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Legend Entertainment

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Legend Entertainment Company
TypeSubsidiary
IndustryVideo games
Founded1989; 33 years ago (1989)
Founders
DefunctJanuary 16, 2004
FateDissolved
Headquarters,
US
Key people
Parent
  • American Systems Corporation (1989–1992)
  • Atari, Inc. (1999–2004)
Websitelegendent.com (archived)

Legend Entertainment Company was an American developer and publisher of computer games, best known for creating adventure titles throughout the 1990s. The company was founded by Bob Bates and Mike Verdu, both veterans of the interactive fiction studio Infocom that shut down in 1989. Legend's first two games, Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls and Timequest, had strong sales that 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 by Piers Anthony) and Gateway (based on the eponymous novel by Frederik Pohl). Legend also earned a reputation for comedic adventures, with numerous awards for Eric the Unready in 1993. As the technology of the game industry changed, Legend continued to expand its 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 an investment from book publishing company Random House and developed additional book adaptations, such as Death Gate and Shannara, as well as original titles such as Mission Critical. However, the company's expenses for graphics were rising without a similar increase in sales, causing Random House to exit the game industry. Legend found game publishers to take over marketing and distribution so it could focus its 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 its final years, Legend fully pivoted to first-person shooters thanks to a growing relationship with Unreal developer Tim Sweeney and an acquisition by 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 was shut down in January 2004, with staff moving to other game companies.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

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 co-founder[3]

Legend Entertainment was founded in 1989 by Bob Bates and Mike Verdu.[4] The duo met in the 1980s working at Infocom,[3] a critically acclaimed developer of adventure games and interactive fiction.[5] After the commercial success of the Zork series, Activision acquired Infocom in 1986.[3] They closed the studio three years later due to rising costs, falling profits, and technical issues with MS-DOS.[6] Bates decided to seek investment for a new game company, hoping to succeed where Infocom had declined. He told investors that the adventure genre was still viable, but it needed to evolve beyond just text.[7] After securing funding from defense contractor American Systems Corporation, Legend Entertainment opened by the end of the year, choosing the name "Legend" for its connotations in storytelling.[3] Through its lifetime, the studio operated out of Chantilly, Virginia,[8] the home of American Systems Corporation.[9]

Initially, the studio recruited former colleagues from Infocom for their experience, including programmer Mark Poesch,[3] and Steve Meretzky as an author and developer.[10] Founder Bob Bates worked with Meretzky on the company's first games.[3] Although they had experience developing an adventure game engine at Infocom, Legend hired an outside team to develop their new text parser in order to avoid infringing the copyright of their old Infocom engine.[11] Legend's debut title was Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls, which expanded on Infocom's text-based adventures by adding graphics for each of the game's rooms.[12] Meretzky described 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 studio had.[10] Although Legend was worried that the game's raunchy humor might upset their investors in the defense industry, they were relieved that their investors were supportive.[3] At the same time, Bates was developing Timequest with the goal of proving there was still a market for adventure games with intricate puzzles.[11] Legend released Timequest the following year.[13] These first two games earned attention for continuing the legacy of Infocom and signaled a potential rebirth for the adventure game genre.[14]

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.[3] One of the first major licenses was Frederik Pohl's science fiction novel Gateway, adapted into a game of the same name using Legend's now-established adventure game engine.[3] While all of Legend's games featured graphics, it was possible to turn off graphics for their first few games, and play them as if they were classic text adventures.[12][15] By the end of 1992, Legend were able to buy back American Systems Corporation's stake in the company,[9] and they were selling enough games to easily sustain themselves.[3]

Point-and-click adventures[edit]

In 1993, Legend released Gateway II as their last graphic adventure that could still be played in a text-only mode.[15] The studio continued to expand their game engine, adapting to the popularity of the mouse and the increased media storage of the compact disc.[11] The first project to take advantage of CD-ROM technology was Companions of Xanth, which signaled Legend's shift from traditional text adventures to a point-and-click interface.[13] Programmer Michael Lindner had gained valuable design experience from working on Gateway, allowing him to create Companions of Xarth as a solo project.[7] Based on the novel Demons Don't Dream by Piers Anthony, the game was the first of several games built on the same graphic adventure engine.[3] Companions of Xarth was released in 1993, followed by the release of Eric the Unready.[13] The latter game received several awards and nominations,[16][17] particularly Computer Gaming World's Adventure Game of the Year in 1993 (as a tie with Star Control II).[18] With the release of Companions of Xanth and Eric the Unready, Legend earned a reputation for comedic adventures.[19] However, Legend's business also began to shift with rising production costs for game graphics.[3]

