Page 3: Setting Up Shop
Collectively, the two guys' jaws dropped to the floor. "We were in a complete state of shock," remembers Graeme Devine. However, Virgin's Alper wasn't quite done with his spiel. "Yes, I guess I fired them," he recalls. "But what I wanted them to do was work off-site on the project." Alper went on to explain to them that if the project was done in-house at Virgin, it would taint the rest of the company. With such an avant-garde project in house, "No one would want to work on any of the mundane bread-and-butter games," he says.
So, despite the huge budget, Alper decided to approve the project. "Graeme was the quintessential problem solver, and Rob Landeros wanted to make beautiful pictures," explains Alper. "They seemed like a great team and perfect complements. If anyone was going to pull off Guest, I knew it was going to be these two."
Before lunch was over, there were just two provisos laid down by Alper. "First," remembers Devine, "we had to do a floppy disk version of the game too, and secondly, our offices had to be within 100 miles of Virgin headquarters in Irvine, Calif." It seemed like a fair deal, and as Landeros remembers, "As soon as Martin gave us the go ahead, we wanted to find a bar and put on a show."
Devine and Landeros arrived in Oregon ready to build The 7th Guest (Photo credit: Steve Johnson).
Armed with the proverbial green light, at a developer conference for Atari's ill-fated color handheld named Lynx, Landeros proposed to Devine that they drive up the coast to Oregon to check out the southern part of the state as a possible place to set up shop. Landeros had previously lived in the area and thought it would be the perfect place to set up a creative outpost far away from the rat race in California. "We sort of forgot about Martin's second rule," quips Devine. In early December 1990, they drove up the coast of California, discussing their favorite movies and rationalizing how they were going to pull off Guest.
Once they arrived in Southern Oregon, Devine fell in love with the location. The day they arrived happened to be the day of the local Christmas festival, and before long it was snowing, carolers were surrounding the car, and "we were ready to sign a lease," admits Devine. Days later, Devine and Landeros drafted "The Final Memo" for Virgin staffers in California, in which they explained that "Starting February 1, we will not be in our usual hovels. We are not really Virgins anymore, we are Trilobites." (As a testament to just how quickly things progressed, a few weeks later they would change the spelling of the name to Trilobyte.)
The Trilobyte logo.
By mid-January, 1991, Devine, Landeros, and their wives had relocated to scenic Jacksonville, Oregon. Devine and Landeros were 50/50 partners in the company. For their first office, Trilobyte leased the second floor of 110 S. 3rd Street, above the J.Ville tavern, a local pub. Inside the 1800s historical brick building, which was once the city hall, the office was as anti-corporate as you can get, complete with Oregon pine walls and floor, a chandelier, and a huge fireplace. "We each took a corner of the room and got to work," explains Landeros.
The J-Ville Tavern in Jacksonville, Oregon, home to Trilobyte.
After hiring a local waitress named Diane Moses as their office administrator, Trilobyte set to work on Guest. The initial plan was to use a 360-degree camera to shoot still pictures of a local mansion, the Noonan house, but soon a more attractive option presented itself. A friend from Virgin, Robert Stein III, had been a beta tester for a new program named 3D Studio. "Rob rendered up this living room with a fireplace and a haunted chair that moved around, and we were blown away," recalls Landeros. Before long, Guest was going to be a 3D-rendered house, although perhaps only in black and white, as Devine was initially unsure a CD-ROM could support color rendering.
The Noonan mansion in Jacksonville served as a model for the Stauf mansion in the game.
Trilobyte contracted out the script for the game to an established New York-based horror writer, Matt Costello, who fleshed out the tale of a toy maker named Stauf, who lived in his foreboding mansion and filled it with enigmas. "We wanted to make a classic horror movie," explains Costello, who communicated with the team over the phone and via e-mail. Accessibility was also of prime importance: "It had to be a single-button game," says Virgin producer David Bishop. "We threw out so many puzzle concepts because they wouldn't work with a mouse click, and we wanted to be as mass market as possible." Together, Devine, Landeros, and Costello collaborated on the puzzles and the game concept.
A concept sketch for the music room in The 7th Guest.
Hence, The 7th Guest was born, at least conceptually. The script was penned, the puzzles planned, and famous game musician the Fatman was brought on for the musical score. The final piece of the concept puzzle was the use of full motion video, making a mini-movie of sorts that would be composited with the 3D backgrounds. With a $35,000 budget, Super VHS cameras, and blue butcher paper as a background that would later be removed to help insert the actors in the game (a process called chromakey), Trilobyte filmed the script for The 7th Guest above C.K. Tiffin's natural-foods restaurant on the main street of Medford, Ore.
Having all the pieces of the puzzle, all Trilobyte had to do was fit them all together - a task easier said than done, considering no one had ever attempted such a project on CD-ROM.
Next: The World Premiere