"For nearly 20 years, Monolith has been bringing you high-quality games that are chock full of style and character. In a genre that has been rife with drab corridors and “me too” stories, we stood out from the pack with a unique take on first-person shooters. Whether it was giant robots, 60’s spys, or just plain beating folks with pipes, we focused on giving players new and unique experiences. No matter how crazy the setting or bizarre the visuals, you always know that when you pick up a Monolith game, you are picking up a project that has been the focus of years of love and hard work. And some blood. Lots of blood."
--Monolith Productions website
Monolith Productions (also called Monolith, MP, or just Lith) is an American video game developer, responsible for developing the Blood series. It also created the LithTech engine which was used in Blood II: The Chosen, as well as its jointly-developed sister game Shogo: Mobile Armour Division. Development of this engine was later split off to be handled by a subsidiary called Touchdown Entertainment. It was founded in 1994 and quickly expanded upon the acquisition of QStudios in 1997. In 2004 it was acquired by Time-Warner after years of fluctuating profitability and changing publishers, including GT Interactive, Fox Interactive, Buena Vista Interactive and Sierra Entertainment. The company is based Kirkland, Washington and currently employs over one hundred people.
Its most popular original franchise is the science fiction horror series F.E.A.R. (2005, 2009), while its has achieved recent success with its licensed title Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014). Other releases include franchises No One Lives Forever (2001, 2002-2003) and Condemned (2005, 2008), original games such as Claw (1997) and Sanity: Aiken's Artifact (2000), as well as licensed titles such as Tron 2.0 (2003) and Gotham City Impostors (2012). Early on the company published titles as well, such as Rage of Mages (1998) and Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator (1999), as well as their own Get Medieval (1998) and Gruntz (1999).
"Monolith started out as a large quantity of creativity, talent, and energy. The six of us (the "founding members") had enough "great" ideas to fill a dozen CD-ROMs. I'm not talking about ordinary great ideas either--I'm talking about the really good, great ideas. It was almost weird how Monolith evolved. Everything was such an unknown back then. At first, we didn't even know what we were actually making. Even so, we kept progressing very fast...towards something. Things started to take shape even though we weren't trying to shape anything specifically. There was so much creative energy at work--it was a truly incredible experience."
Monolith Productions was founded in October 1994 in Kirkland, Washington, nearby the headquarters of Microsoft. It specialized in Windows 95 computer gaming technology, particularly with DirectX and ActiveX. The company was founded by former employees of many notable gaming companies including 3D Realms, Sierra Entertainment, Strategic Simulations, Inc, and SquareSoft. The name was taken from the classic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey and its intelligence giving monoliths.
Monolith initially worked with many different types of media entertainment such as software, music, and movies, and was originally conceptualized in two parts: Monolith Games and Monolith Studios. The former is what survived, while the latter briefly focused on multimedia development ("3-D scanning, rendering, motion capture, animation, audio/video and multimedia engineering services for use in television and film, software, architecture, engineering, and science"). Monolith was also intended to operate under a philosophy of "creative freedom", where employees could make suggestions in any field of a product's design and feel free to contribute any of their ideas, and at heart still be gamers.
The first release Monolith created was the "Monolith CD" in 1995, which was a demo disc of games, soundtracks, and other random efforts inspired by the European demoscene and submitted to a Finnish contest. This was followed with the popular Windows 95 Game Sampler that Monolith had created for Microsoft at the behest of Alex St. John, as well as Game Sampler 2 which was later released at retail.
This funded the two year development of their first game, a first person shooter called Blood, which they released on May 31, 1997. Blood had started out in early 1994 as "Horror 3D" (the version seen in the Blood Alpha) and was being developed by Q Studios, originally founded in November 1993 as Apogee West. First commissioned for 3D Realms under the creative direction of Nick Newhard, Q Studios was merged into Monolith, with whom they shared a common heritage at Edmark, in July 1996 and together they finished the game. Personal and professional disagreements with 3D Realms also lead to GT Interactive being brought in as publisher, produced by Rick Raymo.
