Page 4: The World Premiere
Despite the formidable task at hand, "There was incredible camaraderie among the team members," says Trilobyte's former office administrator, Moses. The internal team merely consisted of Moses, the two founders, and artist Stein, all sitting in the four corners of the room. Other team members were scattered across the US, with artists in Boston, the Fatman in Texas, and Costello in New York. Still, the J.Ville Tavern ended up being a great office location, if for no other reason than the excitement downstairs sometimes proved a good respite from work. "It's fun to see the fights [downstairs] spill out onto the street," Devine told the Medford Mail Tribune, illustrating how the Tavern was quickly becoming part of Trilobyte's culture.
Sitting around playing the computer golf game Links 386 to decide which features would make it into the product, the staff members of Trilobyte worked through all of 1991 with little fanfare. Graeme Devine worked on a proprietary technology named GROOVIE that would be used to mesh all assets together. Most importantly, GROOVIE needed to be able to continuously read data off a CD-ROM drive through a process known as streaming. (Streaming would prevent the need to copy all the video files to your hard drive.)
Come early 1992, Trilobyte headed out to the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago to meet up with Martin Alper, who had yet to see the project's progress. On the show floor, Alper asked the boys how their game (and his investment) was progressing, and they offered to give him a brief demonstration of the technology. Before long, the machine that was demonstrating Scrabble was retrofitted to play a demo of The 7th Guest. What was intended as a private demo to Alper turned into the full-scale public premiere of The 7th Guest. The crowds just kept coming over to see the stunning visuals and the little light on the CD-ROM drive flickering away to show the streaming video... or so some thought.
A guest arrives in the Stauf Mansion in the initial technology demo for The 7th Guest.
"We actually had installed the game on the hard drive," explains Rob Landeros, "and we put a Danny Elfman music CD in the drive to add atmosphere to the demo." However, everyone didn't know about the music CD and assumed the animation was streamed off the CD. "We didn't set out to deceive people, but once some folks got wind of the real story, it led them to believe our demo was a sham," says Landeros. Even before the fateful demo at CES, journalists were cynical about The 7th Guest. This pessimism, compounded with the CES demo, led others to suggest Trilobyte wouldn't be able to pull off what they were promising.
At CES, developers thought Trilobyte was streaming data off a CD-ROM, when in fact they merely had a Danny Elfman music CD playing in the drive.
Still, Trilobyte came out of CES with an exalted opinion of its efforts - the staff members knew that if they could deliver what they showed, the game would be a certified hit. "I remember walking through the streets of Chicago with the whole team, and Graeme turned to us all and said, 'We make a pretty good team,'" remembers Matt Costello, The 7th Guest's writer. "That was a real peak for me."
Flying back from CES, Devine and Landeros realized they had a gem in their hands - they just had to finish it. Back in Jacksonville, Trilobyte worked day and night to realize the vision of The 7th Guest. "I've never seen someone work so hard on a project as Graeme did on The 7th Guest," states Neil Young, a former executive at Virgin Interactive. According to George "The Fatman" Sanger, the suggestion that the product wasn't going to deliver on its promises only fueled the team's motivation. "Graeme wanted to prove everyone else a liar - he knew he was going to be able to do it."
The famous cake puzzle was one of the first players encountered in The 7th Guest.
And prove it they did. The whole team would work countless hours throughout 1992 to bring the game to life, and by the next CES in 1993, a full-blown demo was in place. It was clear the product was going to deliver. Devine would work through the night on his GROOVIE engine, sometimes going home so late that he joked about driving on the opposite side of the road, "just like I would be driving back in England."
"After CES, we knew T7G was going to be a blockbuster, but I think we redefined what a blockbuster was after it finally came out."
- Neil Young, former Virgin executive
Content with the fact they were sitting on a gold mine, relationships flourished. "Graeme and Rob were really the best of friends," remembers Diane Moses, who played the beckoning ghost in the hallway of T7G in addition to her office duties. Devine and Landeros would watch movies together - once they watched The Shining on laserdisc twice in a row - and others like Rob Stein would go up to Graeme's house to watch lightning storms and view old Star Trek episodes.
Although the Holy Grail was within reach, The 7th Guest was taking longer to complete than expected, and as such, Devine and Landeros worked without salary for the final months of the game's production. "The cash flow wasn't there, but we knew we had something special," says Moses. According to Young, "After CES in 1993, we knew T7G was going to be a blockbuster, but I think we redefined what a blockbuster was after it finally came out."
Next: Clock Strikes Eleven