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The Best PC Game Developers of All Time

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ANDR01D writes PC game reviews and shares his views on the video game industry.

What makes a developer a PC game developer? A few things. Naturally they support the platform in one of several ways: their games are released on PC; they look better on PC; their games are exclusive to the PC or at least are released at the same time as their console version brethren and don’t have a crappy PC port released one or two years later; games have a PC feel to them; they usually go under quicker than console game-developers, too. Sorry to say, but it’s a just true – statistically speaking. Don't believe me, then look at some of the companies below.

So which studios are my personal favourites? Studios I like may develop games I like playing or provide some sort of service that caters to the PC market, or do something that just makes them awesome. But it's generally, mostly about games. Just so you know.

So, in no particular order:

Looking Glass Studios – System Shock, Thief

A company that truly tried to introduce new things. LGS was innovative. Look at System Shock – it was way ahead of its time. Powered by the Ultima Underworld engine, it wasn’t pretty by any means even for the time – but gameplay and technology wise it was leaps and bounds ahead of Doom, the most popular title around at the time of its release, which went for a more simplified action approach. System Shock went largely ignored by most gamers for this reason, and the same could be said for the sequel, System Shock 2, which LGS co-developed alongside Irrational Games.

Years later and they once again showed off their ingenuity; creativity – when they unleashed Thief: The Dark Project upon us. Garrett, the memorable player character didn’t have guns, instead opting for a bow and arrow, and a sword to fight his battles – which was entirely not the idea of this game. Stealth was favoured and often the player was rewarded for taking the more shadowy route.

Thief helped pioneer the stealth game genre, and we see its legacy continued today in the Splinter Cell series, chiefly, among others. It was never a mainstream series, but instead developed a cult following that has kept the spirit of the games alive to this day with fan-developed missions, unofficial expansions, and Thief-inspired mods.

Despite LGS having closed its doors over ten years ago, the Thief series lives on. It was first adopted by Ion Storm, but has since been picked up by the capable people over at Eidos Montreal, who brought us Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So there’s still hope for it yet. As for its other major series, System Shock, that seems to have been left in limbo with Irrational Games opting to focus on the BioShock franchise. EA supposedly owns the rights to the System Shock IP, but has thus far shown no interest in resurrecting the series.

GSC Game World – S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Cossacks

The recent semi-demise of GSC GameWorld was a bit of a shock. It was sudden and unexpected, but I can’t say it wasn’t obvious it would happen sooner or later. The Ukrainian-based developer only ever released its famed S.T.A.L.K.E.R titles on the PC, with talk of console versions being merely speculation over the years.

I once predicted that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 would be the death of the series – and right I was. The talk came about again regarding the introduction of the series to console gamers with this release, but in the end it was that very ambition that led to the studio’s downfall. Failure to secure a publisher for the console versions of the game led to GSC taking a massive hit. Just like with 3DR, the development team that was going to tackle the sequel to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. left and formed their own company, Vostok Games.

There had also been reports of a possible DRM (Digital Rights Management) involving players having to have a constant internet connection to play the game – much like the nonsense that Ubisoft tried to con paying customers with not too long ago. This would only have hurt the long awaited true sequel in the end.

I for one hope that the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series stays alive somehow. In a way it will, seeing as Metro 2033 has become a hit. The series has been worked on by people who once helped develop S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It's what you might call a spiritual successor. That and Vostok Games has Survarium. GSC for the time being is still alive, but is slowly bleeding out. Currently the main website and forum are still open, and they still provide technical support for their games catalogue, and the store is still open to purchase games. If you haven’t ever played a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, do yourself a favour and buy one – even if just to say thanks to a great studio that made a terrifically atmospheric, if technically flawed, series of games. It’s only a matter of time before they’re gone for good.

You don’t care? You say you’ve never heard of GSC, and you hate S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? You, my friend, are not a real PC gamer. And you’re a horrible person.

Bethesda – The Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3

One series pretty much made Bethesda a household name and that is The Elder Scrolls. These titles were first made available on the PC, and the first two have since been released as freeware. Starting with Morrowind, the series made its way to consoles. But let’s be honest, RPGs play better on PC. This could be said for some other genres, too. You could chalk it up to fanboyism – proven by the fact that this is a pro-PC article. Navigating inventories, clicking and dragging items to and from places – they’re not natively developed for consoles in mind, in my opinion.

We have not forgotten

Without Black Isle and it’s awesome turn-based strategy series, Fallout, and its predecessor, Wasteland (which is getting a sequel as we speak), we wouldn’t have had Fallout 3 or New Vegas. Black Isle did post-apocalyptic themed games before they were cool. And it's good to see they're making a comeback.

Games out of Bethesda not only look better on PC, but they technically work better too. The PS3 for one has had plenty of issues with their games, and this includes Skyrim. Issues pertaining to hardware and memory make it impossible for some players to even play the game for more than half an hour. Come on, this is an RPG here. You don’t take breaks. You don’t get up from your seat for anything. You play it until you finish it. End of story.

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And the number one reason why we like Bethesda games on PC is because of the mods – something you don’t get with console titles. Most shortfalls that their games have are addressed by mods, not patches released by the developers. It’s also so easy to load mods with Bethesda games.

I’ll also say one thing here just to end off: Bethesda still has love for the PC, and this is proven by the fact that collector’s editions are still released for the platform in addition to being available for the console versions. Most other publishers don’t even bother doing this.

Blizzard Entertainment – Diablo, StarCraft, WarCraft

Probably one of only a few true and pure PC game developers left – yes, they might be aligned with the evil Activision nowadays, but at least they haven’t yet resorted to shovelling out console-exclusive games.

Blizzard developed some of the first video games I ever played. I have memories of Blackthorne, and also The Lost Vikings. These are just a couple among others.

Diablo, StarCraft, and WarCraft are the three series this developer is known for, and they have mostly only ever been available to play on PC and Mac, save for one or two, practically cornering the RTS and RPG markets. World of WarCraft, years later, is still the top MMORPG out there, and has helped keep PC gaming alive – or at least the multiplayer component of it anyway. It doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.

People sometimes ask: “Are there any good console MMORPGs?”

Don’t be silly. Of course there aren’t. Even if they were any, nobody would play them.

3D Realms (Apogee Software) – Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior

First off, 3DR is not dead. It’s taken an ass-kicking, but it’s still around. After the fiasco that was Duke Nukem Forever, 3DR had to let go of all of the guys who worked on DNF. And several of them went and formed Triptych Games to finish the game and get it out there with the help of Gearbox Software.