By: Geoff Keighley
Design By: James Cheung
Part 1: Recruiting the Guests
"The first CD player had this big thing on the back called 'Data Port.' It was a dead giveaway about the capabilities of a CD," recalls Graeme Devine, a long-haired lanky 33-year-old with a slight Scottish accent, who more often than not wears T-shirts bearing an illustration of cartoon character Scooby Doo. Even a decade later, he fondly recalls the day in the mid-'80s when he and his friend Andrew Glasser strolled through the bustling streets of London, walked into an electronics store, and bought one of the first CD players for music. "The shop owner was just aghast that these two sixteen-year-old kids were buying this expensive piece of equipment,"
he says. But those who knew the then 16-year-old Graeme Devine weren't surprised at his penchant for new technology. Born and raised in Scotland, Devine started programming at nine, and by 16 he was cutting class to program the racing game Pole Position for Atari. Later, he worked out of novelist Joan Collins' former bedroom in downtown London, programming for Activision.
Graeme Devine, cofounder of Trilobyte, with an uncharacteristic short haircut.
Across the pond in the mid-'80s, Rob Landeros, a contemplative man 17 years Devine's senior, was a Luddite, preferring to hold a paintbrush or pencil than to tap away on a keyboard. Self-described as having "sedentary" tastes, Landeros had weathered the '60s in Berkeley, Calif., living in communes and drawing raunchy underground cartoons. A gifted artist, Landeros parlayed his talents into carving images of wildlife into fossil ivory. That is, until the fateful day when he bought a Commodore 64 in the mid '80s. It changed his life.
Rob Landeros, cofounder of Trilobyte.
A half-decade later, forces of nature would bring Landeros and Devine together. They would cofound a company that would produce a product Bill Gates lauded as "the future of multimedia." The company was Trilobyte, and the game was 1993's The 7th Guest, a gothic-horror tale set inside a 22-room mansion, with enigmatic puzzles, stunning 3D visuals, and dazzling full-motion video. But more importantly, it was one of the first CD-ROM games - Devine's precocious data-port epiphany on the streets of London had paid off.
Bill Gates lauded Trilobyte's The 7th Guest as the "future of multimedia."
The stars aligned, and The 7th Guest was an unmitigated success. To this date, it is one of only a handful of PC games to sell upwards of two million copies. Thanks to the game's unheard-of success, Devine and Landeros were crowned the Ben and Jerry of the interactive industry; poster-boys for mastering what some deemed the impossible task of bringing The 7th Guest to life.
The 7th Guest, released in 1993, sold more than 2 million copies.
"Of all the developers from the early '90s, Trilobyte had the greatest potential," explains former Virgin Interactive CFO Keith Greer. "After The 7th Guest came out, they were absolutely golden, right up there with id Software, maker of Doom." But in retrospect, perhaps they were just gold plated. The wheels of history always tell a similar tale: Flush with overnight success, how would a company like Trilobyte ever manage to overcome the sophomore slump, which in many cases, turns into the kiss of death?
"I see a lot of parallels to the Beatles in the story of Trilobyte," explains a philosophical Kellyn Beeck, former Trilobyte chief operating officer. "Graeme and Rob, just like Lennon and McCartney, were vastly different individuals who contributed to the company's success and eventual breakdown." John Lennon was a street kid with a hard edge, and Paul McCartney wrote love songs. Their differences helped create a sound that captivated the world, but "just like Trilobyte, their differences eventually pulled them apart," explains Beeck. Trilobyte would go through many hard day's nights, but in the end, a long and winding road would lead to the severance of the partnership that created solid gold, The 7th Guest.
"[In the early 90s] Trilobyte was absolutely golden, right up there with id Software."
- Keith Greer, former Virgin Interactive CFO
Although Trilobyte's heyday may seem like ancient history to gamers now awash in the latest 3D accelerated masterpieces on the PC, the company's story transcends time. If not careful, today's Blizzard could easily become tomorrow's Trilobyte. The world of software development is unforgiving and no matter how successful a developer is, a few games with less than stellar sales can lead to a quick Chapter 11 filing and another development-casualty story.
Have you ever wondered why bad games are made and why games we wait for years to play end up being far less than we wanted them to be? Often, the answers to these questions are a closely guarded secret inside the walls of today's biggest software companies. It's rare that we're given the window of opportunity to understand what really makes game developers tick, and to hear their unfiltered stories about what it's like to devote your life to building games.
BEHIND THE GAMES|
The story of Trilobyte is one of those sagas, revealed here thanks to the passage of time and the cooperation of both Landeros and Devine, who haven't spoken with each other in nearly three years. In this extensive feature, you will understand what led to Trilobyte's dissolution. Regardless of whether you've played The 7th Guest, this is a story about two passionate visionaries who spun a web of success, only to become entangled in their own magnificent creation.
This is the story of the rise and fall of Trilobyte.
Next: You Guys Are Fired