Two combine creative talents to produce new electronic games - by Herbert G. McCann

[The following article appeared in an Illinois newspaper on November 26, 1981.]

Co-creators of Odyssey 2 video games, Ronald Bradford (left) and Stephen Lehner, operate one of the games they have created.  (staff photo by Linda Levin Ragins)
Co-creators of Odyssey 2 video games, Ronald Bradford (left) and Stephen Lehner, operate one of the games they have created. (staff photo by Linda Levin Ragins)

Two North Shore residents are testing the wits of even the most skilled electronic games players by creating new video games for a major television manufacturer.

Stephen S. Lehner of Highland Park and Ronald Bradford of Wilmette are the creative people behind new Odyssey 2 electronic video games being sold by Magnavox.

With Lehner operating out of his home on Arlington Av. In Highland Park and Bradford working out of the Skokie offices of a communications firm they own jointly, the pair has created several new games which Magnavox has high hopes for.

"QUEST FOR THE Rings," introduced by Magnavox last month, was the first video game produced by Lehner and Bradford. The game was inspired by the trilogy "Lord of the Rings," by J.R.R. Tolkien.

It is played by three players. Object of the game is to find and capture 10 magic rings hidden in 23 castles, shown on a colored gameboard that comes with the game. The game players must select from among four characters to seek the rings. They are: the warrior, who wields a sword; the wizard, who casts spells; the chameleon, who can become invisible; and the phantom, who can walk through walls at will.

A "ringmaster" decides in which castle the rings are hidden. This person punches in appropriate information on the Odyssey 2 keyboard, which creats [sic] a maze on the video screen through which the players must direct their characters to find the hidden rings.

THROUGHOUT THE SEARCH, the characters must battle an assortment of fire-breathing dragons and other demons.

The players win the game by capturing the rings.

The game is much more complex that most home video games. "What is different about the game is that the players work as a team, not as opponents," Lehner said. "One player can keep the ‘monster' busy, while the other squeaks through to the rings."

The idea for a game like "Quest for the Rings" begins with a conversation between Bradford and Lehrer. "We try to create games that are related in some way to reality," Bradford said. "Even the fictional games, such as ‘Quest for the Rings', are based somewhat on a realistic world."

Bradford said that he and his partner have backgrounds that help them create new games. In addition, Lehner is a song writer, and wrote the lyrics for the musical theme to the film, "Late Show."

ONCE THE PAIR comes up with an idea, the design begins. They develop a presentation for Magnavox officials, which illustrates how the game should be projected on the screen and how the gameboard should look.

Working with Lehner and Bradford is Ed Averett, a programmer who works in Chattanooga, Tenn., near Magnavox corporate headquarters.

After Lehner and Bradford have formulated the game, they send the particulars of their creation to Averett, who programs it onto video cartridges.

Lehner and Bradford have created two other games which Odyssey will be introducing to the public in coming months. One is titled "Conquest of the World," a war game, and the other is called "The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt."

ITS CREATORS THINK the Wall Street game could become the Monopoly of the video screen. The game reflects the world of investment planning and stock market manipulation. A news ticker flashes reports that describe events like the ones that affect the prices of stocks in real life.

"It took a long time to make it into a simple game," Lehner said. "We had to do a lot research on the workings of the stock market, margin trading and options buying. We had to work with a professor of one of the local universities to learn about the market."

"The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt" is primarily a game for adults, although teenagers were among those used to test it. "We had some businessmen who came in and tested the game. We thought they would stay for only a half-hour," Lehner said. "However, they stayed for much longer. While playing the game they used the expertise they developed in the business world. Some won, others lost."

BEFORE THE GAMES are marketed they are tested, usually at the home of Lehner or a member of his staff.

According to Bradford, the tests are done to work out any kinks. There are any number of things that could go wrong, he said. Because of the complexity of the game, many strategies can be worked out by a player. And the creators want to make sure that none can become a formula that the player uses to win time and time again.

ODYSSEY PROVIDES A booklet with the games, written by Lehner. It gives the background on the work of fiction or the historical events which inspired the game. The instructions on how the game is played are also included in the booklet. "You are about to become a legend in your own time," begins the instruction booklet for "Quest for the Rings.

"It is really difficult to write the instructions for the games because, in general, people do not like to read instructions. They would rather have someone show them how to play the game," Lehner said. The instructions, like the games, are tested to see how effectively they explain it.

CURRENTLY, Bradford and Lehner are working on new games and new technologies which they hope will lead to even more versatile home video games. Some are years from being placed on the market, they said.

One of the new developments is the use of video disks. That will allow a more realistic appearance for the figures that appear on the screen. "Instead of a few dots to represent the tanks in a battle game, you will be seeing real tanks," Lehner said.

The pair's communications firm, Lehner Bradford and Cout, located in the Old Orchard Shopping Center, was established by Bradford and Lehner to produce commercials, graphic design and communication packages for corporate clients. They now concentrate primarily on developing games.

According to Lehner, their work with the Odyssey games began in 1971, when their firm handled advertising for the Odyssey 1 series.

After the initial splash, Magnavox generally neglected the home video game market, Lehner said. It was only in the last two years that the firm realized the profit potential of the home games.

"The [sic] came to us to promote their new line of home games," Lehner said. "The firm had a keyboard system that is unique in the industry, which allows for more diverse types of games."

"Our suggestion that they were underutilizing the keyboard concept of their games led to their telling us to go ahead with developing new ideas," Lehner said.

Read an Interview with Ron Bradford