Rockstar North

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Rockstar North Ltd.
Formerly called
Rockstar Studios Ltd. (2002)
Industry Video game industry
Predecessor DMA Design
Founded 27 March 2002; 14 years ago (2002-03-27)
Headquarters Edinburgh, Scotland
Key people
Andrew Semple (studio director)
Number of employees
360+[1] (2013)
Parent Rockstar Games

Rockstar North Ltd. is a British video game developer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is the primary developer of the Grand Theft Auto series and contributed to Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3. As DMA Design, it created the original Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings. It is a subsidiary of Rockstar Games, owned by Take-Two Interactive.


DMA Design[edit]

Main article: DMA Design

Late 1980s: Foundation[edit]

DMA Design was founded in 1987 by David Jones in Dundee, Scotland, whose first employee was Mike Dailly followed by Russell Kay and Steve Hammond. The name DMA was taken from the Amiga programming manuals (where it stood for Direct Memory Access) and the initials were later 'retrofitted' so that they briefly stood for Direct Mind Access (DMA was also jokingly referred to as "Doesn't Mean Anything" by a company founder).[2] In 1988 DMA signed with UK label Psygnosis and developed Menace and Blood Money – side-scrolling space shooters which gained attention from gamers and critics for both their high-quality presentation and difficulty. As with all the company's early games, Menace and Blood Money debuted on the Amiga, one of the leading platforms for video games in Europe between the late 1980s and the early 1990s. A Commodore 64 port was published immediately after, later followed by DOS and Atari ST versions.

Early 1990s: Lemmings[edit]

DMA's major breakthrough came with 1991's Lemmings, a dynamic puzzle game that sold over 20 million copies on 21 different systems. It debuted on the Amiga and it was available on other major platforms like the NES, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and Macintosh, and more obscure systems such as the FM Towns computer and the CD-i. Much of DMA's time over the next few years was devoted to Lemmings follow-ups (Oh No! More Lemmings, Lemmings 2: The Tribes, All New World of Lemmings, and two Christmas-themed Holiday Lemmings special editions). They also released two original titles: 1993's Walker (a side-scrolling mech shooter) and 1994's Hired Guns (a first-person tactical shooter game with a four-way split screen). Other Lemmings sequels and spinoffs, such as Lemmings Paintball and Lemmings 3D, have appeared over the years, but these were produced without DMA.

Mid-1990s: Nintendo arrangement, Body Harvest and Grand Theft Auto[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Grand Theft Auto.

1994's Uniracers, a 2D platform racer featuring riderless unicycles, was the company's first game to debut on a console (the Super NES). Published by Nintendo, it also marked DMA's first game without Psygnosis, which was bought out by Sony in 1993. This was the beginning of what would be a long and often bumpy relationship with the Japanese console giant. After spending some time experimenting with various next-generation consoles (particularly the 3DO), DMA was asked by Nintendo to join their "Dream Team" of developers for the upcoming Nintendo Ultra 64 system (later renamed Nintendo 64), alongside such other developers as Rare, Paradigm, Acclaim, Midway Games, and LucasArts.

Under this arrangement, DMA would produce a title for the N64 that Nintendo would publish. The result of this collaboration was Body Harvest, a third-person 3D vehicular action game with a storyline about aliens arriving on Earth to harvest humans for food. Nintendo requested a number of major overhauls, such as the addition of puzzle and role-playing elements to make the game more appealing to the Japanese market. After numerous delays Nintendo dropped their publishing plans prompting Gremlin Graphics and Midway to pick them up. Body Harvest was released in 1998, three years after the game was first shown to mostly favourable reviews.

In October 1997 the company released (through the short-lived BMG Interactive label) Grand Theft Auto for the PC whilst neighbouring developer Visual Sciences converted the PlayStation version. Initially called Race and Chase, development began in 1995 with a relatively inexperienced team after a large group of new artists and programmers were hired.[3] On release Grand Theft Auto gained huge critical and commercial success with sales picking up dramatically in part due to the controversy attracted for its violent content, with the Daily Mail calling for an outright ban.[citation needed] This controversy was due in part to publicist Max Clifford planting sensational stories in tabloid newspapers to help boost sales of the game.[4] Due to this success the London 1969 and London 1961 mission packs were released in 1999.

