Tanabe recommended Retro. Kelbaugh had worked on the Donkey Kong Country series during his years on Nintendo of America, and had interest in continuing with the franchise. Retro accepted the task, and thus started development of Donkey Kong Country Returns. Similar to New Super Mario Bros., the game was developed with the intention to invoke nostalgic feelings in the player with its art style and sound, while trying to provide them with new gameplay experiences. Returns employs fully polygonal 3D graphics with three times the amount of textures and polygons that Corruption offered, and over the course of six months, two thirds of the game's tools and engine had to be rewritten by the programmers. Development accelerated at the outset of 2010, and the project was just "beginning to cohere as a game" around the time of E3, when it was officially announced to the press. Although the game was set for release in autumn that year, the team still had 70 levels to create or refine. After the development of Returns was completed, two more key departures happened at Retro with senior designers Kynan Pearson and Mike Wikan moving on to 343 Industries and id Software, respectively.
At E3 2011, it was announced during Nintendo's Developer Roundtable that Retro Studios would be involved in the development of Mario Kart 7 for Nintendo 3DS. At first Retro would contribute assets to developing one of the Donkey Kong themed levels, but the number evolved to the stage design of sixteen tracks in the late stages of development, as the Nintendo EAD crew started working on other projects and the game would not be finished before the December 2011 deadline.
Retro has received a Wii U development kit, and is reportedly working on a Wii U game. Miyamoto has said he would like to work with Retro in a Legend of Zelda game; however, he says that the current game Retro is working on is not Zelda. It is known that Retro has hired staff members from Naughty Dog – well known for creating the Uncharted series –, id Software and Vigil Games, known for creating the Darksiders series. At E3 2012, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Amie told IGN in an interview that Retro is currently "hard at work" on an untitled project for the Wii U. It has been confirmed on Retro's Facebook page that the studio had moved from their original location to a new location still in Austin, Texas. In their Nintendo Direct at E3 2013, Nintendo announced Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – another Donkey Kong game made by Retro Studios. The game will be Retro's first Wii U game and is set to be released in February of 2014. Original series composer David Wise will return to score the game.
List of games developed
|Metroid Prime||2002||NGC||Mark Pacini||Shigeru Miyamoto||N/A|
|Metroid Prime 2: Echoes||2004||NGC||Mark Pacini||Kensuke Tanabe||N/A|
|Metroid Prime Hunters||2006||NDS||Masamichi Abe||Kensuke Tanabe||Development co-operation for Nintendo Software Technology - Supervision and art direction only.|
|Metroid Prime 3: Corruption||2007||Wii||Mark Pacini||Kensuke Tanabe||N/A|
|Metroid Prime: Trilogy||2009||Wii||Mark Pacini||N/A|
|Donkey Kong Country Returns||2010||Wii||Bryan Walker||Kensuke Tanabe||N/A|
|Mario Kart 7||2011||3DS||Kosuke Yabuki||Hideki Konno||Development co-operation for Nintendo EAD Group No. 1 - Donkey Kong-related assets and re-building "retro courses".|
|Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D||2013||3DS||Vince Joly||Kensuke Tanabe||Development co-operation for Monster Games - Assistance in porting the game.|
|Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze||2014||Wii U||Kensuke Tanabe||N/A|
The four initial GameCube projects Retro had before the development of Metroid Prime were cancelled:
|Action-Adventure (working title)||Action-adventure game||GCN||It was mostly concept artwork and a mock up first-person engine before cancellation, but allegedly inspired Shigeru Miyamoto to hand Retro the Metroid license. The development team moved onto production of Metroid Prime.|
|NFL Retro Football||American football||GCN||The game designers initially wanted to make a Mario Football game, but Nintendo settled on a realistic simulator with the NFL license due to Retro's purpose of creating mature games. The game was cancelled in February 2001. A possible cause was Electronic Arts and Sega agreeing to port the Madden NFL and NFL 2K series to the GameCube.|
