Rockstar San Diego

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Rockstar San Diego, Inc.
Angel Studios, Inc. (1984–2002)
Industry Video game industry
Founded 1984; 34 years ago (1984)
Founder Diego Angel
Headquarters Carlsbad, California, U.S.
Key people
Steve Martin (studio director)
Number of employees
Decrease 128 (2011)
Parent Rockstar Games (2002–present)
Divisions RAGE Technology Group

Rockstar San Diego, Inc. (formerly Angel Studios, Inc.) is an American video game developer based in Carlsbad, California. Founded by Colombian artist and businessman Diego Angel in 1984, the initial focus of the company laid on creating animations and visual effects for various multimedia productions, including films and music videos. Following Angel's business strategy of not focusing on high-risk business sectors, the company started working in the video game industry in the mid-1990s, their first video game project being additional work done for Mr. Bones (1996).

Angel Studios proceeded to develop their own games in association with Nintendo (Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest) and Microsoft (Midtown Madness and Midtown Madness 2), and produced a port of Capcom's Resident Evil 2 to Nintendo 64. Impressed with the studio's work on Midtown Madness, Rockstar Games approached Angel Studios with a long-term partnership in 1999, which resulted in the creation of successful video game series Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run.

In November 2002, Rockstar Games' parent company, Take-Two Interactive, announced that they had acquired Angel Studios. As part of the deal, Angel Studios was renamed Rockstar San Diego and became part of the Rockstar Games umbrella. Since 2004, Rockstar San Diego houses its internal game engine team, RAGE Technology Group, which develops the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE), Rockstar Games' proprietary engine that has been used in most titles developed for personal computers and consoles by Rockstar Games' studios.


Beginnings, partnerships, Resident Evil 2 port (1984–1999)[edit]

Diego Angel, a Colombian artist and businessman, founded Angel Studios in 1984, originally as a work-for-hire studio that created 3D graphics.[1][2] Corporate headquarters were established in Carlsbad, California.[2] Angel employed a philosophy he referred to as the "three P's"—passion, patience and perseverance—which meant that he would not accept any offer that came his way, but instead projects that properly showcased his team and technology they create.[2] Employees under Angel stated that he treated his employees like family and held a "Sippy Wippy", where he would share a bottle of Patrón tequila with them, every Friday afternoon, around 5 PM.[2] Much of the 3D work produced by Angel Studios included films and music videos.[3] They created their most successful works with with the computer-generated imagery sequences and visual effects in the film The Lawnmower Man, and in the music video for Peter Gabriel's song "Kiss That Frog", both released in 1992.[2][4][5] The latter won the "Best Special Effects in a Video" award at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards.[2][6] For effects, such as those used in the film, Angel Studios' graphics team, led by Brad Hunt, developed an algorithm with which they could visually transform a jet fighter into a dolphin with just a few tweaks.[7] Additionally, in January 1993, La Costa, California-based agency Gable/Versaggi Biocommunications acquired the marketing service rights for Angel Studios.[8] Angel often decided to stop seeking projects for fields in which the company already saw acclaim, if that field involved a "high-risk, capital-intensive business", even if it offered a rich potential.[1]

In the early 1990s, Angel Studios co-operated with technology company Silicon Graphics, where Angel Studios created demos for Silicon Graphics' high-end computers in exchange for units of these computers.[2] One of Silicon Graphics', and as such Angel Studios', clients was Genyo Takeda of Nintendo, who was impressed with Angel Studios' work.[2] Takeda inquired about an appointment with Angel Studios for the following day, and signed the company as a launch parter for the upcoming Nintendo Ultra 64 (later Nintendo 64) console three days later.[2] Angel Studios sunsequently shifted its focus towards the video game industry, and announced that they had joined Nintendo's "Dream Team"—a group of ten third-party companies that would develop video games for the still upcoming Nintendo Ultra 64—in February 1995.[2][6] Their first video game project was artwork and cutscenes created for Zono's 1996 game Mr. Bones.[2][3] Company partner Michael Limber attributed Angel's way of handling his company's businesses as the biggest factor in Angel Studios' surviving of the dot-com bubble, which had a particularly high impact on the multimedia industry in the San Diego area.[1]

