Creator / Looking Glass Studios

A legendary game development studio of the 1980s and especially the 1990s, creator of many revolutionary and groundbreaking game titles, especially first person action adventure games. It was based in Cambridge, Massachusets.

Former staff members include major game design personalities like Ken Levine, Warren Spector, Emil Pagliarulo and others. Many of the former devs found a home at Irrational Games, formerly an affiliate developer studio of LGS. Others later worked for Ion Storm, Bethesda and other notable developers, or focused on the indie dev side of the industry.

For a detailed history of Looking Glass Studios, visit this excellent podcast, which features detailed interviews with the former developers. To see some rare videos showing early concepts of their famous games, go to their official rememberance channel. Archived versions of the LGS website can be seen here and here.

For a comprehensive documentary on the history and games created by Looking Glass Studios, take a look at this detailed video.

Some of the most popular Looking Glass successors:

The company may have been folded, but its legacy lives on:
  • Ion Storm. A large number of staffs were relocated here from LGS, making Ion Storm perhaps the closest thing to an "official" LGS successor. Best known for creating Deus Ex, which is no less influential than the LGS games of old. They also have the honor to make the sequel to Thief 2, making Ion Storm the only one of the successors to make a sequel to an old LGS game.
  • Irrational Games. Founded by 3 former LGS developers: Ken Levine, Jonathan Chey, and Robert Fermier. While the Irrational was founded before LGS's bankruptcy, it was essentially LGS's sister company and became one of the closest things to it after the later went under. In a stunning display of luck, while they were working on a Survival Horror game unrelated to System Shock, EA (who owned the System Shock's IP) picked up the game and allowed the company to retool it into a sequel for System Shock. Years later, they would go on to make a Spiritual Successor to System Shock, you probably know it as Bioshock.
  • Arkane Studios. While not founded by any LGS veteran, many developers have past ties with LGS and other successor studios games (Harvey Smith was the lead QA for System Shock as well as a lead developer of Deus Ex). The studio shares many design philosophies with LGS, especially in the field of Immersive Sim. Most notably, Dishonored is widely regarded as the best successor to Thief, to the extent that critics and fans alike have claimed Dishonored to be a far superior Thief game than the official reboot Thief (2014) itself. In addition, Prey (2017) is generally agreed to be a far closer to System Shock than Bioshock. With its impressive portfolio, many have considered Arkane to be the best of all LGS successors

Games developed by Looking Glass Studios

  • Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992) - The first true 3D roleplaying computer game and the first universally-recognized Immersive Sim. An underground-themed spinoff installment of Richard Garriott's Ultima game series.
  • Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds (1993) - Sequel to the first game.
  • System Shock (1994) - One of the earliest and then most advanced RPG/shooter hybrids. Kicked off the shortly lived series of the same name, and a revival of both the game and series is in progress.
  • Flight Unlimited (1995)
  • Terra Nova Strike Force Centauri (1996) - Powered armor combat simulation game set in the human-colonised Alpha Centauri system.
  • Flight Unlimited II (1997)
  • Thief: The Dark Project (1998) - The first installment of the Thief series. A groundbreaking Fantastic Noir action adventure which introduced the world to master thief Garrett and the steampunk metropolis called The City. Highly praised, frequently appearing in various "Best Game" ladders to this day. Along with Metal Gear, the Trope Maker/Trope Codifier for all modern stealth games. Runs on the the Dark Engine, later used in Thief II and System Shock 2 as well.
    • Thief: Gold (1999) - An Updated Re-release / collector's edition of the original, with the main attraction being three brand new levels.
  • Flight Unlimited III (1999) - The last major flight sim developed by LGS.
  • System Shock 2 (1999) - The now-legendary sequel to System Shock. Co-developed with their then-recently founded sister studio, Irrational Games.
  • Thief II: The Metal Age (2000) - The succesful sequel to the first Thief game. Unfortunately, it was also Looking Glass Studio's swan song. The Gold edition never materialized and the third installment (Deadly Shadows) was eventually developed with the help of former LGS staff at Ion Storm Austin.

Tropes associated with Looking Glass Studios:

  • Acclaimed Flop: Sadly, something of a curse that dogged LGS games, in no small part because they were often ahead of their time when it came to game design ideas, and also didn't always have the best luck when it came to publishers and advertising.
    • The first System Shock was a subversion. It received some excellent and praise-filled reviews, developed something of an early fanbase, and only sold some 170 000 copies, a moderate commercial success at the time. Rather infamously, System Shock 2 did worse upon its release (some 58 671 copies sold between August 1999 and April 2000), despite being even better received than the first game. Many blamed EA for providing the game with basically no marketing. Among the accolades, the first game won about a dozen awards after release, and via word of mouth and greater sales is nowadays generally seen as Vindicated by History.
    • Terra Nova : Strike Force Centauri played this trope rather straight.
    • The Thief series has been, surprisingly, more of an aversion. It was not only highly acclaimed by critics and gamers, but also earned a hefty amount of money compared with most other LGS projects. Some LGS devs were even quite serious when they mentioned that the first game probably helped save the studio from premature bankruptcy (after a period in the mid 1990s, when a cancelled Star Trek game development deal cost them a lot of lost time and money they invested into it).
  • Associated Composer: Eric Brosius, their own dev team member. He was also the sound designer for the majority of their games.
  • Creator Thumbprint: The recurring use of the code "0451" in LGS's immersive sims, and even in games that descend from the LGS development tradition, by virtue of having LGS alumni or LGS-influenced people among their devs. Discussed at length here.
  • Developers' Foresight: The amount of details and clever alternative side-solutions that players could discover and utilise in many of their games are a testament to this trope. LGS was almost infamous for their great attention to detail and thinking deeply about how gameplay mechanics, the game world and the player's personal experience all play off each other and complement each other.
  • Doing It for the Art: They genuinely focused on making fresh, innovative and fun games, even at the (all too reoccuring) expense of not making loads of money off them (to their regret).
  • Genre-Busting: A very creative and innovative studio for their time, often leaving professional game critics and theorists outright stumped by some of their latest titles. This trope got to the point that they were at the founding of at least two different game genres that still exist today: The first-person 3D RPG and especially the stealth game.
  • What Could Have Been: Many of their games action-adventure or roleplaying game concepts were ditched in favour of different ones as engine testing and development went on over the years.
    • The predecessors of Thief alone went from a comedic tongue-in-cheek action game about communist zombies to an action roleplaying game set within a Darker and Edgier version of the Arthurian Mythos to what would eventually become a prototype for the first game in the series.
    • System Shock II wasn't even originally planned as a sequel, at all. It was supposed to be an unrelated survival horror RPG aboard a starship at first, until the devs changed their opinion and worked on tying the earlier game and this sequel together into the same universe.
    • Also, one of the many ambitious Gameplay Roulette sections originally planned for System Shock II, but ultimately scrapped, was a section involving a zero-G walk through the interiors, or a spacewalk through an area exposed to vacuum. Newer games like Dead Space or Alien: Isolation arguably pay homage to this abandoned idea, both being space survival horrors with spacewalk sections. A bit of a remnant of the concept for Shock II is a part of the game where you reverse the artificial gravity aboard and walk on what was once the ceiling of several rooms.