Legend Entertainment

Legend Entertainment
TypePrivate
IndustryPersonal computer games
Founded1989
FounderBob Bates, Mike Verdu
DefunctJanuary 16, 2004
FateShut down
HeadquartersChantilly, Virginia, United States
Key people
OwnerPrivate until acquired in 1998 by GT Interactive (which became Infogrames)

Legend Entertainment was an American developer and publisher of computer games, best known for their complex and distinctive adventure titles throughout the 1990s. The company was founded by Bob Bates and Mike Verdu, both veterans of the acclaimed interactive fiction studio Infocom that shut down in 1989. Their first games, Timequest and Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All The Girls, both had strong sales which sustained the company. Legend also profited from negotiating licenses to popular book series, allowing them to create notable game adaptations such as Companions of Xanth (based on Demons Don't Dream) and Gateway (based on the eponymous novel). Legend also earned a reputation for comedic adventures, with numerous awards for Eric the Unready in 1993. As the demands of the game industry changed Legend continued to expand their game engine to take advantage of higher graphical fidelity, mouse support, and the increased media storage of the compact disc.

These industry changes led to difficult competition by the mid-1990s, especially in the adventure game genre. Legend secured investment from book publisher Random House and developed additional book adaptations, such as Death Gate and Shannara, as well as original titles such as Mission Critical. The company's expenses for graphics were rising without a similar increase in sales, however, causing Random House to exit the game industry. Legend found game publishers to take over marketing and distribution, so they could focus their efforts exclusively on development. While the studio’s adventure titles suffered in the changing marketplace, working with game publishers allowed Legend to experiment with more action-oriented titles such as Star Control 3. In their final years, Legend fully pivoted to first-person shooters thanks to a growing relationship with Unreal developer Tim Sweeney and publisher GT Interactive. The studio released the 1999 game adaptation of The Wheel of Time book series, designed using the Unreal Engine as a first-person action game. However, Legend's sales continued to dwindle, followed by the difficult development and commercial failure of Unreal II: The Awakening in 2003. The studio shut down soon after, with staff moving to other companies in the game industry.

History[]

Origins[]

"The business strategy at Legend was clear. ... We were going to make high-quality text adventures for the niche audience that had been abandoned by Infocom. We'd increase the accessibility of the games with great art and a menu-input system in the hope of drawing in a larger audience over time."

— Mike Verdu, Legend Founder[1]

Legend Entertainment was founded in 1989 by Bob Bates and Mike Verdu.[2] The duo met in the 1980s working at interactive fiction developer Infocom,[1] the acclaimed adventure game studio.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] Activision acquired Infocom in 1986, as the PC game market was transforming with greater market competition.[1] Activision closed Infocom in 1989, due to rising costs, falling profits, and technical issues with DOS.[13] Bates decided to seek investment for a new game company, hoping to succeed where Infocom had stumbled. He told investors that "there was still life in the adventure genre, but that it needed more than just text."[14] After securing investment from defence contractor American Systems Corporation, Legend Entertainment opened by the end of the year, choosing the name "Legend" for its connotations in storytelling.[1] For their first titles, they hired other Infocom veterans, notably experienced developer and author Steve Meretzky,[15] and programmer Mark Poesch.[1]

Bates and Meretzky began work on the company's first titles.[1] To avoid potential copyright infringement with their old Infocom engine, Legend hired an outside team to develop their new text-parser, despite feeling that they had the expertise to do it themselves.[16] Legend's debut title was Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All The Girls, which evolved beyond simple text-based adventures with graphics for each of the game's "rooms".[17] Meretzky describes this as a "fusion of the depth and detail of Infocom games with a graphical presentation that would be more in keeping with what audiences circa 1990 demanded", which led to greater sales than their former company.[15] Although the studio was worried that the game's raunchy humor might be too much for the industry at the time, they were relieved to find that their investors were generally supportive.[1] At the same time, Bates was developing Timequest with the goal of capturing what he believed in about the adventure games at Infocom,[16] which Legend released the following year.[18] Publications took note of Legend for continuing the legacy of their work at Infocom, and cred their titles as part of a rebirth for the adventure game genre.[19]

Legend also benefitted from a strong relationship with traditional book publishers, securing licensing deals for their team's favorite authors while costs were still low.[1] One of the first major licenses was Frederik Pohl's science fiction novel Gateway, adapted into a game using Legend's now-established adventure game engine.[1] For their first few titles, it was possible to even turn off graphics and play games as if they were classic text adventures.[20] By the end of 1992, Legend were able to buy back American Systems Corporation's stake in the company,[21] and the company was selling enough games to easily sustain themselves.[1] However, their business would begin to shift with the advent of CD-ROM and the rising production costs for game graphics.[1] The team would continue to expand their game engine, adapting to the popularity of the mouse and the increased media storage of the compact disc.[16]

Point-and-click adventures[]

Steve Meretzky is a veteran writer and designer from Infocom who contributed to Legend's reputation for adventure games.