As part of the Dream Team, the company went on to develop two sports games featuring American baseball player Ken Griffey Jr.: Major League Baseball and Slugfest, released for Nintendo 64 in 1998 and 1999, respectively.[1] Although both games were received well by critics, Angel decided against making further sports titles, proclaiming that Angel Studios was "not a sports company".[1] Still in conjunction with Nintendo, Angel Studios worked with video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto on a vehicular combat game for Nintendo 64, titled Buggie Boogie.[9] Miyamoto issued three-month contracts to the company, though did not keep any documents and instead returned to company every three months to check on the game's progress.[10] The game would have seen vehicles "eat" each other and absorb their DNA to overtake their powers.[9] After about six to nine months, Miyamoto, unsatisfied with the presented product, canceled the title and instead asked the team to create a fantasy golf game,[10] though that title stayed unreleased as well.[11] Angel attributed much of the success his company had in its early days of video games to the good relationships it had with Asian publishers:[2]

I was the only company in video games, the only [American] studio in those days, that was working and getting along with the Japanese. Americans are kind of closed [off]. [...] When you're outside the United States, you're open to other cultures than the Americans. [...] I used to go every month to Japan and just bring six bottles of tequila. They loved it.

— Diego Angel, Polygon[2]

In late 1997, Angel Studios was contracted as the developer of a port of Capcom's Resident Evil 2 from PlayStation to Nintendo 64, which was done in two years by nine full-time developers.[12] According to Angel, this marked the first collaboration between Capcom and a non-Japanese video game company.[2] The development consumed a total budget of US$1 million.[12][13] Released in November 1999, the port was considered a success for the company, as they managed to fit a game that took up two compact discs for PlayStation into one single Nintendo 64 ROM cartridge.[12] The same year, editors of IGN stated that the port marked the studio as perfectly fit to be a developer for Nintendo's then-announced Project Dolphin (later GameCube) console.[14]

Around the same time, Angel proposed the development of a racing video game title, despite the video game market being overcrowded with such games at the time.[1] For the game's development, Angel decided that his employees should work on their own and find their own ways to produce a fully-fledged video game, which was said to have been major factor for the product's resulting quality, with some developing a sense of ownership over their respective parts.[15] The game would later become Midtown Madness, the May 1999 installment in Microsoft's Madness line of racing titles for the personal computer.[16] Video game designer and programmer on Midtown Madness, Fred Marcus, stated that the studio's impressive physics demos were key to Angel Studios landing contracts with publishers.[17] The game was a success, with Tal Blevins of IGN claiming it to be "[t]he most addictive racing game [he had] ever played."[18] The game spawned a three-title series, the second entry of which, Midtown Madness 2, was also developed by Angel Studios and released in 2000.[19] Both titles saw their most acclaimed element being the highly detailed open world environment, combined with an outstanding visual presentation and well-programmed artificial intelligence.[20][21] Angel Studios continued working with Microsoft, although this time on a game revolving around a virtual girlfriend.[22] Dubbed XGirl, the game was planned to be a launch title for Microsoft's Xbox, but was eventually canceled.[22]

Rockstar Games deals and acquisition (1999–2006)[edit]

After the release of Midtown Madness, Rockstar Games, an American video game publisher, gained strong interest in the studio, wanting to use the parties' combined expertise to develop what would become Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run.[23] The company also worked on a sequel to Bungie West's 2001 game Oni, owned by Rockstar Games' parent company, Take-Two Interactive.[24] Titled Oni 2: Death & Taxes, the game's production was halted for unknown reasons.[25] Early in the two companies' shared history, in a November 2000 interview, Rockstar Games' executive producer, Sam Houser, noted: "I love Angel Studios. [...] I am not going to stop working with them."[26]

On November 20, 2002, Take-Two Interactive announced that it had acquired Angel Studios for US$28 million paid in cash and 235,679 shares of restricted common stock transferred,[27] making for a combined value of US$34.7 million.[28][29] As part of the deal, Angel Studios and its 125 employees became part of the Rockstar Games umbrella of studios under the name Rockstar San Diego.[2][30] In a retrospective interview in June 2007, the studio's director of product development, Alan Wasserman, commented that Angel Studio's acquisition through Rockstar Games was anticipated at the studio, as their partnerships from the three years preceding the purchase always turned out to be profitable for both sides.[31] Angel had also been preparing to sell his company, talking about the idea with Microsoft, Activision and Rockstar Games, but ultimately felt that Rockstar Games was willing to give the studio the freedom he wanted.[2] He had also befriended the Houser brothers—Sam and Dan, two of the founders of Rockstar Games—over a shared love for tequila.[2]

