Carmen Sandiego was originally conceived by Broderbund Software co-founder Gary Carlston and proposed to programmer Dane Bigham in 1983. The idea was to create a computer game which would get kids interested in geography, a childhood hobby of Broderbund co-founders Gary and Doug Carlston. Bigham provided the "look and feel" for the game interface from an adventure game he was developing independently and further development was entrusted to the creative "Rubber Room", led by ex-Disney artist Gene Portwood and Lauren Elliott at Broderbund Software.
The game script, graphics and humor were created by Gene Portwood and Lauren Elliott, and writer David Siefkin. Siefkin wrote one of the first scripts for the game which ultimately provided the game mechanics and which included treasures stolen from countries around the world, clues taken from the World Almanac, and a villain named Carmen Sandiego, whose name he adapted from the name of 1940s singer and actress Carmen Miranda. Siefkin left the project soon afterwards to become a foreign service officer, serving as a diplomat in several of the countries featured in the game. He is listed in the game manual as a contributing author.
Another early draft version of the game was based in England, chasing Henry VII around town collecting treasures.
Catherine Byrd was the first project manager at Broderbund Software and the original project manager of the game. The game was programmed by Dane Bigham. Graphics and clues were by Gene Portwood and Lauren Elliott. The final name and scenario of the game came out of a number of meetings between the development group.
The first Carmen Sandiego software game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, was released in 1985 for the Apple II computer and was subsequently ported to other systems. The first seven games were each awarded one or more SPA Excellence in Software Awards, particularly for their educational effort.