First posted on 30 November 2013. Last updated on 02 December 2013.
|Rob Landeros is the founder of Trilobyte Games and the cofounder of Trilobyte and Aftermath Media.|
The author wishes to acknowledge Shannon Drake, Evolve PR, for her assistance.
For more information, visit Trilobyte Games.
In 1990, Rob Landeros cofounded Trilobtye with Graeme Devine. The company released The 7th Guest, a game credited for ushering in the era of CD-ROM multimedia and technology in video games. The game also introduced the wealthy and enigmatic toymaker named Henry Stauf and his haunted mansion. The 7th Guest was praised for its gorgeous graphics and diabolical puzzles. A sequel titled The 11th Hour was later released, but it did not capture the same commercial and critical success as the original. Likewise, a compilation release titled Uncle Henry's Playhouse was met with poor sales. Trilobyte closed its door in 1999, seemingly putting an end to Stauf's legacy.
Exactly 20 years after the original game's release, Landeros is launching a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds for a brand new sequel in attempt to resurrect the series. The sequel will be titled The 7th Guest 3: The Collector, and it will be the final game in the series. Robert Hirschboeck is also involved and will reprise his role as the villainous Stauf in the sequel.
We are privileged to have the opportunity to interview Rob Landeros about The 7th Guest 3: The Collector. In the interview, Landeros speaks about the development history of The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour, the rise and fall of Trilobyte, the rising popularity of crowdfunding game projects, and what gamers can expect from The 7th Guest 3: The Collector.
Check out our gallery of rare concept and production art from The 7th Guest 3: The Collector.
- Before joining the games industry, you worked as a graphic artist and a sculptor. Which medium did you work in during your early career as a traditional artist?
- I worked in as many media as occurred to me. Oil, acrylic, lithography, silkscreen, etc. I published three so-called "underground" comic books via The Print Mint in Berkeley in the late 60s. Years later, in the late 70s, on the verge of abject poverty, a friend of mine who was in the jewelry business showed me how to do "scrimshaw" on fossil ivory. I put the term in quotes because to me, it is simply a form of engraving and has little relation to the old craft as practiced by whalers and mariners. A lot of my early work in a variety of media can be seen at http://landerosdesign.com/rob_art/rob_art.html.
- You cofounded Trilobyte with Graeme Devine in 1990. Sadly, the company succumbed in 1999 after a number of failed projects. Looking back, what business decisions did you regret most making during the last days of the company that ultimately led to its demise?
- That's easy. We should not have decided to go into self-publishing. We should have remained developers. At the time, it seemed like a good idea because then, if you had a big selling game, that's what you did, possibly with an eye toward going public with an IPO. Our investors, which included Paul Allen investment firm (Vulcan Capital) and a consortium of investment bankers, wanted us to go in that direction, which meant we had to go corporate and show growth by developing a number of games.
- You cofounded Aftermath Media with David Wheeler in 1997. The company released the interactive movies Tender Loving Care and Point of View. To what extent were these projects experiments in the convergence between filmmaking and game development? How did you recruit famed actor John Hurt to join the cast for Tender Loving Care?
- They were very much a convergence of film and game. I would say they leaned even more toward movies than game, but using the random access abilities of the computer or DVD. We attempted to use the awkward but more accurate and descriptive term "interactive movie", but we discovered that none of the people who "played" TLC or PoV ever used the term. They always used "game". We had many comments comparing it favorably to other adventure games that used video.
As for how we managed to get John Hurt, you'd have to ask somebody else. All I know is that one day, one of our producers brought me the news that Hurt was sent the script and interested.
- The 7th Guest was widely regarded as the "killer app" that ushered in the era of CD-ROM multimedia in video games. In hindsight, what was the secret to the game's enormous appeal?
- I think our fans have let us know in no uncertain terms why they loved the game. For one thing, they had never seen anything like it before. It gave people a series of "firsts". It was one of the first, if not the first, to use video with real actors. Thanks to Graeme's video codec, it was the first to use hi-res animated 3D graphics. They loved the ever-present evil Stauf goading, taunting and chiding them they made their way through the house and struggled to solve the puzzles. There was also a great musical score by The Fat Man and Team Fat that stayed in there minds to this day, as good music will do.
- To what extent was the development of The 11th Hour marred by major production delays and budgetary cuts? What were the first signs of troubles did you recall about the game's development?