Following the purchase, Rockstar Games executives reviewed projects in development at the studio, so to sort out what was worth keeping.[23] Dan Houser remarked that "this cowboy game that looked very good", that being Red Dead Revolver, caught the review team's eyes, despite it being in an unplayable state.[23] The project originally stemmed from Angel Studios' and Capcom's successful partnership for the Resident Evil 2 port, after which Capcom's Yoshiki Okamoto had approached Angel Studios with the idea for an original intellectual property titled S.W.A.T., although it later adpoted a Western theme after Okamoto's recommendation, and the acronym re-used as "Spaghetti Western Action Team".[2] Angel Studios had begun work on what became Red Dead Revolver under the oversight and funding of Capcom in 2000,[32][33] and the game was announced by Capcom in March 2002.[34] The game saw a troubled development, partially due to cultural differences between the two companies, which leading to the unplayable state of the game.[2] Red Dead Revolver missed the 2002 Tokyo Game Show and 2003 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade shows,[35][36] and was, also due to Okamoto departing from Capcoming, ultimately canceled by Capcom in August 2003.[37] Rockstar Games acquired the rights to Red Dead Revolver the following December,[38][39] and had Rockstar San Diego continue developing what would become the first installment in the Red Dead series.[23] The game was released in May 2004.[40]

In 2003, Rockstar San Diego started developing a stealth game, titled Agent, for PlayStation 2 and Xbox.[41] Four artists from the studio traveled to Cairo, the capital of Egypt, to take "over 10,000" reference photographs.[42] The game was subsequently put on hold, and only resurfaced in the form of Rockstar North's eponymous Agent game when it was announced at E3 2011 as a PlayStation 3-exclusive title.[43] In 2004, Rockstar San Diego established RAGE Technology Group, an in-studio team in charge of developing their proprietary game engine, the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE).[44] The group was established as part of Rockstar Games' move away from the RenderWare engine, the developer of which, Criterion Games, had been acquired by Electronic Arts that same year.[44] The engine was first introduced with Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, also developed by Rockstar San Diego, and released for Xbox 360 and Wii in 2006.[45] RAGE continues being developed on and still finds usage in most of Rockstar Games' personal computer and console titles, such as Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV, Max Payne 3, Grand Theft Auto V and, most recently, Red Dead Redemption 2.[46][47] Diego Angel left Rockstar San Diego in 2005 to return to his hometown in Colombia.[2] By January 2006, the studio started searching for new talent to produce next-generation games with.[48]

Controversies, Red Dead Redemption, layoffs (2006–present)[edit]

On August 26, 2006, former Rockstar San Diego 3D artists Terri-Kim Chuckry and Garrett Flynn, on behalf of them and over one hundred other ex-employees, filed a civil lawsuit against the company, claiming unpaid overtime compensation.[49] The case Garrett Flynn, et al. v. Angel Studios, Inc./Rockstar Games et al. was settled out of court in April 2009, with Rockstar Games awarding the group of ex-employees US$2.75 million.[49] On January 7, 2010, the wives of several Rockstar San Diego employees, collectively known as "Rockstar Spouse",[50] penned an open letter to their Gamasutra-hosted blog,[51][52] depicting mismanagement and dishonesty from higher-ups resulting in terrible working conditions at the company,[53][54][55] starting in March 2009.[56] The letter was followed by multiple ex-Rockstar San Diego employees, both anonymously and publicly, stating that they have had comparable experiences.[57][58][59] While a former staffer at Rockstar Games confirmed claims made in the blog post,[60] and said that Rockstar Games was watching of over its studios like the Eye of Sauron does over Middle-earth,[61][62] Rockstar Games denied all claims made.[63] Instead, the company stated that they were "saddened" by former employees having found their time at the company unpleasant.[64][65] The International Game Developers Association stated that they considered such working conditions to be "deceptive, exploitative, and ultimately harmful".[66]

