Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Where are they now? - Mike Verdu

Intro cinematic from the game Frederik Pohl's Gateway
Mike Verdu was Designer and Producer on the game, Frederik Pohl's Gateway

Continuing on from previous "Where are they now?" articles, I'd like to talk about another of Legend Entertainment's key personnel - and one who has continued to be involved in the game development industry unlike Mr Lindner from last week. This week I'd like to talk a bit about Mike Verdu (who was another fellow involved in the production of one of my favourite Legend Entertainment games, Frederik Pohl's Gateway).

Verdu grew up in Washington, D.C. during the 60s and 70s where his father worked for a trade union helping labourers in the developing world and his mother was a dance instructor. Verdu was big on creative writing as a child but soon he developed another passion when he discovered computers. He saved money up from mowing lawns to buy his very own IBM PC and felt that video games was the "perfect fusion of art and technology".

Verdu started studying at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute but never ended up finishing his college studies as a defence contractor was desperate for programmers so he was able to get a job straight away. Despite him claiming he would return to finish his course, that never quite happened, at least not yet.

At the young age of 20, he founded his own software development company that serviced the Defence and Intelligence community. From 1985 - 1989, he would continue to work in this industry until there was a slump in Defence spending towards the end of the Cold War meaning a shift in focus was needed. Tapping into his early love of video games, Verdu managed to move software engineers into developing computer games after co-founding Legend Entertainment with Infocom veteran Bob Bates.

Verdu was more of a producer and designer for the rest of his career and led the development of over 10 games at Legend Entertainment including 1992's Frederik Pohl's Gateway, 1993's Eric the Unready, 1994's Death Gate and 1997's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. He did however contribute music to 1994's Superhero League of Hoboken as well as 1995's Mission Critical. He also helped program 1995's Shannara.

Legend Entertainment was acquired by GT Interactive in 1998 which was eventually acquired itself by Atari. Verdu served as Studio Head until 2002 and Legend Entertainment focused on FPSs such as 1999's The Wheel of Time (which Verdu was a producer for) and 2003's Unreal II (where he was designer and producer).

Verdu eventually left Legend Entertainment and worked at Electronic Arts from 2002-2009 as a Vice President and General Manager of Electronic Arts Los Angeles (EALA). Here he was Senior Producer of 2003's Command & Conquer: Generals as well as Senior Producer on the Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth games. He was also Executive Producer on 2007's Command & Conquer 3.

Eventually he left EA to join the Facebook game company, Zynga in 2009 and served as the Chief Creative Officer there until 2012. While at Zynga, he was responsible for the development of new games such as FrontierVille, CastleVille and Empires & Allies. Can't say I've heard of any of them, but I'm not really a big fan of Facebook games, I'm more of a PC gamer as you all know :).

Verdu started up his own mobile strategy games company in 2012 called Tapzen which was eventually acquired at the beginning of this year by Kabam - a multinational company that develops AAA mobile free-to-play games.

So will Verdu ever return to more "serious" PC game development? ;) He's definitely got a lot of experience in developing games and if he ever managed to make story rich games again such as the ones back at Legend Entertainment, I'd be keen as mustard.

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Michael Verdu ]
[ Kabaam Official Website: Michael Verdu ]
[ Los Angeles Times: How I Made It - Game firm exec fuses art and technology - dated 1 Mar 2015 ]

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