2019: The Losses

May our spirits be at rest, for we all must face the call of time. It is not to depress, but to signal our new energies yet to be fulfilled. Some pass, some carry on, and so we remember what once was to give us perspective on these prior accomplishments. Here’s to those that left us in 2019.

Ryan Brant, Founder of Take Two Interactive

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Take Two was an unusual company from the start. It was initially founded by Ryan Brant at the age of 21, a man who’s father was American publication magnate Peter Brant. In this somewhat spur of the moment entrepreneurial spirit, Take Two was first involved in developing and publishing FMV games like Star Crusader and Ripper. This brief fad fizzled out, but Take Two rode the wave long enough to go public in 1997 which set them on the path to dominance.

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Brant (left)

Brant had ambitions for the company which extended way beyond US borders. His path of acquisitions included software distributors, investing in Bungie, and of course the wonderful partnership of BMG Interactive and DMA Design. Take Two and Brant demonstrated a trust in smaller time developers for their potential, which of course came to fruition with Grand Theft Auto III.

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Portrait of Brant.

Catapulted into the top tier of publishers, Take Two remained a very diversified company. They attempted to compete directly with EA’s sports titles with the 2K series and bought companies like Firaxis, a bold move in the era wherein PC Gaming was once again seen to have minimal value.

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Brant (l) court illustration.

Unfortunately for Brant, he fell victim to the pitfalls of success. An SEC investigation forced him to resign the CEO position, then revealed that he had in fact participated in company fraud. Even after resigning he attempted to keep his options in the company, until he was forced to excise those as well. In the following years he attempted to involve himself in subsequent start-up companies but never stepped out of the shadow of this disgrace.

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Brant may have entered the industry from a purely profit seeking direction, but his ability to recognize good business opportunities is a feature that all truly great gaming CEOs showcase. It was more than just for Rockstar, as they also cultivated the talents of Tarantula Studios (now Rockstar Lincoln) and Red Storm Entertainment. For that, Brant deserves remembrance as founder of one of the world’s biggest game publishers.

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Ryan Ashley Brant passed away in March of 2019 at the age of 47.

Keith Boesky, The Professional Advocate

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Keith Boesky came from rather unexpected corners to make a pretty substantial impression on the games industry. A lawyer employed by a California law firm, he took his own initiative to contact game developers to enlist that firm as partners. By 1996 he had built up one of the most substantial law practices in the games industry. One client of his was Eidos, the recently expanding British developer, who saw an extreme amount of potential within this enthusiastic lawyer. He was hired in as the company president.

DLD15 Conference Munich - "It's only the beginning" - January 18-20, 2015

The big vision that Boesky put forward was of expanding video games into multi-media enterprises. Coming in just as Tomb Raider became the phenomenon it was, the first mission he undertook was to make Laura Croft a celebrity. Tie-in merchandise, magazine appearances, and the quick pitches to Hollywood to make Tomb Raider the first big video game property on the big screen. While this did wonders for Eidos’ prospects, it started to put immense pressure on the original developers of the game.

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Not being savvy to the needs of the games industry from inside, Boesky’s media mission quickly led to a decreasing oversight of game development, especially in the parent company’s home country. Instead he set himself up in California and courted the likes of Looking Glass and Ion Storm into their midst. While Eidos would publish some incredibly interesting games, their development schedules were utter disasters as either too long or too short which would ultimately lead to huge losses for Eidos come the new millenium. Boesky himself decided to step out of this situation while he could and set up a consultancy company which had the exclusive rights to shuttle Eidos’ intellectual properties forwards.

To those who worked closely with him, Boesky’s charisma was an incredible charm. He had a sense of humor that made him approachable and an analytical mind that made him valuable. Throughout the rest of his career he would be on the sidelines of game development, but serving in crucial advisory positions on companies which included Riot Games and Scopely.

The easiest way to get inside how Boesky thought and what he felt about the industry is through his own words. In 2008 he started a blog about industry trends which range from high level business decisions to trying to buy games at Gamestop. Despite his seeming disinterest in games at Eidos, Boesky very much loved the industry he helped foster. He found the perfect position from which to reach upcoming players in the industry and to give them opportunities to make an impact.

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Keith Boesky died in October 2019 from complications of brain cancer.