Blood became an instant cult classic and is known as one of the big three Build engine games (the other two being Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior; sometimes Redneck Rampage is included as the big four), noted especially for its inspiration and references to gothic and slasher horror films and horror literature. Sunstorm Interactive then created an expansion pack for Blood called Cryptic Passage, while Monolith released their own expansion called the Plasma Pak later that same year. These were then collated together on July 15, 1998 to make the One Unit: Whole Blood compilation which the game is usually sold as today.
Monolith also developed and released a platform game called Claw in September 1997, set in a cartoonish parody of pirate films, which also became a cult classic, and was the first game to be self-published by Monolith. The game was built upon the Windows Animation Package 32 engine, derived from the 16-bit flicker-free sprite engine first written by Brian Goble for Windows 3.1 and used in The Adventures of Microman (1993) and then utilized on the "Monolith CD"; the 32-bit engine was subsequently used in Get Medieval (1998) and Gruntz (1999). Claw was also advertised itself as the first action game supporting multiplayer with up to 64 players at a time. With its foundations laid, Monolith was ready to try and expand into the mainstream.
"Monolith is the little guy out there who was given a small chance to make it. We are doing the best that we can on all fronts, and when an opportunity presents itself for Monolith to aid/publish/promote another developers work (and it makes financial sense for us) we will do it. Also it is important for us as a new publisher to have a reasonable amount of products continuously moving through our new channels/relationships. We will only do this with kick ass titles that we feel we can best serve and promote. Right now it's not our plan to be a huge publisher. We have found a comfortable position in being a small publisher, self-publisher and just developer - BUT - you never know what the future may hold!"
--Jason Hall, March 22-26, 1999
Subsequent and parallel to the development of its early titles such as Blood and Claw, the company was working on a true 3D game engine component for DirectX on behalf of Microsoft, known as the "Direct Engine" coded principally by Mike Dussault. They also began to work on a first person shooter game known as "Riot" for it under the direction of Blood level designer Craig Hubbard, inspired by mecha anime science fiction.
Later the deal with Microsoft fell apart and Monolith decided to develop the engine on its own, forcing them to purchase the intellectual property rights for it back from Microsoft in May 1998. Prior to this the company had also initiated the development of Blood II: The Chosen for GT Interactive, now under the direction of level designer James Wilson III, inspired by the original title's gothic horror as well as dystopian films such as Blade Runner, the Hellraiser series, and The Crow.
The "Direct Engine" became LithTech and "Riot" became Shogo: Mobile Armour Division, after previously also being known under the names "Heavy Metal" and "Metal Tek". A promotional video for LithTech was released on April 15, 1998 that showed scenes from Blood II and "Riot" as well as scenes from two never released titles called "Claw 3D" and "Draedon". The former appears to have been a 3D platformer based on the earlier Monolith title, and the latter appeared to be a third person medieval fantasy fighting game.
The development of Blood II was remarkable due to the amount of community involvement, with the developers polling the previous game's fan base on various issues. However, the year 1998 was a very busy year in the first person shooter industry with titles like SiN, Half-Life, and Unreal coming out during the same period as Blood II and Shogo. Due to this the two games, which were both highly ambitious, were rushed out to market, which caused vast amounts of content to be removed from the games' designs, most notably in Blood II which suffered from never receiving the full planned development support of "team Shogo" following the other's release.
Shogo received overall positive reviews in the video game press (being praised for its unique style, influences, and narrative, though criticized for its weaker multiplayer aspect and unnuanced gameplay) and Blood II received mixed reviews (praised for its homage to traditional shooters, dark humour, and multimedia but criticized for its changes in style from Blood, bugs, and unimplemented features), but both did not sell as well as hoped.
This was due to a number of reasons; the amount of competition, the company's obscurity compared to Epic or Valve, the amount of bugs due to the rushed releases (which led to the necessity of many patches) and the lack of a strong marketing campaign; Monolith self-published Shogo after cutting ties with Microsoft, while relations between GT and Monolith grew strained during the release of Blood II. Monolith is still noted in computer gaming history for the finalization and release of its own in-house engine and two games for it simultaneously in the same year.
