This is the dev panel. It helps you keep track of all the games made by the developer, and exactly how many achievements you have unlocked in total. How many developers can you complete?
In this Xbox Game Studio Spotlight, we take a look at Roundhouse Studios, a curious ‘new’ division within Bethesda Game Studios. See the developers’ early work, new projects, and current events!
Human Head, the development team led by Chris Rhinehart, had been around since 1997. While the team had been making Blair Witch Volume II: The Legend of Coffin Rock (2000), Rune (2000), Rune spin-offs (2000-2001), and later Dead Man’s Hand (2004) for the original Xbox, it is Prey (2006) that put the marker in the ground for Human Head as a dev team to look out for on Xbox. The sci-fi FPS really caught the imagination of gamers with wild uses of gravity and portals, becoming one of those long-running third-party Xbox exclusives that players on the green box could point to with pride. The FPS trend continued with some support work on Splash Damage’s Brink (2011), a parkour-focused action-arcade multiplayer shooter.
Welcome to the madhouse via Roundhouse. The studio was formed in 2019 under the Bethesda Game Studios label, reformed from Human Head Studios with the exact same staff in the exact same office. The Human Head team had finally published Rune II on November 12th, 2019. A day later, November 13th, Human Head Studios closes its doors. On the very same day, Roundhouse Studios is born under the Zenimax portfolio in one of the strangest industry moves ever seen, and one that left legal trouble in its wake.
So, why such a long gap between the beloved Prey in 2006 and working on Brink as a support studio in 2011? The infamous Prey 2 debarkle, that’s what. Prey 2 had a gameplay demo at E3 in 2011 after developing the title for a few years. However, all was not well behind the scenes. An IGN exposé by Mitch Dyer in 2013 suggests that the success of the trailer lent Human Head an extra six months of development on Prey 2, which was very nearly finished. However, sources from within Human Head suggested that Bethesda started playing “hardball” by trying to buy the studio, which couldn’t stay comfortably afloat without the publishers’ investment in the project. Human Head, allegedly, did not want to sell up.
In response, it seems that Bethesda started retracting Prey 2 funding based on ‘missed’ development milestones, something reiterated by the inside sources, until Human Head agreed to be acquired. To keep afloat, Human Head helped work on Defiance (2013) and Bioshock: Infinite (2013) until the agreement for its sole development of Prey 2 expired. It did, with Bethesda allegedly continuing to put in offers for the studio along the way, believing that it put it “into a corner,” so Human Head refused and stopped development on the game. Prey 2 went back to Bethesda three-quarters finished, and Human Head could go on developing whatever it wanted having not released a game of its own for six years. Neither party likes to talk about it.
Later there were mobile games like Fort Courage (2012), Minimum (2014) for Atari on Windows, and Lost Within (2015). The next ‘major’ release was Dungeon Defenders II on PS4 in 2015 as a development partnership between Human Head and Trendy Entertainment. It was released in 2017 on Xbox One. In 2018, the team released The Quiet Man on PS4 and Windows. It was a beat ’em up with full FMV sequences, but it was appallingly reviewed and currently holds a 28 on Metacritic on PS4. Human Head developed Survived By (2018), an “online bullet-hell style roguelite” which only arrived on PC. The next twist in the tale of Human Head Studios road to Roundhouse Studios was still to come.
A sequel to Rune, called Rune II, of course, was released in 2019 on November 12th. Human Head Studios had a deal with publisher Ragnorok, LLC, apparently, to release the game and then support Rune II with post-launch content. So, imagine the surprise of the stakeholders when Human Head Studios closed a day after Rune II came out, only to be replaced by Roundhouse Studios under Bethesda. “We had to wind down the business of Human Head Studios,” said Chris Rhinehart at the time. “With the formation of Roundhouse Studios, Bethesda offered every employee of Human Head a position at the new company. We are excited our team will remain together, pursuing the work we love, as part of a company we already know and admire.”