Goodbye, sweet prince.
Besides Eurogamer Expo a month before, THQ had hosted me in what was my first London-based press event whilst I was over from Derry for the infamous Granger-filled Games Media Awards. I had to duck out inbetween so I could hop onto a train to Windsor to see The Darkness II at 2K, but subsequently came back for a drinks thing then.
But whilst it was a press event, there was a bit of lark had towards the end of the night when everything had settled. We were playing Saints Row: The Third and there was a lot of discussion, among other things, about how bonkers it was. It was me, Nick Silversides (The Average Gamer), Lee Bradley (X360A), Sam Clay (then XG247 at the time, now VG247’s Video Editor) and a few others just talking about it as we overlooked a fantastic sight of London from the Millbank Tower.
Saints Row: The Third was one of my favorite games last year thanks to its OTT bonkersness. That bonkersness was key to the game’s success and it was all down to how open THQ and then core boss Danny Bilson was with the direction that Volition had chosen to go with.
Less than 15 months after that event (nearly to the day, in fact), THQ is no more.
Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth
Without realising it at the time, THQ – or Toy Headquarters, to give them their proper name – had pretty much tapped into my young childhood with the first two WWF Smackdown games. I think I may have Smackdown 2 somewhere, so I think I might dig that out to give it a nostalgic play again. But the two games came when the Attitude Era was in full swing.
And pretty much every child and teenager who watched the WWE during the Attitude Era almost certainly played both Smackdown games at that time, like me. They were pretty much faithly recreated for its time. The second Smackdown game is one I remember fondly when I picked it up from the local video shop as a rental alongside South Park Rally, an IP that THQ would later be involved with to an extent, as a combo pretty much most of the time.
I was six when the Attitude Era started and around eight or nine when it finished. But age is no factor in revisiting nostalgia, as WWE ’13 put forward last year. I’m 22 now and I revisited the Attitude Era in ’13 through the specific mode that was made for the game. Yukes has been given a lot of shit for recent WWE games. And I’m one of them people who thinks that fresh blood on the series (Take Two is said to be interested in the licence) will do it a lot of good. But to its credit, Yukes was absolutely faithful to it, spotlighting the people who made the Era what it was: DX, Stone Cold, The Rock, Mick Foley and thensome.
And some of the finer details too, like timing it right to throw Mick Foley from the top of the Hell in a Cell structure onto the announcers table, was a peach. That kind of attention to detail from Yukes gets some big credit from me.
Blowing Up Mars
Another THQ game I have rather fond memories of is Red Faction 2 from Volition. Was it the story? Nah. I’m a keen story person in games nowadays, but back then, I was just into blowing shit up and shooting things for the hell of it. Plus, blowing up walls to provide a shortcut was something I immensely loved doing, trivial as it was.
It also had Jason Statham in it, which is something I’ve just remembered whilst writing this. I think it also had that dude from Aliens (think he’s also the same guy who voiced Hackett in Mass Effect).
I haven’t played a Red Faction game since. Guerrilla was a cult fan favorite, whilst Armageddon was not critically hailed. Like I’ve said, I haven’t played a Red Faction game since 2, but if anyone picks up the IP and does a Red Faction 2-like game with it, I’m in like Flynn. RF2, in my book, was a hell lot of fun.
SUPER FUN TIME!
Which brings me to the game I mentioned at the start of this blog: Saints Row. I remember playing Saints Row 1 for a bit and, though I did think it was alright, how blatant it was a GTA clone. I have Saints Row 2 somewhere, but I’ve not touched it at all.
But in Saints Row: The Third, not only was it one of my favorite games of last year, it finally mapped out its own identity as something other than a GTA clone, wearing its craziness on its sleeve and was proud of it. Even if some of its additions were somewhat questionable to other people. Hello, dildo bat. When I spoke to Volition’s Scott Phillips at the end of 2011 for a VG247 interview, he said the craziness was something the studio took on very, very willingly.
“Internally, we had a design montra of ‘embrace the crazy, fun trumps all.’,” he said.
Another aspect Saints Row embraced was celebrities. Rockstar moved away from them as part of the voice cast with Grand Theft Auto IV (the only celebs, to name a few, spotted in the game one way or another were Ricky Gervais, Juliette Lewis and Frankie Boyle in The Ballad of Gay Tony), but Volition happily embraced it as part of Saints Row’s culture.
“I think with a guy like Hulk Hogan, that sort of WWE over the top wrestling personality definitely fits along our genre and our tone of what we’re aiming for,” said Phillips. “I think, obviously, when we have a handful of well-known celebrity actors, the vast majority of our voice actors are skilled, SAG actors, these guys come in and that’s their day job.
