By mtmckinley 20 Comments
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.
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...
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.
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.
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!
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. :)