Elixir
A little about the company creating Evil Genius...

The following, really a short summary of the vastly extensive developer diaries, chronicles the start up of Elixir and what it is like now. Content has been taken from RepRev (my Republic site) and updated to include more recent information.

You may also like to view some photos of Elixir.

Elixir Studios Ltd is a developer of interactive entertainment software. At its height, it employed up to 70 people at its offices in Camden, London, UK. Elixir was formed in 1998 by Demis Hassabis, co-creator of Theme Park, one of the most successful computer games of all time, and closed in May 2005 (see below for the details).

Through his diaries, published in "Edge Magazine", Demis explained his thoughts and feelings about his new "direction in life" - forming Elixir.

In December 1998, Demis had left sure-fire success with Peter Molyneux behind him. The reason was his burning desire to set up and run his own games company. So when the opportunity arose for him to be able to do his own thing he felt he had to grab the chance. As he commented later, "Foolhardiness maybe, but I had to take the plunge otherwise how would I ever have known. You only get one life, so you have to give it your best shot and try with all your might to make your dreams and ambitions come true." Let's not forget that Demis had by that time hardly wasted his life, having worked alongside game designer genius Peter Molyneux, becoming International Grand Master at the 1998 "Mind Spots Olympiads" and having been a chess Master at the age of twelve.

Over the following weeks and days, Demis carefully selected people he knew would be beneficial to the company, and set about luring them in. Nearly all were happy to join him in his venture... friend Dave Silver, the eccentric but creative Joe McDough and Tim Clarke, a programming and hacking genius, being the first to sign up. Dave Silver was actually involved with the initial setting up of the company, along with Demis, and has a place on the Company Board, as Chief Technical Officer.

In December 1998, the company entered into a publishing agreement with Eidos Interactive for the development of three titles. Eidos is one of the world's leading publishers of interactive entertainment software. The whole process of finding and signing up with Eidos actually took a long time.

Demis had initially hoped to find venture capitalists willing to lend money for a smallish stake in the company (around 20%). However, although nearly all were willing to fund him, most wanted a 50% stake in the company, meaning he would lose control of the company, something he never wanted to happen. Therefore, Demis was forced to search for publishers instead. It was a painful task to say the least. Having used up nearly all his savings starting up Elixir, he scraped together enough for a plane ticket to E3 in Atlanta. However, funds did not stretch to a hotel room, and Demis was forced to sleep on Joe McDough's floor for the duration of the computer games fair. Over the next few days, Demis approached many publishers, and, as they were cautiously interested, got asked back for several extra interviews. The initial 15 publishers were whittled down to just 2, and finally Eidos were chosen. They offered an impressive deal, and the recent success of Lara Croft was an obvious indication of their marketing abilities. It also helped that the Eidos headquarters were only half an hour's drive up the motorway.

And so the team began the first of their three projects, Republic. In a small, stuffy, dark room, the ten or so team members so far brought together started work. For Demis, it was a wonderful moment:

"Monday 7th of July, the first day of Elixir Studios. What a fantastic buzz. No windows, an unglamorous location, no teabags and school chairs to sit on, but who cares? Within two hours we were coding. All the work I'd put in and we were finally up and running. We could have been in someone's back room or attic and I still would have been thrilled. The atmosphere as everyone knuckled down was intoxicating. "

"Within days a familiar pattern had emerged. Hours of silence and hard work punctuated by outbursts of absurd conversation. At first I found this both cool and unsettling. Imagine a room of ten people with perfect silence for three hours and then suddenly bedlam, as we attempt to solve the mysteries of Life and the Universe. Should Spock have been the Captain of the Enterprise rather than Kirk? Is 'governing' someone more severe than 'learning' them? Keegan, Venison and Waddle: the worst footballing haircuts ever?"

From this moment on, the team didn't look back. Numbers working on the game grew and grew, and the offices were moved to bright and breezy open-plan studios in Camden. The group took on a more professional air... positions of control were tightened and people were brought in to do day-to-day tasks that didn't involve direct programming.

And so it continued until the launch of their first game, Republic, in September 2003. Rave reviews in the UK press were followed by mixed, but generally positive reviews overseas, and the team could be proud of themselves for delivering a truly impressive game from their humble beginnings.

Of course, behind the scenes, another game (or two) was in the works, details of which only came out a few months before the release of Republic. The game was, of course, Evil Genius...

The closure of Elixir

On the 28th April, 2005, Elixir announced that it was to close. Whilst a bolt out of the blue to the community following Elixir and the gaming industry at large, the news came as more of a disappointment rather than a surprise to the team themselves who, on that day, awaited news of the future of a major unannounced project with a leading American publisher. Sadly, even after 2 years of development, the project was closed by the publishers, leaving the management of Elixir little option other than to close the studio. Whilst Elixir were not broke, they decided to close the studio in an orderly manner and pay proper redundancy to its staff, rather than continue running the studios chasing unlikely possibilities of securing a publishing deal on one of the several other games in development.

It's very sad that an exciting developer like Elixir met it's premature end in this way, especially considering the critical success of Evil Genius and the cool ideas in the pipeline for future games. You can discuss the closure of the studios on the forum, if you wish.


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