- I have distinct memories of going on a press tour that our marketing maven and Virgin Games had arranged, in which David Wheeler and I went to L.A., San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C., to talk to journalists from major gaming and mainstream publications (Rolling Stone, Playboy). We were supposed to have a demo to take with us, but it wasn't ready until half-way through our San Francisco interviews. We were promising that the game would release by such and such a date... because that's what we were told by programming. The marketing exec from Virgin did not believe it and was pressing David and I to practically swear in blood that it would be so. Obviously, because it was all we could do to barely make a short demo, it was hard to believe what we were saying and it was hard for us to believe what we were saying.
From there, it was all downhill.
The delay was not due to budgetary cuts or normal production delays. All assets – video, graphics, music – were completed months in advance of when it was finally finished.
- How did you recruit Robert Hirschboeck to play the enigmatic role of Henry Stauf? How did the character of Stauf evolve over the series as a villain?
- Trilobyte is close to Ashland, Oregon, which is famous for its Shakespeare festival. It is a very theatrical town. RH, as I call him, was one of our local actors who came in to audition.
I think the character evolved from the mostly two dimensional character of the first game to a more multi-dimensional character in the second. In The 11th Hour, we see more sides to the man and see that he is a little more human and complex. We wish to explore that even more in the next in the series.
- Who owned the rights to Trilobyte's IP (Intellectual Property) after the company's closure? How did you negotiate back the rights to the IP to allow you to resurrect the company as Trilobyte Games?
- After years of lawyers doing due diligence in tracking down any potential party that might have claim to the property rights, it was determined, from my archives of Trilobyte's legal agreements, that the IP rights resided with Trilobyte company. I still owned shares in the company as did Graeme. I offered to buy his shares from him and he agreed, which gave me controlling interest.
By describing it in one paragraph, I make it sound easy. It was not. It was a long and laborious process to arrive at a state where I could confidently move forward with reconstituting the company and re-release the old games.
- To what extent will The 7th Guest 3: The Collector be a true sequel (that is, not by name only) to The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour? To what extent will this game finally bring closure to Stauf's twisted tale?
- Over the last years, and especially since reviving Trilobyte, we've had direct contact and communication with the fans and we have heard their voices regarding what they want and expect from the sequel. They want the mansion, Henry Stauf and puzzles. So that's what we are intending to give them. The main departure – if you could call it that – will be to provide more story and more cohesive story, answering some of the questions and filling in background about the man, his motives and those of the characters from the first two games. The thing about ghosts, is that they continue to haunt, unless purged by one means or another. Our goal will be to bring some closure to the tale. But if it turned out to be wildly successful, there might be a demand for yet another in the series. So never say "never".
- What were the previous plans, if any, to develop a sequel to The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour? What prompted you to consider crowdfunding campaign to secure funding to develop this sequel?
- We had made one attempt at doing a sequel about 12 years ago, with the help of a Vancouver company called Lunny Interactive. But after spending a good deal of effort to develop a design and demo, and then failing to sell the idea to Electronic Arts, they abandoned the project.
Crowdfunding has become the defacto way to get projects such as this, or just about any project from a small indie developer, funded anymore. I think it is a great shift in the publishing paradigm. If nothing else, it puts the creators in direct touch with the fans and prospective customers... the artist with his audience. It helps prevent us from making the mistake that happened with the Star Wars prequels. We will not "pull a Lucas".
- What kinds of puzzles will be in The 7th Guest 3: The Collector?
- More mind-bending logic puzzles. The difference being that with the use of Unity 3D, there is no technical barrier as to what type of game of puzzle we can do. We are developing puzzles that behave more like toys that you can manipulate as you would actual, physical objects or devices. There are a few examples in our Kickstarter video.
- Who from the original Trilobyte development team will be involved in the development of The 7th Guest 3: The Collector?
- Original members include myself, Robert Hirschboeck and David Wheeler. David was not involved in The 7th Guest, but came on board and contributed to The 11th Hour as director and collaborator. We invited Matt Costello and George Sanger, but could not reach agreements with either party. However, we did reach an agreement with George for the use of his music. Christopher Getman, AKA, Mazedude, is slated to do the musical score using the original music as well as composing new, original tracks. Mazedude is extremely talented and I look forward working with him to see what he comes up with.
- How much of the initial development work for The 7th Guest 3: The Collector has already begun? What are the next steps for this project?
- We have the 3D meshes for the skeleton of the original house, but have only so far concentrated on modeling two of the rooms and the exterior of the mansion. We have a story and script outline and have half of the 20 or so puzzles and toys either designed or on the drawing board, and we have half of those modeled and ready for programming. Upon funding, we simply go into full production mode. Ours is a somewhat special case in that we are not reinventing the wheel. We can draw the best and most workable parts of the first two games and simply improve upon them and concentrate on high production values.
- What else do you like to tell your fans?
- Thank you for being a fan. We can't do it without you.