Medford-based Trilobyte returns with classic

Hours after Trilobyte Games announced it was reissuing its '90s classic "The 7th Guest" for iPhone and iPad users, the gaming world was aTwitter, blogs were bouncing, and Internet posters were swooning.

Reorganized Trilobyte emerged from a dozen years of dormancy with the news that it would begin selling the horror story game via Apple's iTunes store to iPhone, iPad and other mobile device users in early December.

The buzz over "The 7th Guest" revival was music to the old guard's ears, but delivered in a definitely new-school way.

"Instead of the old-fashioned press releases, we did a social-network launch on Facebook and Twitter as well as online at major gaming sites," said Charlie McHenry, one of the partners in the reinvented Trilobyte. "The Twitter is just on fire. Old fans are beginning to comment. The pundits and the gaming gurus are all absolutely in delight at the announcement. It's a tribute to the enduring evergreen nature of the content. We're being welcomed back like we were never gone."

The pioneering work by the Medford company, featuring the Nunan House in Jacksonville, took the gaming world by storm in 1993 when it produced the first-ever CD-ROM game.

Priced at $79.95, it set an industry record at the time, selling 2 million copies. But even though the game grossed more than $150 million, relatively little of that ended up in the Rogue Valley. A highly-anticipated sequel, "The 7th Guest II: The 11th Hour," followed, but Trilobyte's founders — Rob Landeros and Graeme Devine — went their separate ways in 1996, and the company was dissolved in 1999.

The forthcoming "7th Guest" version will be downloaded for $3.99.

After leaving Trilobyte in 1996, Landeros, the company's art director and designer, formed Aftermath Media and produced interactive movies on DVD.

"Two of those were a critical success," Landeros said. "But there was no great commercial success."

He returned to his graphic artist roots two years ago and started Landeros Design.

With new platforms on the horizon, Trilobyte's creations had been licensed to other game developers. But as time passed and nothing surfaced, Landeros realized he still had an itch to get back into the game industry.

"The most serious players had big plans for creating and updating, but they were stalling out," Landeros said. "It was low-hanging fruit; all they had to do was work the game over to a new platform. I got very frustrated seeing this opportunity slip by and kept thinking if I had retained the rights to the iPhone platform, I could just do it myself."

Eventually, Landeros conferred with Devine, the former majority stockholder who assigned his shares to his old partner. Landeros then rounded up McHenry and code whiz John Fricker and began the process of regaining all the Trilobyte rights.

There was no starting from scratch; the completed games just needed to be adjusted for the new platforms.

"When we developed this product 20 years ago, we needed a big publisher. There was the cost of goods, distribution and all that stuff complicated by the magnitude," Landeros said. "What's so darn appealing now is the simplicity. You can have two guys in a garage doing the development. We're small, operating on a shoestring budget and not much more — we don't even have offices at this point."

Two decades ago, Landeros said, the standard developer might receive a 15 percent reward for his work. For its publishing and distribution efforts, Apple takes 30 percent — producing 70 percent gross revenue for developers.

McHenry said the firm's modest projections indicate the reborn Trilobyte will net $1 million in its first year.

"The potential is huge," Landeros said. "IBM surveyed the experts who think this $6 billion market will become a $30 billion market in two to three years. Businesses are going to be looking at this particular platform, and people will develop for this platform for business and leisure."

With seven titles lingering from the 1990s, the Trilobyte trio has 14 products it can send to the iTunes store.

McHenry said the company will develop new games, plans a collector's addition and a "7th Guest" extension. He said the company will rent an office and plans to create eight jobs in the year to come.

"You rarely get a second shot in business," McHenry said. "The new Apple platforms are providing the opportunity to perhaps do what we couldn't do the first time around."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail

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