“I think they do a fantastic job, our player-character voices are fantastic and I’m really a fan of all of them.”
The Danny Bilson Era
Whilst I was at VG247, Danny Bilson was THQ’s loudmouth piece. And we, as news journalists, loved him for it. I never got to interview him personally (though was definitely on my list whilst at VG247), but every interview he gave – be it with us or anywhere else – he was a newsie’s dream as he dropped a golden nugget, such as ‘exciting collaboration x’ or ‘amazing game y’ to be announced soon. He wasn’t just teasing these things to just hype up the company, he was teasing these things also because he was genuinely excited for what they would bring. Creating a Twitter during his tenure just added to the excitement as press and newsies.
But during his time at THQ as EVP of core games, he wasn’t just a mouthpiece. Him and Senior Vice President of core games Dave Davis looked over a period that was very much open to everything and anything. It’s certainly possible that without these two, Saints Row: The Third wouldn’t have had its batshit craziness. Without these two, THQ wouldn’t have pressed forward with daring new IP and nurturing it (For that reason alone, Bilson and Davis should be applauded). And while it came to nothing in the end, without these two, THQ probably wouldn’t have had the power to bring Guillermo Del Toro, Tomonobu Itagaki and the likes to collaborations like inSane, Devil’s Third, etc.
Plus, Darksiders and the Metro games were born under their tenure. Whilst I’m not a fan of the Darksiders games, I respect its vision and understand why other people very much like the games in the same way I understand why most people love Red Dead Redemption, even though I found it to be boring. And I hope the people at Vigil find their way to somewhere awesome (or in the unfortunately less likely case, get snapped up by someone). And Metro has a big bright future ahead of it with Last Light, which looks absolutely fucking knock out. I hope we see more of that soon.
While he and Dave Davis didn’t save THQ, Danny Bilson just about managed to keep it going for a few more years than it probably had the right to. And for that, he deserves a salute. He certainly gets one from me.
So here we are. 24 hours after the aftermath of what happened. Toy Headquarters ha pretty much been stripped to bare bones and a few legacy IPs left behind.
Some studios and IPs now have new homes, thankfully. Volition/Saints Row and the Metro licence (meaning the continuing development of Last Light) are now in the hands of Koch Media (the parent company of Dead Island publisher Deep Silver), while Take Two has picked up the rights to the Turtle Rock title currently codenamed Evolve and is said to be eyeing the WWE licence.
Sega has now also established itself as a PC powerhouse – something most people wouldn’t have thought of happening about a year ago – with the purchase of Company of Heroes developer Relic and the CoH IP. I have a Company of Heroes 2 interview lying around from Eurogamer Expo, so I might try and pitch it out, otherwise I’ll slap it on here. But Sega now has Relic plus Sports Interactive (Football Manager) and The Creative Assembly (Total War, unnanounced Aliens game). Not to mention that Creative Assembly has a multi-game deal for the Warhammer licence (the deal is for the fantasy lore, though don’t be too shocked if Sega nabs the 40K rights soon) with the first game due this year. Beware, PC massive.
And Ubisoft has picked itself up the publishing rights to Obsidian’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, which was due to launch in what was THQ’s FY 2014 (start of calendar April 2013 – March 2014). In its press release, South Park was mentioned for just a 2013 release. It also picked up THQ Montreal and whatever new IPs it was working on. And with it, in the cruel irony of the day, buying back – somewhat literally! (turn to page 11) – ex-Assassin’s Creed boss Patrice Desilets. Desilets left Ubisoft in 2010 and went to THQ Montreal afterwards, albeit after a year of gardening leave and some legalities (it’s uncertain if Desilets will actually rejoin Ubisoft following the buyout, with Ubisoft saying it’s still too soon to confirm whether or not that’s the case).
Unfortunately, there was a bitter pill to swallow also. As mentioned above in part, Vigil was left untouched as was the Darksiders IP (though Platinum seems to be taking a keen interest in both aspects, going by Twitter). And THQ has today said it’ll continue to find a buyer for Vigil as it continues to go through Chapter 11.
The end of THQ came unceremoniously. But for what it’s worth, its legacy in providing some fantastic titles of our our generation across a multiple array of platforms for the past 24 years will stand the test of time.
So thank you, THQ. Or as the picture says, THNQ FOR THE GAMES. And Godspeed to those no longer in a job. You’ll land on your feet soon.
[THQ image via Toppot on GAF]