|Car Combat / Thunder Rally (working titles)||Vehicular combat game||GCN||It was initially pitched to Nintendo as a mix of "QuakeWorld, Twisted Metal 2, and Mario Kart 64 with shades of Mad Max and Street Fighter II." Despite being the project with most progress at Retro, it was cancelled along with NFL Retro Football in February 2001. Two members of the development team, programmer David "Zoid" Kirsch and modeller Rick Kohler, joined the Metroid Prime project.|
|Raven Blade||Role-playing video game||GCN||The game was showcased on E3 2001, but production was plagued with technical setbacks, and the game eventually got cancelled on July 2001 so Retro could focus on Metroid Prime. Nine members of its development team joined Prime.|
Retro Studios have received very positive reception for their games. On GameRankings, Metroid Prime is the 7th highest rated game ever reviewed, with an average score of 96.30% (as of June 2010), making it the second highest reviewed game of the sixth generation, after Soul Calibur. The video game countdown show Filter named Prime as having the Best Graphics of all time. Prime was also chosen for lists of best games: 24th in IGN's Top 100, 29th in a 100 game list chosen by GameFAQs users, and 10th in Nintendo Power's "Top 200 Nintendo Games Ever". GameSpy chose it as the third best GameCube title of all time, behind The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Resident Evil 4, while IGN put it at first in a similar list. Nintendo Power also ranked it as the sixth best game of the 2000s.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was positively received, but the criticism of the game was driven on the steep difficulty and multiplayer components. Reception to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption has been generally positive, with several reviews specifically praising the gameplay. Metroid Prime: Trilogy received an aggregated score of 91 out of 100 and 92% from Metacritic and GameRankings respectively, with much praise to the new controls for Prime and Echoes, and presentation values. Donkey Kong Country Returns received very positive reviews. It currently has an average score of 87 out of 100 on GameRankings and Metacritic.
Metroid Prime became one of the best-selling games on the GameCube. It was the second best-selling game of November 2002 in North America, behind Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and hit 250,000 units in just one week. The game has since sold about 1.49 million copies in America alone, earning more than $50 million in revenue. It is also the eighth best-selling GameCube game in Australia, and sold more than 78,000 copies in Japan, and more than 250,000 copies in Europe, thus entering the Player's Choice line in the PAL region. Echoes sold 470,000 copies in North America in 2004, and a total of 40,000 copies in Japan. By August 2009, the game had sold 800,000 copies worldwide. Despite being released on August 27, Corruption was the fifth best-selling game of the month, with 218,100 copies sold. It also debuted at the fifth spot of the Japanese charts, with 34,000 units in the first week of release. More than one million copies of the game were sold in 2007, and as of March 2008, 1.31 million copies of the game were sold worldwide.
Donkey Kong Country Returns debuted third on the Japanese game charts, with 163,310 units sold, and has sold 638,305 copies in Japan as of January 2, 2011. In North America, the game debuted at sixth place in the charts, with 430,470 units sold. By the end of March 2011, it had sold 4.96 million copies worldwide.
Echoes won an award in almost every category it was nominated for at the 2004 Nintendo Power Awards, and won awards for Best GameCube Game of 2004 from IGN, Electronic Gaming Monthly and GameSpy. It was rated the 174th best game made on a Nintendo system in Nintendo Power’s Top 200 Games list, the 74th best game by GameFAQs users, the 15th best GameCube game by IGN, and the 13th best by GameSpy.
In IGN's Best of 2007 Awards, Corruption received the awards for Best Wii Adventure Game, Best Artistic Design, and Best Overall Adventure Game. GameSpy ranked it as the second best Wii game of the year, behind Super Mario Galaxy, and honored it as the Best Innovation on the Wii.
For its awards for game's released in 2010, IGN gave Donkey Kong Country Returns awards for "Best Retro Design" and "Most Challenging". Game Informer named it Game of the Month for December 2010, with the reviewer hailing it as "one of the best platformers [they'd] ever played". The publication later picked it as the "Best Platformer" and "Best Wii Exclusive" of 2010.
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