John McCormack compares fate of beloved British studio to death of Bullfrog upon acquisition by EA in 2001

‘Lionhead closure could be exciting for UK indie scene,’ says ex-Fable art chief

The proposed closure of Lionhead could reinvigorate the independent development sector in the UK, the developer’s former art director has suggested.

John McCormack led the art team for the Fable franchise before forming Another Place Productions in 2012 with a number of fellow Lionhead alumni.

Before joining the studio, McCormack worked on Theme Park at Bullfrog before its acquisition by EA in 1995.

Speaking during a panel at EGX Rezzed, he compared the fate of Bullfrog – which was made defunct in 2001 upon the completion of its EA merger – to the recent news that Lionhead was facing closure.

“The positive side is that when Bullfrog went down, you had all the satellites come off it like Big Blue Box," he recalled, as reported by PCGamesN.

"And when Lionhead was bought out, it spawned Media Molecule, and those guys.

“So I’d be pretty excited about what happens if Lionhead goes down because you’ll see all that craziness and innovation spin out and populate the indie scene."

Both Bullfrog and Lionhead were founded by Peter Molyneux, who later went on to form Godus developer 22cans.

Early Bullfrog employee Glenn Corpes said that EA’s increasing control of the studio irreversibly changed the developer’s culture.

"[EA] didn’t really realise that Peter only worked on one game at a time, totally focused on it," he said. "Things like Syndicate or Magic Carpet he was barely involved in. He was too distracted by things like Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper, while those games were in development, and that worked.

“But when he left, EA perceived all kinds of gaps and started bringing in people like John [McCormack]. And it wasn’t that there was particularly anything wrong with it, but that’s the point where it changed and it stopped being the same Bullfrog."

"There was a bit of tension between EA and Bullfrog because of the different cultures," McCormack agreed. "In one room you had experimental Bullfroggy stuff and in the other Formula 1 and FIFA, and all the solid franchise-y stuff that Bullfrog weren’t really about.”

Former Bullfrog programmer Ben Board observed that today’s British indie scene embodies many of the qualities that made the Populus and Dungeon Keeper creator so successful 20 years ago.

"Walking around [Rezzed] I’ve absolutely seen the spirit of Bullfrog still alive," he said. "Some of these games are exactly what we would have been making back in the day."

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