Inside River Run
Video game "gemius" dies in car crash
Scott Luddin was founder and former CEO of Cambridge-based Arachnid Games
By Carrlotta Vappe
dent occurred at around 2 a.m. Based on initial forensics at the scene, officials said the car was traveling at a high rate of speed. Skid marks indicate that Luddin had been unable to make a sharp turn, causing the car to spin and careen off the road. The car traveled a short distance into dense scrub and struck a tree on the driver’s side, likely killing Luddin instantly. Rescuers arrived some 40 minutes later and took nearly an hour to extricate Luddin from the severely damaged vehicle. Luddin was pronounced dead at the scene.
Luddin lived and worked in Kendall Square, Cambridge, next door to his beloved alma mater, MIT. Often called a “creative giant” in the video game industry, Luddin founded Arachnid Games, whose bestselling products rose to the top of the game-market charts. They were known for their storytelling, action, visual realism, clever gamesmanship, and beneath all that an intellectual engagement with issues and ideas.
“Scott considered himself an artist,” said Nicole Summerson, a close friend from his undergraduate days. “He knew it was important to compete successfully in the market, and he loved success, but he also loved the challenge of doing something more, being sensitive to the intricacies of human psychology, social issues, and the larger questions of meaning in a universe apparently lacking it.”
constantly experimenting with other universes that are doing the same thing, but based on different rules and programming.”
Luddin’s friends were shocked and puzzled when they learned of his death. “It’s like the last thing I would have expected,” said one. Those close to him have a different opinion. Chloe Guillermand, Luddin’s longtime girl-friend, said she had noticed changes in Luddin’s mood and behavior. “Something seemed to be eating at him,” she said. “He’s usually running at 110%, suddenly he doesn’t know what to do with himself, complaining that things are getting too com-plicated and saying maybe he should just close everything down and open a pizza place in Somerville.” Luddin, who cultivated a notoriously passionate love for and interest in pizza, always said if a tech career didn’t work out, he would be happy “flipping pies.”
No one seems to know what he was doing in River Run, Vermont. “He just got in his car and announced he would be gone for a while,” Guillermand said. “He never told anyone where or for how long. It wasn’t till later when we found out that he had shut down the Ant Farm, that we began to worry.”
Some sort of answer might be found in a last posting to his Facebook page, where Luddin, clearly troubled, tries to explain what’s bothering him. “People are saying it’s a suicide note,” Hemsley said. “I don’t know about that. I don’t see that intention. I don’t see any intention other than to get something off his chest. He was certainly a special and gifted man, but like us all of us he had his own demons to deal with.”
Luddin’s creative work resulted in two of the all-time bestselling games, “Cyberion” and Wonderworld.” Other games followed, including “Inferno,” based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy. Luddin considered it his best work, and though it sold reasonably well and attracted the attention of academics, it confused many players who were puzzled by the medieval theology and politics underlying the game. Ten years after he published “Cyberion,” Luddin sold his company to HyperVision for a figure said to be $15 billion. He did so, he said at the time, to concentrate on experimental projects designed to make the characters in games more authentically auto-nomous.
“I’m looking to built a computer universe wherecharacters are created in a very primitive state,” he told an interviewer, “and then over time evolve or develop to a level where they have, or at least display, a high degree of agency.” What Luddin was trying to do, in short, was create characters with free will.To do that required a state-of-the-art supercomputer that Luddin was able to obtain from friends at MIT and then modified to his own specifications. Once the program was up and running, Luddin called it the Ant Farm.“Basically, he sees himself as a kid with an ant farm,” said Brad Hemsley, Luddin’s lead programmer. “Once the thing is up and running, is changes and evolves on its own based on a few simple algorithms. All we do is pay close attention and take notes. At the same time, of course, we’re
Just thinking. Could I be wrong? It’s not something I’m used to—self doubt.”
—Scott Luddin, from his last Facebook post
Scott Luddin, 38, was killed yesterday on a two-lane mountain road near the town of River Run, Vermont. He was alone, driving a recently purchased cherry-red, Tesla Model S. The acci-