Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where are they now? - Bob Bates

Screenshot from Frederik Pohl's Gateway the computer game
Bob Bates was a designer and system architect for Frederik Pohl's Gateway

There's just one more person I'd like to talk about who worked at Legend Entertainment, even though I've already typed up three "Where are they now?" posts about ex-Legend Entertainment employees. This man has been in the game industry for almost three decades, publishing over 40 titles and even writing a few best-selling books on game design. For today's "Where are they now?" I'd like to talk about Bob Bates.

Bates was born in 1953 in Maryland. His father was a mathematician and moved Bates, his mother and many siblings (he was the fourth of eight children) to England from 1963 - 1967. He eventually moved back to the United States and graduated from high school in 1971. He then went to Georgetown University to pursue a double major in philosophy and psychology (an interesting education for one who would eventually enter the world of game development). After graduating from college, Bates got a job as a tour guide in Washington, D.C. since it afforded him time to pursue his writing ambitions. Bates met his future wife Peggy Oriani in 1977 and married her the following year. He also started his own tour company called Potomac Tours.

In 1982, he sold the company so he could spend time writing a novel but he never finished. Bates's father gave him an old TRS-80 computer to help with his novel-writing but Bates discovered something bundled with the computer that would change the course of his life forever: a copy of the interactive fiction game Zork. He saw the interactive fiction genre as a good fit with his writing aspirations and so begins Bates's journey as a game developer.

In 1986, Bates started a company with a friend called Challenge Inc. with the purpose of developing interactive fiction games. Bates managed to negotiate a deal with Infocom where he would be responsible for designing games, another company would code them and Infocom would be the publisher. He designed two games for Infocom: 1988's Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels and 1989's Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur. Unfortunately, his job of designing further games for Infocom was cut short when Infocom was dissolved by parent company Activision in 1989.

Bates and Mike Verdu (who was responsible for helping Bates develop his games published by Infocom) decided that they weren't done with making interactive fiction games and both of them founded Legend Entertainment a few months later. Bates worked on several interactive fiction titles during the early 90s which I consider the golden years of Legend Entertainment. He was a producer, writer, designer and programmer on 1991's Timequest, a designer and system architect on 1992's Frederik Pohl's Gateway, a designer of 1993's Companions of Xanth as well as responsible for designing and writing 1993's Eric the Unready (and this is only a small selection of the games he worked on).

In 1998, Legend Entertainment was acquired by GT Interactive which was in turn acquired by Atari. With the change in ownership, Legend Entertainment also changed their focus from interactive fiction games to action games such as the First Person Shooter, Unreal II.

Bates continued to work on games at Legend Entertainment until its demise in 2004. He then became an independent consultant for a few years, helping to design a few games such as 2006's Tortuga and 2008's Sacred 2.

In 2010 he became Chief Creative Officer of Zynga's External Studios. He worked at Zynga for a few years but eventually left in 2014. Bates is now working as an independent consultant again but is he working on any new games? I haven't heard but considering how receptive the audience is nowadays to retro-styled games such as indie interactive fiction and visual novel titles, I think there's a market there for Mr Bates to make a comeback (if indeed that's what he wants to do - maybe he just wants to write more game design books instead :)).

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Bob Bates ]
[ Wikipedia: Bob Bates ]
[ Personal Website: Bob Bates ]

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