Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Where are they now? - Lauren Elliott

Get it?

For today's "Where are they now?" post I'd like to talk about a guy that was a co-designer to one of my favourite edutainment titles as a kid and is in fact recognised as a pioneer in this field. I'm talking about Lauren Elliott and yes, he is a guy not a girl - I initially perceived "Lauren" as a girl's name - not the case with this chap (if you dig a bit deeper - you'll find that apparently Lauren was a masculine name before the 1940s and 1950s where it started to be used as a feminine name too).

Anyway, the edutainment title I'm talking about of course is Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? which ended up being a huge franchise, spawning several spin-offs, board games, card games, books, comics and TV shows. There's even rumours of a film being produced by Jennifer Lopez but that was a couple of years ago now. There were quite a few people involved with its design at Brøderbund Software but two of the major names associated with Carmen Sandiego in particular are Gene Portwood (who I will talk about another time) and Lauren Elliott.

Elliott was born in 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts and is actually the grandson of Hall Roosevelt who was apparently the brother of Eleanor Roosevelt. So he's related to what probably equates to American "royalty". Choice. Anyway, there's not much mentioned with respect to game development during the 1960s and 1970s but Elliott did study at a few universities specifically in architecture, environmental design and ecology. It wasn't until the 1980s that Elliott would finally break into the game development industry.

In 1983, Elliott walked into Brøderbund Software with a whole bunch of game designs and was hired on provision that he could convince a programmer to take one of his designs. I guess he must've found someone since he went on to develop many games while working at Brøderbund. In 1984, Elliott and Gene Portwood worked as project managers for Will Wright's first video game, Raid on Bungeling Bay in 1984. Elliott is also credited with providing additional artwork for Jordan Mechner's 1984 hit Karateka. Funny how small the game development industry was back in the 1980s! All these gaming legends working within close proximity to one another. But I digress.

It wasn't until 1985 that Elliott, Portwood and the rest of the Brøderbund team would release one of the defining edutainment titles of all time: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. The first release was on the Apple II but would eventually be ported to several other systems. The game and the series in general would become a huge success and besides two other titles that Elliott worked on in the 1980s (1986's The Toy Shop and 1988's Shufflepuck Cafe) he would design four more Carmen Sandiego titles: 1986's Where in the U.S.A. is Carmen Sandiego?, 1988's Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? remake, 1988's Where in Europe is Carmen Sandiego? and 1989's Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?.

Elliott would continue to make enhanced versions of Carmen Sandiego games in the early 1990s (including the one I fondly remember, the 1990 Deluxe version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?). He was even involved in a game released in 1992 called Mario is Missing! which is basically Where in the World is Mario?. By 1992, Carmen Sandiego games comprised 25% of Brøderbund's revenue, behind only The Print Shop (arguably their most well known software product).

In 1996, Elliott left with Portwood to form Elliott Portwood Productions and developed titles for The Learning Company, Maxis, Virgin Software and The Software Toolworks.

During the 2000s, Elliott started up several businesses and even published a book in 2005 called With Love, Aunt Eleanor. The book was written by his mother, niece of Eleanor Roosevelt.

So what's Elliott up to nowadays? Is he still involved with games? Well the answer to the latter question is, "yes he is". Remember how Elliott worked as project manager for Will Wright's first game in 1984? Just so happens that things have gone full circle and now the two are working together again! Elliott became Director of Design for Will Wright's start-up company "Syntertainment" in 2013. While not much has been revealed as to what Syntertainment are actually doing apparently it's some cross-platform game that will start off on mobile. There are definitely some bright sparks over at that company of Wright's so let us hope the end result is innovative! I'd be happy with another Carmen Sandiego game for mobile too.

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Carmen Sandiego ]
[ Wikipedia: Lauren Elliott ]
[ MobyGames: Lauren Elliott ]

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