Argonaut games was a famed British Developer founded by teenage entrepreneur Jez San. The company operated for more than twenty years, making over sixty games before liquidating in 2004. The company is best known as the programmer collaborating with Nintendo EAD on the groundbreaking Super Nintendo game Star Fox.
Argonaut Software Ltd. was founded by Jez San in 1982 as way to showcase his skills to software firms to get consulting work. Argonaut soon changed its focus to games and released their first title a shoot 'em up called Skyline Attack for the Commodore 64 in 1984. The game was notable for its inclusion of (what was then) realistic looking skylines.
In 1986, Argonaut had its first major hit in Starglider, which allowed the company to expand dramatically from a small one-man shop. Starglider was notable for being one of the earliest 3D games in existence.
Nintendo, StarFox and The Super FX Chip
By the late 1980s, Argonauts work with 3D polygons was attracting attention from major publishers. Argonaut signed a deal with Nintendo to help them develop what would become the Super FX chip for the Super Nintendo after demoing a prototype inspired by their previous Starglider games.
According to Jez San the deal pitch took place like this:
I was in a room with Miyamoto-san and Izushi-san and some other Nintendo people like Tony Harman and I showed them a prototype of StarFox that we had running, initially on the NES – codenamed “NesGlider”, and then a few weeks later on a prototype SNES. I told them that this is as good as it’s going to get unless they let us design some hardware to make the SNES better at 3D. Amazingly, even though I had never done any hardware before, they said YES, and gave me a million bucks to make it happen. (source: http://www.armchairempire.com/Interviews/jez-san-interview.htm)
Argonaut sent many of its own staff to Japan to work Nintendo directly, including famed designer Dylan Cuthbert.
In 1992, their first major 3D title for Nintendo was another space shooter called X for the Game Boy. X was unique at the time for being a groundbreaking handheld 3D game. They also made King Arthur's World, one of the few games on the SNES to make use of the SNES mouse peripheral.
In 1993, Argonaut and Nintendo EAD released Star Fox for the Super Nintendo. The game used their brand new Super FX chip that popularized 3D polygon gaming on home consoles. Star Fox was revolutionary at the time since the Super FX chip allowed it to render 3D polygons in real time. Star Fox became a mega hit, selling over 4 million copies.
Argonaut would assist Nintendo in using the Super FX chip for other titles including Stunt Race FX and the cancelled Star Fox 2.
After Star Fox, Argonaut went on to develop chips for three systems that never launched: the Phillips ( Cd I 2), Hasbro, and Apple. They also developed their own chip called the ARC or Argonaut RISC Core.
Argonaut had their first post-Nintendo hit in 1997 with the release of Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, a platformer for the Sony Playstation.
Buoyed by their commercial success with Star Fox, Argonaut began rapid expansion. In 1999 the company had grown large enough that they felt the need to split it into a chip division (Argonaut Technologies) and a software division (Argonaut Software). Argonaut went public on London exchanges in the year 2000. During this period Argonaut acquired several other developers including Morpheme, LTstudios, Particle Systems and Just Add Monsters (now known as Ninja Theory).
In the early 2000's the company had a few critical duds, including the critically panned Catwoman the Game and the highly anticipated Malice, and coping with higher development costs for the Playstation 2 era of consoles ran into cashflow issues. The company laid off all of it's staff between October 22nd to October 25th of 2004 in a desperate attempt to stave off bankruptcy. On November 1st 2004 Argonaut closed.
Immediately post bankruptcy Jez San was able to reacquire Morpheme and Just Add Monsters, to allow their respective studio heads time to save their studios and go independent. Both ultimately bought out his interest , Morpheme sold itself to Eidos and Just Add Monsters was able to go independent.
Argonaut Games arguably created the 3D era in gaming and had a hand in the rise of mobile phone gaming as well.