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.
Studio historyFor a comprehensive documentary on the history and games created by Looking Glass Studios, you can take a look at the following video documentaries:
- Looking Glass Studios Retrospective 1/3 (by Indigo Gaming)
- Looking Glass Studios Retrospective 2/3
- Looking Glass Studios Retrospective 3/3
- Looking Glass Studios Retrospective (by 90sgamer92)
For an even more in-depth history of Looking Glass, 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.
Looking Glass successorsThe company may have been folded, but its legacy lives on:
- Ion Storm Austin. A large number of staffs were relocated here from LGS, making Ion Storm's Austin branch 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 of creating a sequel to Thief II, making Ion Storm the first successor to produce a sequel to an old LGS game.
- Irrational Games. Founded by three 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, Electronic Arts (who owned the 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 their own Spiritual Successor to System Shock, which you probably know 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, while Prey (2017) is generally agreed to be a far closer to System Shock than BioShock ever was. Arkane's debut game, the RPG Arx Fatalis was planned as a third Ultima Underworld game, but due to licensing issues, they eventually created their own setting, with a similar premise and atmosphere. (This seems to have begun their Spiritual Successor approach to past Looking Glass immersive sims.)
- OtherSide Entertainment. Founded in 2013 by Paul Neurath specifically to produce Underworld Ascendant, a spiritual successor to the original Ultima Underworld, with both Warren Spector and Doug Church joining in 2016 to work on System Shock 3 (Spector has since become the studio head, while Neurath is its creative director).
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Production Posse: Certain voice actors in particular, such as Stephen Russell, have been closely associated with the studio since its later years, and even with the projects of the studio's successors.