Metroid Prime developer Retro Studios was founded in 1998 by a game industry veteran with a lot of money and support from Nintendo with the intention was for the studio to deliver four launch titles for the GameCube. What ended up happening was a series of painful layoffs, a fired CEO, insane crunch, four cancelled games, and Metroid Prime. Reportedly Nintendo was ready to shut the studio down after getting a game out of the studio.
After reading Polygon's history of Texas-based Retro Studio's inception and eventual path to Metroid Prime, it's lucky we got Metroid Prime at all. Due to a scandal which saw the company lose its founder and CEO for running a risqué personal site from Retro's servers, the layoffs, and disappointing cancelled games, Nintendo was ready to cut its losses in the company it invested in.
Luckily when Metroid Prime launched it was a hit and Retro was able to keep going as a Nintendo studio.
With a skeleton crew of developers after two rounds of layoffs that cut into the bone of the company, Metroid Prime was released to critical acclaim. The reason Prime made it was that the survivors of the layoffs were some of the best developers around ("It's like this awful sociopathic way of doing business," said one developer) and a desire from the Metroid team to prove their mettle. "Fuck all the people doubting us. We're going to do this," said one developer who said that in the last year the drive to finish Metroid came from this primal place rather than any sense of company loyalty.
Retro was founded by Jeff Spangenberg of Iguana Entertainment fame. The studio promised four launch games for the GameCube, but after failing to impress Nintendo of Japan Miyamoto gave Retro the Metroid IP and a mandate to get it done. One developer called their time working on Metroid Prime "One of the worst experiences I've ever had." Another developer likened the Metroid Prime team as "abused dogs," and "That last year of development was just incredibly awful."
Why Nintendo of Japan gave Metroid to Retro in the first place is anyone's guess considering how Retro seriously failed to impress Nintendo with its four works-in-progress. One employee speculates that Miyamoto, like Lucille Bluth towards Gob, never really cared for Metroid. "Miyamoto didn't like the Metroid series, in terms of the old Metroids. He doesn't get them; those aren't the types of games he likes to play." The fact that Metroid was always more popular in the west might have given Retro the opportunity to make Metroid Prime, but there was a lot of losses along the way, stressful management practices, and excessive overtime.
Since then Retro went on to make two more Metroid Prime games and Donkey Kong Country reboots. The studio is currently working on an unannounced new game. Metroid Prime 4 is currently in development for the Nintendo Switch but under a new developer. And while Retro might be in a better place now than when it started, it can't be overstated how lucky it is that we got Metroid Prime, let alone three of them in the series.
For more on Metroid Prime, check our our Metroid Prime 4 Everything We Know guide for all the latest news stories, rumors, and announcements.