Swingin' Ape Studios -- Part 1

Posted by Daeity On Friday, December 9, 2011

Here's something new that some of you might find interesting. It's a short history about Swingin' Ape Studios, including some information that no one outside of SAS or Blizzard knows about. I've also collected some exclusive information and never before seen images of an unreleased title. I hope you find it as interesting as I did, especially if you were a big fan of Metal Arms (like I am.)

During the course of my investigation, I actually ended up breaking out my XBOX from storage and I'll be playing Metal Arms later tonight. :)

Now.. as many of you know, Blizzard had outsourced the Starcraft Ghost project to Nihilistic and they ended their relationship in mid 2004. The project was then contracted to Swingin' Ape Studios, which was later acquired by Blizzard in May 2005.

According to official documents, Blizzard acquired Swingin' Ape Studios, and Vivendi acquired several other studios around the same time. They paid approximately $71.6 million for all of the acquisitions. (Detailed breakdowns are not publicly available of course.)

The subject of Starcraft Ghost has been talked about so much, it's like beating a dead horse, and you know that those are subjects that I try to avoid. :)

I'm actually surprised that no one has ever focused on Swingin' Ape Studios themselves. It seems that the focus has always been on Ghost, but never on it's other games or the company itself.

The Original Metal Arms

I wanted to start out with a quick description of what SAS originally brainstormed for Metal Arms. This has been brought up in past interviews, but I thought I would re-post because it's very interesting and often overlooked.

Metal Arms: Glitch in the System is Swingin' Ape Studios's first game development project. How did the title come to be? Did Vivendi request your development services, or was this a project that Swingin' Ape Studios took to Vivendi for publishing?

Steve Ranck: In early 2001, Swingin’ Ape Studios was working on a game concept based on a space traveling bounty hunter. We had a rich story, interesting characters, and exciting planets the player could visit. One of these planets was called Iron Star, and it was inhabited entirely by various types of robots. When we learned that two other bounty hunter games were already far into development, we dropped the idea and began experimenting with a game based on the robot world of Iron Star. We replaced the biological bounty hunter character with Glitch, our small but determined robot protagonist. With our robot universe providing a creative springboard, our design document quickly grew to over 200 pages and from there it was easy to develop a playable prototype using a few of the more exciting ideas. At the same time, we were speaking with many publishers about Metal Arms and eventually signed with Vivendi who really understood the potential of the game.
Steve Ranck also posted some fun facts about Metal Arms here back in 2004.

For example,
The initial design for Metal Arms revolved around RTS-style mechanics. Obviously we lost the RTS elements as the game design evolved.
Swingin' Ape pitched the Metal Arms concept to over 12 publishers at E3 2001. Sierra was one of them. The pitch included a design overview, concept art, and the demo movie that you can view in the shipping product after you beat the game.
Swingin' Ape surprised Sierra with a playable demo several months before Sierra decided to fund the game. It demonstrated the various gameplay modes, including the ability to take over and control a Titan.
Other Games After Metal Arms, But Before Ghost

After the Metal Arms project finished, the company pitched several game ideas to various companies before landing the SC Ghost project.

The team worked on Metal Arms 2, a SWAT demo for the PS2, a GI Joe demo, and a game called "Guerrilla: Jungle Revolt" for the X360. The Guerrilla demo actually started out as a Wasteland / Mad Max / post-apocalyptic themed game, but when they showed it to EA, they thought that something more military themed (on an island like Far Cry), would sell better so they encouraged SAS to re-theme and update the proposed design. The new design was pitched to Microsoft, who were interested in it as a X360 launch title, and they were willing to pay SAS for 3 months to make a prototype. They were especially excited about this as a Xenon (X360) launch title, and they were a week away from signing on with Microsoft to develop the Guerrilla prototype when Blizzard approached them with the Ghost opportunity.

There was a discussion about Guerrilla vs Ghost, but Ghost made the most financial sense because Blizzard was committing to years of funding vs the 3 months from Microsoft just for a prototype.

Steve has graciously provided me with the original Power Point Presentation doc (25 pages) that was pitched to Microsoft. He noted that the address at the bottom of the presentation was their old location. They moved into a much larger facility to develop Ghost, but the first site was where they developed Metal Arms and it's now Aliso Viejo's City Hall. (The other documents with in-game screenshots I'll create in a second post.)