Behind the Scenes - Gizmondo Texas

Posted by mtmckinley (121 posts) -

I got some good responses from my last behind the scenes blog, so I thought I'd write another, this time based on my experiences working for Gizmondo. I was an artist at Warthog Texas (previously known as Fever Pitch Studios). Warthog was a large family of developers with development offices all around the world. However, they had not been selling too many hits lately and were not doing well financially. So, Warthog was purchased, as is common in this industry. What's not so common is what happened next.

Giz-what-now?

At the time, my team was hard at work on Conquest 2, the sequel to Conquest: Frontier Wars. It was a very fun project and was progressing well. (There was a failed Kickstarter recently attempting to revive it.) We were looking forward to seeing it release after one more year of development. But it was not to be. I recall the team (about 40 people) being called into the big conference room for a company meeting. The last time that had happened, we had found out that our previous game had been canceled, so it was not a good thing to be called in for another one of these meetings! There, it was announced that Warthog had been purchased by another company. The good news was: we'd all keep our jobs. The bad news: Conquest 2 is canceled.

Then the worst news: we were bought by Gizmondo. Gizmondo was a company that none of us had ever heard of. Turns out, they were developing a new handheld gaming platform, also known as the Gizmondo. Whatever future titles we would be making would be developed for it. So who were these guys? Where did they come from? All we knew is that they were somehow involved with Tiger Telematics. At first, I thought this was Tiger Electronics, the creator of all those old-school handheld baseball games and so on. No, they were actually a lot shadier then that. But we wouldn't find out how shady for a little while yet...

Gizmondo Games

While we were making a game for the Gizmondo device, we all had little doubt that this wasn't going to succeed. However, we had no idea just how crazy the whole situation was going to become. When the financial records of Gizmondo were made public (as all publicly traded companies do) it became pretty obvious that something wasn't all above board. The financial report proceeded to tell us about the executives' seven-figure incomes, not to mention six-figure bonuses, six-figure "vehicle budgets", and other such extravagant spending. Including a yacht. This all seemed pretty outrageous to us, but even that stuff paled in comparison to the next information we learned.

Swedish Mafia

A Swedish paper came out with an article detailing the criminal connections of several of the upper executives of Gizmondo in 2005. None of us in the Texas studio read Swedish papers, but it wasn't long before news traveled and we got a copy sent to us from some of the other former Warthog studios in Europe. We were very surprised, to put it mildly!

Stefan Eriksson - known as "Fat Steve" to the Swedish police. He was a known member of Uppsalamaffian (or the Uppsala Mafia. Uppsala is a city in Sweden). He had previous convictions in theft, cocaine, and arms dealings. He was also an executive in Gizmondo!

Carl Freer - the founder of Gizmondo. And Tiger Telematics. And a prolific forger and con man who has managed to thus far, escape prosecution.

There were others, but to be honest, I forget their names. I know one was an alleged "enforcer" for the Uppsala Mafia... as in knee-breaker... maybe even hitman, for all I know.

When all that info was released, we at the studio were flabbergasted. What was going to happen now? There was some effort to downplay the news. We even had a teleconferencing meeting with Carl Freer on a big TV screen where he said that it was essentially a misunderstanding and that business was to continue like normal.

It didn't.

Within a month, Gizmondo Studios shut down. If interested, you can see some info about the game we made (and completely finished) here at the Hit & Myth page. Never shipped, but fully complete!

Ferrari Enzo

Months later, I was at a new job a couple thousand miles away in Oregon. Through certain news sites, I read about a familiar name... Stefan Eriksson! He was in the news again for... not just wrecking an incredibly expensive Ferrari Enzo sportscar, but ripping one in half! I won't go into the details (I'm sure you can fine them!), but it was incredibly satisfying to know that this jerk was going to be getting busted by the cops for something at least!

All in all, I look back on the whole thing with a sense of... hmm... not satisfaction so much, but just a sense of being happy to have been a part of something so uniquely screwed up! It was terrible at the time, but now it makes for interesting conversation pieces. :)

#1 Posted by mtmckinley (121 posts) -

I got some good responses from my last behind the scenes blog, so I thought I'd write another, this time based on my experiences working for Gizmondo. I was an artist at Warthog Texas (previously known as Fever Pitch Studios). Warthog was a large family of developers with development offices all around the world. However, they had not been selling too many hits lately and were not doing well financially. So, Warthog was purchased, as is common in this industry. What's not so common is what happened next.