Late 1990s: Rockstar and Dundee studio closure[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Rockstar Games.

During the late 1990s DMA went through a series of financial moves which saw the company sold three times in two years. In October 1997, DMA was bought by British publisher Gremlin Interactive, with Jones becoming Creative Director of both companies. BMG Interactive, who had purchased the rights to both GTA and Space Station Silicon Valley, were bought by Take-Two Interactive in March 1998, forming Rockstar Games. Later that year, in October, both Space Station Silicon Valley and Body Harvest were released for the N64 to favourable reviews.[5][6] After the release the core team behind Space Station began to experiment with a 3D city concept using the Dreamcast and the Body Harvest team worked on a follow up to their game while at the other end of the studio, Grand Theft Auto 2 was in development.

As Gremlin Interactive began to falter with a lack of top name games and huge competition from other publishers they worked out a deal which saw them bought by Infogrames for a reported £24 million in March 1999.[7] Complicating the sale was the pre-existing deal between DMA and the now named Rockstar Games for the publishing rights to the Grand Theft Auto series. Due to a growing desire from many of the DMA staff an Edinburgh office was opened in June 1999. This studio was populated by the Space Station and Body Harvest teams with the intention to work on follow ups to their previous games. At the time of the move it was decided that a 3D solution for the GTA franchise was needed and due to their experiments with 3D city simulators the Space Station Silicon Valley team were given development of the third instalment.[8] Grand Theft Auto 2 was released in September 1999 to mixed critical and commercial response.[9] Set in a retro futuristic metropolis, it did add a few new features; however, it was criticised for being too similar in both visual quality and game mechanics to its predecessor.[10]

Soon Infogrames sold DMA Design to Take-Two with Rockstar Games publishing the Dreamcast version of Wild Metal Country (retitled simply Wild Metal) and Grand Theft Auto 2 for the PC, PlayStation and Dreamcast.[11] It was at this time that Jones left the company, setting up a new development studio in Dundee as a subsidiary of Rage Software. Through a management buy-out, this later became Realtime Worlds. Not long after the buy out, the Dundee studio was closed, marking the end of the DMA Design Dundee studio. DMA had several announced projects that were subsequently cancelled in mid-development: Nintendo 64 ports of Wild Metal Country and the original Grand Theft Auto, Clan Wars (a real-time 3D castle building and siege game set in medieval Scotland), Attack! (a caveman-themed platform game for the N64) and a port of Epic Games' PC hit Unreal for the Nintendo 64DD.

Rockstar North[edit]

Late 1990s: Founding as DMA Design[edit]

In 1999, shortly before the closure of DMA Design's Dundee studio, a new DMA studio was opened in Edinburgh by Rockstar Games.[12] The studio originally had several former employees of the Dundee studio who had previously worked on Space Station Silicon Valley and Body Harvest, with both teams working on new Rockstar projects. The Space Station Silicon Valley team began work on Grand Theft Auto III, while the Body Harvest team started work on what would become Manhunt.[13]

Early to mid-2000s: Grand Theft Auto III and name change to Rockstar North[edit]

Development on Grand Theft Auto III was started as the studio's first project, Rockstar wanted the game to be technically different from its predecessors, so the team started experimenting with 3D worlds using Body Harvest 3D world as inspiration for the game. As development went on, the game began to resemble a 3D Grand Theft Auto with the ability to enter and exit cars using 3D models.[12][14][15][16][17] Grand Theft Auto III was released in October 2001 and became the PlayStation 2's biggest system seller in both the US and Europe at the time.