Having self-published Claw and Shogo, Monolith also published Rage of Mages by Nival Interactive in the West in 1998. It also was the Western publisher of that game's 1999 sequel Rages of Mages II: Necromancer. Some sources say it published the game Maabus in 1994/5, but the Blood Wiki can not confirm this. Monolith expanded its publishing operation further with titles like Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator and Gorky 17 (aka Odium). They also developed and self-published a Gauntlet-like action game called Get Medieval in August 1998, just prior to Shogo and Blood II, which was a well received if derivative game which was only moderately purchased.
Two expansion packs for Shogo and one for Blood II were under development by three different groups, but all never reached completion (though all, eventually, released raw files). Jeremy Blackman also attempted to create ports of the games to Linux and other platforms, work that was eventually realized for Shogo by the Hyperion Entertainment ports released in 2001. Monolith then created its own expansion pack for Blood II called The Nightmare Levels, which it released in August 1999 partly as a means of distributing patches. This also continued a trend started with the Plasma Pak, which used development ideas from Blood, by implementing many unfinished or discarded elements from the Blood II development. Despite considerable demand from fans, Monolith has not made any further sequels to its 1990s titles, though many of them still possess a dedicated cult following.
Monolith also developed and published the puzzle strategy game Gruntz (initially pitched by Nick Newhard) which was released in February 1999 and was met by some success. Monolith ceased to publish its own or sign on third-party games to publish after the departure of producer Matt Saettler in July 1999, and breakdowns with GT Interactive following the release of Blood II left the studio's external publishing status in limbo as they continued work on their next project. Jason Hall, then CEO of Monolith, finally signed a last minute deal with Fox Interactive announced on August 24, 1999 after four prior attempts with other publishers. Producer and later CEO Samantha Ryan has admitted that at that point the company was two weeks away from bankruptcy.
"Based on that solid business decision (and many others to follow), Monolith is still here today making games. Monolith has never missed a payroll, and everyone who has ever worked productively at Monolith and stayed for a reasonable amount of time has had his or her salary only go up! Monolith has been around now for more than half a decade, and I've seen MANY development companies come and go, not because they made bad games, but because they lacked a good business sense, and were unable to successfully navigate the tough decisions... The whole point of this discussion is that Monolith has learned a great deal from this whole fiasco, and has taken many steps to ensure that something like this NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN."
--Jason Hall, July 10, 2000
During February 2000, whilst in the middle of a corporate reorganization and following the exit of engine head Mike Dussault to Valve Corporation, the development of LithTech was split off into a subsidiary called LithTech Inc., which was later renamed Touchdown Entertainment in March 2003. The end result for the main company was basically unchanged, though the new firm helped license the engine out to other developers and handled the porting of the engine to different platforms. Touchdown Entertainment even released a game dubbed Mob Enforcer in singe play and Chicago Enforcer in multi-play on July 13, 2004 for Windows and the Xbox, though Mob only got so-so reviews and Chicago was largely despised.
As the 1990s drew to a close, Monolith begun development of the No One Lives Forever series of comedic 1960s-style spy genre video games, starting with The Operative: No One Lives Forever announced at E3 1999 and released on November 9, 2000, which was based on the new second version of LithTech (2.5 specifically). This game proved to be a better seller than earlier LithTech titles and won several "Game of the Year" awards, leading to a special "Game of the Year" version of it to be released. 2000 also saw Monolith release the top-down shooter game Sanity: Aiken's Artifact from the remnant of the Blood II team (and designed by Gruntz lead Kevin Lambert), featuring the voice of Ice-T, which met with generally positive reviews.