Giz-what-now?

At the time, my team was hard at work on Conquest 2, the sequel to Conquest: Frontier Wars. It was a very fun project and was progressing well. (There was a failed Kickstarter recently attempting to revive it.) We were looking forward to seeing it release after one more year of development. But it was not to be. I recall the team (about 40 people) being called into the big conference room for a company meeting. The last time that had happened, we had found out that our previous game had been canceled, so it was not a good thing to be called in for another one of these meetings! There, it was announced that Warthog had been purchased by another company. The good news was: we'd all keep our jobs. The bad news: Conquest 2 is canceled.

Then the worst news: we were bought by Gizmondo. Gizmondo was a company that none of us had ever heard of. Turns out, they were developing a new handheld gaming platform, also known as the Gizmondo. Whatever future titles we would be making would be developed for it. So who were these guys? Where did they come from? All we knew is that they were somehow involved with Tiger Telematics. At first, I thought this was Tiger Electronics, the creator of all those old-school handheld baseball games and so on. No, they were actually a lot shadier then that. But we wouldn't find out how shady for a little while yet...

Gizmondo Games

While we were making a game for the Gizmondo device, we all had little doubt that this wasn't going to succeed. However, we had no idea just how crazy the whole situation was going to become. When the financial records of Gizmondo were made public (as all publicly traded companies do) it became pretty obvious that something wasn't all above board. The financial report proceeded to tell us about the executives' seven-figure incomes, not to mention six-figure bonuses, six-figure "vehicle budgets", and other such extravagant spending. Including a yacht. This all seemed pretty outrageous to us, but even that stuff paled in comparison to the next information we learned.

Swedish Mafia

A Swedish paper came out with an article detailing the criminal connections of several of the upper executives of Gizmondo in 2005. None of us in the Texas studio read Swedish papers, but it wasn't long before news traveled and we got a copy sent to us from some of the other former Warthog studios in Europe. We were very surprised, to put it mildly!

Stefan Eriksson - known as "Fat Steve" to the Swedish police. He was a known member of Uppsalamaffian (or the Uppsala Mafia. Uppsala is a city in Sweden). He had previous convictions in theft, cocaine, and arms dealings. He was also an executive in Gizmondo!

Carl Freer - the founder of Gizmondo. And Tiger Telematics. And a prolific forger and con man who has managed to thus far, escape prosecution.

There were others, but to be honest, I forget their names. I know one was an alleged "enforcer" for the Uppsala Mafia... as in knee-breaker... maybe even hitman, for all I know.

When all that info was released, we at the studio were flabbergasted. What was going to happen now? There was some effort to downplay the news. We even had a teleconferencing meeting with Carl Freer on a big TV screen where he said that it was essentially a misunderstanding and that business was to continue like normal.

It didn't.

Within a month, Gizmondo Studios shut down. If interested, you can see some info about the game we made (and completely finished) here at the Hit & Myth page. Never shipped, but fully complete!

Ferrari Enzo

Months later, I was at a new job a couple thousand miles away in Oregon. Through certain news sites, I read about a familiar name... Stefan Eriksson! He was in the news again for... not just wrecking an incredibly expensive Ferrari Enzo sportscar, but ripping one in half! I won't go into the details (I'm sure you can fine them!), but it was incredibly satisfying to know that this jerk was going to be getting busted by the cops for something at least!

All in all, I look back on the whole thing with a sense of... hmm... not satisfaction so much, but just a sense of being happy to have been a part of something so uniquely screwed up! It was terrible at the time, but now it makes for interesting conversation pieces. :)

#2 Edited by Jack268 (3387 posts) -

Heh. Tjock-Steffe (Fat Steve) used to live 2 km from where I live right now. The cops used to stalk around in his neighbours' gardens.

#3 Posted by Brodehouse (10140 posts) -

It wasn't him, it was Dietrich. Damn you Dietrich!

