Gone But Not Forgotten – History of Acclaim Entertainment

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Companies come and go all the time in every industry but that doesn’t trivialize the sorrow whenever doors are closed for the last time and taking along its titles. This series will cover the games and the difficulties that companies  have suffered which lead to their eventual demise. Also, companies that died off but sold their name will be covered. Atari today has nothing to do with the 70s and Nolan Bushnell’s days of Pong. Let’s relive the good ol’ days.

Several companies are formed from previous employees who are either miffed from their last employer or want to create their own products their own way. The same counts to CEOS and presidents and the latter happened in 1987. A Delaware company opened their doors going by the name of Acclaim Entertainment, which was formed from Activision’s CEO and employees – Greg Fischbach, Jim Scoroposki and Rob Holmes. The name Acclaim was chosen to be alphabetically in front of the name Activision. This was a common trend in the tech industry – Atari –> Apple & Activision –> Accolade -> Acclaim -> Absolute Entertainment – they all try to trump their previous company by choosing a name alphabetically superior thus you’ll find them first in any list.

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Acclaim started off porting Midway’s arcade games to the console and publishing foreign games that didn’t have an American publisher. During this time they were moving games such as NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, Revolution X, Mortal Kombat, Double Dragon: Revenge and Bust-a-Move. Eventually, they started to develop their own games and even bought out companies to be first-party developers like Probe Software, Iguana and LJN. Licensed titles also filled up their library The Simpsons, Spider-man, Aliens, Stargate, South Park and Space Jam.

Acclaim published several wrestling games for the WWF on the NES, SNES and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. The success didn’t translate to the next-generation consoles to compete against THQ/AKI’s WCW series. After two failed WWF games on the N64 and PS1 they lost the WWF license to the competition.

In 1996, Acclaim purchased Valiant comics turning it into Acclaim Comics. The following year we saw the rise of Acclaim’s most popular franchise in the 90s. With the rights of these new characters they published/developed several titles featuring these characters. Their first Valiant/Acclaim Comics franchise was also Acclaim’s first exclusive console game for the N64 and it helped bring the FPS market to the home console featuring a new atmosphere, out-of-the-world weapons utilized by a protagonist of a race rarely seen in video games facing-off against animals from the Jurassic era.

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Turok: The Dinosaur Hunter was released a decade after Acclaim was in business to the N64 and PC. The company was financially in dire straights and this was a hail-marry that they needed to keep the lights on. The control scheme was different and difficult than other N64 shooters at the time but fans still praised it’s graphics, music and gameplay to the point that it became a runaway success. To save a load on the memory and frame-rate a fog was always in the distance but it added to the suspense if a dinosaur appeared out of nowhere catching Turok off guard. Even though, it’s classed as a a shooter, it didn’t play like a traditional shooter at the time since it had a great deal of exploration and and open environments to explore. The game was such a hit that it received annual installments. Two sequels and a Quake Arena inspired shooter.

Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion was the last Turok for the N64. It was released in 2000, sporting  improved graphics and several weapons but barely anymore exploration. The franchise drifted from what made it stand out from other shooters and eventually became one in itself not standing out any longer.

Shadow Man released in 1999, for all consoles the PC at the time. It was based off of the comic book character that Acclaim purchased from Valiant. The video game follows Michael LeRoi who is also Shadow Man, a voodoo warrior who is fighting monsters and demons from DeadSide lead by a man named Legion who is trying to usher the apocalypse. Shadow Man played as an action/adventure platformer and had the darkest theme out of Acclaims titles at the until it’s sequel Shadow Man: 2econd Coming released only for the PS2. Both games made decent sales as they weren’t for everyone however Shadow Man picked up a following. shadow man

Extreme-G was a futuristic racing franchise with a memorable soundtrack. Extreme-G had it’s similarities and contrasts to the competition: F-Zero and Wipeout. The first two Extreme-G games had a darker dystopia appearance but it featured various weapons to kill other racers on the track and the ability to break the sound-barrier after going over the 750. The developer, Probe Entertainment, was torn between the future of Extreme-G for it’s entry to the next-gen consoles Xbox, PS2 and GameCube. One direction was to give the futuristic racer an underground illegal setting (it was the trend at the time with NFS Underground and The Midnight Club series) or going with a professional F-1 inspired direction. They eventually changed the themes and environments to a brighter future for the F-1 inspired presentation full of cheering fans, teams and announcers. The game featured professional EDM artists from Ministry of Sound to the do the soundtracks for the last two games.ExtremeGExtremeG3

Re-Volt was another racing title but it was styled as racing radio control cars. It didn’t have weapons and it was more upbeat and featured a track editor. It never truly died off fans kept the series alive buy hosting their own servers. There is a sequel for the mobile platform and the PC was released.re-volt

Acclaim produced hits for the SNES, Sega Gensis, PlayStation 1 and N64 but the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube market were the toughest for them to adapt. The last two Extreme-G games that were re-visioned had great music and graphical detail but they didn’t pick up to the mainstream. They released their last Turok game, titled Turok: Evolution, the linear gameplay and graphics were described as dreadful and unappealing. They made two ECW game since they lost the WWF license but ECW went bankrupt with an unpaid debt to Acclaim. Acclaim ended up making the Legends of Wrestling series instead.

