While the name Rob Landeros may not immediately ring a bell, as a pioneer of the genre his track record includes legendary titles like The 7th Guest, The 11th Hour and Tender Loving Care, and today we’re taking an in-depth look back at the long career of the co-founder of Trilobyte Games. Such retrospection isn't merely nostalgia, however, as Rob and Trilobyte are back in the news these days, so we've also taken the chance to find out about the upcoming plans of the resurrected company, including an iOS port of Tender Loving Care, which is due for release later this month.
Ingmar Böke: Hello Rob, it’s a pleasure to welcome you here at Adventure Gamers. To start us off, I would like you tell us about the early days of Trilobyte. How was the company founded, and what are your memories of the first few years?
Rob Landeros and Graeme Devine (CD-ROM World, March 1994; Steven Bloch/Blackstar photography)
Rob Landeros: I met Trilobyte’s co-founder, Graeme Devine, while we were both working at Virgin Mastertronic in Southern California. I was head of the art department, he was head of programming. About a year into working together, we appointed ourselves “Department of New Technologies” and Martin Alper, our boss, sent us off to all these tech conferences around the country. All the talk was multimedia, CD-Rom, video. One night, in an airport bar, we came up with the basic idea for The 7th Guest on the back of a paper napkin, literally. When we got back to work we wrote up a proposal and presented it to Martin. We told him we wanted to develop the game offsite, so he promptly “fired us” in the friendliest way possible. He funded us for about two years of work. We founded Trilobyte, moved our families up to Southern Oregon, and that was it.
Ingmar: When you created The 7th Guest, you proved yourself a pioneer of the game industry. All of this happened at a time when things were changing a lot in the industry: the new CD-Rom medium, new tools for developers, many more possibilities to create something that could measure up to any other form of media, etc. How would you describe the mood in the company at the time? Were you aware that you were about to create something that people had never seen before?
Rob: Nobody really knows what they’ll end up with when they start out. You make a movie or a game, you think it’s going to be really good, it turns out to be a piece of crap. You never know. We were hoping for the best.
When we started, we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do. We didn’t have an absolutely clear vision, but we had a pretty good idea. Although, looking back, it’s amazing how closely we stuck to our original design outline. As far as the details went, well, we stumbled along and discovered what we needed along the way.
The mood of the company was great during those first couple of years. We all worked in one big room, talking together, figuring out what we could and couldn’t do. We’d try one thing and if it didn’t work out, we’d discover—happily, serendipitously—another solution.
The 7th Guest
We used the most advanced tools we could find, and when we needed a tool that didn’t exist, we’d make our own. We started shooting video: panoramic, 360-degree shots of interiors in this huge, old mansion we’d scouted. Unsurprisingly, the results were poor. One of the artists, Robert Stein, suggested using 3-D modeling software, which was new at the time. I was skeptical. But he built a room, filled it with a fireplace, some chairs, tables, this and that, and he rendered out an animation with the furniture floating around in a ghostly fashion. Amazing. It was a revelation.
So I sat down and started experimenting. I may have been the first person to create an animated, 3-D cursor. As far as I know, anyway. I was used to pushing pixels, like I had in the old days. I’d been working on some animated thing, ten frames, drawn pixel by pixel, and it wasn’t looking all that great. I decided to try 3-D. The first thing I made was a skull, with throbbing brains. A skull mesh came with the software, so I just lopped off the top of the skull, made a brain and two eyeballs, had the brain throbbing over a few frames, eyeballs rolling side to side, got it rendered, and that was it! I had a really cool, perfect little animated image in half the time it would normally have taken to make by hand. 3-D changed everything overnight. These days, it's not all that interesting, no big deal. Back then, in 1991, it was huge.
Ingmar: The release of The 7th Guest turned the gaming world upside down and established the CD as the medium of the future. Bill Gates even called the game “the new standard in interactive entertainment”. What were your feelings at the time? Did you imagine in your wildest dreams that you would revolutionize a whole industry with one single game?
Devine and Landeros (Medford Mail Tribune, July 1993; Steve Johnson, photographer)
Rob: No, I didn’t. Gates? Well, that was nice. And the quote has come in handy. But the confirmation that we’d created something really big happened at CES [Consumer Electronics Show].
We’d been working on T7G in Medford, Oregon, isolated and insulated from the rest of the world. Only a few people knew what we were doing. When we sent the first stuff to Virgin, they were really excited. Just, “WOW!!!” Their response was our first inkling that we were onto something good. But you know, Virgin was our producer, our publisher, our friends, so of course they were going to give us encouraging words. But CES was like a giant focus group. And the intense response there to our demo was undeniable. The whole place was talking about it, people were lined up dozens deep at our booth, trying to get a look at it. Everybody was bowled over. At that point, we realized what we’d done, that it couldn’t fail. The response was that big.
Everybody generally thinks what they’re doing is good, but you don’t actually know if you’re right until you put it in front of the public. Or, maybe you do something really good—whether it’s music, movies, whatever—but it doesn’t get any attention. T7G was the right game at the right time with the right design, and people took notice.
Ingmar: As you look back at The 7th Guest, what worked well, and what could have worked better?
Rob: Well, the graphics and music were successful. Everything else could have been better. The acting could have been better. Obviously, the video could have been better. It was low resolution. Those were early days, but it could have been better. We were experimenting. Fortunately, we were dealing with ghosts that could be semi-transparent and a little fuzzy, so that was fortuitous.
I don’t have regrets. I just wouldn’t work that way again. I would demand more professionalism. The acting was melodramatic. Aspects of the production were amateurish. There wasn’t a lot of professional video production talent in Southern Oregon at the time. We took what we could get. But the game’s audience wasn’t critical of any of that. The critical complaint from the gaming industry at the time, which I didn’t agree with, was that the puzzles were not well-integrated into the story. I like logic and fairness, so my puzzles were self-contained, you didn’t need to use trial and error or fuzzy logic to solve them, you didn’t need to lug things around from other parts of the game. But we got a lot of flak. We were bad guys to a lot of people. Cyan were the good guys. But today that old complaint seems to have disappeared, the Myst rivalry gone, and people accept the game on its own terms. Since the re-release of T7G, the press has been almost all positive.Continued on the next page...