The 1993 release of Companions of Xanth signalled a shift for the company, moving from traditional text adventures to a point-and-click interface.[18] Based on the novel Demons Don't Dream by Piers Anthony, the game was Legend's first to take advantage of emerging compact disc technology, and led to a series of games built on the same graphic adventure engine.[1] That same year, Legend released Gateway II and Eric the Unready.[18] Eric the Unready became one of Legend's most critically acclaimed titles, receiving several awards and nominations,[22] particularly Computer Gaming World's Adventure Game of the Year in 1993 (as a tie with Star Control II).[23] Later, the same publication would list it among their "150 Best Games of All Time", also ranking it as 9th Funniest Computer Game, 11th Most Memorable Game Hero, and 7th Most Rewarding Ending.[24] With the release of Eric the Unready and Companions of Xanth, Legend earned a reputation for comedic adventures.[25] Around this time, Mark Poesch joined full-time as a director of research and development.[18]

In 1994, Legend enabled Glen Dahlgren to release his first solo project as Death Gate, an adaptation of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's fantasy book series The Death Gate Cycle.[18] That same year, Legend released Superhero League of Hoboken, where writer Steve Meretzky updated his brand of comedy.[18] The game was nominated for Computer Gaming World's 1994 "Role-Playing Game of the Year" award, praising Meretzky's comedic dialog and imagination.[26] However, the game sold less than 25,000 copies, and became Meretzky's last title with Legend.[20] The studio was facing difficult competition in the genre from Sierra On-Line and LucasArts, who had larger budgets and greater sales.[15] Bates recalls the attitude of the company at the time, that "we were delighted with our early successes, but always disappointed that we never were able to unseat Sierra or LucasArts."[16]

By 1995, Legend attracted a major investment from book publisher Random House,[16][18] who created a new division called Random Soft to enter the multimedia software industry.[27] This investment seemed to secure Legend from the rising competition due to the booming interest in CD ROM based games.[1] Their relationship with Random House also encouraged them to work with more of their authors,[16] leading to the 1995 release of Shannara based on the Terry Brooks book series.[18] The same year, Legend released Mission Critical, which became notable for the role of Michael Dorn, of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame.[18] These games were more graphically complex than any prior release, but sales were not enough to offset their rising development costs.[1] Random House decided to abandon its ventures into interactive fiction, and terminated their partnership with Legend.[18]

Both Legend founders describe this period as a "blessing and a curse", gaining higher graphical fidelity and simplified development on a single compact disc, but slowly watching their costs rise until their games were no longer commercially sustainable.[1] In hindsight, Bates also laments the loss of the text interface, which removed the "magic" of having players see that the game recognized and rewarded surprising inputs.[16] Writer Steve Meretzky also felt the shift towards graphics made the games easier and less literary, not to mention more expensive.[20]

Transformation and dissolution[]

Founder Bob Bates presenting at the 2015 Game Developers Conference.

In the late 1990s, Legend began seeking new partners to sustain the company, particularly game publishers.[1] This led to new opportunities for Legend, working with publisher Take-Two Interactive for Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, and working with Accolade for Star Control 3.[28] The creators of the first two Star Control games had moved onto other projects,[29] so Accolade hired Legend to create the third game because of the team's enthusiasm for the series.[30] As Legend was beginning to explore opportunities outside the adventure game genre,[1] Star Control 3 combined aspects of adventure, action, and strategy games.[31] The 1996 release was considered a modest commercial success, surpassing 100,000 sales in its first two months of distribution.[32] Legend continued to report sales of 100,000–150,000 copies for their adventure games, at a time where the future of the adventure genre was in question.[33] However, 1997 brought the commercial failure of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon,[34] an adaptation of Spider Robinson's Callahan book series that was poorly marketed by publisher Take-Two.[35] By 1998, Legend released a game adaptation of John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles, which ultimately became their final adventure game release.[36]

Legend shifted strategies with the rising popularity of the first-person shooter. Game developer Tim Sweeney was developing an engine that would eventually become the Unreal Engine, and Legend designer Glen Dahlgren impressed Sweeney with a vision for The Wheel of Time (based on the book series).[16] This led to a partnership with Epic Games, and allowed Legend to secure investment from publisher GT Interactive, as the publisher had worked with both Legend and Epic.[37][38] Legend released The Wheel of Time in 1999, a first-person action game that represented a major shift from their reputation for adventure games.[18] The game enjoyed more critical success than commercial success, overshadowed by other major titles in the first-person shooter genre.[39] Founder Bob Bates describes this transition, "on one hand it was hard to watch as adventure games became less popular. But it was exciting to take our expertise in storytelling and puzzle design into a whole new genre."[1]