In 2001, Monolith developed and released a title called Tex Atomic's Big Bot Battles, a third person shooter published by Real Networks (LithTech "ESD"). It was created as a launch title for the fledgling RealArcade service, an early online-only game distribution model. The game went live on May 31, 2001. Original founders Brian Goble (designer of Bot Battles), Garrett Price and Bryan Bouwman took this experience as the basis for their casual games company HipSoft, in publishing Build-A-Lot and other titles through RealArcade, with them having left Monolith in 2002 (joined by Kevin Kilstrom in 2007). Similarly, musician Daniel Bernstein formed his own casual game company Sandlot Games, after first leaving Monolith for Alex St. John's WildTangent in 1999, where he was joined by artist Israel Evans and engineer Scott H. Pultz.
That same year Monolith began its history of making games based directly on movie franchises with Alien versus Predator 2, a sequel to the earlier Aliens versus Predator computer game developed by Rebellion Developments and published by Fox Interactive, the same company that published No On Lives Forever and Sanity, which again received decent reviews. A third-party expansion pack for the game entitled Primal Hunt was released in 2002 but received a tepid response from critics.
Monolith released No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy In H.A.R.M.'s Way later in 2002, powered by LithTech 2.0 "Jupiter" and published by Sierra Entertainment, which met with the same acclaim as the first game in the series. Despite its critical and commercial success with this series, fan demands, and the open ended nature of No One Lives Forever 2, no new games have been produced (similar to the fate of Shogo and Blood II). Monolith did however release an expansion pack called Contract J.A.C.K. in 2003, which followed a contract killer for the main game's enemy; however, it failed to receive the reception as the main series. No One Lives Forever also remains unavailable for sale from any major digital distribution service, a problem which has proven disappointingly intractable.
Also during 2003, Monolith made another movie derived game called Tron 2.0, published by Buena Vista Interactive. It was based on the famous 1980s science fiction film Tron, featuring the voice of Bruce Boxleitner, and was even sanctioned by original creator Steven Lisberger. Despite positive reviews, the game did not sell as well as hoped and thus plans for an expansion pack and sequel were dashed. Following this, Time Warner purchased the company through its Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment division in 2004; seven months afer it hired former Monolith CEO Jason Hall as its inaugural senior vice president. He was later replaced by Samantha Ryan in 2007, who had previously taken over the role of Monolith CEO after Jason Hall's departure.
In 2005 Monolith made yet another movie game, this time a massively multiplayer online role-playing game called The Matrix Online (LithTech "Discovery"); later that year management of this game was transferred over to Sony Online Entertainment, and the game was eventually killed on July 31, 2009. Monolith also reached a landmark success in its original first person shooter field with F.E.A.R. (LithTech "Jupiter EX"), a suspense horror action shooter that cemented the company's fame as a developer and received two third-party expansion packs.
Monolith released another popular first person title Condemned: Criminal Origins on November 15, 2005, which was notable for being more console-oriented than previous Monolith titles. This process was continued in its 2008 sequel that lacked a PC port, which did not stop it from receiving favourable reviews, though not rated as highly as the original. That same year the company launched the Monolith Forums which replaced old and broken individual forums for their legacy titles.
Monolith also began working on a sequel to F.E.A.R. called F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin which, after a lengthy development cycle and some trademark issues, was released in February 2009 to mostly positive reviews. A short direct download add-on, Reborn, was released on September 3, 2009. Monolith took down its website and marked it as under "quarantine" soon after, sparking much speculation as to what its next project would be. The Touchdown Entertainment website also disappeared.
"From the moment we plugged in our first PC in October ’94, Monolith has been obsessed with combining stunning visuals, inventive narratives and cutting-edge technology to bring a distinctive gaming experience to both PC and console. Starting with our first PC game, the terrifying, first-person action game Blood, straight through to our upcoming third-person action game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, our passion for storytelling and dedication to creating unique gaming experiences continues to drive us to bring immersive gaming experiences to our fans."
--Monolith Productions website
The Monolith website returned in February 2010 and revealed some interesting clues towards the company's next projects. The site mentioned two new projects in development, with rumours and then hard evidence showing that one was a third F.E.A.R. title. Speculation continued on what the other one could be, with some such as Nickolas Palsmeler noting that titles whose intellectual property was thought to be previously held by others are now being listed as copyrighted by Warner Bros.
