Last month veteran British developer Eurocom was sadly forced to lay of 75% of its staff due to poor sales & a largely negative reaction to its latest offering 007 Legends. So how did one of the UK’s oldest independent studios go from working on so many global licences to a lean outfit focused on purely mobile gaming? infinite robots takes a look at the storied history of one of gaming’s most wayward developers…
Back in the Day
Back in 1988 when everyone was walking the dinosaur & John McClane was shooting his away around the Nakatomi Plaza, a group of British games developers came together with the aim of making games that would stand out in an industry on the brink of mainstream breakthrough. Two years later and with the nineties in full swing they released Magician (NES, 1991), a side-scrolling adventure with many of the hallmarks of RPG gaming such as item management & spell-casting. And whilst it was no A Link to the Past, for such a small team it showed a desire to tread new ground in an industry ruled by the mighty platformer.
Disney’s Hercules managed to be faithful to its source material and offer hours of intuitive platforming shenanigans.
By the mid to late nineties the Derby-based studio had established itself as a jack-of-all-trades with everything from a ports of Sensible Soccer (Game Gear, 1993) & Dino Dini’s Soccer (SNES, 1994) to straight-up tie-ins such as James Bond Jr. (NES/SNES, 1991) & quiz game Family Feud (PC/3DO/Mega Drive/Genesis, 1994). By never really focusing on one genre or style for more than a single release everything from their arcade ports of Mortal Kombat 3 (PlayStation One/Saturn, 1996) to their version of Duke Nukem on the N64 (1997) all felt devoid of any true sense of self.
Diamonds in the Rough
And whilst it’s sadly churned its fair share of forgettable duds over the last twenty five years, Eurocom has also given us some of gaming’s most balanced & well remembered contributions. Disney’s Action Game Featuring Hercules (PlayStation One/PC, 1997) may have one of the worst titles you’ve ever heard but it’s still a fine homage to 2D scrolling platformers at a time where Tomb Raider & Spyro were riding high in 3D. Embracing the beautiful 2D animation that Disney has sadly forgotten in recent years, Hercules managed to be faithful to its source material and offer hours of intuitive platforming shenanigans.
Even their arcade port of Mortal Kombat 4 to the N64 (1998) was faithfully identical to the coin-up version (no mean feat considering the amount of raw data squeezed into 16 megabytes of cartridge).
When the millennium swung round it gave us the third Pierce Brosnan Bond outing The World Is Not Enough and with it the latest video game tie-in. Eurocom were given development duties on Nintendo’s powerful N64 console whilst the development of the PS1 version fell to the now defunct Black Ops Entertainment. And whilst the PlayStation version ended up as a bug-ridden mess that took a critical mauling, Eurocom gave us a well-rounded shooter that took full advantage of the N64s extra horsepower. It didn’t quite have Goldeneye 007’s sense of character but it boasted competent enemy AI & a decent multiplayer mode. It impressed enough in sales & scores to bag Eurocom an affiliation with the franchise for another twelve years. Even their arcade port of Mortal Kombat 4 to the N64 (1998) was faithfully identical to the coin-up version (no mean feat considering the amount of raw data squeezed into 16 megabytes of cartridge).
New IP vs. Established Franchise
Arguably one of Eurocoms biggest failings has been its lack of original IPs. Over the sixty odd games it’s produced on twenty separate platforms staggeringly only three have been IPs originally developed by Eurocom itself. Everything else has been a franchise tie-in or a console/handheld port of an existing game code. From Earthworm Jim (Game Boy/Game Gear, 1995) & Super Street Fighter II Turbo (PC, 1995) to Predator: Concrete Jungle (PlayStation 2/Xbox, 2005) & Dead Space: Extraction (Wii, 2009), Eurocom hardly endeared itself to critics by rarely breaking new ground or risking a new IP. Eurocom simply became the go-to developer for licenced titles turned around in enough time to dual launch with another medium. Unlike other British developers/publishers such as Rare or Eidos, Eurocom has never managed to create a style or level of quality that was ever uniquely their own.
The Occasional Risk
When Eurocom did step out of the shadows with something new it showed us glimpses of brilliance that was sadly mired by poor sales or negative reviews. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (GameCube/PlayStation 2/Xbox, 2003) was a release that clearly showed Eurocom had learnt from its mistakes with 40 Winks (PlayStation One/N64, 1999). Embracing the principles that had seen the platformer take something of a revival on the sixth generation of consoles, Sphinx was a brand new character with original environments, interesting characters and a solid core of gameplay.
On the GameCube Mario was always destined to remain king & Sphinx, like so many other ‘mascots’, failed to find a proper fit on Mircosoft’s Halo-centric first console.
The Egyptian setting & detailed textures made for a genuinely great platformer. Even critically it faired positively with scores ranging from high-80s to low-90s. But even with Crash Bandicoot & Spyro relegated to a bygone era, other franchises such as Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter had already rooted themselves into the PlayStation 2 brand. On the GameCube Mario was always destined to remain king & Sphinx, like so many other ‘mascots’, failed to find a proper fit on Mircosoft’s Halo-centric first console. Sphinx, for all its quality, was simply buried alive in a crowd of louder competitors. And with its “sluggish sales” it put paid to any future plans Eurocom had outside established franchises.
The Future for Eurocom
So what does the future now hold for Eurocom as it heads through its third decade? Well with 75% of its staff forced into redundancy it seems a focus on the mobile market will be Eurocom’s new battleground. With considerably smaller budgets, shorter development cycles & the ease of digital downloads, moving into this lucrative market will be their smartest option bar folding completely. In a recent statement Director Hugh Binns expressed his frustration at the downsizing and his new direction for the company: “We’ve fought to try & save as many jobs as possible, but the steep decline in demand for console games, culminating in a number of console projects falling through in the last week, left us with no option.”
He added “Eurocom has retained a core staff of just under 50 employees and will be focusing mainly on mobile opportunities going forward”. With the shadow of 007 Legends’ spectacular failure – a game we mercilessly reviewed back in October – firmly behind them, perhaps the time is nigh for Eurocom to find its true voice & rise from its own ashes triumphant.
[Sources: Games Industry International, IGN]
Dom Reseigh-Lincoln is the Content Editor for infinite robots. You can find him muttering in his own little corner of Twitter @furianreseigh.