NOVI, MI - The video game industry is in mourning today, following the announcement that Ernie Harwell, commentator for the legendary APBA Baseball for Windows, died in his Michigan home following a battle with cancer. Harwell was 92.
"This is obviously a very sad day for the gaming world," said video game personality Stevie Case. "One of the great giants of computer gaming has passed."
Harwell's brief but groundbreaking career was witness to momentous developments in the field of baseball simulators, including multiplayer, a comprehensive baseball catalogue stretching to 1872, as well as a 256-color screen. Nevertheless, it was Harwell's vocal talent that stole the show,receiving near-universal acclaim from the gaming world.
Harwell, who spent most of his early life working as a baseball color commentator, was approached with the proposition of voicing and providing creative direction for a text-based baseball game in late 1993. Harwell initially showed little interest in the medium, believing that electronics would detract from the purity of pen-and-paper sports simulators. He was won over, however, after playing Dungeons and Dragons on a PC for the first time.
"From that moment on, he completely immersed himself in the project," recalled lead designer Ken Warwooth.
Long-time friend and colleague John Madden of Madden NFL fame released a statement earlier today, calling Harwell "one of the giants of text-based gaming" and flatly claimed that "if there had been no Baseball for Windows, there'd be no Madden."
"The debt we all owe to Ernie is immeasurable," the statement read, in part. "Until Baseball for Windows came out, sports-based video games seemed like an impossible pipe dream. Now, thanks to the trailblazing work of Mr. Harwell, sports gaming is one of the cornerstones of our great industry."
Harwell's magnum opus, APBA Baseball for Windows, was first released in 1995 to widespread critical acclaim, receiving over a dozen "Text-based sports simulator of the year" awards, and was updated in 1997, opening itself up to a new audience.
The Georgia native, unable to capitalize on his new-found success, fell on lean times thereafter, calling games for the Detroit Tigers until 2003, and occasionally appearing in public service announcements. In time, he appeared to resent the unwanted attention and fame the game had brought him, rarely giving interviews or making public appearances, famously snubbing a celebration in 2007 to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the updated version.
"Ernie's level of energy for the project was incomparable," recalled Warwooth. "He would do dozens of takes on a single name, just to get it perfect. He brought an almost-limitless amount of inflections and tonalities to the table with him and simply wowed everyone. He also contributed heavily behind the scenes, helping catalogue all the stats in all possible permutations. Ernie was a consummate professional, in and out of the studio, and I feel privileged for having had the chance to work with him."
Harwell's death came just before he was slated to receive the Sid Meier's Lifetime Achievement Award for Contributions to Video Games from the E3 Foundation in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife Lulu, their three children, six children, and a generation of indebted gamers.