This was further confused by GOG.com getting the rights to sell Blood and Blood II from Atari, the inheritors of GT Interactive (via Infogrames). Whether this would indicate the possibility for any new instalments in any of those franchises was unknown. Also, since F.E.A.R. 3 was developed by Day 1 Studios, developers of the console versions of the original F.E.A.R., with only supervision from Monolith, it was not clear whether or not it counted as one of its two projects. Evidence was also there that the other was a third Condemned title.
That same year Warner Bros. merged two other subsidiaries, Snowblind Studios and Surreal Software (formerly of Midway Games and one time employer of Blood II staff Ben Coleman and Boyd Post), into Monolith. All three had been based in Kirkland, and both had worked on games based on The Lord of the Rings as Monolith soon continued.
On May 16, 2011 the company released a press release announcing they were returning to their previous trend of making licensed games with a new first-person shooter called Gotham City Imposters; featuring the ability to play as the Batman protagonist or his arch-villain The Joker. The game was released in 2012 as a digital download with a strong multiplayer focus and heavy amounts of character customization. It is available for Microsoft Windows, XBox 360 and Playstation 3. That same year they also released Guardians of Middle-earth, a similarly team-based action game, in the form of a MOBA, but set in the The Lord of the Rings universe instead and launched only for the PlayStation Network and XBLA.
In 2013 designer Craig Hubbard, one of the last and most prominent employees from the early days of Monolith, left the studio to help found Blackpowder Games and work on their game Betrayer alongside five other former Monolith employees (including Blood II and Shogo veterans Brad Pendleton and C. Wes Saulsberry III).
Monolith released another title within Tolkien's legendarium, an action role-playing game entitled Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, on October 7, 2014. The game is set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is powered by LithTech and launched on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and the Xbox One, bridging both present and next-gen consoles. The game was also later ported to GNU/Linux and Mac OS X by Feral Interactive, the first Monolith developed title to receive a Linux release since Shogo. Following its critical and commercial success, it was reissued as a Special Edition and Game of the Year Edition in 2015. Two DLCs for the game have also been released, first Lord of the Hunt on December 16, 2014, and then The Bright Lord on February 24, 2015. Monolith is currently hiring in all departments to work on a "large-scale project" with indications that it will further utilize the Nemesis System used in the artificial intelligence of Mordor.
- Jason "Jace" Hall (former CEO)
- Brian L. Goble (co-founder and creator of the Windows Animation Package 32 engine used in Claw, Get Medieval, Gruntz and the "Monolith CD")
- Peter Freese (technical director for Blood)
- Nick Newhard (designer of Blood)
- James "Jay"/"Shade" Wilson III (designer of Blood II: The Chosen)
- Guy Whitmore (creator of adaptive music which was first seen in Blood II and Shogo)
- Daniel Bernstein (Monolith musician and creator of the Cultist Language commonly associated with their early games)
- Craig Hubbard (designer of Shogo, NOLF and F.E.A.R. series)
- Nathan Hendrickson (Director of Cinematics for the company)
- Eric Kohler (concept artist and "weapons expert")
- Matt Saettler (project manager and producer of published titles)
- Frank Rooke (designer of Tron 2.0 and the Condemned series)
- Mike Dussault (creator of LithTech)
- Greg Kettell (head engineer for Blood II)
- Scott Schlegel (AI engineer for Blood II)
- Kevin Kilstrom (artist on many Monolith games)
- Bill Vandervoort (lead level designer for Blood II)
- David Kelvin (level designer for Blood II and Shogo: MAD)
- Aaron Carlson (3D animator on many Monolith games)
- Boyd Post (sound designer and additional voice in Blood II; contributor to Rage of Mages localization)
- Jeremy Blackman (Monolith coder and attempted game porter)
- Ben Coleman (level designer for Blood II, NOLF and AvP 2)