In March 2002, Rockstar Games announced that DMA Design's name was changing to Rockstar Studios to more fully integrate the studio with its parent company based in New York.[18] Just two months later, in May, the name was changed again, this time to Rockstar North.[19] Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released in October 2002 for the PlayStation 2 after nine months of development. The game retained the engine and core gameplay of GTA III while adding a number of refinements and a roster of top Hollywood voice talent. In 2003, the company released a PC port of Vice City, as well as a two-pack of both Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City for Microsoft's Xbox console, ported by Rockstar Vienna. The developer's next release, also for the PlayStation 2, was Manhunt in November 2003, after the studio refocused post Vice City. The game was released amidst a media frenzy surrounding some of game's violent content.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas followed for the PlayStation 2 in October 2004 and became the highest selling PlayStation 2 game ever, with 17.33 million copies sold. It went on to sell 27.5 million copies total after ports to Xbox and PC were released in 2005.[20] Following in 2005 and 2006 respectively, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories were two new instalments for the PlayStation Portable, both developed by Rockstar Leeds under supervision from Rockstar North. Both games subsequently received ports to the PlayStation 2. After San Andreas was released, and due to growing staff numbers, the company moved from their Leith offices to a new location at Calton Square. Starting from an original team of around twenty-five, the studio now has over three hundred and fifty staff.[21]

Mid 2000s to present: Grand Theft Auto IV and V, and Benzies' departure[edit]

Grand Theft Auto IV was released on 29 April 2008, after around four years of development, for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, marking the debut of the developer’s wildly popular Grand Theft Auto franchise on the seventh-generation of video game consoles. GTA IV was another huge financial and critical success, breaking sales records amongst all types of entertainment media.[22] Rockstar North continued work on GTA IV in the form of two pieces of downloadable episodic content. The first of these, titled The Lost and the Damned, was released on 17 February 2009, with the second, The Ballad of Gay Tony, released on 29 October 2009. Rockstar later released a disc based version of both episodes for the PlayStation 3, PC, and Xbox 360, titled Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City.

On 2 June 2009, at Sony's E3 conference, it was announced that Agent was being developed by Rockstar North for the PlayStation 3.[23] This was later confirmed in an interview with Ben Feder, President of Take-Two Interactive.[24] The game will be set in the world of the late 1970s. According to Rockstar North, it will "take players on a paranoid journey into the world of counter-intelligence, espionage, and political assassinations".[25]

On 17 September 2013, the studio released Grand Theft Auto V on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which became one of the most critically acclaimed games ever.[26] The game was a return to the fictional city of Los Santos, last seen in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The game also introduced multiple playable characters for the first time in the series, allowing players to switch between Franklin, Michael and Trevor. It quickly became the studio's most commercially successful release, as well as one of the highest-grossing video games of all time, surpassing the total gross of Grand Theft Auto IV within its first week and breaking the one-day gross record for video games.

Following the release of Grand Theft Auto V, studio president and producer Leslie Benzies went on sabbatical on 1 September 2014, and left the company in January 2016. Following Benzies' departure, art directors Aaron Garbut and Rob Nelson lead Rockstar North.[27]

Leslie Benzies vs. Take-Two lawsuit[edit]

On 12 April 2016, former studio lead Leslie Benzies sued Rockstar Games parent company Take-Two Interactive for $150 million in unpaid royalties, and for being dismissed without warning during his sabbatical, amongst several other accusations towards the presidence of Rockstar Games.[28] In a document revealed by his attorney,[29] Benzies claims not only that Rockstar hasn't paid the due royalties but also he that was drawn into a scheme inserted into a so-called "2009 Royalty Plan" where Benzies would earn evenly split profits between the three called "Rockstar Principals" (Sam Houser, Dan Houser and Benzies), a coalition created for the three by Dan and Sam Houser to try to separate from Take-Two, using Take-Two funds to do so. When Benzies was due his split, he never received any money, given the Houser brothers had unknowingly allocated $93 million in profit-sharing payments to themselves, with another $523 million in profits still unaccounted for.

In 2014, Benzies was reportedly encouraged to take a sabbatical pause by the Houser brothers, to "recharge batteries"[29] given how hard he had worked for the company during all the years it has existed. Benzies also accused the Houser brothers of being unable to work without his presence, by revealing e-mails during the Red Dead Redemption development troubles that showed Houser urgently asking for Benzies' help because he could not manage any big projects without him (in the case of Red Dead Redemption, having trouble finishing the project, whilst Benzies was not even allocated to work on the game), constantly pestering the ex-developer via e-mails asking for help, saying that nothing was the same without him, treating him like an extraordinarily necessary asset for the company, having him working on projects he wasn't even a part of.

