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Eidos closes Ion Storm Austin

Publisher Eidos yesterday announced plans to bulk up at San Franciscan dev studio Crystal Dynamics, but it was the news of Ion Storm Austin's closure that prompted the bigger reaction.

Eidos Interactive has announced that it is shutting down Ion Storm Austin, developer of seminal PC first-person shooter/role-playing game hybrid Deus Ex, at the cost of some 35 jobs.

Although the publisher also announced that it would be recruiting some 50 or so new personnel in San Francisco to scale Crystal Dynamics from a two- to a three-team studio, increasing the headcount to more than 180, the tone of PC fan sites is nonetheless mournful in light of Ion Storm Austin's dissolution.

"Eidos today announced locally that it is to consolidate down its North American internal development capabilities from two studios to one. This will mean the immediate closure of the Ion Storm studio in Austin, Texas," the company said in a statement issued yesterday.

"This is part of [Eidos's] move to consolidate and strengthen its technical and management capabilities into a smaller number of studios which are capable of scaling up in order to meet the competitive challenges that lie ahead, particularly in anticipation of next-generation technologies and platforms," the publisher added.

The closure of Ion Storm Austin finally brings the Ion Storm name to an end after nearly 10 chequered years of history which produced a number of forgettable titles, at least one very good one and a few that polarised opinion.

The studio's main Dallas office was originally setup in 1996 by Doom alumni John Romero and Tom Hall with fellow developer Todd Porter. Based in a lavish Dallas penthouse, the soon-Eidos-bought Ion Storm's hype-drenched PC FPS Daikatana eventually emerged in 2000 to pitiless critics who, despite a number of redeeming features, took the opportunity to really lay into it.

Other titles released by the Dallas office included the warmly received but quickly forgotten Anachronox and real-time strategy effort Dominion, released prior to Daikatana, widely panned and characterised in the ensuing mess of developmental walkouts and reorganisation as a title brought in by Todd Porter to help fulfil the dev's multi-game obligation to Eidos. Porter's other pet project, Doppelganger, was later put on indefinite hold.

However, 2000 also saw Ion Storm's Austin studio emerge and release Deus Ex, which brought first-person shooter and RPG elements together in a manner never before seen and remains one of the best PC games ever made. The game was the pet project of development veteran Warren Spector, who had joined Ion Storm in 97.

While the Dallas office fell into disarray, Eidos subsequently picked up the rights to the Thief series in the aftermath of Looking Glass's sad closure and set Spector to work on this with his Austin studio. Ion Storm Austin subsequently released Deus Ex: Invisible War last year, which polarised opinion among the Deus Ex faithful, and the well-received Thief: Deadly Shadows - both titles appearing on PC and Xbox.

Then at the end of 2004 Spector resigned, while Deus Ex: Invisible War executive producer Harvey Smith joined a Midway studio elsewhere in Austin, and, although there was still potential for more development, the studio's fate seemed - as proven - to be drawing toward an inevitable close. With it, the sometimes-brilliant but never less than engrossing soap opera that was Ion Storm finally ends.