Brad McQuaid, The Designer of the Modern MMO

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Heralding from the first age of shareware developers, Brad McQuaid is best described as an inquisitive, enterprising designer who loved to piece apart how games truly worked. He co-authored the intriguing RPG WarWizard and while working on a demo for the sequel, he managed to draw the attention of Jon Smeadley at Sony Interactive Studios for his programming chops. McQuaid and his WarWizard co-author were brought onto the team as programmers to bring a new concept of a 3D MMORPG to life.

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It was soon recognized that McQuaid’s particular analytic mind was actually far more suited to production and design than coding, so he became one of the lead designers for the project. All of the people involved with this game project were enormous fans of the action based Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) out on the nascent internet and were determined to bring the elements of those games that they loved to the mass market, warts and all.

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McQuaid’s leadership was one highly open to ideas from not only the team, but even the fans once the development was made known on the web. So many of those on the team had never worked in the professional game industry before, and yet somehow he was able to lead them in creating a flagship project for a completely unknown market segment. It did help that Ultima Online gave them direction, but the ways they interpreted mechanics like combat and dungeon runs was entirely their own.

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Everquest was the template for all massively multiplayer games going forward in one way or another. For a few years McQuaid continued working on Everquest until his itch to bring about new paradigm shifts led to the creation of Sigil Games Online and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Unfortunate personal issues led to his retreat from the games industry until returning to Everquest in 2013, then launching the as-yet-released Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter project.

The insight of Brad McQuaid is a highly optimistic view of examination in game design, an almost kitchen-sink approach tempered by the needs of the players. Everquest was a template for a reason, which despite it’s grand ambitions still left room for growth and expansion (literally). McQuaid was a highly active member of the online communities he fostered who incorporated feedback through a lens of what made games more fun for everyone.

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Brad McQuaid died on November 18, 2019 at the age of 50.

Chuck Peddle, Who Gave us Everything

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There’s always one last unwelcome surprise at the end of the year, and this time it was the death of the world-renowned designer of the MOS 6502 chip: Charles Peddle. Peddle was an active visionary in every sense of the word. Repeatedly an entrepreneur, an innovator, and a man of strong principles as to where he saw the future taking computing. He was not a sole genius, but he was a huge part of what made computing a mass market enterprise.

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Peddle (fourth from right, standing)

When working at Motorola on the 6800 microprocessor, Peddle had a realization about the nature of computing. Namely that computing was not simply about the processor. His notion of computing was as a distributed network of hardware and processes working in tandem, which especially in the minicomputer market at the time was entirely true. The processor wasn’t the be all and end all of the computer anymore, there were other elements to support it. This reasoning led Peddle to think that creating an efficient, low cost microprocessor was absolutely worth the expense.

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Motorola was unreceptive, so he left for Pennsylvania to join the then mostly unknown calculator chip company MOS Technology. Under Peddle’s management and vision, he turned them into a powerhouse of microchip creation. The undertaking of the 6500 series with Bill Mensch on the technical end was a moment of incredible genius packed together in a single facility. A perfect plan was executed, and a $20 microprocessor came out the other side.

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Peddle was quick to start peddling (heh) this technology to anybody that would pay attention, and since he was so right about the measure of cost he didn’t really need to work that hard to get people listening. In no time he was helping the 6502 become a part of video games, pinball machines, and of course the first wave of personal computers like the Commodore PET which he dreamed up. Those who worked with Peddle to help integrate their projects were always impressed by his willingness to help and his very friendly attitude.

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To some degree Peddle was also a tough boss. He demanded a lot and very much wanted to move forward at every opportunity. Butting against Jack Tramiel, he attempted to found his own computer company called Sirius Systems and found himself at the other end of a losing lawsuit. The further companies he worked for like Tandon Computers were always a further expression of his desire to see computing become distributed on a hardware level, which to a degree has come to pass.

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The extraordinary achievement of the 6502 cannot be overstated. One can name the machines it was a part of, but it may be best to recognize that the chip is still in production today (by WDC), desired by both retro enthusiasts and legitimate low-cost consumer electronics projects. The 6502 assembly code became the most widely known low-level programming language in the world until the domination of Intel chips, and the legacy of Peddle’s insight in consumer electronics as a whole still holds true.

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Peddle (right)

Charles Ingerham Peddle lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on December 15, 2019.

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