Where Are They Now?
AN UPDATE ON MATTEL AND ON COMPANIES FOUNDED BY BLUE SKY RANGERS
"Appropriately and correctly" meant concentrating on computer games that built on existing Mattel brands, mainly Barbie and Hot Wheels. After scoring great success with Barbie Fashion Designer and other PC titles developed by outside producers, Mattel purchased the educational software company The Learning Company - for $3.6 billion - to bring interactive game development back in-house for the first time since closing Mattel Electronics in 1984. Unfortunately, the newly acquired Learning Company, which was expected to earn $50 million in the third-quarter of 1999, actually lost over $100 million.
Jill Barad said that The Learning Company losses came as a surprise to her, but to former Mattel Electronics programmers, it seemed awfully familiar. So did the results: Barad parachuted out of the company in February, 2000 with $40 million and Mattel dumped The Learning Company.
APH TECHNOLOGICAL CONSULTING
APh, located in Pasadena, California, was hired by Mattel in 1976 to help design what became the Intellivision system; eventually they programmed the system's software, most of the development tools, and all of the first Intellivision, M Network and Keyboard Component games. The staff of graduates and students from the nearby California Institute of Technology, under APh President Glenn Hightower, designed and programmed the games. Dave James, an artist from the Mattel Design & Development Department, worked with APh to define the Intellivision graphics (including the familiar running-man animation). In addition to their work for Mattel, APh had many non-videogame contracts, so they survived the 1983 industry collapse in good shape. Still at the same location, today they program computer processors imbedded in everything from consumer products to spacecraft.
In 1982, in a dispute over profits from developing the M Network games for Mattel, several key programmers left APh and formed their own company, Cheshire Engineering, also in Pasadena. Cheshire was contracted by Activision Inc. to develop Intellivision titles, resulting in Dreadnaught Factor and Worm Whomper by Tom Loughry, and Beamrider by David Rolfe.
After the 1983 industry crash, Cheshire got out of video game design, but they are still in business today as software and hardware consultants. Visit them at www.CheshireEng.com.
In February 1983, Mattel Electronics opened a programming office in le parc international d'activités de Valbonne Sophia Antipolis, a heavily-wooded technology park 10 miles inland from the south coast of France, midway between Cannes and Nice. With a staff of programmers half recruited in London and half in Paris, the office was to develop Intellivision and Colecovision games that would reflect and appeal to a European sensibility.
When it came time to shut down Mattel Electronics, it turned out that because of French labor laws and the financial incentives Mattel took advantage of to move into Valbonne Sophia Antipolis, legally the French office couldn't be closed; Mattel would have to find a buyer. So while all other Blue Sky Rangers were laid off in January 1984, the programmers in France stayed on the payroll, working on games that Mattel had no intention of releasing. Ultimately, Director Tim Scanlan found investors so the division could become independent. Renamed Nice Ideas, they continued videogame programming, selling games to INTV Corp. and Coleco, among others.
Nice Ideas managed to keep going for a couple of years, but eventually they, too, closed their doors. Most of the British programmers returned to England; most of the French programmers moved to other jobs in the same technology park.
In 1984, a group of investors bought the rights to the name Intellivision and started selling Mattel's remaining video game inventory, primarily by mail-order. Sales were strong enough that INTV contracted Quicksilver Software and Realtime Associates to have former Mattel programmers complete unreleased Intellivision games, and produce new ones.
INTV kept the Intellivision name alive for several years, surviving well into the Nintendo/Sega era before finally closing due to bankruptcy in 1991.
While Mattel Electronics was collapsing around them, several Blue Sky Rangers started planning a new company so they could continue producing games. In fact, it was to be called Blue Sky Rangers Software, but this was changed to Quicksilver to avoid confusion with the already-existing Blue Sky Software. The original owners were Bill Fisher (Space Hawk), Steve Roney (Space Spartans) and Mike Breen (Buzz Bombers). Only Bill devoted full time to the company, and as it grew he bought out the others.
Today, Quicksilver employs around 20 full-time programmers and designers at their Irvine, California, office. They specialize in multimedia computer games; their award-winning titles "Castles" and "Castles II" set standards for the industry. Their "Conquest of the New World" was one of the most anticipated games of 1996. To find out more about Quicksilver, visit their web site at www.quicksilver.com.
Realtime Associates was founded in 1986 by David Warhol (Mind Strike). Originally called Warhol Audio Arts and specializing in sound effects and music for computer games, Realtime quickly expanded into full game development. Over the years, Realtime has employed more than a dozen Blue Sky Rangers on a freelance or permanent basis. Headquartered in El Segundo, California, Realtime has produced scores of console-based titles for many of the major video game publishers, including Electronic Arts, Sega and Disney.
Visit Realtime at www.rtassoc.com.
TEAM FAT & FAT LABS
Thanks to his pal David Warhol, non-Mattel employee George Alistair Sanger wrote the theme for the game Thin Ice, despite Mattel Electronics' policy against using freelancers. Under the name The Fat Man, George went on to write music for a number of major computer games, including Loom, Wing Commander and The 7th Guest. Today he and his Team Fat are in constant demand to provide music for interactive entertainment, and his Fat Labs certification is sought after by manufacturers for their PC sound cards. Visit the Fat Ranch at www.fatman.com.
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