Monolith Productions games
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor - The Bright Lord (2015) (downloadable content)
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor - Lord of the Hunt (2014) (downloadable content)
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014) (Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4)
- Guardians of Middle-earth (2012) (Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Playstation 3)
- Gotham City Imposters (2012) (Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Playstation 3)
- F.E.A.R. 2 - Reborn (2009) (downloadable content)
- F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin (2009) (Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
- Condemned 2: Bloodshot (2008) (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
- Condemned: Criminal Origins (2005) (Windows, Xbox 360)
- F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon - Director's Edition (2005)
- F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (2005) (Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
- The Matrix Online (2005) (Windows)
- Tron 2.0: Killer App (2004) (Xbox) — Co-developer
- Tron 2.0 (2003) (Windows, Mac OS X)
- Contract J.A.C.K (2003) (Windows) — prequel stand-alone expansion to No One Lives Forever 2
- No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way (2002) (Windows, Mac OS X)
- Aliens versus Predator 2 (2001) (Windows)
- No One Lives Forever - Game of the Year Edition (2001) (Windows)
- Tex Atomic's Big Bot Battles (2001) (Windows)
- The Operative: No One Lives Forever (2000) (Windows, PlayStation 2, Mac OS X)
- Sanity: Aiken's Artifact (2000) (Windows)
- Gruntz (1999) (Windows)
- Blood II: The Chosen - The Nightmare Levels (1999) (Windows expansion)
- Blood II: The Chosen (1998) (Windows)
- Shogo: Mobile Armour Division (1998) (Windows, GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Amiga OS)
- Get Medieval (1998) (Windows)
- Claw (1997) (Windows)
- Blood - Plasma Pak (1997) (MS DOS expansion)
- Blood (1997) (MS DOS)
- Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator (1999) (Windows)
- Gorky 17 (Odium in North America) (1999) (Windows, Linux)
- Gruntz (1999) (Windows)
- Rage of Mages II: Necromancer (1999) (Windows)
- Rage of Mages (1998) (Windows)
- Shogo: Mobile Armor Division (1998) (Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Amiga OS)
- Get Medieval (1998) (Windows)
- Claw (1997) (Windows)
- F.3.A.R. (third-party sequel; 2011, Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
- F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate (2007, Windows)
- F.E.A.R. Extraction Point (2006, Windows)
- Aliens versus Predator 2: Primal Hunt (2002, Windows)
- Shugotenshi (aborted expansion to Shogo: Mobile Armour Division)
- Legacy of the Fallen (aborted expansion to Shogo: Mobile Armour Division)
- Blood II: Revelations (aborted expansion to Blood II: The Chosen)
- Cryptic Passage (1997, MS DOS)
- "Monolith CD"
- Windows 95 Game Sampler (Windows)
- One Unit: Whole Blood (MS DOS)
- The Blood Group (Windows)
- Shogo/Septerra Core Dual Jewel Case (Windows)
- F.E.A.R. Files (Xbox 360)
Monolith games have appeared in some third party game combo packs:
- Action Pack (2002) (Windows)
- MSI Multimedia Games Collection (2002) (Windows)
- The Station Access Collection (March 2006) (Windows)
- Monolith Productions website
- Monolith Services (1997)
- Making the Return to Monolith - The Jace Hall Show (March 18, 2014)
- Monolith on the Move - Gamespot (May 16, 1997)
- Monolith Offers 3D Rendering, Scanning, and Motion Capture at Lowest Prices Anywhere! (August 3, 1997)
- Games Unleashed 1997 Monolith interview with John L. Jack
- More than gore - Game designers at Monolith say Blood is just the start, Puget Sound Business Journal, May 25, 1997 (M. Sharon Baker)
- Playing Alone, Puget Sound Business Journal, November 8, 1998 (M. Sharon Baker)
- Monolith: The rise, the fall, the climb back - Games Domain (July 13, 2000)
- Game plan: Warner Bros. eyes stake in Monolith, Puget Sound Business Journal, June 1, 2003 (Steve Ernst)
- Warner Bros. buys Kirkland game studio Monolith, Puget Sound Business Journal, August 12, 2004
- Kirkland game designer laying off 80 employees, Puget Sound Business Journal, June 20, 2005