#4 Posted by VoshiNova (1758 posts) -

Holy crap! Such a crazy story, thanks for sharing your side and HOLY SHIT THAT FERRARI WAS IN HALF!!!

#5 Posted by TheJohn (552 posts) -

I'm really enjoying these blogs of yours. Thanks dude, and keep 'em coming.

#6 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1612 posts) -

@mtmckinley said:

All in all, I look back on the whole thing with a sense of... hmm... not satisfaction so much, but just a sense of being happy to have been a part of something so uniquely screwed up! It was terrible at the time, but now it makes for interesting conversation pieces. :)

Wasn't it really weird to know that the game you were working on wasn't going to get seen by almost anyone except incredulous game journalists? I mean, you were getting paid, but it must have been kind of surreal to be part of a group of professionals working on something that everyone knew was doomed.

#7 Posted by mtmckinley (121 posts) -

@TheJohn said:

I'm really enjoying these blogs of yours. Thanks dude, and keep 'em coming.

I'm glad! I'll try to update a little more frequently.

@GrantHeaslip said:

Wasn't it really weird to know that the game you were working on wasn't going to get seen by almost anyone except incredulous game journalists? I mean, you were getting paid, but it must have been kind of surreal to be part of a group of professionals working on something that everyone knew was doomed.

It was weird, and a lot of the people I was working with had quit within a month of starting. We went from a 40 person studio to about 20 or so in a very short time. It was obvious to ALL of us that this thing was a complete failure even if the Gizmondo founders WERE legitimately trying to do real business (which they weren't). The only reason (and I mean the ONLY reason) I stayed, was because I loved the team I was working with. I had been with them for a few years by that time and we had literally become like a family. The ones who had stayed behind were the core team that I started with and I don't think that was a coincidence. It's still the best job experience I've ever had, and I never even shipped a game while I worked there! So, I was determined to stick it out until the end... which is what happened. :)

#8 Posted by Mento (2810 posts) -

I was hired on contract for Gizmondo Studios Manchester (née Warthog Games) just over a month before they went belly-up as well so I can testify to everything written here. In my case, it was the first game designer job I ever got so I was a little too elated to notice the immediate warning signs. I did eventually get the hint after attending the first big staff meeting, which was basically along the lines of "we might not be able to pay you on time this month". Fun times.

Moderator
#9 Posted by Marino (4768 posts) -

@mtmckinley: Bumpin' this on up to the front page.

Staff
#10 Posted by Kaungo (40 posts) -

This is awesome!

Although I did read 'Behind the scenes Gizmodo Texas' at first.

#11 Posted by csl316 (9527 posts) -

Relevant to my interests, cool.

#12 Posted by nintendoeats (5975 posts) -

I've always wondered what that was like for the honest employees. I'm REALLY curious about what life was like for the marketers and hardware designers associated for the project.

#13 Posted by Chippy180 (161 posts) -

I could easily see myself being completely pissed off at the situation if I was in your shoes, then looking back at it years laters and laughing at how surreal the whole thing was. Great piece!

#14 Posted by SSully (4343 posts) -

Damn that is so horrible, but still a great story. Glad you made it out alright duder.

#15 Posted by Little_Socrates (5718 posts) -

This is one of my favorite stories from the old GameSpot days. A personal perspective makes it all seem significantly more real, which is awesome. Thanks so much!

#16 Posted by CptBedlam (4460 posts) -

@mtmckinley: Thanks for this wonderful read.

And about that game, man ...I'm sure it's already heartbreaking for developers to have a game cancelled in mid-development, how much worse must it be to complete a game and knowing that no gamer will ever play and enjoy it.

#17 Edited by VilhelmNielsen (1744 posts) -

Dietrich apparently exists. This is news to me!

#18 Posted by Mayu_Zane (621 posts) -

Thanks for sharing this story with us!

#19 Posted by mtmckinley (121 posts) -

Glad you guys enjoyed the story! :) Thanks!

#20 Posted by cooljammer00 (2062 posts) -

Uh, Colours was a pretty cool concept, guys.

Online
#21 Posted by Nentisys (893 posts) -

Good read, thanks.

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