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Horror Story: An Oral History of The 7th Guest

KILLER SUCCESS
Devine: At that point, it cost $100 to burn a CD-ROM, and we were burning dozens of them at the office. The game shipped with two discs, so we had to get the CD crossover actually working. The final puzzles, the upstairs puzzles that led up to the attic – none of those were actually coded.

Landeros: Our initial budget was $400,000. I think we ended up costing maybe $650,000 or something like that. At that time, it was a huge budget.

Devine: We were very, very poor when we were making The 7th Guest. We had to save up and beg to buy this 100MB hard drive that we connected up to a server for transferring files. There wasn't even enough room on that drive to have the whole game on it at once. We had to save stuff out to a tape and then load it back in for the various rooms. It was a laborious process. The game was supposed to be done in six months. 

Landeros: In the end, The 7th Guest took us about two years. We were up nights working hard at the end. It is amazing when I look back on it now how quick you can work when you’ve got something to do.

Devine: Games didn’t take that long back then. The previous game I'd made was for the 8-bit Nintendo, and we spent not even a month on that. Maybe six weeks total.

Landeros: There was something in the hunger of wanting to make that game that actually made it possible with the actual setup that we had.

Devine: Virgin Games had set the price of the game at $100, and it came out with this huge box. I guess it's like a modern collector's edition. We didn't think that would sell. Yet, at the end of the first day, I think Martin called us from Virgin and said, “We completely sold out across the country.” 

Landeros: The 7th Guest was so successful that everyone wanted it. I think Nintendo bought the rights to it, but they never did anything with it. It was more like a preemptive strike against anybody else.

Devine: Sega had approached us because they wanted The 7th Guest for their Sega CD system, but Nintendo licensed it first – knowing full well that nothing Nintendo ever did would ever be able to run The 7th Guest. We also licensed The 7th Guest to the Phillips CDi, and that version actually came out. We licensed it for the 10D Viz, which I don't think ever shipped, and we licensed it for the Apple Pippin, which I don't think shipped either. If something had a CD-ROM on it, they called us.

Landeros: There was never any work done on the floppy version.

Devine: Virgin made most of the money off that game. We weren't doing too bad; we were doing okay. We got a royalty for sales of The 7th Guest. But it wasn't much of a royalty because it turns out we were terrible at negotiating contracts. 

Landeros: The 7th Guest was very successful, so there was a lot of pressure to make a sequel. Of course, then there was too much pressure with The 11th Hour. That’s the one where we really screwed the pooch. 

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Barely Enough Time To Say “I Do!”

The 7th Guest’s development was so harried that Rob Landeros barely had time to fulfill his obligations outside of work – such as getting married. Landeros made a promise to his girlfriend that if she moved up to Oregon with him when he started work on The 7th Guest that he would marry her, but throwing together a celebratory bash proved difficult given the time he was devoting to the game.

On Valentine’s Day in 1992, Martin Halper and a couple executives from Virgin traveled up to the Trilobyte offices to hold conference about The 7th Guest. Around lunch, Landeros got up from the table and excused himself. When Landeros returned several hours later and was asked about where he’d been, he explained that he’d walked across the street into a district court and got married.

When we asked Landeros about this tale, he just laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s how busy I was.”

Devine: Initially we wanted to go make a sequel called Egypt. We had grand plans for a completely different IP. But Martin called up and said, “You guys are absolutely freaking crazy if you think you are doing anything but The 7th Guest 2.”

Landeros: We started working on The 11th Hour before The 7th Guest was finished. Graeme was finishing up The 7th Guest so he didn’t have much time to be involved in The 11th Hour in the beginning. I think he was not interested in the first place, because he didn’t feel like it was his.

Devine: As a company, we thought we could do everything ourselves. We thought we could publish the games, we thought we could have an IPO, we thought we could do our own PR. We thought we were invulnerable.

Landeros: Graeme was having a hard time putting The 11th Hour all together. Everyone was sitting on their thumbs just kind of waiting for months and months. By the time it came out, The 11th Hour was incompatible with Windows 95, which had just released, so that was a huge technical issue.

Devine: The 11th Hour was not received well. It was a bit of a disaster. My head got too big. I'm not going to speak for Rob, but I know we both felt we were invulnerable, we were untouchable. That’s when we started down a dark path.

Landeros: I was fired from the company by the board of directors because Graeme and I had different visions about where we wanted to go.

Devine: Trilobyte ended when Rob left. I remember coming in that day, and I was going to quit. I was done with Trilobyte. I was just going to leave with absolutely nothing and give it all to Rob. I came in and told the board member who was at the office and they had this emergency board meeting, and the result was basically, “We fired Rob.” That was not a good day. That was a freaking awful day and a wrong thing. I should have stuck to my guns and left. That was the beginning of the end, because…yeah, I won, but I didn't want to win. I wanted to leave. I was unhappy with the company. At that point, the company was done, although it went on for another two years. After the studio finally closed, I sold Rob the rights to everything Trilobyte ever made for a dollar. I wanted done with it. It was an albatross around my neck. People say I'm stupid for selling it for a dollar, but it probably saved my life. It's good to let go sometimes. 

Landeros: We talk a little bit, now. Not much.

Devine: Enough time has passed that you just work it out…you can't hold onto the past forever. I've forgiven him. I don't know if he has, but I would love to go out and have a beer with him and catch up on the times. It feels like it was a different life now. I think we’ve both moved past it.

[This story originally appeared in Game Informer issue 235]

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