For Sale

Budget cuts

The first casualty was Silverbird, the budget price label that started Firebird in business back in 1984. Budget was an arena that MicroProse had no experience in, and they soon decided that Silverbird had to go. They sold the label to Tudor Enterprises.

The first priority for the new owners was to finish all titles currently in development as soon as possible (including Mr Heli, 3D Pool and Rick Dangerous, amongst others). Microprose had only recently launched two new publishing labels themselves, MicroStyle and MicroPlay, and they decided to switch Geoff Crammond’s Stunt Car Racer from Firebird to MicroStyle to boost the brand, along with Graftgold’s Simulcra (which would have been a Rainbird title). Maelstrom Games’ Starlord switched from Rainbird to Microprose, but wasn’t published for another couple of years.

Some titles in development disappeared after the sale, never to be published. These titles are detailed in the appropriate Rainbird or Firebird sections.

Another casualty of the contract negotiations and delays incurred by the sale was Grafgold’s excellent conversions of Rainbow Islands. Publishing rights were tied in with time-scales and the contract with Taito expired, leaving Graftgold with conversions that couldn’t be published. The games were all but finished, and ultimately Ocean stepped in, bought the rights to publish and took all the glory!

The Rainbird label did gain a few titles originally in development at Microprose, including Maeltrom’s Midwinter and Tower of Babel by Pete Cooke (although ‘Babel’ was originally rejected by TelecomSoft then picked up by Pete Moreland at Microprose afterwards). Later on, the label also gained the motto “Masters of Strategy”.

Once all of the games in development were finished and published, Firebird was used just once more by MicroProse for Fire & Brimstone, coded by Tim Coupe. This was a tough ‘ghosts & goblins’ style sideways scrolling platform game.

At least one more Microprose Firebird game was in development, although it was ultimately scrapped. Fireball was a futuristic sports title, set inside a 3D Energy Dome. Two two-man teams played against each other, trying to score the most points. The stadium had four goals (one at each end, and one on each side) and in each goal was a Myroconian Salamander whose basilisk powers could kill the players! The eponymous Fireball was used as a ball to score points and as a weapon to destroy the Salamanders. The winner was the first player to destroy all four Salamanders. Bizarre!

The sequel to Rick Dangerous was published a year later under the “Micro Style” label, and then that too vanished. A few years later, Rainbird suffered a similar fate. The last remnants of TelecomSoft had finally bitten the dust…

Ironically, Microprose itself was sold just a few years later, although it retained its name and identity. The company was sold to US firm Spectrum Holobyte (developer of the Falcon flight-sim series on the Macintosh and PC, amongst other titles) after the Microprose US parent company got into trouble over a failed attempt at producing flight simulator coin-ops.

Personal thoughts

On a personal note, the sale broke up what had been a creative and enjoyable company to work for. Rainbird and Firebird were doing exceptionally well thanks to games like Virus, Elite (16-bit conversions), Carrier Command and Starglider 2, and it was a shame to see so many colleagues leave en-mass once Microprose bought the company.

Although there had been some internal upheavals with a number of Development staff leaving in the months leading up to the sale, TelecomSoft was generally a very happy and creative company that was showing signs of becoming something much bigger.

Although most of the titles in development were published by Microprose, I still wonder to this day what would have happened if the team who worked at TelecomSoft had stayed together. However, from time to time some staff have ended up working with each other again… but that’s another story!

What do you think?