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30 in 30: Bullfrog Productions

The place where Themes are born

The legend of Bullfrog is still one that causes paroxysms of joy in noble-minded PC gamers. The house that Molyneux built were responsible for some of the greatest, and most cruelly forgotten, franchises in gaming history.

First bowling into existence way back in 1987, it was the team's third release - Populous - that ignited the attention of the gaming world. Populous was the very first God game (and in retrospect something of an ethnic cleansing simulator, but we'll gloss over that) and it revolutionised the gaming world.

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Populous was followed in quick succession by Flood, Powermonger and Populous II - but the blue touch-paper for the true fireworks wasn't lit until 1993's Syndicate, then 1994's first outings of Magic Carpet and Theme Park. Syndicate was an isometric drug-guzzling squad shooter, and as bleak as cyberpunk futures generally get.

Meanwhile, Magic Carpet was a remarkable woven flight sim through beautiful landscapes, and Theme Park a cartoon funpark builder with a multitude of lovable touches - notably watching your repairman eating his sandwiches while children cascaded around your park due to a faulty bouncy castle. All these titles remain proof positive that Bullfrog were the most ambitious, original and multi-talented studio in UK development history.

More was to come, however, after the company's 1995 sale to EA. Syndicate Wars divided opinion, even though you could blow up buildings (Buildings! You could blow up buildings!) but Theme Hospital's curious Elvis/ tongue-based diseases and the occupants of Dungeon Keeper's darkened crypts would delight one and all. Hearing the shrieks of the Dark Mistress while you gave her an encouraging slapping session still reverberate within us today.

The time of happy Bullfrog smiles was, however, soon to end. In 2000 EA merged their studios, and despite drawing board plans for Dungeon Keeper 3 the company soon began to lose its independence, and was ultimately absorbed into corporate mothership. The last official Bullfrog game would be Theme Park World and Theme Park Inc, beyond that oblivion. EA CEO John Riccitiello has since acknowledged that EA "blew it" strategically, and that the "command and conquer" approach the company took merely served to "bury and stifle" Bullfrog's creative talent. The studio was closed in 2004. A nation mourned.

OVERVIEW

Founded: 1987
Location: Guildford, England
Killer quote: Peter Molyneux: "A lot more sensible people start a lot more sensible companies these days in the games industry, with a much better idea of how they're going to run things. We didn't even have a business plan".

KEY PEOPLE

Peter Molyneux

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You've probably heard of this guy. He may have a habit of getting a little, erm, over-enthused when faced by the gaming press - but was still the heart of Bullfrog, and now of Lionhead - fine purveyors of the Fable franchise.

Now an OBE and Creative Director of Microsoft Game Studios, Europe - he's something of a living legend. Just remember kids, Fable: The Journey is NOT on rails.

Demis Hassabis

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Easily one of the most intriguing characters to have ever frequented UK games development, Hassabis designed levels on Syndicate having done his A-levels two years early. He then, at the tender age of 17, co-designed Theme Park. Pretty amazing, huh?

He went on to found the sadly short-lived Elixir Studios, home of Republic: The Revolution and Evil Genius, and then turned his remarkable brain towards cognitive neuroscience and the field of artificial intelligence.

Les Edgar

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The Bullfrog co-founder alongside Peter Molyneux, Les Edgar provided Bullfrog's business backbone - going on to become the Vice President of European Studios at EA after the Bullfrog takeover.

These days he's a high-powered games consultant, and a non-executive director over at Kuju.

BULLFROG GAMES WE LOVE

POPULOUS

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The first game to let you wreak ethereal havoc upon poor terrified villagers: with Populous the God game arrived.

The fundamentals came through the manipulation of terra firma - creating mountains, volcanoes and reclaiming land from the sea. Much blood was spilled in your efforts to become the biggest and bestest deity around.

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