The long-lost developer of Wabbit, one of the first groundbreaking video games, has been found

The Video Game History Foundation has finally found the developer of Wabbit, which is believed to be the first console game to feature a playable human girl as the protagonist.

In 2021, Polygon published an article about the Video Game History Foundation’s search for Wabbit’s developer alongside Kevin Bunch, a video game historian who maintains the Atari Archive, and Kate Willaert of A Critical Hit. However, all they had on the developer at the time was that she was a Vietnamese woman named “Ban Tran,” which turned out to be quite a common name in Texas, where she developed Wabbit and another unreleased game. As Bunch said when she spoke to Polygon, shortly after working on these projects, Tran became “kind of a ghost,” which made her particularly hard to track.

It turns out that they were separated by a letter and that his real name was Van. Van Mai (as she now goes by her married name) was found when a member of the Discord search effort decided to review bankruptcy records at the Texas National Archives. Since most of her colleagues at Apollo, where she made Wabbit, had to apply for royalty checks after the bankruptcy and studio closure, it was assumed that records of her could be found there, and they were correct. Following Mai’s discovery, the Video Game History Foundation was able to catch up with her and talk about her time in the games industry.

Mai immigrated to the United States near the end of the Vietnam War and settled in Dallas, where she later earned her GED and programming certification and helped program learning computers for the Dallas Independent School District. When her job there was cut, she applied and started working at Apollo, where she eventually developed and released Wabbit. Wabbit introduced Billie Sue, who is believed to be the first human female lead in console video games, scaring off rabbits that try to eat carrots from her farm.

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Mai would not end up making many more games, working on an unreleased home conversion of the Solar Fox arcade game at another studio following Apollo’s bankruptcy. After leaving that school, she moved to California to pursue a computer science degree, eventually finding a job at a telecommunications company. Mai currently works in banking, but admitted to the Video Game History Foundation that he has sometimes thought about going back into development.

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