A few days after the letter, on January 11, sources reported that the company's management had, piece by piece, laid off employees working on the Midnight Club series to instead outsource the development,[67] while other key employees quit themselves, fearing they would have to work on Red Dead Redemption.[68] The development of Red Dead Redemption was similarly affected, with mismanagement leading to multiple delays and unnecessary development cost.[69][70] Red Dead Redemption became a commercial and critical success, selling a total of 13 million copies by July 2013, when Take-Two Interactive chief executive officer Strauss Zelnick listed Red Dead Redemption as one of the company's strategic "permanent franchises", alongside Grand Theft Auto, as well as others.[71][72] Some critics pronounced Red Dead Redemption as the best work ever created by Rockstar San Diego, and among the best by Rockstar Games.[73] Additionally, in November 2017, Business Insider India listed Red Dead Redemption as the 36th-best game ever made, as measured by critical reception.[74] Following the game's May 2010 release, despite five million units already shipped,[75] approximately 40 of the previously 180 staff members were made redundant.[76][77][78] The layoff also included general manager Alan Wasserman, who was succeeded by Steve Martin, for the past four-and-a-half years a producer at Rockstar Vancouver,[73][79] as studio manager.[73][80] By February 2011, Rockstar San Diego's employee count had dropped to 128.[73]

Following the layoffs, Rockstar San Diego proceeded to only take on supportive development roles for the years following, helping Team Bondi with L.A. Noire in 2011, alongside Rockstar North and Rockstar Leeds,[81] and being part of Rockstar Studios for 2012's Max Payne 3.[82] By February 2012, Rockstar San Diego started hiring staff again, this time for an unannounced open-world game.[83][84] The ad specifically stated that the studio was seeking employees that had "the skill to get the most from next-gen consoles", so to create a game with "open-world game elements", "state-of-the-art visuals" and "dynamic multiplayer".[85][86][87] While many journalists suspected that it would be a sequel to Red Dead Redemption or an entirely new intellectual property,[88][89][90] the game was later uncovered to be Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto V, the development of which Rockstar San Diego also had an influence on.[91][92][93] Grand Theft Auto V was released in September 2013.[94] In August 2014, Rockstar Games renewed their lease for 52,726 square feet of office space, occupied by Rockstar San Diego, in the Faraday Corporate Center (part of the Carlsbad Research Center business park), located at 2200 Faraday Avenue, Carlsbad, California.[95][96] The deal, comprising US$12.6 million paid to Regent Properties Studio 2200, a subsidiary of Regent Properties, granted the office space to Rockstar Games for the following eight years.[96]

Games developed[edit]

Year Title Platform(s) Publisher(s) Notes
as Angel Studios
1996 Mr. Bones Sega Saturn Sega Support developer for Zono
1998 Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. Nintendo 64 Nintendo N/A
1999 Midtown Madness Microsoft Windows Microsoft
Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest Nintendo 64 Nintendo
Resident Evil 2 Capcom Ported only; game developed by Capcom
2000 Midtown Madness 2 Microsoft Windows Microsoft N/A
Midnight Club: Street Racing PlayStation 2 Rockstar Games
Smuggler's Run
2001 Test Drive: Off-Road Wide Open PlayStation 2, Xbox Infogrames
Smuggler's Run 2 PlayStation 2, GameCube Rockstar Games
Transworld Surf PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube Infogrames
as Rockstar San Diego
2003 Midnight Club II PlayStation 2, Xbox, Microsoft Windows Rockstar Games N/A
SpyHunter 2 PlayStation 2, Xbox Midway Games
2004 Red Dead Revolver Rockstar Games
2005 Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Xbox
2006 Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix PlayStation 2, Xbox
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis Xbox 360, Wii
2008 Midnight Club: Los Angeles PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
2010 Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
2011 L.A. Noire PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Xbox 360, Xbox One Support developer for Team Bondi
2012 Max Payne 3 PlayStation 3, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 Developed as part of Rockstar Studios
2013 Grand Theft Auto V PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One Support developer for Rockstar North
2018 Red Dead Redemption 2 PlayStation 4, Xbox One Developed as part of Rockstar Studios


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