Sam Houser was also accused of engaging in sexual behaviours with his employees, encouraging a company culture involving strip clubs, and "other conduct grossly in violation of standard workplace norms",[29] being considered an unstable person.

On the evening of 12 April 2016, Take-Two counter-claimed Benzies' lawsuit, saying the accusations were "downright bizarre".[30]

A trial is yet to be scheduled, as of public knowledge.

Rockstar North collaborations[edit]

In addition to collaborating with Rockstar Leeds on the portable Grand Theft Auto games, Rockstar North has also collaborated with Rockstar San Diego on their Red Dead Redemption, Team Bondi's L.A. Noire and with Max Payne 3 as part of Rockstar Studios.

Games developed[edit]

Title Year Platform(s) Notes
Grand Theft Auto III 2001 PS2, Windows, Xbox PS2 version developed as DMA Design, ported to Xbox by Rockstar Vienna
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 2002 Ported to Xbox by Rockstar Vienna
Manhunt 2003
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas 2004
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories 2005 PSP, PS2 With Rockstar Leeds
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories 2006
Grand Theft Auto IV 2008 PS3, Windows, X360 Ported to Windows by Rockstar Toronto
Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned 2009
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars PSP, DS With Rockstar Leeds
Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony PS3, Windows, X360 Ported to Windows by Rockstar Toronto
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City 2010
Red Dead Redemption PS3, X360 With Rockstar San Diego
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
L.A. Noire 2011 PS3, Windows, X360 With Team Bondi
Max Payne 3 2012 As part of Rockstar Studios
Grand Theft Auto V 2013 PS3, X360
2014 PS4, XONE
2015 Windows
Agent TBA PS3


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  2. ^ "History Of DMA Design". NowGamer. 28 June 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Yin, Wesley (16 September 2013). "How the first Grand Theft Auto was almost cancelled • News •". Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Grand Theft Auto in the dock over US road killing • The Register". The Register. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  5. ^ "Space Station Silicon Valley". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  6. ^ "Body Harvest". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  7. ^ 13:11, 24 Mar 1999 at; tweet_btn(), Tony Smith. "Infogrames grabs Gremlin for £22.9 million". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  8. ^ "Sam Houser's CV - in his own words". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  9. ^ "Grand Theft Auto 2". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  10. ^ "Grand Theft Auto 2 Review". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
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  15. ^ Shaun McInnis (31 October 2011). "Dan Houser Opens Up About Grand Theft Auto III". Retrieved 25 April 2014. 
  16. ^ "Dan Houser Opens Up About Grand Theft Auto III". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  17. ^ Simmons, Alex (13 November 2012). "Grand Theft Auto 5's Unseen Mastermind". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  18. ^ "DMA Design becomes Rockstar Studios". 19 March 2002. Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  19. ^ "E3 2002: Rockstar Studios Changes Name Again - IGN". Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  20. ^ "GTA IV Overtakes San Andreas in Lifetime Sales [Correction]". Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  21. ^ "Inside Rockstar North - Part 2: The Studio". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  22. ^ "GTA IV: 926,000 copies sold in five days". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  23. ^ Reilly, Jim (2 June 2009). "Rockstar's 'Agent' Announced For PS3". IGN. Retrieved 5 June 2009. 
  24. ^ "Take-Two grooming Agent to be the next GTA". Retrieved 5 June 2009. 
  25. ^ Rice, Brad (2 June 2009). "E3 09: Sony announces new Rockstar exclusive Agent". Destructoid. Retrieved 5 June 2009. 
  26. ^ "This GTA 5 video is a complete Jackass". Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  27. ^ Klepek, Patrick (12 January 2016). "Rockstar North Boss Leslie Benzies Is Out After Nearly Two Decades". Kotaku. Gawker Media. Retrieved 13 January 2016. 
  28. ^ "GTA Creator Sues Rockstar for $150 Million - WholesGame". WholesGame. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  29. ^ a b c "Benzies vs Rockstar". Scribd. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  30. ^ "Rockstar: Benzies' claims "downright bizarre"". Retrieved 14 April 2016. 

External links[edit]