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Daily Archives: November 22, 2012

The Hobbit Redux

Sometimes I get things wrong. Usually it’s minor errors that come down to a careless moment or something that got wedged between the teeth of my rusting steel trap of a mind. Luckily, you folks who read what I write almost always come through to correct me when I make mistakes or even when I overreach. Something like that happened with the most recent article I’ve written, but it had causes a little bit more complicated than one of my usual attacks of boneheadedness.

Virtually all of the articles published about Melbourne House and The Hobbit — of which, unsurprisingly given the game’s immense popularity, there were quite a few — describe it as largely the work of Philip Mitchell, who wrote it with the aid of Veronika Megler and Stuart Richie. These are the sources which I relied upon to write my story of the game’s development. Shortly after I published my article, however, Veronika Megler contacted me to tell me that the contemporary sources are, simply put, false. She told me that hers was the primary mind behind the game, that Mitchell developed only the parser and handled the porting to the Spectrum and the addition of the pictures after she had left Melbourne House. Richie’s work, meanwhile, was theoretical rather than technical and played little actual role in the finished game.

I was of course quite nonplussed to hear this, but Veronika’s descriptions of the game’s development and the role played by everyone were so precise that I immediately tended toward believing her. That belief only strengthened as I talked to her more. Today I believe that the official story found in the magazines is a distortion (at best) of the facts.

It’s not difficult to understand how this could have happened. The story of The Hobbit‘s development started to be widely disseminated in the computer press during the lead-up to publication of Philip Mitchell and Melbourne House’s next big adventure game, Sherlock. Thus the pieces in question functioned not only as retrospectives, but — more importantly, at least in the eyes of Melbourne House — promotions for what was coming next. It sounds much better to speak of “the next game by the architect of the hit adventure The Hobbit” than “the next game by the guy who assisted the architect of the hit adventure The Hobbit.” Thus Mitchell’s role was vastly overstated, and Megler’s correspondingly reduced; in effect the two swapped roles, with Mitchell becoming the architect and Megler his assistant. As readers like me took those original articles at face value, this version of events passed down into history.

That’s unfortunate, and I understand Veronika’s frustration at having been effectively robbed of credit that is due to her. However, I can also understand how the pressures of promoting the follow-up to such a gargantuan hit could have led Alfred Milgrom and Mitchell down the path they took. I will also just note for the record that Veronika feels strongly that sexism also played a role in the downplaying of her contribution, although I’m not prepared to levy that accusation myself without knowing the people involved better or having more evidence.

Whatever the reasons behind the changing of the record, I’m convinced at this point that Veronika was indeed the major force behind the form The Hobbit took, as well as its major technical architect. I’ve revised the original article accordingly to reflect the true contributions of everyone involved. If you’ve already read it, I’d encourage you to give the new version a quick skim again, or at the least to know that much of what I credited to Philip Mitchell in the original should rightfully have been credited to Veronika Megler. Sometimes, alas, getting to historical truth is a process. I thank Veronika for taking the time to work with me to document what really happened.

I’m actually on holiday as I write this, back in the United States again. So, it will be a couple of weeks before I’ll have more material for you. But keep my in your RSS readers, because we’ll next be rounding the corner into 1983 at last, and things just keep getting more and more interesting.

In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving to my American readers, and to everyone thanks for reading!

 

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