An image of game designer Steve Meretzky
Steve Meretzky, a veteran writer and designer from Infocom who contributed to Legend's reputation for adventure games

Around this time, Mark Poesch joined full-time as the director of research and development.[13] 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.[13] That same year, Legend released Superhero League of Hoboken, where writer Steve Meretzky updated his brand of comedy.[13] The game was nominated for Computer Gaming World's 1994 "Role-Playing Game of the Year" award, praising Meretzky's comedic dialog and imagination.[20] However, the game sold fewer than 25,000 copies and became Meretzky's last title with Legend.[12]

Adventure games were at their peak in the early 1990s, but the studio was facing difficult competition in the genre from Sierra On-Line and LucasArts, who had larger budgets and greater sales.[10][11] By 1995, Legend attracted a major investment from book publisher Random House,[11][13] who created a new division called Random Soft to enter the multimedia software industry.[21] At the time, this investment secured Legend from the rising competition due to the booming interest in CD-ROM-based games.[3] Their relationship with Random House also encouraged them to work with more of their authors,[11] leading to the 1995 release of Shannara based on the eponymous novels by Terry Brooks.[13] The same year, Legend released Mission Critical, which became notable for the role of Michael Dorn, of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame.[13] These games were the studio's most graphically complex thus far, but sales were not enough to offset their rising development costs.[3] Random House decided to abandon its ventures into interactive fiction and terminated their partnership with Legend.[13]

Both Legend founders described 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.[3] In hindsight, Bates lamented the loss of the text interface, which removed the "magic" of having players see that the game recognized and rewarded surprising inputs.[11] Meretzky also felt the shift towards graphics made the games easier and less literary, as well as more expensive.[12]

Transformation and dissolution[edit]

An image of Bob Bates presenting at the 2015 Game Developers Conference
Co-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.[3] 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.[22] The creators of the first two Star Control games had moved onto other projects,[23] so Accolade hired Legend to create the third game because of the team's enthusiasm for the series.[24] As Legend was beginning to explore opportunities outside the adventure game genre,[3] Star Control 3 combined aspects of adventure, action, and strategy games.[25][26] The 1996 release was considered a modest commercial success, surpassing 100,000 sales in its first two months of distribution.[27] 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.[28] However, 1997 brought the commercial failure of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon,[29][30] an adaptation of Spider Robinson's Callahan book series that was poorly marketed by Take-Two.[31] In 1998, Legend released a game adaptation of John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles, which ultimately became their final adventure game release.[32]

While the company still experienced sales growth each year, the adventure genre was being outsold by other genres.[7] 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).[11] This led to a partnership with Epic Games, which led Legend to be acquired by publisher GT Interactive in 1999, as the publisher had worked with both Legend and Epic.[33][34] Legend released The Wheel of Time in 1999, a first-person action game that represented a major shift from their reputation for adventure games.[13] The game enjoyed more critical than commercial success, overshadowed by other major titles in the first-person shooter genre.[35] Bates lamented that "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."[3]

After a difficult year for parent company GT Interactive,[3] they were acquired by French game company Infogrames.[36] Legend co-founder Mike Verdu left the company in 2001, deciding he was not happy in the multi-national corporate environment.[3] Although Bates had similar feelings, he continued with the company.[11] 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.[22] Epic president Mark Rein announced that Unreal II was expected to be released in late 2000.[22] However, the game's development was fraught with challenges, and the 2003 release was met with an underwhelming reception.[13]

Unreal II would be Legend's final game, by which point GT Interactive had been rebranded to Atari.[3] Legend pitched a few ideas to their parent company, conversing with Atari's offices in New York and Infogrames's in France.[3] However, none of Legend's ideas fit with the company's corporate strategy.[11] After shipping the Unreal II: eXpanded MultiPlayer expansion, Atari shut down Legend Entertainment on January 16, 2004.[3][37] Many of the former Legend staff went on to have successful careers elsewhere in the industry.[11] Bob Bates became the chief creative officer for Zynga, Glen Dahlgren became one of the lead designers on Star Trek Online, and Mark Poesch became a developer at AOL and Accenture.[38] Mike Verdu became an executive producer at Electronic Arts,[38] before becoming a vice president at Facebook and later Netflix.[39]

