- unknown (b.)
A computer science professor and a founder of Infocom, one of the earliest computer game companies. He was the Assistant Director of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) and in charge of LCS's Dynamic Modeling Group (DMG) group in the late 1970s when group members Dave Lebling, Marc Blank, Tim Anderson, and Bruce Daniels began creating the game that would become Zork. By 1979, he and many of the graduating students in the DMG group were interested in continuing to work together by establishing a company. He had long wanted to bring together his former students in a commercial venture and agreed to help fund the company, named Infocom. He became a member of the Board of Directors of Infocom when it was incorporated on June 22, 1979. While the computer game business brought Infocom quick success, he and others on the board were not convinced that computer games would remain a viable market over the long haul and advocated a move into business software. As Infocom began seeking out venture capital firms to invest in the company, the board decided that an actual CEO would be an asset in attracting investment and that he as an experienced project leader would attract more confidence from firms than the younger game designers. As a result, he was named CEO of the company and took on that role beginning in January 1984. As CEO, he was responsible for guiding Infocom's new foray into business software, and oversaw Infocom during a period when rising development costs related to the Cornerstone database project, and feuding between the game and business software sides of the business, created a great strain on the company. In 1985, the failure of Cornerstone to carve out a place in the business world, combined with flat game sales, led to a period of financial difficulty and layoffs. Finally, in 1986 Infocom was sold to rival game company Activision and he stepped down as CEO. He had a long and distinguished career which he largely spent furthering some of the ideas first proposed by Joseph Licklider (affectionately called “Lick” by his students); he appears in Lyon and Hafner’s book, for instance, because he was instrumental in organizing the first public demonstration of the nascent ARPANET’s capabilities. Even after the Infocom years, his was an important voice on the World Wide Web Consortium that defined many of the standards that still guide the Internet today. One of the first projects of the DMG was to create a new programming language for their own projects, which they named with typical hacker cheekiness “Muddle.” Muddle soon became MDL (MIT Design Language). It was essentially an improved version of an older programming language developed at MIT by John McCarthy, one which was (and remains to this day) the favorite of AI researchers: LISP. With MDL on hand, the DMG took on a variety of projects, individually or cooperatively. Some of these had real military applications to satisfy the folks who were ultimately funding all of these shenanigans; Lebling, for instance, spent quite some time on computerized Morse-Code recognition systems. But there were plenty of games, too, in some of which Lebling was also a participant, including the best remembered of them all, Maze. Maze ran over a network, with up to 8 Imlac PDS-1s, very simple minicomputers with primitive graphical capabilities, serving as “clients” connected to a single DEC PDP-10 “server.” Players on the PDS-1s could navigate around a shared environment and shoot at each other — the ancestor of modern games like Counterstrike. Maze became a huge hit, and a real problem for him as an administrative type; not only did a full 8-player game stretch the PDP-10 server to the limit, but it had a tendency to eventually crash entirely this machine that others needed for “real” work. He demanded again and again that it be removed from the systems, but it was pretty much a lost cause. Amongst other projects, Lebling also created a trivia game which allowed users on the ARPANET to submit new questions, leading to an eventual database of thousands.
Noted For:Founder of Infocom, one of the earliest computer game companies and was one of the earliest Internet leaders
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