Arcade-style Animated Action Games
Not too long after The Graphics Magician was published, we got a call from an amazing guy at Stanford University named Eagle Berns. A great, creative person, he went on to make his mark at Apple Computer (on the Macintosh team), Micro Focus, and Oracle. But first and foremost he turned into a good friend who also happened to write, with Michael Kosaka, the first game with Graphics Magician: Pie Man. The game was loosely based on an I Love Lucy skit, with pies coming rapidly off a conveyor belt while you try to put whipped cream and a cherry on top and put the pie in a rack, while avoiding grease spots and obstacles. (Remember that these were the days when state of the art was Break-Out, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man.) A non-violent game with a bit of personality was very unique and new. Eagle and his friend Holly Thomason would also later go on to write one of our better adventure games, The Coveted Mirror.
At the AppleFest show in New York City we met Alan Zeldin, who'd written a game called "Poof!". It met all the requirements of the time: the rules were simple, and it was disturbingly addictive. Our Mary Locke changed the character into a spy toting a briefcase, and the resulting game was titled Spy's Demise (with belated apologies to the Safe House in Milwaukee). This game sold rather well, and we converted it to Commodore 64 and Atari and sold into Sears and Toys 'R' Us.... all those bastions of "success". It even has the distinction of being one of the games copied and pirated under different names. We've seen Atari 2600 rip-offs of the game idea, clones for the Macintosh, and variations of all types.
Tom Becklund, of Fargo, North Dakota visited us at the Minneapolis Applefest and wowed us with some of his animation. We wound up publishing two of his programs, Thunderbombs and Bouncing Kamungas. The latter was indescribably wacky and must have been the product of environmental factors including long winters and lots of flat, open land. It had something to do with being a melon farmer and these bouncing guys squishing the melons you're growing, but you could protect them with your pitchfork, but then watch out for thunderstorms... You had to be there.
From the south, the hotbed of Shreveport, Louisiana also brought us Greg Malone. Greg had a helicopter action game that became Minit Man. It was somewhat unique in that the action was spread horizontally across three screens, and there was an arcade game within the arcade game. To be successful you had to split your time appropriately between the two. We later worked with Greg for a while on Moebius, which he eventually finished and published through Origin Systems.
A small company in Oregon calling themselves Software Entertainment Corporation had some neat educational programs and some interesting animation work going on. Jeff Tunnell started the group, and they were more interested in writing than publishing, so we published two excellent games from them: Stellar 7 by Damon Slye and The Sword of Kadash by Chris Cole. The sales of both of these were disappointing, because they were neat, neat games. Sword of Kadash was well ahead of its time. An action-arcade style game, it had hundreds of screens to negotiate, most of which had unique and interesting problems to solve. It was almost an early version of a Sonic-the-Hedgehog type of game (moving around a large map, solving puzzling situations to avoid traps). Stellar 7 was a copy of a popular tank arcade game of the day, and after we released it back to Jeff (whose company had adopted a now-familiar name, dynamix), Sierra On-Line picked it up and marketed a newly-revised version for several more years.
The Spy Strikes Back was the only home-grown arcade game we published (the others were developed by outside authors). Mark and Bob Hardy designed it, and Bob did the programming. The name and overall strategy of the game derived from the moderately-successful Spy's Demise: there was no shooting, just a lot of "sneaking around". (The subtitle was "How to Not Be Seen", shamelessly borrowed from a Monty Python skit. The title itself was a take-off on another sequel of the time that you might recall.) The game contained a nasty, wicked, code-breaking puzzle that involved working all the way through the multi-floor building maze and gathering clues. The clues were coded color/music tone pairs, and if properly solved they instructed you to call a specific phone number and identify yourself with a code name. This was one or two years after a book in England called Masquerade caused a huge stir because it too contained clues... and solving those clues would allow some person to find a very real hidden million-dollar treasure. The book got all kinds of publicity and sold in huge numbers. For a while we entertained the idea of doing something very similar with The Spy Strikes Back. But ultimately we had visions of some 11-year-old hotshot gamer solving the whole thing the first day and we chickened out. Shouldn't have. Too bad.
We published two of John "BEZ" Besnard's programs, Pensate (described on another page) and Arcade Boot Camp. Arcade Boot Camp was John's send-up of the typical arcade game of the day. It consisted of a whole series of games that mimicked the arcade games of the period, so you could polish your running, jumping, dodging, driving, flying, and shooting skills! It was all done with you as "Private PeeVee" under the supervision of a boot camp instructor. It was rather silly, and we liked it.