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The History of Rainbird Software

Gliders, Pawns and Level 9

The first few game titles developed for Rainbird were provided by programmer Jez San and a new team of adventure game enthusiasts called Magnetic Scrolls. Jez had recently helped David Braben and Ian Bell get up-to-speed on Commodore 64 development when they were writing Elite. As Argonaut Software, Jez and his small team were writing what started as an homage to Atari’s ‘Star Wars’ 3D vector coin-op, after his advances to Atari about writing home versions were spurned. The game Argonaut produced for Rainbird was Starglider, a 3D vector graphics arcade game that set a very high standard.

The Pawn was a text-only adventure game that had already enjoyed critical if not financial success on the Sinclair QL. Developer Magnetic Scrolls, lead by Anita Sinclair and Ken Gordon were naturally keen to port the game onto a platform that had a bigger chance of making a profit. The Amiga and ST computers were based upon the same 68000 processor used by the QL, so porting their adventure wasn’t a huge technical challenge. However, at Rainbird’s suggestion the addition of sumptuous illustrations (by Geoff Quilley) for key locations gave Magnetic Scrolls’ adventures a broader appeal.

The initial development costs were high, so it made perfect commercial sense for Magnetic Scrolls to use the same system for subsequent adventures. This forward-thinking approach resulted in five adventures from Anita Sinclair and Ken Gordon’s company over the next four years, adding The Guild of Thieves, Jinxter, Corruption and Fish! to the success of The Pawn.

Both Starglider and The Pawn debuted on 16-bit, but the 8-bit conversions that followed also performed well. Realtime Games’ Spectrum version of Starglider was particularly well-received, especially on the new Spectrum + 128k.

Tracker on the Commodore 64 had a troubled development period, but the 16-bit versions – which were quite different from the original game – managed to keep Rainbird’s reputation for good quality releases intact.

Level 9 Computing were a well-established family-based developer and publisher of 8-bit text adventures when they signed a marketing and distribution deal with TelecomSoft in late April 1986. The deal included four titles spread across 8-bit and 16-bit formats, including updated versions of three existing Level 9 trilogies.

Originally known as their ‘Middle Earth’ trilogy, ‘Colossal Adventure’, ‘Adventure Quest’ and ‘Dungeon Adventure’ were bundled together as The Jewels of Darkness. The Austin’s science fiction trilogy containing ‘Snowball’, ‘Return to Eden’ and ‘The Worm in Paradise’ was published as Silicon Dreams, whilst the final trilogy compilation was Time & Magik featuring ‘Lords of Time’, ‘Red Moon’ and ‘The Price of Magik’.

With Magnetic Scrolls already on board, Rainbird was now the publisher of the two best UK text adventure developers in the British Isles.

The fourth title in the deal with Level 9 was Knight Orc, a brand new three-part adventure written using Level 9’s new 16-bit KAOS development system. Unlike their previous games, KAOS intended to emulate the experience of multi-user text games like MUD (Multi-User Dungeon).

Tony Rainbird left TelecomSoft in November 1986 soon after the company moved from corporate BT offices in Upper St Martin’s Lane to independent office space in New Oxford Street, just over half a mile away. Soon afterwards, with three of the four titles published by Rainbird, the working relationship with Level 9 broke down and the final title – Time & Magik –  was dropped by Rainbird and Level 9’s contract was terminated by mutual agreement.

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