After a difficult year for parent company GT Interactive,[1] they were bought out by Infogrames Entertainment.[40] Legend co-founder Mike Verdu left the company in 2001, deciding he was not happy in the multi-national corporate environment.[1] Although Bates had similar feelings, he continued with the company.[16] Epic Games was impressed with Legend's work on The Wheel of Time's story and their skill with the Unreal Engine, and agreed to let Legend develop the sequel to Unreal.[28] Epic president Mark Rein announced that Unreal II was expected for release in late 2000.[28] However, the game's development was fraught with challenges, and the 2003 release was met with an underwhelming reception.[18]

Unreal II would be Legend's final game, by which point Infogrames had rebranded to Atari.[1] Legend pitched a few ideas to their parent company, conversing with Atari's offices in both New York and France.[1] However, none of Legend's ideas fit with the company's corporate strategy.[16] After shipping the Unreal II: eXpanded MultiPlayer expansion, Atari shut down Legend Entertainment on January 16, 2004.[1][41] Many of the former Legend staff went on to have successful careers elsewhere in the industry.[16] Bob Bates became Chief Creative Officer for Zynga, Mike Verdu became an executive producer at Electronic Arts, Glen Dahlgren became one of the lead designers on Star Trek Online, and Mark Poelsch became a developer at AOL and Accenture.[42]

Games[]

Complete list of games developed by Legend Entertainment
Title Year Genre Publisher Awards and nominations
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All The Girls 1990 Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment CES Software Showcase Award[22]
Computer Gaming World – Adventure Game of the Year (Runner-up)[43]
Timequest 1991 Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Game Player's – PC Excellence Award[44]
QuestBusters – Best Illustrated Text Adventure[45]
Games Magazine – Top 100 Games of the Year Award[46]
Spellcasting 201: The Sorcerer's Appliance 1992 Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Games Magazine – Top 100 Games of the Year Award[47]
Gateway 1992 Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Games Magazine – Top 100 Games of the Year Award[47]
Spellcasting 301: Spring Break[48] 1992 Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment
Eric the Unready 1993 Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Computer Gaming World – Adventure Game of the Year[23]
Compute Choice Award – Fantasy Adventure Game of the Year Finalist[49]
Computer Game Review – Golden Triad Award[50]
Games Magazine – Top 100 Games of the Year Award[51]
Strategy Plus – Adventure Game of the Year Finalist[52]
Game Bytes – Adventure Game of the Year Finalist[53]
Computer Gaming World – 9th Funniest Computer Game of All Time[24]
Computer Gaming World – 11th Most Memorable Game Hero of All Time[24]
Computer Gaming World – 7th Most Rewarding Ending of All Time[24]
Gateway II: Homeworld[54] 1993 Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment
Companions of Xanth[25] 1993 Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment
Death Gate 1994 Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment Strategy Plus – Animated Adventure Game of the Year Award Finalist[55]
Computer Game Review – Golden Triad Award[56]
Interactive Gaming – Editor's Choice Award[22]
Computer Gaming World Premier – Best Adventure Game Finalist[57]
Games Magazine – Top 100 Electronic Games of the Year Award[58]
Superhero League of Hoboken 1994 Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment Strategy Plus – Multi-character RPG of the Year Award Finalist[59]
Computer Game Review – Golden Triad Award[60]
Games Magazine – Top 100 Games of the Year Award[61]
Computer Gaming World – Role-Playing Game of the Year Finalist[62]
Shannara[63] 1995 Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment
Mission Critical 1995 Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment Computer Game Review – Golden Triad Award[64]
Byte Magazine – Game of the Year Award[65]
Strategy Plus – Adventure Game of the Year Finalist[66]
Computer Game Review – Adventure Game of the Year[67]
Computer Game Review – Best Graphics of the Year Award[67]
Computer Game Review – Best Introduction of the Year Award[67]
Computer Gaming World – Computer Gaming Choice Award[68]
Star Control 3 1996 Action-adventure Accolade Game Developers Conference – Best Story, Script or Writing Finalist[69]
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon[70] 1997 Graphic adventure Take-Two Interactive
John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles 1998 Graphic adventure Mindscape Computer Gaming World – Best Adventure Game Finalist[71]
Unreal Mission Pack: Return to Na Pali[72] 1999 First-person shooter GT Interactive
The Wheel of Time 1999 First-person shooter GT Interactive Gamespy – 10th Most Underrated Game of All Time[73]
Unreal II: The Awakening[72] 2003 First-person shooter Infogrames
Unreal II: eXpanded MultiPlayer[72] 2003 First-person shooter Infogrames
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines[74] 2003 First-person shooter Infogrames

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External links[]