critically acclaimed author (SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE),
game designer, and video game writer (SYSTEM SHOCK, DEUS EX, DISHONORED)
Black Arts shot from its origin as a loose-knit group of friends in the early 1980′s, to a cult phenomenon with the release of Clandestine for the Commodore 64, to a critical and financial success story in the early and mid 1990′s.
The collapse of one of the world’s most striking and original game studios in late 1998 came as a shock to the industry. The precise circumstances of its collapse remain a mystery, but one fact remains.
In an enigmatic 1992 press conference, Simon Bertucci used the phrase as he hinted at the development of a gaming technology well beyond the current state of the art. Following his death later that year, no notes or working prototype were found.
Its lasting legacy includes four major game franchises: Realms of Gold, Clandestine, Solar Empires, and the Realms Beyond.
Realms of Gold I: Tomb of Destiny (1983)
Realms of Gold II: War in the Realms (1984)
Realms of Gold III: Restoration (1987)
Realms of Gold IV: Foundation’s Edge (1990)
Realms of Gold V: Aquator’s Realm (1993)
Realms of Gold Worlds of Intrigue: High Society (1993)
Realms of Gold VI: Far Latitudes (1994)
Realms of Gold VII: Winter’s Crown (1998)
Realms of Gold RPG, 1st Edition Rules (1999)
Realms of Gold remains Black Art's seminal contribution to the medium. Begun in 1983 as a high school class project, the series extended from the earliest, crudest text adventures to state-of-the-art 3D and sprawled across multiple genres and at least four revolutions in graphics technology.
It starred four heroes—a warrior, a wizard, a princess, and a half-elven thief—and chronicled their improbably extended lives spent exploring, warring, marrying and betraying through two war-torn ages of the world.
Sadly, the projected end of the long campaign, mapped out by Simon in his junior year of high school, was never reached.
Clandestine 2: Love Never Thinks Twice (1992)
Clandestine 3: Mirror Games (1993)
Clandestine 4: On American Assignment (1994)
Clandestine 5: Fatherland (1995)
Clandestine 6: Deathclock (1996)
Clandestine Worlds Beyond (1996)
Clandestine 7: Countdown to Rapture (1997)
The original Clandestine was released in 1988 on a set of floppy disks left anonymously in a UMass-Amherst computer lab. In two short months it became an underground hit and led to Black Arts's first publishing deal with Broderbund. A game of espionage and intrigue set in an authentically mapped interwar Paris, Clandestine somehow captured a delicate spirit of naive romance upheld in the last moments before disaster descended on Europe.
Many diehard fans felt betrayed when Clandestine's iconic hero Nick Prendergast was revived in 1992 to star in an enormously profitable series of blood-soaked first-person shooters.
Solar Empires (1989)
Solar Empires 2: The Ten Thousand Year Sleepover (1995)
Solar Empires 3: Pan-Stellar Activation (1997)
Solar Empires was Black Art's most ambitious franchise, three games that formed a glittering, galaxy-spanning saga hundred thousand years in length, a future history meticulously planned by Simon in the long, isolated year after graduating high school.
Players take humanity from the war-torn era of asteroid mining, through the discovery of interstellar travel, to grand-scale multi-species war for the galaxy itself. The fact that humanity's destiny is led by thinly veiled versions of the four heroes of Realms is considered proof either of Simon's stunningly limited imagination, or a deeply encoded insight into the founders' shared lives that has yet to be fully understood.
Black Karts Racing (1991)
Realms of Golf (1992)
Pro Skater Endoria (1994)
Pro Skater Endoria 2: Grind the Arch-Lich (1995)
Tournament of Ages (1996)
A series of games in which the cast of Black Arts's epic fantasy, espionage, and science fiction games compete in a series of 20th-century sporting events. Were these games a surreal joke? Or Darren's gimmicky, failed attempts to create a cash cow which could further monetize Black Arts's intellectual property.
Black Arts designer Russell Marsh explained, "Are the Realms Beyond games canon? Yes and no. We decided there was a thing called the Ludic Age where all these kinds of things happen. It’s not a part of history and they were all summoned here by mystic forces. And so then all the characters come here and go stock-car racing or fall into a giant pinball machine, depending."
Realms Beyond included go-kart racing, golf, skateboarding, and arena fighting. A proposed volleyball expansion was never produced. Of its creative legacy, it is enough to note that in Realms of Golf, the iconic warrior, wizard, princess and thief compete in a wacky trap-infested golf tournament organized by Death himself to decide the fate of the world. At the conclusion of which, the eternal heroes go their separate ways without a word. As if to say, “Let us never mention this sorry episode again."
When Russell joins Black Arts games, brainchild of two visionary designers who were once his closest friends, he reunites with an eccentric crew of nerds hacking the frontiers of both technology and entertainment. In part, he's finally given up chasing the conventional path that has always seemed just out of reach. But mostly, he needs to know what happened to Simon, the strangest and most gifted friend he ever lost, who died under mysterious circumstances soon after Black Arts' breakout hit.
Then Black Arts' revolutionary next-gen game is threatened by a mysterious software glitch, and Russell finds himself in a race to save his job, Black Arts' legacy, and the people he has grown to care about. The bug is the first clue in a mystery leading back twenty years, through real and virtual worlds, corporate boardrooms and high school computer camp, to a secret that changed a friendship and the history of gaming. The deeper Russell digs, the more dangerous the glitch appears-and soon, Russell comes to realize there's much more at stake than just one software company's bottom line.
Austin Grossman's debut novel Soon I Will Invincible announced the arrival of a singular, genre-defying talent "sure to please fans of Lethem and Chabon" (Playboy). With You, Grossman offers his most daring and most personal novel yet-a thrilling, hilarious, authentic portrait of the world of professional game makers; and the story of how learning to play can save your life.
Austin Grossman is a video game design consultant and the author of Soon I Will Be Invincible, which was nominated for the 2007 John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. His writing has appeared in Granta, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. He lives in Berkeley, California.