Creating a development company tends to be a rough journey. Along the way, there can be long hours, cramped spaces, understaffing, disinterest in products, and maybe even a bankruptcy or two. In short, it rarely goes as planned – and no other group knows this as well as Turtle Rock Studios.
Most of the Turtle Rock team began with Valve on all of their early Counter Strike titles. When they struck out on their own – back in 2002 with Michael Booth at their head – they retained good relations with their former employer turned publisher and continued to work on the Counter Strike titles. While working on those projects, they ended up getting involved in several Counter Strike office matches to test new systems, brainstorm, and just generally enjoy their product, but one issue continued to arise. Though everyone enjoyed the game immensely, there were always flares of tension within the group – natural for a competitive game like Counter Strike.
Eventually, they began to wonder about cooperative games – something to have players work together rather than against one another. What they found was that there wasn’t much out there that fell into that category. Around the same time, some of the team began playing something of an unofficial game mode in Counter Strike.
What they would do is form a team, load up as many bots on the opposing team as possible, equip them with only knives, and try to survive as long as possible against what felt like a creepily mindless enemy. It was new, it was fun, and it was exactly what they were looking for. After a while, some of the team began to make some changes to the code to improve the game: increasing the maximum amount of bots, modifying the map to look more eerie and grungy, and even tweaking the skins to give them a rotting look. In a sense, Left for Dead was born.
Once they had the idea in mind to create an original game rather than develop other people’s ideas, they needed to find someone to fund their venture. Luckily for them, they still had quite a bit of contact with Valve who happily bought them and renamed them Valve South to help them with funds and refinement of the game. However, it wasn’t to last.
After Left for Dead hit the shelves, some of the old Turtle Rock team began to think of striking out on their own again. The only problem with this was that Michael Booth wasn’t interested in the idea. With him out of the picture, Phil Robb and Chris Ashton (both never having run a team, let alone an entire studio) stepped up to the plate and became co-refounders.
From there, they began working on a new game in secret (what was later to become Evolve) and were picked up by THQ as their new publisher. Unfortunately, THQ found itself filing for bankruptcy shortly after and Turtle Rock’s contract was put out to auction. After making a bid on themselves using all of their savings, the team was snatched up by 2K Games, a subsidiary of Take-Two Entertainment. The new publisher turned out to be just as receptive as their previous, and they have continued working with them right up to today.
Of course, this is just a very general overview of their history, but if their history was any indicator, they should be turning out quality games for years to come!