Page 19: A New Ascension
On January 1, 1997, at 8:45pm, Devine sent an e-mail to the entire company that officially announced the split. "Rob and I parted ways," he wrote. "While some might see this as the cosmic equivalent of a rip in space tearing apart the universe, it was never written anywhere we were destined to stay together." The goal, according to Devine, would be to refocus on creating an Internet game and leave behind that "darned haunted mansion." Devine rallied his troops in the e-mail and said those who didn't want to work on the Internet game should start "polishing their resumes."
Clearly, Trilobyte needed a new focus. Sales figures from the company's late 1996 releases had arrived, and Uncle Henry's Playhouse had sold through 27 (yes, twenty seven) units in the US, according to PC Data. It would eventually go on to sell 176 units worldwide. Clandestiny had only sold about 5,500 copies through the holidays, although it would go on to sell close to 20,000. Trilobyte's idea of self-publishing wasn't panning out and, as such, the decision was made to take a retrograde step and become a developer again, shedding the brick-and-mortar distribution-and-marketing end of the company.
Although Devine wanted to do a 3D action game, he also wanted to take the concept a step farther and make it an online-only game - a risky move in 1997, when the Internet was still very much in its infancy, at least in terms of online gaming. Still, one publisher that saw potential in Devine's concept for an online game was Broderbund. Company executive Ken Goldstein remembers, "When I first saw [Assault] I was blown away - the idea of having multiplayer cooperative and competitive gaming going on with 24-plus players on a team was earth shattering." Goldstein, who was looking to diversify Broderbund's gaming lineup (his division was later renamed Red Orb Entertainment), saw great potential in Assault and agreed to sign the project to a publishing agreement.
Trilobyte had briefly considered publishing the game for free over the Internet as a test of its technology, but once Red Orb entered the fold, the design of the project quickly changed, according to Devine. "The first thing that Red Orb said was that we had to have a single-player game in addition to an online-only game," he remembers. To Goldstein, the market wasn't mature enough to handle an online-only game, and "any publisher that put out an online-only game in 1997 had their head handed to them," in his estimation.
It's never easy for a company to reinvent itself, but all signs were pointing to Trilobyte overcoming the odds and turning from a large-asset CD-ROM developer into an Internet real-time 3D powerhouse. However, by mid-summer there were signs that Extreme Warfare was starting to slip past its planned 1997 holiday release date. To some inside the company, it felt as though all the effort was going into developing technology, with little emphasis on the actual game design. "I started to lose faith in Extreme Warfare," says artist Tito Pagan, "because there was a lack of a design document - it just felt like a research project."
Progress on Extreme Warfare, however, stalled. Although Trilobyte had some financing in the bank, by the latter part of 1997, the additional capital from the Paul Allen group was wearing thin. Trilobyte was now relegated to a milestone development schedule with Red Orb, which meant it would only receive additional funding for the project as certain features were added to the game. By August, Trilobyte, woefully behind on milestones, was starting to feel financial pressure.
By December, Devine was frank about that pressure. "The milestone system has killed development down to a weekly list of points [we have to deal with]," he wrote in an e-mail. "It has killed momentum." All told, the cushion of revenue from The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour was no more. The success of those games was a distant memory, as were millions of dollars in revenue that evaporated in just a few short years.