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The History of Rainbird Software


Former programmer Paul Hibbard was promoted to Rainbird’s Publisher after Tony Rainbird’s departure. Despite the loss of Tony and Level 9, Rainbird Software still had a number of aces up its corporate sleeve. More award-winning adventures from Magnetic Scrolls, a self-mapping graphic adventure called ‘Legend of the Sword’ from new developer Silicon Software, and a strategy simulator called ‘The Universal Military Simulator (abbreviated to UMS) were all in the works.

Throughout 1987, Rainbird had a handful of solid 3D games in development. One was Argonaut’s Starglider 2, another was an epic 3D space opera code-named EPT and then there was a collaborative effort between Rainbird and Realtime Games, called Carrier Command.

In the end, EPT was abandoned but ‘Carrier Command’ and ‘Starglider 2’ became Rainbird’s biggest critical and financial successes to date when they were released in 1988.

However, having finally made a profit during the previous financial year, BT moved to put TelecomSoft up for sale. In truth, the software company never had a strategic fit within BT, so the BT management decided to sell it off whilst its profile was high.

Three months after announcing the sale, the new owners were announced as a rival software publisher. MicroProse (UK) Ltd, based in Tetbury, Gloucestershire were keener on Rainbird than Firebird and had no interest in the budget label Silverbird at all. The new owners got artist and graphic designer Steinar Lund to update both Firebird and Rainbird logos, and they also ditched the iconic blue boxes and added ‘Masters of Strategy’ as the label’s first and only motto.

Microprose quickly reallocated titles to their newly acquired labels. This meant that Rainbird gained the UMS sequel – UMS II: Nations at War’, along with ‘Midwinter’ and ‘Tower of Babel’. One BT-signed title – Simulcra – was moved from Rainbird to MicroStyle, which was another label that Microprose had only recently launched.

The final Rainbird release turned out to be an updating of a former Firebird title. Elite Plus was a 256-colour VGA update on the original IBM PC version written 5 years earlier. Chris Sawyer used Realtime Games’ IBM PC version as a starting point, adding solid 3D and updated artwork.

From 1985 – 1991, Rainbird maintained a consistent, high-quality, premium approach to adventures, role playing games, strategy and simulator titles. That is a long-standing testament to the vision that Tony Rainbird had when he first envisaged the label way back in the mid-1980s.

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