Games[edit]

List of games developed by Legend Entertainment
Year Title Genre Publisher Awards and nominations Ref(s).
1990 Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Consumer Electronics Show Software Showcase Award [16]
Computer Gaming World – Adventure Game of the Year (Runner-up) [40]
1991 Timequest Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Game Players – PC Excellence Award [41]
QuestBusters – Best Illustrated Text Adventure [42]
Games – Top 100 Games of the Year Award [43]
1992 Spellcasting 201: The Sorcerer's Appliance Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Games – Top 100 Games of the Year Award [44]
Gateway Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Games – Top 100 Games of the Year Award [44]
Spellcasting 301: Spring Break Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment [45]
1993 Eric the Unready Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment Computer Gaming World – Adventure Game of the Year [18]
Compute! Choice Award – Fantasy Adventure Game of the Year Finalist [46]
Computer Game Review – Golden Triad Award [47]
Games – Top 100 Games of the Year Award [48]
Strategy Plus – Adventure Game of the Year Finalist [49]
Game Bytes – Adventure Game of the Year Finalist [50]
Computer Gaming World – 9th Funniest Computer Game of All Time [17]
Computer Gaming World – 11th Most Memorable Game Hero of All Time [17]
Computer Gaming World – 7th Most Rewarding Ending of All Time [17]
Gateway II: Homeworld Interactive fiction Legend Entertainment [51]
Companions of Xanth Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment [19]
1994 Death Gate Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment Strategy Plus – Animated Adventure Game of the Year Award Finalist [52]
Computer Game Review – Golden Triad Award [53]
Interactive Gaming – Editor's Choice Award [16]
Computer Gaming World Premier Awards – Best Adventure Game Finalist [20]
Games – Top 100 Electronic Games of the Year Award [54]
Superhero League of Hoboken Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment Strategy Plus – Multi-character RPG of the Year Award Finalist [52]
Computer Game Review – Golden Triad Award [55]
Games – Top 100 Games of the Year Award [56]
Computer Gaming World – Role-Playing Game of the Year Finalist [20]
1995 Shannara Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment [57]
Mission Critical Graphic adventure Legend Entertainment Computer Game Review – Golden Triad Award [58]
Byte – Game of the Year Award [59]
Strategy Plus – Adventure Game of the Year Finalist [60]
Computer Game Review – Adventure Game of the Year [61]
Computer Game Review – Best Graphics of the Year Award [61]
Computer Game Review – Best Introduction of the Year Award [61]
Computer Gaming World – Computer Gaming Choice Award [62]
1996 Star Control 3 Action-adventure Accolade Game Developers Conference – Best Story, Script or Writing Finalist [63]
1997 Callahan's Crosstime Saloon Graphic adventure Take-Two Interactive [64]
1998 John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles Graphic adventure Mindscape Computer Gaming World – Best Adventure Game Finalist [65]
1999 Unreal Mission Pack I: Return to Na Pali First-person shooter GT Interactive [66]
The Wheel of Time First-person shooter GT Interactive GameSpy – 10th Most Underrated Game of All Time [67]
2003 Unreal II: The Awakening First-person shooter Atari [66]
Unreal II: eXpanded MultiPlayer First-person shooter Atari [66]
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines First-person shooter Atari [68][a]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Co-development support for Black Ops Entertainment, worked on weapon models and effects.

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Bates, Jason (October 14, 1998). "Legend Will Do Unreal 2". IGN. Archived from the original on August 17, 2021. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Mason, Graeme (April 2018). "From the Archives: Legend Entertainment". Retro Gamer. pp. 64–71. ISSN 1742-3155. Archived from the original on July 23, 2021. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  4. ^ Loguidice, Bill; Barton, Matt (2012). Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time. CRC Press. p. 385. ISBN 978-1-136-13758-7. Archived from the original on October 27, 2021. Retrieved October 27, 2021.
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External links[edit]