Though some games did mediocre or average at best Acclaim had a few aces up their sleeves. The racing series Burnout from Criteron was a success and Acclaim continued their popular NFL series Quarterback club to the new systems. Let’s not forget they ported Crazy Taxi, it was an off-the-wall arcade game and then became an off-the-wall console game, it was praised by many due to its comedy. Similar to Acitvisoin’s Tony Hawk series, Z-Axis Ltd made two professional biking games starring Dave Mira and they developed a professional skating game called Aggressive Inline.crazytaxi

During this time Acclaim’s CEO, Steve Perry – who is working on the mentality of “success from scandal” or “bad publicity is better than no publicity” – is pulling off the most unusual marketing schemes to get people to notice his games however they backfired and turn Acclaim into a joke of a publisher.

  • Shadow Man is a game about a voodoo powered warrior who fights demons and creatures from the underworld and those that crossover causing havoc. The best way to market it of course was by paying funerals, as long as the the family agreed to having billboard above the grave advertising the sequel Shadowman: 2econd Coming. (Because when people visit graveyards to mourn are also in the mood to read about a new video game).
  • When Turok: Evolution was coming out Acclaim offered to pay parents $10,000 if they named their child Turok. Another stunt for Turok: Evolution was to pay five gamers would who change their names to Turok. When they were called out on the campagains, Acclaim cited that they got the idea from Dr. Simeon Cantrell of Australia’s Marketing Science Centre, who authored the book “Market Their Pants Off.” However, the author doesn’t exist and the ISBN number of said book was actually to a book of knock-knock jokes.
  • To promote Virtua Tennis Acclaim decided to spray-paint their logos on the wings of pigeons and release them to fly to the fans during matches.
  • When Burnout 2: Point of Impact was coming the marketting strategy for that was to pay speeding tickets to drivers who were caught on speeding cameras. This stunt was pulled before it was implemented, as well.

Due to poor sales and mismarketing Acclaim fell back on hard times, in 2002. And what seemed to be a desperate move for sales Acclaim decided that they needed to throw in sex and nudity in the next Dave Mira BMX game slated for the 2002 holiday season. The decision brought a lot of controversy as it turned the heads of fans and non-fans. Dave Mira denounced the game and sued for $20,000,000 to have his name and likeliness to be removed from the title. He won and the game was then renamed to BMX XXX and it bombed. Retailers didn’t want to sell it and fans saw it as a trashy gimmick.

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With their reputation falling off Acclaim suffered another lawsuit this time from the Olsen twins due to unpaid royalties of $177, 966.32 and for ruining their brand name in video games. “…blatantly abandoned the mary-kateandashley brand and has taken the mary-kateandashley brand in video games which had flourished and has now run it into the ground.”

The final nail in their coffin was a lawsuit filed from Jeff Spangenberg. He was the founder of Iguana entertainment, they were behind NBA Jam and the Turok series Acclaim eventually bought them out in 1995. Spangenberg filed a lawsuit after he was fired from Acclaim accusing the CEO Gregory Fischbach of tricking him into buying bad stock options of his company before being fired thus causing him to lose over $20,000. He also claimed that Fischback was pressuring him to release underdeveloped games “with or without bugs” as a means to make a quick profit i.e. Turok Evolution.

They closed several studios and filed for Chapter 11 and later that year they filed for Chapter 7 selling off their IPs and assess to pay off a $100,000,000 debt.

The following years their name was bought and retitled as Acclaim Games specializing in online games. Their games were poor quality along with their connection issues and that closed down.

Throwback Entertainment bought several of Acclaim IPs and eventually sold the Re-Volt and RC franchise to We Go Interactive Co.,Ltd.

The company made great strong partnerships to get into the video game market and then developed some big hits. They stretched their resources too far they ended up releasing mediocre games with very little essence, this happens to a some companies especially when they are on a roll. The cheap marketing stunts turned them into a laughing stock among everyone – the gamers, the press and Wimbledon. If the rumors were true (which is hard to disbelieve) about BMX XXX looking like an under-budget cheap game before the nudity and sex was injected into it then they should’ve made a clean, over the top comedy making fun of itself. They rose to great acclaim and even if people laugh at their latter years and poke fun at their follies everyone agrees that the brand was Turok an amazing success that helped pave the way for first-person games on the consoles.

Sources: http://segaretro.org/Acclaim_Entertainment

http://criticalgamingnetwork.blogspot.com/2011/10/rise-and-fall-of-acclaim-entertainment.html

http://news.cnet.com/Turok-maker-plays-the-name-game/2100-1040_3-955594.html

http://games-beta.slashdot.org/story/03/06/19/1527247/virtua-tennis-pigeons-divebomb-wimbledon

http://www.ign.com/articles/2004/04/26/the-olsen-twins-sue-acclaim

http://411mania.com/games/the-hall-of-shame-08-30-07-acclaims-marketing/

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