Ion Storm closes its doors

The legendary development studio behind the Deus Ex and Thief: Deadly Shadows series is no more.

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One of the most storied development studios in game history has shut down. Today Eidos Interactive officials confirmed to GameSpot that the company is shuttering Ion Storm, its Austin, Texas, studio.

A statement issued by the Britain-based publisher outlined the closure with typically cool corporate logic. "Eidos today announced locally that it is to consolidate down its North American internal development capabilities from two studios to one," read the statement. "This will mean the immediate closure of the Ion Storm studio in Austin, Texas, which has been focused primarily on the development of PC and Xbox games. ... This is part of [Eidos'] move to consolidate and strengthen its technical and management capabilities into a smaller number of studios which are capable of scaling up in order to meet the competitive challenges that lie ahead, particularly in anticipation of next-generation technologies and platforms."

However, the brief statement was hardly a fitting epitaph for Ion Storm, which has seen some of gaming's most celebrated--and controversial--talent walk through its doors. The company was founded in 1996 by Doom cocreators John Romero and Tom Hall after the pair exited id Software. Shortly thereafter, the studio was bought outright by Eidos. Funded by Eidos and located in a Dallas penthouse, Ion Storm labored for the next three years developing and hyping the genre-bending PC game Daikatana. When it was finally released in 2000, the game received almost universally awful reviews. Its failure spurred Hall and Romero's departures, as well as the closure of Ion Storm Dallas in 2001

Despite Daikatana's failure, 2000 was not a total bust for Ion Storm. That year, the developer's Austin studio released Deus Ex, a groundbreaking hybrid that successfully combined shooter and role-playing game elements. The award-winning PC title (followed two years later by a PlayStation 2 port) was the pet project of veteran Warren Spector. A longtime employee with Dungeons and Dragons creator TSR and Ultima developer Origin Systems, Spector joined Ion Storm in 1997 and was appointed to its board of directors in 1999.

In August of 2000, following the closure of Looking Glass studios, Eidos picked up the rights to the acclaimed Thief series and made Spector project director of the franchise. Within two years, Spector had been appointed studio director of Ion Storm's Austin shop, now its sole studio. During his tenure, he oversaw two high-profile projects: Deus Ex: Invisble War and Thief: Deadly Shadows. Despite lofty expectations, the two games received a mixed critical and popular reception when released in December 2003 and May 2004, respectively. In particular, Invisible War was accused of being overly simplified for consoles, causing a backlash in the PC community.

As 2004 came to a close, rumors began to circulate that Ion Storm was in trouble. In November, Spector resigned his post to "pursue personal interests." In December, Invisible War executive producer Harvey Smith left to join Midway's newly founded Austin studio (nee Inevitable Entertainment). Ion Storm's future was further clouded by the financial woes of Eidos, which has been actively courting corporate suitors for a takeover since last summer.

However, it wasn't until today that Ion Storm's number was finally up. Eidos representatives said the closure will result in "the displacement of some 35 jobs." At the same time, Eidos announced it will "be scaling up development capabilities at its Crystal Dynamics studio in San Francisco with the recruitment of some 50 or so new personnel as it moves from a two- to a three-team studio." Though they did not say specifically whether or not any of the new personnel would be from Ion Storm, Eidos reps did say the "employee head count" at Crystal Dynamics, which is currently developing the new Tomb Raider game, would increase to more than 180 persons.

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