Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Where are they now? - Chris Roberts

The game that made Chris Roberts famous: Wing Commander

Those of you who tuned in to last week's "Where are they now?" post will know I encountered some technical difficulties since I was unable to access MobyGames, a treasure trove of game developer history. You'll also know I wanted to talk about a game developer just about everyone has heard of but mainly for the many space simulator games he developed for the PC in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today we talk about Chris Roberts.

Roberts was born in 1964 in Redwood City, California, but spent most of his childhood in the city of Manchester, England. During the early 1980s some of the first games he developed which would eventually be published included Wizadore and Stryker's Run. He eventually moved back to the U.S. in 1986 and soon after got a job working for the legendary game development studio, Origin (keep in mind Roberts was still in his late teens). Roberts's first big responsibility at Origin was the development of 1988's Times of Lore where he was responsible for almost everything: writing, directing, designing, programming, testing and just managing the project in general.

In the early 1990s, Roberts became very busy thanks to the success of his 1990 space combat hit Wing Commander (which he programmed, directed and produced). He would be the designer and producer for three more Wing Commander sequels as well as the producer for 1993's Wing Commander: Privateer and Strike Commander.

In 1996, Roberts left Origin to form Digital Anvil where he produced games such as 2000's Starlancer, 2001's Conquest: Frontier Wars and 2003's Freelancer. Digital Anvil while primarily a game development company was also a special effects company and ended up being the first game development studio to produce a movie based on a game franchise, namely 1999's Wing Commander which Roberts wrote and directed. He even had a cameo as a Rescue and Recovery pilot:



Roberts eventually left the game industry in 2003 to form a movie production company called Ascendant Pictures due to a combination of factors; he claims that in the early 2000s it became increasingly apparent that development cycles were becoming longer and big publishers were the only ones that had enough money to fund ambitious projects yet they were unwilling to take risks. Also most publishers were focusing on console game development not to mention game development technology wasn't keeping pace with Roberts's vision for his ultimate game - one he hoped Freelancer would become but it didn't quite make it.

Roberts went on to work as a producer on quite a few movies during the 2000s including 2004's The Punisher, 2005's Lord of War and 2008's Outlander. 2009's Black Water Transit is the last film he produced (according to IMDB) before he formed a new game development company in 2011 called Cloud Imperium Games. The following year, Roberts started a Kickstarter project to raise funds for an ambitious new space sim MMO game called Star Citizen which managed to raise over $2 million USD via Kickstarter and over $6 million USD total when website contributions were included.

While Star Citizen's development schedule has been pushed back the game is expected to be released sometime later this year or early next year. Today, Cloud Imperium Games has managed to raise in excess of $80 million USD and shows no sign of stopping. Roberts is a very wealthy man at the moment but the more money invested in the project the greater the expectations of its fans. Will Star Citizen finally realise Roberts's vision of the ultimate game? Fingers crossed it does.

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Chris Roberts ]
[ MobyGames: Chris Roberts ]
[ IMDB: Chris Roberts ]
[ GOG Interview in 2012 with Chris Roberts ]

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